About Me

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I love being a mom and a wife. I've married to a man I would do anything for, and we have three beautiful children. I see so much of myself in both of them that it sometimes brings me to tears (happy ones).

I also love writing. Romance to be specific. I love the happily ever after that I believe everyone deserves. My stories aren't 'stop and smell the roses' type romances. While I believe everyone deserves happiness and true love, I know that sometimes you have to walk a hard road to find it. Those are the types of stories I like to write. The happily ever after that wasn't found, but earned. I work to earn mine on a daily basis and so do my characters. 

I am also working on a children's picture book series. Inspired (of course) by my kiddos. :)

On the non-writing front, I play acoustic guitar, sing, read like I get paid for it, ride horses, hike, paint rocks, and support a rather obsessive addiction to Pinterest.

I love to cook, which combined with my pinning addiction, leads to many experiments foisted on my unsuspecting husband and kids, mostly with good results. But sometimes, the dogs gets what the family refuses to eat. And they never complain. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Writing Reviews... The Good, The Bad, and The 'Meh' - Thursdays with the Author

Writing Reviews - The Good, The Bad, and The 'Meh'

                                                

I recently won an ARC (advanced reader copy) for a new book and wanted to give the author a good review since I had won the book in a contest. But as I started reading, I could immediately see it was going to be a problem. You see, I really didn't like the book. I had already emailed the author after reading the prologue and the first chapter, to tell her I really liked what I had read so far. Because I did. Until I started chapter 2.

I'm one of those readers that will ALWAYS finish what I start. Even if I don't like it. I definitely don't want to be someone that quits on a book if I don't like the first line. You never know when a book will get going. This book was one of those. There were multiple times in the first half of the novel that I simply wanted to put it down and not finish, but I trudged on. Thankfully it picked up a bit for me halfway through, but I finished the book with a 'meh' type feeling. Not the best feeling for leaving a great review.

(Tip for Authors here: Your first line should be good, don't misunderstand. So should the first parts of your novel. Most readers will give up on a book if they don't like the beginning. I choose to read a book in its entirety, but readers like me are few and far between. So make sure your book 'pops' from beginning to end.)

This particular book was a fantasy romance, written (I believe) for YA/NA. I couldn't find a reference to the actual genre on any of the author's websites, so I went by impression. I read fantasy occasionally, some of my favorites being Christopher Paolini, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, etc., so it's not exactly out of my normal romance genre reading. The world building was well done, description of characters and environment were great as well. But the just-past-puberty dialog by the 20-something characters was a major turn off. And all the info that was really unnecessary for the overall plot in the book. The beginning was riddled with unneeded information that really bored me as a reader and did not affect the story-line in any way. This book was nearly 600 pages so it would've probably been better if such things were removed before printing. No one really enjoys reading a five pound book. Then there was the fact that I found over 10 typos (and this book is traditionally published), which really bothered me. Are you starting to see why I didn't like the book?

So I emailed the author my thoughts and the typos I found, instead of posting anything publicly. I made sure I mentioned that I hoped she didn't take my thoughts too hard because I knew as an author myself, you can't please everybody. As I've mentioned in my Handling Negative Feedback post, every reader has their own personality and likes/dislikes, so every reader that tries your book might not like it. 

But as a reader, we have to be completely honest when reviewing a book. As an author who's had to hear negative reviews for my own work, giving a bad review felt just as bad as receiving one. Normally, anything I publicly review has only been for books I really liked. My personal policy is if I really, really liked a book, I need to leave a review, on Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, etc. If I didn't like a book, especially if it was for reasons the author could fix, I try to contact the author personally. Does this mean you should too? That decision is completely up to you. I can tell you, as an author, I'd much rather get a private message about someone's dislikes so I at least have the opportunity to fix it. 

Remember: A review effects the sales of a book. That is a fact. So you should think very carefully about posting your review (good or bad) for all the world to see. What you say has the potential to make or break an author's book. 

On the same hand, no reviews are just as damaging to an author. If a book has no reviews, the chance that someone looks at it, see that no one has bothered to review it, and still buy it, are slim. Not leaving a review at all can literally kill an author's sales. It may seem like extra work (as a reader) but you could honestly be changing someone's life by leaving a review.


Here's some tips for leaving reviews (good or bad):


1) Start your review with a general summary
A. Book Name
B. Author Name
C. Genre
D. Rating (stars - see #4)
E. Cover (see #9)
F. Story

1C - Side-bar here: Please make sure you PAY ATTENTION to what genre the book is in. If it's just categorized as romance, don't give the author a negative review because there isn't ENOUGH sex. Likewise, don't complain that there's TOO MUCH sex. A romance has sex in it, but it's not erotica. Understand this before you complain. If it's an inspiration and has graphic sexual scenes, or an erotica with only kissing, by all means, complain, but don't judge a book's contents for being something that it clearly was NOT trying to be.

2) Start with what you liked first. 
Unless you didn't like anything. Then there would be no point. But if you did, tell the author and potential readers. Certain characters, personalities, plot lines, etc. If you liked it, say it, then explain why. Be Specific. Remember, good reviews have the power to make an author's book. As a reader (even a not so picky reader, since I know what it feels like from both sides), I tend to check out reviews before purchasing a book. If all I see are bad reviews, I tend not to buy it. If there's an even mix and the book sounds like something I'd like, I'll give it a try. If the majority of reviews are positive, I won't think twice before I spend my money.

3) What you didn't like.
This part could be very small or very large. Be specific. Maybe the author didn't realize there was something wrong with what bothered you. Maybe they'll read your review and go back and fix it. Maybe they won't. By having a 'didn't like' section in your review, you're helping other readers as well as the author. You're helping the author fix potential bombshells with your honesty. You're helping other readers avoid wasting their hard-earned money on a sub-par product. Remember: You can always delete your own review or update it if the author fixes the problems and you change your opinion.  

An author isn't going to like getting a negative review. He/she has their blood, sweat, and tears, not to mention, a large chunk of time, invested into their novel. Hearing something negative about it will not feel good. But we authors have to learn how to accept it, learn from it, and move on. If everyone critiqued our work like our mothers would (Great job, honey! I loved it!), we'd have a lot more horrible books on the market. Telling an author you liked something when you really didn't will only cause problems for the author in the long run. 

Here's an example of a 'bad' review from my first book on the UK amazon site:

"I read the sample to this book and it sounded like a good read. Unfortunately it was the best bit! Not worth buying in my opinion - sorry"


She gave me 3/5 starts, which by my count (see # 4), is an average review. Did this review make me angry? No. A little disappointed? Yeah. I want my readers to like my books and it's a pretty sucky feeling when they don't. But here's why I was disappointed. 

The reader didn't tell me why she didn't like it. She liked the sample, which was the first few chapters in this book, and the blurb, enough to purchase the book. But she didn't like anything else? What was so different about the rest of the novel from the beginning that made her change her mind? Why wasn't it worth buying? Was it too expensive for the length? Or was it so horrible after the first few chapters that it wasn't worth the money? At least she said sorry and left me 3 stars, instead of worse, but she didn't need to apologize. I want my readers to be honest about how they feel. But I would like to know why they feel that way. Maybe it was a problem I could have fixed. Maybe I could have adjusted the price. Maybe the Americanized dialogue was too confusing for her to understand and I could have put in a disclaimer about the Southern American dialect, or a glossary. But I'll never know because she didn't tell me.

4) Be honest with your rating.
Most sites have a 5 star rating system and only allows full stars. If the rating system doesn't let you pick a half in your review, write it IN your review. For example: Click the 3 star but write that it's a solid 3.5 in the body of the review. Or round up if you're feeling very nice with a 4 star and mention it's a 3.5 in the body. 

Most people consider 0-2 stars a bad rating. 2.5-3.5 would be an average review. 3.5-5 would be a positive rating. 3.5 stars is positive? Yes. At least, most authors should think so. If a reader gives you anything over 3 stars with their review, you should be insanely happy. The going guess I've been hearing in the writing communities is that you should consider yourself blessed if you get even 1 review for every 500 books sold. That's a very painful statistic to hear as an author when reviews are what controls the sale of your book.

5) Be thoughtful. 
This is more than just being specific. Being thoughtful goes even deeper than that. One of the ways an author improves their writing is by listening to feedback and critiques. If there's something wrong with their book, they want to know! But getting a review that says: "Loved the book. Can't wait for what he/she comes up with next." is not a good review to receive. Don't get me wrong, the author will love that you left a review at all, but by only saying a few short words, you aren't teaching to author anything, and you aren't telling the potential readers WHY the book was so great. Was it the ease of dialogue that made it seem like you could actually hear the conversation? Was it the detailed explanations that made you feel like you could reach out and touch the scenery? Was it the amazingly creative sex scenes that made you want to take your husband to bed and try what you read about? Was it the harrowing love story that made your heart clench and tears spring to your eyes? Was it the sadistic bad guy that made you wish he was real just so you could be the one to make him face justice? Did the nonstop pace have you reading until the wee hours of the morning just because you couldn't stand putting the book down? THOSE are the details the author and the reader need to know. Those thoughts that made you love the book are the ones that will get someone else to give it a try. Those thoughts will encourage the author to write another story with the same skill that made you fall in love with their writing.


Here's an example from a great review left for my first book on Amazon's US site:

""Are you always going to take care of me, Cole?"

"Always"

Dark Mountains was a free read I was able to pick up from Amazon. Despite my TBR list being obscenely long, something about the blurb drew me in and I read this book in one sitting. Dark Mountains is the story of two children, Cole and Libby, who meet as very young children instantly becoming best friends. That friendship continues through their childhood and beyond eventually growing into more. Cole becomes Libby's lifeline as she lives with a tragic and violent home life. As Libby and Cole become adults, the danger to Libby doesn't end.

Cole makes a wonderful hero with his steadfast friendship to Libby and his desire to protect and comfort her. Although I usually read romances with a lot more steam, I enjoyed Dark Mountains for everything it was...Sweet, moving, well-written. Dark Mountains probably won't be the next breakout book you hear about but it was a lovely read and all the more likable for the simplistic and straightforward style it was written in. A sweet, solid 3.5 read. Just a side note, the generic cover does not do justice to this book and I'd recommend a new one."


A couple things this reviewer did that were awesome: 

A) She actually clicked 4 stars (since amazon doesn't let you have half stars) but mentioned it was a solid 3.5 in her review. She was being honest but also helping the book's average review by rounding up her star rating. 

B) She mentions that she reads a different sort of romance (steamy) but still liked the story. 

C) She gives you a summary of the characters/story-line. 

D) She hits on what she really liked about the book 

E) She mentions what she didn't like: the generic cover. And it was a generic cover. Once I realized my readers thought it was, I redesigned, and republished with a new, better looking cover.

Here's another review (5 star) from Amazon US:

"My parents were born and raised and are now buried in Kentucky and I have a brother who still lives there so I have spent my entire life visiting various relatives in Kentucky and my roots are there but this author fooled me. She was born in Bay City, Texas and was raised in a small town in Central Illinois but as I read this book I would have sworn that she was born and raised in Kentucky. She was spot on in her portrayal of people who made their living in Kentucky coal mines and in her portrayal of the way of life of people who live in the South.

Also as I read this book I was hoping that someone would put the bad guy out of his misery. I just wasn't sure who I wanted to have the honors. He actually hurt everyone with whom he came in contact so the line of people who wanted him dead was pretty long but I just wanted to make sure that whoever finally kills him does not end up in prison for doing the world a favor. I make no apology for wanting this man dead. I was raised in the country and when we saw a venomous snake or a rabid dog we had one way of handling it...we killed it before it could kill us. This man was worse than a venomous snake or a rabid dog because if you can stay out of the way of the snake or the dog they do not come looking for you in order to kill you. The same cannot be said of this poor specimen of humanity. No one could stay out of his way because he definitely WOULD come looking for you.

There were parts of this book that were very sad. (Keep the tissues handy.) There were parts of it that made me wonder why something was not done to rid the world of the bad guy years ago. There were parts of the book that made me cry and parts that made me cheer. Significantly, when I finished this book I had no desire to rush right into another book because the characters and storyline in Dark Mountains will keep me thinking about them for a long time... This is an excellent book and one I highly recommend."


Here's what she did right: 

A) She mentions the accurate portrayal of an area that the author is clearly NOT from. As authors, we need to DO OUR RESEARCH and get it right when describing places, people, language, ways-of-life, etc. from the places we are writing about. Another example of why it's important to do research: I'm from the USA, Illinois to be exact. I've never been out of the country. I have a series of books based in Ireland. How do I write about a place I've never been? By doing my research! I had originally written the first book before finding a great site for the Gaelic language where it was a community type Q&A. I posted some snippets to see how realistic they sounded and got multiple responses immediately. Turns out, my Irish dialect that I had written the dialogue in was considered 'stage Irish'. You know, the sound like a leprechaun, top of the mornin' to ya, type Irish. Which is not actually used in Ireland. Thanks to the people on that site, I changed the dialogue and got correct usage and pronunciation help for the Gaelic I used from people that actually used it! :)

B) She is thoughtful with what she liked. The bad guy was so bad, and so realistic, that it was one of the key things she remembered after reading. She also mentions that this book make her cry and cheer. You want your books to effect the reader's emotions. She also mentions that she kept thinking about the book long after she had finished it.

6) Decide HOW you want to write your review
A review can be as long or short as you want. You can write a detailed paragraph of your likes and dislikes. You can write a chapter by chapter summary. No matter what the length of your review just remember to be specific and thoughtful.

7) Decide if you want to put your contact info in your review
This one is completely up to you. Most sites give you the option of hiding your personal information. But I can tell you, as an author, there have been MANY times I've wanted to write a reviewer to say thank you, send a free copy of my next book, or let them know I fixed what they didn't like. On the other side of the coin, this puts you at risk for getting a nasty email from an author that hasn't learned how to handle a negative review. So putting your contact information in your review can be a pain. But a majority of authors have learned that a negative review is just as important as a positive one so the odds of getting a nasty message aren't super high. I would have wanted to message the woman who left the negative review on the UK site (See # 3) to try and get more specific answers as to why she didn't like it.

8) Feel free to add quotes from the book
As an author, I literally squeal and do a little happy dance when a reviewer liked a specific dialogue or section enough to actually quote it in their review. If they remember it well enough to quote it, the author has done their job. :)

9) Have a section for the technical aspects of the book
A good book isn't just made with the story. There's all sorts of other factors. Spelling/grammar, cover, formatting, price, etc. There's 2 ways of going about this:

eBook 
Is the thumbnail cover easy to see and read? Is the cover eye catching? Are there page breaks where there should/shouldn't be? Do all the chapter headings link back to the Table of Contents, and all the links there take you to the subsequent chapters? Do all the hyperlinks work? Is the price too high/low for the quality or size of the book?

Print
Is the cover eye catching, easy to read, etc? Is the font and text size easy to read? Are there extra pages where there shouldn't be? Is the Table of Contents needed/not needed? Is there a glossary needed, and is it in the right place? Is the book size too big/small? Are the pages hard to turn (paper type)? Are there page numbers and page headings? Are they where they're supposed to be? Is the price too high/low for the quality of the book?

Knowing these things are just as important as how you liked the actual story. I've had reviewers that said they loved the book but hated the cover which spurred me to design a better one. I've also reviewed print books that had the character in the book was reading something and the font used to show the text the character was reading was very hard to read. Authors need to know these things.

10) Make the reader (of the review) aware of any spoilers
If you're going to talk about something that happened in the book that would ruin the surprise for another reader, make sure you notify them if there will be any 'spoilers' at the beginning of your review. If you don't want to 'spoil' it, just be general with what you discuss, avoiding any specific plot details that would give it away. Some sites will even ask if there are potential spoilers and if you click yes, it will hide your review from general users unless they fully understand the risk of reading it. The same sites usually offer a spoiler and spoiler free review so you can write both.

11) Don't Be a Troll (jerk)
Don't bother leaving a review if you're going to be nasty or judgmental. Most readers and authors can see when someone is being a troll. Someone is homophobic and didn't realize your book had a homosexual relationship in it and spews all kinds of hatred on your review. Someone is a liberal democrat and your book was obviously written from a conservative republican standpoint and they fill their review with crazy political rhetoric. A character in your book decides to terminate a pregnancy and you get hateful reviews about your 'murderous' attitude. Your book has sex in it and someone read it not realizing it and they fill the review with 'so disappointed' and 'disgusted' type sentences. 

Those are trolls. Readers should be smart enough to read a blurb, genre description, and even other reviews, and know what they're getting into when they purchase a book. A romance will probably have sex in it, but it won't be erotica. A contemporary fiction will probably have foul language or sensitive topics so don't expect PG-13 language. A fantasy will probably have references to magic, etc. so don't go all Harry-Potter-Is-The-Devil's-Work on it.

But as an author, we have to expect that some people will not be smart enough to realize that, and will leave a scalding review after their should-have-been-obvious discovery. As a reader, we have to see those reviews for what they are: trolls being ridiculous.

Here's an example of a 2 star, troll review from my first book on Amazon US:

"This book started out fine and then the profanity began. I do not read books that use the Lord's name in vain. No need for profanity for a book to be good. Sexual content should be implied, not explained. In my opinion, from what I did read, the book may have been a good story but I just stick to more family friendly reads. Did not finish this book."

I think it's pretty obvious why I would classify this review as a troll review but I'll give you the reasons anyway. 

A) The reader had a problem with profanity. Even though this book is classified clearly as an adult contemporary romance/romantic suspense. As I mentioned above, as a reader, we have to be aware of what we are purchasing. If you don't like bad language, you should probably stick with inspirational novels and children's books. 

B) She brings out the religion card. As a reviewer AND a reader, don't even put this card in your deck. There are THOUSANDS of religions around the world and just because you believe one, doesn't mean everyone else has to as well. If you can't remain objective about another person's beliefs, or lack thereof, then you probably shouldn't be reading fiction. The only exception to this rule is if you're reading a religious/inspirational novel.

C) She is offended by the explained sex scenes. In a romance novel. This is another should-have-been-obvious moment. Romance novels will have sex in them. There are even sub-genres in romance for different levels of 'heat'. There's sweet, (AKA only kissing is explained, sex, if there is any, is implied, not explained), to steamy (AKA sex is abundant, as is the descriptions, but the romantic story line is still the main focus), all the way to erotica (AKA porn in book form, with an extra romantic story line added to it). If sex in any fashion is not what you're interested in reading, stick with inspirational and children's books then. 

D) 'Did Not Finish This Book'. I'd say if you can't finish a book, you shouldn't be writing a review. It could have picked up or improved later on and you never would have known. Also, you have no idea what you have missed if you don't read it all. 

At the very least, you should be contacting the author personally so he/she has a chance to fix it. Especially if it's because of multiple typos or really bad writing (you usually only see those with self-published works, unfortunately). If you are writing your review based on your personal beliefs and sense of morality, make sure you aren't sounding like a troll before you post your review, because you probably are sounding like a troll. 


12) Write the Review
This one's pretty self-explanatory! Get out there and write! :)





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