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To Review or Not to Review

Cat watchingSo how do you review? I’ve always thought a critique was giving an opinion on both the good and bad of a book, where as a review concentrated more on how the story made you feel. After reading many reviews I’ve seen it can be all of the above.

That brings up the question, what if you don’t like it? How do you handle that? What if the Point of View is all over the place, the story is disjointed and doesn’t flow, or the grammar is so poor you struggle to read it? What do you say then? Do you publicly humiliate the author?

I can understand the frustration of readers of Indie Authors. Being an avid reader I’ve tried to be supportive of Indie’s, but I’ve been irritated a few times. So Amazon won’t kick out my reviews, I purchase all my reads. I’ve found that the book cover will look awesome as well as having an interesting synopsis, but after the purchase, I find myself  struggling with a hard-to-read product.

What I’m finding most of the time is there is a good story in there, but it’s hidden by lack of Point of View, or sentence structure that makes no sense. Then there is poor formatting, miss-spelled words or wandering story line. I always wonder, ‘how did the editor let that slide?’  So I will ask the author if they had it edited. I’ve received some interesting replies that I won’t repeat, but 99.9 percent of the time, there was no editor. Why am I not surprised? My favorite reply was “It’s my story and you either like it or you don’t.” Sigh…..

As an Author, I really get frustrated. If readers can’t trust they are getting a good product, this tarnishes all of our reputations as writers and drives them away from Indie’s. There is a reason publishers have editors. It’s because all authors need them. Just as we need beta readers, and re-writes. What makes sense to us, what we love about our little creations, may look totally different to others. We need unbiased opinions to help us create the best story we can.

But back to my original question. What do you do? Do you go ahead and do a review?

If it is that poor, I will do two things. I will contact the author and ask a few questions. Their tone of response will then temper what I do next. If they are interested in my inquires, if  they ask questions back and I can politely share my opinion, I will then go on and give a nice, but honest review. I have the author read it first and they can either approve or disapprove my posting of  it. This is important. As an author I have to remember how it would feel if someone reviewed me harshly.  But if they state it is what it is, I do not review.

I have a responsibility as a reader and author to create an honest review for the next interested reader. If I inflate it and don’t represent it honestly, the next reader is no longer going to trust my review or my own writing. It is a double-edged sword. I want to support my fellow Indie, but they have to want to produce the best product they can.

So what do you do? To review or not to review? What are your guidelines?

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How Do You Critique Nicely?

ImageThis is one of my favorite Facebook posters, because it is me in so many ways. For years I’ve battled a ferocious temper, instant impatience and lack of empathy. I could be Queen of Road Rage or Superman of Sarcasm. Yet, I try hard to control it so that I can be a beneficial member of society. So when an acquaintance asked if I would read their book and review it on Amazon, I eagerly jumped in to help. I regretted this within the first four paragraphs of their book.

All the beginner’s mistakes times twenty. I profess not to be an editor of any sort. I know my grammar mistakes and plot holes drive my ever-patient Editor to drink, so who am I to rate someone else’s book? Easy, I’m also an avid reader. I instantly know if it’s readable material. 

What captures my interest? Smooth, easy to read writing. Unusual writer’s voice. Different descriptions.  Solid characters. Interesting plot. But most of all, proper sentence structure and grammar. If I have to stop and go back to read something, or ponder over what the author means, you’ve lost me. I don’t care how good the story plot is, I have to be able to read uninterrupted to actually be in the story and escape there. I want no bumps to cast me back out into the real world, thinking, “Huh? What was that?”

I actually get mad. It’s like going to the movies and having someone kick the back of your seat while you are trying to get into the show. I also feel, as an indie author myself, I have to be better than best, so I can compete and look competent  If I’m going to go up against the big boys, I had better have my best game forward. This also helps my fellow indie partners to build a platform of trust with our readers. Instead, a book poorly written, reflects on all of us..

So what should I do? Tell this person off? Point out all of their flagrant, erroneous problems like adjectives in every dialog tag, or POV shifts, or mixing past and present tenses, or the many, many typos? Do I berate them for wasting the money to self-publish and making indies look bad for shoddy work? No, that would only hurt and discourage. I’ve been in this writer’s shoes. How do I gently direct them towards hiring an editor before printing?

I turned to my trusty Editor and she gave the most wonderful advice: “You tell them that there are two aspects to being a writer: craft and talent. You think they have great talent, but they need to work on their craft. Highlight the strong points. Give them good resources that don’t take too much of your time to explain. I think James Scott Bell has a good book on POV, if I remember right, and refer them to a simple grammar book like Grammatically Correct or any of the Grammar Girl books. Someone like that probably won’t hire an editor, but they might invest the time to learn.”  (quote by Chryse Wymer)

Now you know why I think she is the best in the world! An excellent and wise approach and that’s exactly what I decided to do. I don’t know if this author will take the gentle suggestion, but I’m hoping they will. For the sake of their book sales, their readers and all of us indies who are struggling to get a foot in world of publishing. .