Writing Reviews

It’s an established fact that indie authors need book reviews, yet statistically only about two out every thousand (0.2%) readers take the time to write one. If you want to encourage your favorite author and help potential readers make a decision, spend a few moments sharing your thoughts after reaching “The End”.

NOTE—some find it beneficial to wait a day or two, allowing their thoughts to settle before submitting a review. Jotting down notes as you read may also help you remember all the things you wanted to say.

DON’T:

  • attempt to re-tell or summarize the story.
  • include spoilers unless you warn the reader first.
  • be unnecessarily harsh or destructive (if it’s really that bad, write directly to the author with your concerns instead).

DO:

  • ensure it is well-written and free of spelling and grammatical errors (or you risk not being taken seriously).
  • review the book that you have just read, not the one that you wish the author had written.
  • make sure your criticisms are justified and offset with praise about what you liked.

WHAT TO SAY/QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

The review doesn’t have to be very long; anywhere from few sentences to a paragraph will do.

  • Focus on what most appealed to you about the book and/or about some glaring faults in it that hampered your enjoyment. Be sure to say WHY it mattered to you, as authors are keen to hear your reasons and doing so personalizes the review for the reader.
  • Be specific. Was it the story, the writing style, the characters, the drama, the plot and how it was contrived, the pace, the humor, the climax? Share things that spoke to you personally and will be useful both to the author and future readers.
  • Did the book cover the content as described? Did you get your money’s worth? What could the author have done better? How does it compare to other books in the genre? Feel free to cite other books you’d compare this one to.

Keep in mind that a good review is not a diatribe against the author or an opportunity to present yourself as an all-knowing book critic! Share your thoughts as though you’re having a pleasant conversation with a friend. Be honest, be fair, and be kind—the author expended an enormous amount of time, commitment, and creativity to produce the book for you and others to enjoy.

(Don’t) Say that again – Dealing with overused words

I’m on the hunt.

My manuscript was overrun with the nasty little boogers and it’s taking precious writing time to stop and cull them from the herd. You know what I’m talking about, though they go by many different names: crutch words, filter words, overused words, tired words, lazy words, needless words, filler words, repetitive words – and don’t get me started on adverbs! I’m tempted to use a different term altogether, but it wouldn’t be acceptable in polite company.

I prefer the term “crutch words”, but what are they?

“They are words or expressions that an author’s brain defers to like a default setting (and therefore, they become overused). These repeated words/phrases should not be obliterated from your writing, but rather, their frequency and usage need to be reduced.” Sam Giacomo

I found at least three things worth mentioning in Sam’s simple definition.

Default setting – every writer tends to overuse certain words and phrases, but it’s part of your unique writing voice. They spring from your upbringing, education, region of the world, and personality. Relax. You come by it naturally, you can use them, and you’re in good company.

Not be obliterated – When I was first confronted with my own repeats, it surprised me! (Had, that, but, was, & would are some of my worst.) Removal of every single crutch word is neither required nor desired, but you will have to cull them. The effort is more than worthwhile, as it will improve sentence structure and the overall quality of your writing.

Reduced – Here’s the hard part, and none of my research revealed how many occurrences of a word or phrase is acceptable or excessive. Shouldn’t the magic formula look something like this? [20 uses of “X” per 1000 words = disaster] I wish it were that easy! I use MS Word for my writing, so I take advantage of the “Find” feature. If I see a whole bunch of repeats clustered together, I go hunting. If the overall number is large, I look at each one and winnow it down.

For example, while working on story number three of my current MS, I punched in the word “was”. Whoa! Two hundred forty four occurrences in a document of just under twenty thousand words. It took hours of eliminating, replacing, and re-writing to get the number down to one hundred three. The process is subjective, but once you know what your crutch words are it’s easier to find an acceptable balance.

Beware – the little stinkers are tricky! The list of offenders never goes away as old ones are replaced with new ones. Always ask your beta readers to watch for them, as they are more likely to catch them than you are.

Happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

How To Criticize Without Being Critical

A writer’s work is under constant scrutiny, often accompanied by suggestions of how to fix it. Personally, I don’t like being told what to do – but the right kind of feedback really gets my motor going (just ask my beta readers). The post below, written from an editor’s viewpoint, intrigued me with its title and I found it incredibly affirming.

Now, I’m not a professional editor, nor do I work with one. Doesn’t matter. The guidelines below apply to interaction with readers, beta readers, reviewers, muses, soundboards – and it works whether you are giving or receiving. If only the world at large would read and apply the Two Basic Rules of Editing, it would provide a wonderful boost to writers everywhere!

I’ve condensed the original post down to the basics, but encourage you to read it in its entirety HERE. I hope you find the information as helpful and encouraging as I did.

 

The Two Basic Rules of Editing

Remember: It’s not your job to fix it! Your job is to help the writer fix it.

Rule 1. Praise

Too often people think being a critic means being critical. That’s only part of it, and not even a necessary part. A good critic assesses what’s strong ahead of what’s weak—because if a work has no strengths, why should anyone care what its faults are? I believe that if you can’t say what’s good about a piece of writing, you have no business telling the writer what’s not good about it.

Praise serves different functions:

  1. It sets the tone.A writer is much more willing to entertain your criticisms and ideas if they know that you like their work.
  2. It sets the parameters of what the book can achieve.A pedestrian stylist is never going to write like Jane Austen—but maybe the writer is good at ingenious plotting, like Agatha Christie, or explaining difficult concepts, or mounting a convincing argument, or eliciting sympathetic emotion in the reader. Whatever the writer’s strengths are, they will be stronger in some places than in others. Identify those benchmarks so the writer can set their sights on them.
  3. It sparks ideas.When you tell a writer what you really loved—what surprised you, what moved you, what shocked you, what made you laugh, what made you see something in a new light, a turn of phrase that delighted you, the places where you absolutely couldn’t stop reading—they will often see ways to deepen those responses, or play with them, or find other places in the book that chime with the section you mentioned. The writer will see ways to improve the book that you hadn’t noticed, and that they themselves might not have noticed without your enthusiasm. Which leads to:
  4. It energizes the writer.Now they’re excited! They can see what the book (or script, or story) will look like when they make that change, and they’re longing to get to work on it. When a writer feels that they’re succeeding, they want to add to that success by improving what’s less successful. A writer who feels that they’re failing may be dogged and keep at it, but inspiration is less likely to come, if it comes at all. Often the writer will simply give up.
  5. It gives the writer confidence going forward.The chances are the writer will meet rejection along the way to publication, and beyond. Praise from a reader or editor works as both gasoline and armor.

Rule 2: Ask questions

This rule covers everything that is not praise—in other words, anything that’s not working for you as a reader. As an editor, I feel more confident if I don’t expect myself to know the solution to every problem. As a writer, I am far more energized by being asked to think about my work in a new way than by being told what to do.

The purpose of asking questions is not to get answers. Questions give the writer ideas. Prompted by your question, the writer may come up with an alternative plot event or character motivation, a clearer or different chain of argument or narrative, perhaps even an entirely different way of telling the story. Your question may help the writer articulate something that’s obvious to them but that isn’t at all obvious to you.

If you have a specific solution, remember that it might not be the best one. I usually say something like, “This may not be a good idea, but what if there was a car chase here?” The writer may have already tried that solution and it didn’t work. They may be viscerally opposed to it, perhaps because it’s a cliché. They may love it and be thrilled that you gave it to them. Or—best-case scenario—your idea sparks a better one. And the writer’s imagination is why you’re both here to begin with.

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Update: I’m still working on RISE OF THE DRAMAN. Along with general editing, I’ve added about 16,000 new words to the first two books – with two more to go. As always, it’s taking a lot more time than I hoped (go figure)! Just dealing with crutch words can be incredibly time consuming, especially when it requires the restructuring of sentences and paragraphs. It’s all good though, as it improves my writing and produces a better book. I’m still hoping to publish in February, if all goes well. We’ll see!