I would never quit on a book, even if it’s awful. Once I start something, I believe in finishing it. The process of completing such a book will take me that much longer, but I wouldn’t abandon it altogether.
Cat Ellington – 27 June 2017
How did you get started?
I actually wrote my very first analysis at age eleven, after I’d completed Judy Blume’s now legendary YA masterpiece, Tiger Eyes. I loved the novel so much, as did I its young protagonist, Davey Wexler. And I just felt compelled to compose, on paper, my own personal critique of the narrative. Being a “called” writer, my immediate reaction to pen a small review of Tiger Eyes, straightaway after reading it, had been an impulse that came naturally to me.
How do you review a book? Is it a read first, and then make notes, or do you make notes as you go along?
That’s a great question! I do indeed make many notes as I go along – and for good reason, I might add. While reading novels of fiction, especially if a reviewer intends to write a review of the work soon after he or she has finished it, making notes throughout the reading process is very important, as the book may feature any number of characters, all of whom have been given their own individual lives, created by the author, and therefore contribute heavily to the story. And to have so much going on with an entire cast of characters, it’s wise to jot down a list of notes, so as to not forget anything that may be useful for written review purposes.
What are you looking for?
I am a natural born passionate of thrillers (the plurality indicates the inclusion of thriller subgenres), horror, suspense, crime capers, mysteries, and hard-boiled noir fiction. Though I am a book lover appreciative of the majority of literary genres, the aforementioned just so happen to be my all-time favorite set.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
I easily overlook it. Grammatical errors – that can be corrected in edited reissues – ought not be considered if a novel is five-star worthy in both plot and character development.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
Eighty-thousand words. Hmmm. That would round out to what, like 315 pages? Depending on how “gripping” the plot is – and the book would really have to be a page-turner that commands my interest – it could take me 3 to 4 days to complete a novel of that particular pagination.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
Based on plot, character maturation, chapter length, overall structure, and even cover art, do I decide what rating to give a book. All of those aspects play key roles in my rating system. The rating system itself is just that. The rating system. Now, in explanation of it, every reader has his or her own personal opinions as to what rating any one novel should receive from them. For example, I may believe that John Grisham’s storied legal thriller, The Firm, is undoubtedly a five-star opus, whilst another reader may not feel the same way and prefer to brand the said effort with a three-star rating. Where the rating system is concerned, greatness is in the eye of the reader.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
Do your research. Especially those of you indie authors, who are now coming into your own. Take the time to visit any potential reviewer’s blog, or perhaps a prominent website where their critiques may be featured: Goodreads, NetGalley, Amazon, First to Read, LibraryThing, etc. At any of these locations, you will pretty much get an idea of where each reviewer stands in his or her knowledge, absorption, and communication. Make your decisions on which individual reviewers to propose your effort(s) to from there. Also, reputable outlets like The IndieView and The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages can also well assist authors in the reviewer choosing process.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
Not readers so much as the authors themselves. Fellow readers email me to compliment my analysis, while authors constantly email me to not only compliment my style of review, but to also thank me for my critiques of their own novels.
My advice to authors on getting a ‘bad’ review (hasten to add that might mean a perfectly honest, well written, fair review – just bad from the author’s point of view) is to take what you can from it and move on. Under no circumstances to ‘argue’ with the reviewer – would you agree with that?
(Laughs) My primary careers are in the entertainment industry! This means that I am completely accustomed to drama…of every varietal. Strife is strife – be it in show business or literature. And there will come times when an author may find himself/herself contending with a reviewer as the result of a “negative” rating or review. People are people, and tempers sometimes get overheated. Such a course is inevitable. And I wouldn’t at all be surprised if I ever found myself in such an area of friction. It wouldn’t shock me at all. I should include that when I have completed a novel and begin to compose my review of the same, I do so in a spirit of truth and fairness, and with integrity – not taking into consideration an author’s name, or their fame, or any other form of public opinion concerning their effort(s). I follow my own guidelines and provide an honest critique of each book, accordingly. And if one of my not-so-pleasant reviews was to rub any said author the wrong way, and he and/or she felt the need to tell me as much, in a contentious manner, then so be it. There are reviewers out there who would not be so welcoming of an irate author, except that I am not one of them.
We talk a lot about writing here on the blog, and possibly not enough about reading, which is after all why we’re all here. Why do you think people love reading? We’re seeing lots of statistics that say reading as a pastime is dying – do you think that’s the case?
One of the many positive attributes about reading is that those who love to do it all share a common witness: The recreation has a way of transporting one to places that he or she may have never frequented, and, in some instances, never will – at least not in the real world. To answer your question regarding those “statistics,” perhaps in some demographics, for lack of a better word, the leisure of reading has lost its luster, as many members of this generation have become absorbed in – even obsessed with – technology, be its form social media, game apps, or what have you. Associates of that specific group are simply unfocused. And then you have others who just can’t be bothered to sit down and relax with a really good book that they may truly enjoy, too overwhelmed with the distractions of daily living. It’s coming to a point where reading a novel of fiction (or even nonfiction) will be considered a luxury, rather than a basic hobby. Overall, I don’t believe that reading as a pastime is dying, as there will always be bookworms who populate the earth in considerable numbers. Authors will continue onward in their crafts of creating exciting stories, and there will be book lovers the world over who will support their creative contributions.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
Ugggh! Honestly, I have read quite a few book descriptions in my Kindle app store where certain authors have literally spoiled their entire book. Rather than allowing their potential readers to purchase, download, and read the titles themselves, those authors anxiously give away the entire plot in their description fields, leaving very little, if anything, to a reader’s imagination. Huge mistakes. Please, no spoilers!
We’re told that the first page, paragraph, chapter, is absolutely key in making or breaking a book. Agents typically request only the first five pages of a novel; what do you think about that? If a book hasn’t grabbed you by the first five pages, do you put it down?
That can be a very (emphasis on very) tricky situation. Because in some cases, a book can come out of the gate sluggish, and then pick up speed to gain ground. I’ve read such ones and know this to be a fact. But on the other hand, more often than not, if a novel grips its reader from the first five pages, then it’s safe to say that the same will continue to hold the reader’s interest until the very end. Being a respectably decent judge of character, where novels of fiction are concerned, I know immediately, from the first two paragraphs that I start to read, whether or not I’m going to like a book. I will always catch myself saying, “Oooh, I like this one already!” I would never quit on a book, even if it’s awful. Once I start something, I believe in finishing it. The process of completing such a book will take me that much longer, but I wouldn’t abandon it altogether.
Is there anything you will not review?
Per my publication listings at both The IndieView, and in The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, it is made known that I do not accept YA fiction or Western fiction, therefore those are two of the main genres that I will not review.
What do you think of the oft-quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
Hey, Stephen King didn’t get to be Stephen King by sitting around being faithless. The great man, gifted with vast literary wisdom, put the work in, and then closed in on the old school brick-and-mortar publishing houses of New York to get his chilling stories read by millions. The only difference between the old era and this new era is that nearly everything is now digital. And if authors must go about dispatching their manuscripts, electronically, to publishers, then so be it. More power to them. I would be among the first to cheer them on, considering. Get your work out there however you can.
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to indie or self-published titles?
Yes, I do. I believe that because of outlets like Kindle, Kobo, and Smashwords (especially Smashwords) the reading public is becoming acquainted with a whole new wave of independent novelists (who also happen to be self-published), and with the incredible books that these new authors have both written and published. I have read many a rave review of independent authors’ efforts. And truly so, there is a growing public interest.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can ‘filter’ good from bad, aside from reviews?
Frankly, I don’t really believe that there is a way, unless the industry is willing to stretch its budget to hire, in each one of its affiliates, a greater number of proofreaders. There is always the possibility of a novel, that some may find terribly disturbing and offensive, being published to the widespread general public. And it is for those same reasons that genres and descriptions exists. If a certain narrative’s genre and/or its description is not your cup of Earl Grey, then by all means, avoid it. Everything is certainly not for everyone. Filters should not apply.
End of Interview:
Read Cat’s reviews at Reviews by Cat Ellington.