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!
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.
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.