Literally Speaking; Art of the Review Process

CC3_6888By Tumika Patrice Cain

There is nothing quite like the excitement of seeing a creative endeavor come to life that you have put many hours, much effort and a number of resources in to bring it to pass.  As with anyone who has birthed something of significance, you want to share that gift with the world.  The same is true for writers who toil on a book, hoping that others will love it as much as you do.  After all the I’s have been dotted and the proverbial T’s crossed, you begin submitting your book to reviewers hoping for their stamp of approval.  You have a winner, right?  After all, your mother, aunt, best friend and the lady next door all told you this was destined to be a New York Times bestseller.  Then the reviews start rolling in….and some of them are not quite what you thought they would be.

The first thing to keep in mind when you are seeking others for reviews, especially professional reviewers, is to know that not everyone reads everything.  You may think your book is the one that crosses all genres and every border.  However, that may not be the case.  Someone who loves urban street tales, may find the slower, more serene pace of literary fiction a complete bore.  Just as someone who enjoys the hardcore sex of BSDM may really not connect with a romance novel, no matter how well it’s written. And so on and so forth.  What this equates to are potentially lower review scores because they just can’t “get into it.”  Take the time to research who is actually reading and reviewing books in your genre.  It could very well make the difference between a stellar or not so stellar review.

It is also important to note some of the things that reviewers look for:

  1. Good character and plot development.  There should be background on the characters that gives the readers a glimpse into who this person is.  The words in the book should be able to paint visual pictures in the mind of the reader.  Readers should also be able to connect with the characters through some kind of emotion….not everyone will love every character.  The character that is hated is just as important as the ones that are loved.  Take the time to do research on subjects you’re not totally familiar with so that your book reads true.  Don’t forget about things like scenery; descriptions of persons, places and things; the thoughts characters have but refuse to voice.  All of those are key elements to creating a really great novel.  As a side note: Readers can tell when a book has been rushed.  Take your time, let the story unfold as it should.  There is no rush to get to the finish line, because you are only in competition with yourself. Writing should be seen as more of a marathon than a 100 meter dash.
  2. A smooth flow from beginning to end.  The book should read seamlessly.  If a person starts out in one region/state/city/time zone/etc, then they shouldn’t miraculously appear in another without all the background that took place being there.  Any major shift or change, should be reflected within the story telling what led up to it.
  3. Works that have been properly edited and proofread.  For starters, this includes a Content edit which tackles plot & character development, style, dialogue, conflict, tone, point of view, atmosphere and mood. Once that has been done, the book needs a Copy edit which takes care of grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors; narration, language, pacing, fact checking. It is designed to improve the overall manuscript for consistency and flow.  Finally, there is the Proofread which takes place before going to print, handling such matters as typographical and grammatical errors, punctuation, and proper formatting. There is a huge difference between works that have not been edited, works that have been poorly edited, and works that have been professionally edited yet one or two things were missed.  Same things apply to proofreading.

I do not edit my own work for a reason, even though editing and proofreading are skills I have used professionally for years.  Why? You ask.  Bottom line is, I am too close to the material. When I go back to read it, I know in my mind what it’s supposed to say and whether those words are actually there or not, I still may miss errors that will cost me.  Just recently, my debut novel was reviewed by one of the top online book reviewers.  This reviewer gave me an absolutely stellar review, however, she said that there were a few words missing in my book that marked me down from a 5 star to a 4.5 star review.  Now, let me give you a little background here.  My book had been professionally edited by three (3) people who are at the top of their craft, as well as proofread by one of the best, yet we still managed to miss three (3) words, which cost me a perfect review.  Proper editing and proofreading are just that important.

Here are a couple of tricks that may help you with your first round edits: read the text out loud.  You are much more likely to spot errors when you hear it being read, than if you just silently read.  Use a program that will let you paste the document and will read it back to you.  There are free ones you can access online.  The neat things about these programs are they will allow you to set the speed, change the voice and even select a language.   Please note: that neither of these tools are meant to bypass the process of hiring a professional editor and proofreader to go over your manuscript.

  1. Good formatting.  I have seen this all too often with ebooks, especially with Kindle.  Even when a work has been properly formatted, sometimes the conversion from one program to another will cause formatting to shift.  It might be worth the money to pay someone who knows all the ins and outs of ebook formatting to format those books for you.  There are also programs you can download for a fee that will handle all the ebook formatting for you.  Good formatting in print or in electronic books makes the reading experience so much more pleasant.

Another thing that has come to my attention repeatedly are authors challenging reviewers on the scores received for their reviews.  Let me say this.  If you are going to be in this business, you’ve got to develop thick skin and realize not everyone is going to like your work.  It’s really very simple.  It is NEVER appropriate for you to challenge a reviewer for the marks they give, even if you vehemently disagree.  In the end, it’s just one person’s opinion.  However, challenging a reviewer does not make the reviewer look bad.  Instead it reflects poorly on the author and makes the author appear unprofessional and petty.  What is appropriate is to thank the reviewer for taking the time to read and review your book.  Then simply keep it moving.  You have more important things to do with your time than disagreeing with reviewers….like working on your next novel.

Let me make one final point and then I will let it go.  Instead of completely dismissing what the reviewer is saying, be objective.  Take it into consideration, especially if the reviewer brought up specific issues he or she saw as issues with the book.  Go back and take a look.  This person may very well help you to become a better writer, if you take the time to grow.  I will go back to my review that I mentioned earlier.  That half point off was a real sting, but it made me curious as to what my team and I missed.  I will go back and reread the book, as well as have a few others do it, too, so we can spot those errors and fix them before the next printing.  I am never so advanced that I can’t learn…and neither should you be.

We are going to just keep it real here in the Literally Speaking column.  Indie authors are graded much harder than traditionally- published authors.  So with that being said, authors need to bring their A-game at all times.  You have only one time to make a first impression.  That one time experience does so much more than potentially costing you a few points on a review.  It could also potentially cost you future sales and keep people who might have been lifelong fans from ever taking a real chance on you.  The price is just too high to put out sub-par work.  Purpose to produce a quality product and to be professional at all times.  After all, it’s your reputation and success at stake here.

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Tumika Patrice Cain is an award-winning author, publisher, book reviewer and media personality, as well as a contributing writer to B.L.O.G. & PEN’Ashe magazines.  Her works have been published in a number of anthologies, magazines and periodicals.  She is also the founder of Say What?? Book Club.

 

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