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YELLOW SILK DREAMS

Saturday, March 17, 2012

BUTTERFLIES - THROUGH A REVIEWERS EYES


Today, I have a very special guest @ BRB sweeties, an author, but also a lady who enjoys doing book reviews. She is my first reviewer, so I'm thrilled to share her insight. And, yes, she reads a hell of a lot! LOL Welcome to BRB, Jenny Twist!

Bio

Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family. She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant, she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford. She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.
In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat
Her first book, Take One At Bedtime, was published in April 2011 and the second, Domingo’s Angel, was published in July 2011. Her novella, Doppelganger, was published in the anthology Curious Hearts in July 2011, Uncle Vernon, was published in Spellbound, in November 2011,  Jamey and the Alien was published in Warm Christmas Wishes in December 2011 and Mantequero was published in the anthology Winter Wonders in December 2011.

Butterflies

There are over eight million books on Amazon and every one of them represents immeasurable time and love spent by the author to bring it into the world. They are fragile, these stories – like butterflies. And, like butterflies, most of them die before sunset. But some soar up into the heaven and live forever. You know the ones – To Kill a Mocking Bird - Lord of the Flies - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -and all the other wonderful stories that live on long after the author has died.  And what makes these stories immortal? Well, to a large extent, YOU do. You, Dear Reader. You buy the books and you tell your friends and they buy the books and they tell their friends and so on, until the whole world knows about them.

But what made the first person read the book in the first place? Well, the author's friends and family probably bought copies. Maybe they told a few people. But it's not enough. You can see that, can't you? If a book is to be a best-seller it needs a heck of a lot more publicity than just your family and friends talking about it. It needs reviews.

Now, I realised this very soon after publishing my first book. It wasn't going to fly all on its own. I had to get people talking about it. I needed reviews. Luckily, I very quickly made friends with other authors. I joined author sites, I joined Goodreads. I offered to review other people's books if they would review mine. And so my journey as a reviewer began. I had NO IDEA what I was letting myself in for!
It's like this. If you review somebody else's book in return for them reviewing yours, you don't want to give them a bad review in for fear that they will give you a bad review. On the other hand, you don't want to compromise your integrity by showering praise on a mediocre or even downright appalling book. And then there's the problem of separating the genre from the standard of that particular story. If you don't like vampire books and your friend has asked you to review their latest story about Vanessa, Countess of the Night, you just know you're not going to like it before you start and you spend the entire time while you're reading it trying to think of nice things to say. It's very difficult to do a fair review of a book that is in a genre that you dislike.

So you learn. You learn to look at the other aspects of the book. Is it well-written? Does the author use language well and fluently? Is the plot interesting? Do the characters seem real? And so on. After a while you find you can review most things and still be fair. But, of course, there is still occasionally the truly dreadful book that has, as far as you can see, no redeeming qualities. What do you do then?

Well, this is what I do. Before I accept a book for review and certainly before I approach an author with a view to doing a swap, I research their work. Most authors have website these days with excerpts from their books, and I don't know about you, but I reckon I can tell within a couple of paragraphs whether I am going to enjoy the way an author writes. And I'm seldom wrong about that.

I eventually reached a stage where I was sitting pretty. I was getting good reviews for my books and I was getting free reads. But not enough. I began to resent having to pay for a book when so many writers were only too pleased to give me their books for nothing in exchange for a review.

So I applied to become a reviewer for one of the major sites. There would be two great advantages to this – I would have a huge choice of free books and I wouldn't have to worry about saying exactly what I think. These people don't know me, right? And they're not reviewing my books.

But, guess what? You still have to be just as careful. I still go to a great deal of trouble to check out the author before I accept the book. If the author has had the courtesy to leave both a summary and an excerpt on the site I can usually tell from that. If not, I will often just abandon it. It depends whether I have time to start searching on the net. But either way, I will only download the book if I'm reasonably sure I'm going to like it. I still make mistakes, of course. But I always bear in mind that I am reading something precious, something that took weeks, maybe years of the author's life. Even if I don't much like a book, I look for the good things. I do say if I think it could be improved, because I think that might be useful for the author when writing the next book, but I don't think I am ever harsh or unfair. And I try to read it on its own terms. It is utterly unreasonable to condemn a light romance because it is not great literature. It didn't set out to be great literature. And if it is as good as it can be within that criterion, then it deserves a top rating. My review site defines 5 stars as 'This should be reserved for only the best of the best'. I interpret that as meaning the best of its type. I don't think you should have to be Harper Lee to get 5 stars, just write the best possible within your own field.

Recently a dear friend received a cruelly bad review for what was, in my opinion, a very good and well-written story. She was devastated. If she had only just begun writing she might never have written another thing. I myself was unable to write for three days after a close friend gave me a really cutting response to the first draft of my new novel.

We should think about this when we review. We should not be shooting down all those stories which fail to meet our exacting and maybe unrealistic standards. We should not crush the butterflies' wings. We should be helping them to fly.


42 comments:

  1. Thanks for hosting me on your site, Blak. Ireally appreciate it.
    Love
    Jenny

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  2. Great post, Jenny. Agree that you should look for the positives even if you don't particularly like the stry/genre. It's when serious flaws ruin what could otherwise have been a good story that I don't know what kind of review to leave!

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    1. It is SO difficult, isnt it? I tend to pick the most serious and say something like, "I think it would have been even better if..."

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  3. Jenny, this is a beautiful post, and good advice. Writers put so much of themselves into each story, and a bad review can halt the creative process. I believe, too, that if someone has something bad to say about a book or story, he or she should at least find one positive, if possible—a little bright spot in the darkness. :)

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    1. There's GOT to be something, hasn't there? No matter how bad it is. Maybe the nasty reviewers are all authors trying to nobble the competition!

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  4. A very fair approach to reviewing, to consider the technical aspects of the work even if it is a genre you would not select to read. It would be strange if we all liked the same stuff and a certain detachment can allow for objectivity in reviewing.
    Carry on the good work Jenny!
    (And a useful tip that I shall make use of - excerpts on the author website.)

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    1. So glad you agree, young Cater. Do you do any reviewing yourself? And have you put your fab book on Manic Readers?

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  5. Reviews in my eyes are someones opinion. Not everyone is going to like your "baby". I say baby, because an author has put her blood, sweat and tears into their work and to them that is exactly what it is. So, I think if one doesn't like the book they are reviewing, there has to some positive they can comment on as well.
    Just MHO,
    Good post, Jenny
    Neecy

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    1. Hi Neecy. I couldn't agree more. xxx

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  6. I agree with everyone here. You have to look at the genre and writing skills. Don't judge a book by it's cover so to speak :)
    Good post
    Mary
    www.keithpublications.com

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    1. Hello, Mary. I'm really pleased you dropped in. Thank you so much. Love Jenny xxx

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  7. Thank you so much for being here today, Jenny! I wish you the best. It was great to have you. And, thank you to everyone else for dropping by!

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    1. It's such a pleasure! And so many nice people have visited. I feel very privileged to be here

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  8. Years ago we stopped by our local bookstore and talked to the clerk. There we heard about the newest book or a new author. Times have changed and those reviews online give us insight into that new book. But everyone needs to keep in mind that anyone can write a review on a book and not all reviews are fair. A fellow author got a bad review at a major online store because there was too much sex in the book. Huh? They kissed three times. THREE! There was no sex in the book. Just three sweet kisses. (Shaking my head) If you like a book, tell your friends, hit the LIKE button where you bought it. You don't have to write a book report, just say you enjoyed it. The author will love you for it.

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    1. Three kisses, eh? Obviously a sex maniac! Or could it be the reviewer was a tad obsessed?
      I am with you all the way with telling your friends and hitting the like button (but I like nice reviews as well. It makes me feel wanted).

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  9. A fantastic post and well put. In the last year I have read two books out of my contemporary romance realm, a gay romance and a werewolf/witch romance, for reviews. I loved both stories and am glad I read them. With my first release in July of this year, I am now terrified of what reviewers will say. But I also know, you can't satisfy everyone.

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    1. I know how you feel! It's very hard to ignore a bad review. I generally curse the reviewer, which makes me feel much better. But I can't help feeling resentful. Why did they review it if they don't like that sort of thing?
      Looking forward to your first release, Jody. Lots of luck with it. I hope you sell a million and get superb reviews!

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  10. I'm just setting out on the reviewing track and hope I never find myself unable to comment favourably about a story. You're advice has just cemented how to find and highlight the positive. tks

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    1. Hi Anne. I'm so glad you found it useful. Good luck with reviewing. I don't think you'll have much trouble finding nice things to say. You are such a kind person.

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  11. As an author, I have learned to take the bitter pill with the sweet. I have the expectation that a reviewer will choose my book because something about it looks interesting to them. I think it's good to stick to genres that the reviewer likes and knows well.

    A bad review can be a learning experience if a writer is open to it. No one starts off knowing everything. I don't know that I would want to swap reviews with another writer--too much pressure to give a lopsided review. I'd rather get a review from someone who doesn't know me so they can give an honest opinion. I can take it if it isn't all roses and sugar.
    On the other hand, there are reviewers who think it's smart and edgy to give snarky reviews that humiliate and hurt. I haven't received one of those but I have read some that other writers received and didn't deserve. A new, inexperienced writer doesn't need that kind of negative input.

    I enjoyed your blog, Jenny. I had no idea you were also a reviewer. I also didn't know you once worked in an asbestos plant. I'm certainly glad you moved on from that. I learn something every day. LOL

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    1. Hello, Sarah You are a much kinder and more forgiving person than I. I really resent bad reviews and never feel I learn anything from them. I realise this is a really bad attitude. But it does make me think twice about what I say about other people's stories.
      I only worked in the asbestos factory for a few months and it was in the office, so I probably got away with it!

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  12. I certainly can relate to the mataphor of the butterfly's wings. I, too, feel like a heel if I give a less-than-stellar review to an author. I know the agony of the creative process, not to mention the nuts and bolts of edits and all the doo-dah we go through on the way to final publication. I solved my dilemma with the last review I gave. I emailed my review to the author with a note to use it in any way she saw fit; and that if she wanted me to publish it on a well-known site, give me the go-ahead.

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    1. Now there's a devious way of shifting the responsibility!
      I always do that with friends' reviews in case I've inadvertantly said something they're unhappy with. Gives me the chance to rephrase it. I think I've only done that once, though. And they can tell you where they'd like you to post it (no sniggers, please).
      But, of course, when I'm being a proper reviewer I have no contact with the authors and just hope they are reasonably happy with what I say.
      xxx

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  13. Hi Jenny,
    This is a terrific post and thank you for explaining your methods so well.
    As a writer I am aware not everyone will like my book (I don't want to read every book at my local bookstore either) ad while I have been fortunate to receive a majority of good reviews, I have also received some rather scathing ones. What I have learned is which "bad" reviews are worthwhile - the ones that point out where improvements could be made - and which reviews are irrelevant and sound like someone is in need of exerting some kind of power.
    I think that authors need to learn the difference before they let a bad review destroy them. I appreciate a reviewer that considers the various aspects and is constructive when criticism is necessary.

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    1. Hi Chelle. What a thoughtful and reassuring response! You are obviously very good at dealing with 'bad' reviews. Much better than I am, I suspect. I think you probably WILL benefit when you have such a positive attitude. (But I still think the power-mad, scathing reviewers should be hung up by their thumbs. Not that I bear grudges or anything!)

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  14. Beautifully expressed, Jenny. I often think of butterflies and snowflakes as I write. And yes, our stories are our 'babies' and you don't want anyone, let alone a stranger with power, to cast aspersions on your little one. So you write and develop a hard shell for protection and keep writing.
    Many thanks again, Charmaine

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    1. And thank you, Charmaine,for your lovely comment.
      xx

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  15. Really well said, dear Jenny,
    Writers have feelings too; their books are like their children and no parent wants to see his/her children being unfairly or viciously attacked.
    I personally approach reviews in the same way as writing references for people - if I can't write a good one, I politely decline rather than go for the jugular in public.
    One thing is for sure though, when it comes to your excellent books, finding good things to say is the easiest thing in the world!
    Love, Lyn

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    1. I could say exactly the same for you, Sweetie. Reading another one of yours right now and having trouble tearing myself away.
      Love
      Jenny
      xx

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  16. sorry so late in posting this but i agree about the other aspects you need to look at when reviewing a book. Thanks for sharing Jenny.

    Anna

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    1. And thanks so much for dropping in, Anna. I know what a busy lady you are. And congratulations on the latest reviews for the Bradford trilogy. You are really rocking now!

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  17. I am an author who used to be a reviewer. I used to review for my own site which is now sadly gone, due to lack of time.

    Like you, I always tried to see the good points in all the books I read, though for me it was not too hard because the site focused on paranormal romances and I enjoy reading all aspects of that particular genre.

    I have found since becoming published that reviews can certainly harm my writing ability. Even a review that isn't what you would call bad can make me second guess my work if it complains about something.

    I don't bother to look for reviews of my books, and have given up the Goodreads site - though am struggling to manage my TBR pile without it - because I find going there stops me from writing the stories I want to. Taking too much notice of reviews about the stories themselves (I am not talking about style or grammatical issues - I know I need to work on those) tends to result in my writing for the reviewers instead of for myself. And that is the last thing I want.

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    1. What an interesting comment! You illustrate all I was trying to say about 'bad' reviewers. I'm sorry you've had to close your site. I bet it was a good one. You obviously really think about what you say.
      And I'm sorry you've had such a rough ride with Goodreads.
      One of the aspects I didn't explore in my post was a tendency to write for reviewers rather than yourself. It never occurred to me that this happened, but of course it does. There's a whole thesis here. Do we get moulded by what reviewers think? Will we all end up writing in exactly the same way? I think I feel another post coming on!
      You're doing the right thing ignoring the bad stuff. I wish I could. I tend to brood.
      Keep it up. And keep writing.
      Love
      Jenny
      xx

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  18. Wonderful post, Jenny. Dealing with negative reviews is one of the most difficult things an author struggles with. Not everyone is going to love our stories but it seems as though there are some who especially enjoy coming up with the cruelest posts possible. I've even seen cases where reviews were used as a weapon to derail an author. It's truly sad. Even if I don't particularly like a book, I won't post a negative review. Just because it wasn't my cup of tea, doesn't mean someone else won't love it. As I said, wonderful post and you sound like a reviewer with the author's best interests at heart. Thank you :-)

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  19. Hello, Maeve. How nice to meet you. It looks like we feel the same way. I can't understand why anybody feels the need to be cruel. It's destructive and helps nobody, including the reviewer.
    Love
    Jenny
    xxx

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  20. I think we take the same approach, Jenny. I go by the honest but nice philosophy when both critiquing and reviewing. I've had some really rude critiques that have taught me that lesson. As far as reviews, though not every one has been favorable, I've yet to get a really scathing one and really hope I don't. My self doubt is bad enough and I'm sure other new authors can relate. Great post as usual, Mrs. Twist.

    ~Mysti

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    1. You are an excellent reviewer, Mysti. Always fair and kind. You were the first person to review my first book and I was so grateful. I think myself very fortunate to have had you review all my books so far.
      As for A Ranger's Tale. I am not surprised that all the reviews have been good. It's a very special story.

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  21. Very interesting post, Jenny. I remember reading that you don't like erotic books so do you not review those? Or do you read any author whose style of writing you find acceptable? I can't review in any genre I write in. I find it too awkward. I agree it would be much easier from within an anonymous review site.

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    1. Hi
      I don't review erotic books, because I find it so embarrassing, I can't read the rude bits. I'm a terrible prude. It's not so bad if it's just one or two erotic scenes in a book of a different genre (crime and mystery novels are my favourites), I just flip through that scene and feel I can still give a balanced review because it was only a very small part of the book.
      It's interesting what you say about not reviewing in genres you write in yourself. Until you said that, I hadn't realised that I seldom do. I have a few favourite authors who write excellent horror stories and I review them, but I never review SciFi or historical. Hmm!
      Love
      Jenny
      xx

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  22. Herbert Grosshans

    Hi Jenny. Every writer wants to write a masterpiece. Nobody writes with the intention of producing rubbish. Time is just too precious. We spend weeks, months, often years weaving our dreams and thoughts into our stories. Sometimes we are even a bit shy about sharing them. Tastes are different, and there will always be those who will say, “This was crap.” It can be devastating to a budding author. We have to live with those negative comments. If the majority of readers like our stories then that is good enough. I remember one of my books received 5 stars from one reader and 1 star from another. Go figure. Some reviewers are kind. They won’t publish a review if they didn’t like the story. Perhaps they should write the author a short note explaining why they didn’t like it. That would help and not hurt so much.

    posted by Herbert Grosshans at 10:08 AM on Mar 18

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  23. Hi Jenny. Great post. I review the works of others as well, but am a rank beginner. I try to be careful about what I read and only review genres I enjoy. I've also adopted the philosophy that if I can't say anything good about a book, I won't say anything at all. I think it's better to not post a review if it might hurt someone. I generally post reviews on Amazon and on my own site (http://cookinwithmisshavana.blogspot.com/). Only two authors have ever volunteered to review my books. I'm always nervous about that. They are, after all, competition. I try not to consider works in that light myself (competition), but I've heard that can be a problem.
    Thank you for the informative post.
    James

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  24. Hello, James. It seems to me that you have the right idea. I like your philosophy.
    I wouldn't worry too much about other authors being competition. It's not really a race. People who like to read will read thousands of books in their lifetime. I think it would only be a problem if the volunteer reviewer regarded YOU as competition and decided to nobble you. I can't imagine there are many out there who think like that. (And if they do, of course, it's a compliment. They must think you're good to be worth nobbling).

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