How did you get started?
Procrastination! During a week’s break before my last AS exam, I started playing around with the idea of a book blog. During that week I did a lot of research into which blog type I should use, trying to find a name that I liked. I’d used both Tumblr and WordPress before, but I decided on WordPress because I was most comfortable that it suited the content I wanted to produce. Novellique came about as a combination of ‘novel’ and ‘unique’ – yes, technically it should be spelt Novelique but I added in the second ‘l’ for aesthetic value. Once exams had finished, I started looking for other blogs to follow and then started posting content.
How do you review a book? Is it a read first, and then make notes, or do you make notes as you go along?
I try to make notes as a go, but when I’m busy I don’t always get the chance to write my thoughts down. My opinions definitely change shape as I read, so when I’m looking back at notes I’ve written I generally tend to have a more developed and complex opinion. I’m still trying different things out even now.
What are you looking for?
I’m looking for, most of all, something that makes me want to disregard perfection. I’m looking for something that will mean something to me, that will suck me in and refuse to let go. Be it fantasy, contemporary, science fiction: I want it to challenge me, make me question my own viewpoint and expose me to new perspectives and ideas. Nothing much, really.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
It depends to what extent – if the grammar is preventing me from understanding what is happening, I’m not going to be able to read it. It’s also about the frequency: small grammatical errors I can ignore if they only happen once or twice – I might not even notice them if the story is that good – but if there are errors on every single page I’d be likely to stop reading. If I’ve been given an ARC (or the book has yet to be published) I’d send a note to the author explaining that I find the grammar makes it hard to read and leave it up to them how they wish to deal with it. If it’s already published, I’d still send the note but I would imagine it would be much more difficult to fix one already in print.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
A quick google search has told me this is an average of 320 pages, but I have no idea if that is a paperback, hardback etc. It’s difficult to say, so I’ll rate books by length in terms of examples I remember reading. The Mortal Instruments, at the time of reading a five book series, took a week to read (a book per day, I had plenty of time to read). Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, the entire series) took six months to read. I’m a relatively fast reader even if I don’t like a novel, but the flow will change how fast that ultimately is. There are a lot of different factors that will change how fast I read something.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
I used to do both a star rating (like Goodreads) and a percentage rating – however, I now stick with a star rating. It’s the same as Goodreads. One star is a DNF, two stars is finished but didn’t like, three stars is okay or neutral, four stars is good and five stars is excellent. I don’t post anything below three stars in most situations, especially if I’ve been asked to review something. On Goodreads I’ll still rate it but I won’t do a full review unless I want to talk about something specific.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
I actually made a post about how to approach book reviewers with a request. To shorten it down into the simplest advice ever, be polite. Respect that a book reviewer is doing this off their own back, for a hobby, and is not required to accept. Don’t shout about your awards and feedback from other people (I’ve spoken to several others about this – we’ll likely just delete the request, we aren’t interested in what other people have to say, only what we think). Don’t pester a reviewer, although if it’s been several months you may want to check in with them again. Don’t try to create drama – contact them directly via an email or twitter DM, never in a social forum. Lastly, don’t feel bad if they reject you: even after checking their review policy, they are many reasons (none of them your fault) why the reviewer has said no.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
I don’t get readers emailing me, but I do get authors emailing me – which is always nice. One author in particular (Adara Quick, author of The Dream Protocol series) was super nice about thanking me over Goodreads, sharing my review and also gave me a physical copy of the book once it was published – of course indie authors can’t do this for everyone, but if you want to show your appreciation, helping share the review is a good way to go about it). Readers will usually comment, which will generate further discussion and is always a welcome thing.
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?
Definitely, especially if they’ve read the novel off their own back, but also if you’ve requested a review from that blogger. Trying to argue with a reviewer comes off as rude, even if you’re trying to be diplomatic – it makes it sound like you don’t respect the opinion of the reviewer. I can see this might be difficult when the review isn’t constructive and is being rude, but authors have to learn to be the bigger person. Respect reviewers and most of us will respect you in return.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
Two things immediately spring to mind. The first is either describing too much (interrupting the natural flow of a novel) or not describing too much (disorientating the reader). The second is introducing too many new terms, names and phrases (especially in fantasy or science fiction) too quickly.
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?
The first five pages is a little extreme (for me, personally, as a reviewer). If the book has a good hook – a good first chapter, I would say – I’m more likely to rate it higher because it controls my initial opinion. Take the opening chapter to City of Bones and Nevernight (two of my favourite opening chapters). These books are both 5 starbooks, for me. I can’t remember other books with openings which I didn’t like, which I suppose is the point – a good opening will make it
Is there anything you will not review?
Anything except erotica, pretty much.
What do you think of the oft-quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
To some extent I agree. A novel physically published doesn’t necessarily mean it is automatically better than those published online (there are many examples I can think of but won’t name) but with self-publishing becoming more accessible, it means anyone can publish – even people who aren’t necessarily producing writing to the best of their ability or putting in the effort to edit. That being said, without bad writing we wouldn’t appreciate good writing so much!
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to indie or self-published titles?
I think opinions are to some extent. Indie and self-published novels are still reviewed differently for the vast majority of people – I like to take the form of publishing into account, because applying the same expectations of a mainstream novel to a self-published novel wouldn’t be fair. Large publishing companies can afford better editors, better cover designers and better marketing – therefore I’m less willing to ignore mistakes, especially in the writing (grammar, spelling and typing mistakes, for example).
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can ‘filter’ good from bad, aside from reviews?
I guess the most important thing is for an author to never settle for second best, and then to learn from their reviews – always trying to improve and get better. I believe that, with practice, anyone can produce something good – even if it needs editing and developing and second (and third, fourth and fifth) opinions.
End of Interview:
To read Lottie’s reviews, visit Novellique.