Thursday, August 13, 2015

Blogging about books

A recent question on the blog came from a writer who has found a degree of success in reviewing books online, only to find himself in a bit of a pickle when a book submitted for review turned out to have some pretty serious problems.

The ensuing comments had  interesting insights but also some questions about the etiquette of book reviewing, now that it's more of a Pro-Am sport than it was 20 years ago.

Since I tout the advantages of talking about books on your blog as a way of finding readers, I thought I'd weigh in on some guidelines for doing so:

1. You are under no obligation to mention or review any book. This includes books sent to you with the "received from the author with the promise of an honest review."  In fact, if an author asks you to agree to that: don't.  If an author wants to send you a book for a possible review that's all there is to it.

I know some authors at small presses, and self-published authors too, have very few review copies available.  They use this kind of promissory note to try to weed out people looking for free books. That's not your problem. It's theirs.

2. You are never required to send a book back to an author, publisher, or publicist. Not even if they include postage.

3. You get to decide whether to review the book, and you get to determine what standards you use.

4. An author who follows up on a review with anything but "thank you for your time and consideration" or "these are a list of factual errors in the review" is stepping outside the bounds of the social agreement on reviewing and should be blocked on social media, and not engaged in any kind of private email conversation.

5. You should send a link, or copy, of the published review to the person who asked for the review.

6. You are under no obligation to respond to anyone's criticism about your review, unless you make a factual error.  Errors of fact should be corrected and noted.

7. A fair review does NOT include a critique of the author's demeanor, behaviour, lifestyle, social media presence, etc.  A fair review is about the book, and can include mention of other books by the author.

8. One star "reviews" for ebook pricing, cover art, setting, or anything else that's not about the book is a cheap shot, and to be avoided.  Even if the cover art is supremely terrible. Melt your eyeballs, miss the point of the book terrible.

9. If you like to review and want to hear from authors, publicists and publishers, it's VERY helpful if you have a tab on your blog with your review policies (what you review, how often, where you post etc) and your contact information (NOT your physical address, your email.)


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Mornin' Reiders.

AJ Blythe said...

Evenin' 2Ns =)

I don't review books on my blog for the express reason I worry about upsetting someone. I know it's crazy but I would never be able to say anything even slightly negative for that reason. Yet I couldn't not be truthful so... crickets.

Your comment, JR, that you tout the advantages of talking about books on your blog as a way of finding readers is another thing I can add to my list of worry about when you are published *sigh*.

Kitty said...

Mornin' 2Ns :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Mornin' sunshines! Anybody watch the meteor showers at all last night? I did not, unfortunately.

Janet, in #4, "Thank you for your time and consideration" (though I just tried to add an extra "i", yeesh)

I review things on my dog blog far more often than on my writing blog, and that's mostly products, but twice the question has been books. One was a kinda sweet romance thing, not to my taste really, but not terrible, so I wrote the review. The other was a political thing, REALLY not to my taste, and I wasn't even able to read it. No repercussions either way (and I think I got more Twitter followers out of the romance review).

Tez Miller said...

You are never required to send a book back to an author, publisher, or publicist.

Noticed that the ARC I'm reading has some note about "the publisher has the right to take back this copy at any time". But the author gave it to me, not the publisher, so...?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

When a friend of mine e-pubbed, he asked if I'd do a review. Sure I said, I'd love to. The young man was very nice, a hard worker (we shared the same place of employment) and dedicated to the craft of writing, sort-of. (He didn't believe in paragraphs).
So I figured I'd give it a go. I never read a book without paragraphs before. What did I have to lose?
It was beyond awful, confusing and obviously written by someone who espoused his writer’s-dedication to non-paragraphing format because he didn’t have a clue what he was doing. So I did the only thing I could do. I picked one scene in which he actually proved he was a writer, (probably by accident), and lauded it. I gave him 3 stars because, well, how could I not? I worked with the guy. Was I honest, yes and no? The scene was 5 star, I figured it all balanced out.

He doesn’t work where I work anymore and he has e-pubbed a couple of more books. I read a sample. He now paragraphs every fourth sentence. That’s a start I guess.

I read what friends publish but I don’t review anymore and when I have the time I read what interests me, for learning and for entertainment. It sounds like I’m a hard-ass. Yup, I am I guess.

Donnaeve said...

I was asked to review a couple books by two diff authors a while back. One I've done, the other is gathering dust as we speak in the massive pile of books I seem to be collecting. I'm not obligated to blog about it, only to do a star review on Goodreads.

I look at these as part and parcel of a writer's life. Just like published writers are asked to do blurbs - which is essentially the same thing, only one (IMO) only gets asked after having garnered some credibility and name recognition. And I believe it's been said here before a pub'ed writer is under no obligation to blurb either - if they can't find anything good to say.

Brandi M. said...

That cover...that's not even a screw.

I once considered doing a review for a fellow author, but I had issues with the book, and Mama always said, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

I felt bad about not providing the review until I saw that same author subtweeting about another review that had pointed out many of the same issues I had found. After muting them, I was glad I passed on the opportunity.

Donnaeve said...

Need more coffee before commenting or I'm subject to Clunky Sentence Disease.

LynnRodz said...

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, I hope I covered everyone. I write reviews on my blog occasionally, but mostly I write them for books I love.

Jennifer, unfortunately, there's was too much light in the City of Lights to even see a couple of stars.

Tez, the ARC I just finished also says the same thing, but it was given to me by an agent. I'm not giving mine back either.

Janet, I wouldn't mention the missing 'a' in consideration, but you've been trying to clear up typos since your recent conference. I didn't want to bring that memory back up, uh hum. Okay, I'm changing the subject here, could that book cover get any worse?

Unknown said...

Talk about a cover that'll melt your eyeballs...

I don't know how I feel about reviews yet. I understand their worth and their ability to find me readers, but my taste in books doesn't really mirror what I write. Sure, I read a good quantity of YA and I write YA, but what about the recent space trilogy I read, or that fantasy novel about the wind and the name of things? Or that epically short but unreasonably heavy CS Lewis book? I suppose I could just review books that match the genre I am writing. Haven't yet wrapped my mind around it all.

And until this moment, the idea had just been percolating in subspace... But Janet has brought it right to the forefront of my Brian (just another way to spell brain)!

Fellow writers, remember -- if you're not worrying, you're not doing it right... Or you're dead.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Thank you for these guidelines.

The ARCs I've read and reviewed are by authors from a local writer's group. Many are self published. Though they aren't genres I would normally read, I appreciated the accomplishment and craft of most. I did, though, feel a certain obligation. Your guidelines cut out a business-like attitude.

I love the reviews on Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Smart Bitches Trashy Books They go from A+ to F to rant.

Unknown said...

I used to review for Tony Burton at The Genreview and all in all, it was a very good experience. I received free books and read some good books as well as some not so good. The not so good gave me precious insight in what not to do.

I'd start out with an outline of the story (without giving away the ending of course), and for the books I didn't like, I would find something nice to say and then gently mention whatever threw me out of the story.

Never received any hate mail but did receive "You didn't get what I was trying to do" mail. Didn't respond.

Laura Mary said...

Brandi - My exact same reaction! It's not even a screw!!!!!

At the moment I only review books for my own purpose (I'm selfish like that!)I like to keep track of 'things done well' that I can learn from and copy out favourite lines etc, and make a note of anything I would have liked to have seen done differently.
So not reviews at all really, more of a book journal!

Here's a question to throw into the mix:

From a reader-looking-to-buy-a-book perspective only, how much do you pay attention to reviews?

My hub is obsessed with looking up star ratings for every film we watch, to determine whether it's any good or not. I constantly tell him that it's only someone else's opinion so what does it matter? Do *you* like the film??

I don't think I've ever checked a review of a book before reading - I've sometimes followed up afterwards to see if people had similar issues to me. Mostly though, I think it can ruin the enjoyment of a book or film if you go into it with other people preconceptions in your head.

I've lost my point now.
Did I have one?

Oh yes. Terrible cover. 1 star.

Janet Reid said...

Typos fixed.
Ya'll missed my hash of etiquette too.

I had another post slated for today, but decided to run this one instead and I think I failed to summon Mr. Spel Czech to take a last look around.

(and if you find any more, let me know)

Marc P said...

I've just had his brother Rain writing to me.

Colin Smith said...

Mornin' all! Doesn't the day start with a new article from Janet, no matter where you live? Yes, that means contest days are 48 hours long...! :)

I'm intrigued with Tez's question too--what's the intention behind that "publisher has the right to take back an ARC" statement? Why would a publisher want to do that?

For a few years I wrote a Goodreads review of every book I read. I don't anymore, partly because it became a burden, and partly because I'd sooner attract readers to my blog than to my Goodreads page. Sure, Goodreads followers might turn into blog followers, but I've actually found the reverse to be true. So now I don't review every book I read, and all reviews go on my blog. And for those books I review on my blog I'll give a star rating and a link to the blog article in Goodreads.

As most of you know (because I've said it before here), I'm not a professional reviewer. In fact, I imagine those who are better read and more deeply steeped in literary analysis than me cringe to read my reviews. I talk about what the books about, what I liked, what I didn't like, who I think might enjoy it, whether there's any sexual content and/or profanity (not everyone likes to read that kind of thing), and give it a star rating. In other words, my reviews are not deep and analytical, rather they focus more on what I liked and didn't like. If I'm going to give any negative critique, I try to give examples, so it's not just a "this sucks!" which isn't very helpful.

What do I review? Mainly books I loved, or books I enjoyed by authors I think deserve more attention. Sometimes those two things are the same (e.g., Gary Corby's Athenian Mystery Series: books I love by an author who deserves a LOT more attention). I'll also review books that have some cultural significance, or are creating buzz (e.g., I reviewed JKR's THE CASUAL VACANCY, and just yesterday posted a review of Harper Lee's GO SET A WATCHMAN).

So, for what it's worth, that's how I review books. I don't know that book reviews have done a lot for building blog followers, or if people will one day read my books because of those reviews, but I notice one or two of those book reviews getting hits at least four or five times a week.

Colin Smith said...

Laura Mary (is that too formal, or do you prefer Laura Mary over just Laura?): How much do I pay attention to reviews when deciding whether to read/purchase a book? It depends. A lot of my fiction reading over the last few years has been as a result of book recommendations, which are a form of review. My interest is usually sparked by something about the book--the premise, or the author--so a review that gives me a good (spoiler-free) idea of what kind of book it is and broadly what to expect is helpful. If I respect the reviewer's opinion, I'll be interested to know what they thought of it--especially if the reviewer seems to share my tastes and/or theological convictions (yes, theological conviction can count for a lot--it speaks to the reader's worldview, a subject more suited to my blog than Janet's). So, for example, when Janet touts a book as being "a real sox-knocker-offer" I'll pay attention. In fact, I've read a number of books Janet loved, and while I haven't had the same amount of enthusiasm for all of them, I've at least enjoyed most of them (and loved some of them as much).

Panda in Chief said...

Well, really I just wanted to comment in the same time zone as most/many of the rest of you, and not see that there were 145 comments and now everyone was talking about kale.
That's all.
Now, time for a nap.

Marc P said...

What did you think of A Casual Vacancy and GSAW Colin?

Colin Smith said...

Marc: Let me practice my self-promotion skills: read my reviews! :) Seriously, so's not to bog down Janet's blog with me and my thoughts, I have a "Reviews" tab on my blog. This has two sub-tabs: Book Reviews and Who Reviews (yes, I review Doctor Who episodes too), so all my reviews should be fairly easy to find. My thoughts on both of those books are mixed, which is why I'd rather point you to the reviews than go in-depth here. There should be a link to my blog in my Blogger profile if you don't have it bookmarked already. And if you don't, why not? (See, I'm getting good at this self-promotion thing, aren't I?)

Marc P said...

I am presuming there will be lank on this site somewhere so then rather than looking even more than a jackanapes that I clearly am I shall go all Sherlock on the ** and investigate :)

Janet Reid said...

Colin Smith's Book Reviews and Kale Recipes

Colin Smith said...

Marc: Is that directed to me? Are you asking if I'm going to post links to my blog here in the comments? If so, I'd rather not. Smacks too much of using Janet's blog to direct traffic to mine which is like fingernails on the blackboard to my ethical sensibilities. If Janet wants to link to my blog, that's a different matter. But if you click on my name at the top of this comment, you'll find a link to "My Web Site." That will take you to my blog, where you should be able to find the reviews pretty easily. The only time I recall posting a link to my blog in the comments was when I directed people to my "How to Hyperlink" article, and that was out of necessity.

If you weren't talking to me, then ignore the above. :)

Colin Smith said...

Janet clearly read my mind. *gulp* 8-O

Marc P said...

@Colin I should think that if there is a link to your blog on this site which Janet posts on this site then she won't mind you linking to that link on her site lol. But I did find it just before she helped me in my jackanapery - so found and thanks :)

I have just started a webpage with nothing on it lol - very very bad of me. But I will sort it out soon.

Dena Pawling said...

In a previous life when I was young and beautiful [!], before law school, I had a job where a group of three of us [with the least seniority] alternated in proofreading technical manuals for an aerospace company. We did our regular assignments for 2 weeks, then 1 week we proofread. Rinse and repeat. Technical manuals. About fighter jets. Every third word I had to look up in a technical dictionary. ZZZZZZZ

For this reason, even an extra space between words [yes, there is one in this post] will jump out and slap me in the face. I therefore easily spot EVERY typo in pretty much EVERYTHING I read. I choose to ignore them. Otherwise that's all I'd be doing with my reading time.

Anywho, I have a question regarding #8. What if the back cover copy is misleading regarding the contents of the book. Is that something (1) to mention in the review, or (2) to affect the scoring?

Colin Smith said...

Marc: That sounds reasonable, but, despite the fact I seem to write more in the comments than Janet does in her articles, I'm VERY sensitive to the fact that this is her blog, not mine. And I hope we all come here to read what she has to say, and discuss (broadly... very broadly) what she says. It's not a jumping-off point for driving traffic to our own sites. If we want to visit one another's sites, not only does Blogger allow for that within each person's Blogger profile, but Janet has very generously set aside a page listing links to commenters' social media pages (see the "List of blog readers and their blogs" link on the top right of the blog). I maintain this list, and am happy to add or remove people upon request.

In other words, I should be able to just say "such-and-such is on my blog" and people should be able to find it easily.

BTW, that reminds me--make sure your Blogger profile is up-to-date with current email and social media links. You want Janet (and any other agent/editor who happens to be passing by) to be able to find you easily, don't you?

Marc P said...

On a general note I understand that Publishers want authors to be promoters, publicists, marketing people, social networking experts, be popular on the internet outside of their work - but is demanding they be critics as well a step too far?

Just asking?

I seriously wonder if the big houses are cutting their noses off a bit. Sooner or later the serfs look at the big shiny palaces and think - hang on a minute - what exactly is it....

If publishers are simply middlemen in a distribution chain then it is not a sustainable business model for them for too long. (Hello Amazon!) And I know all aren't and for every Grey and Go Set a Watchman flimflam there are a lot of great books cherished and nurtured - but there is a cultural sea shift in the perceived business of publishing - that is either very exciting or very disturbing. Bob Dylan had the right of the matter...

Colin Smith said...

Dena: For what it's worth to you, my policy is to focus my review on the content between the covers. As you know, covers change from edition to edition, and a missing (or misleading) cover blurb on the first edition might be corrected in the second. Indeed, you could state at the top of your review: "The cover blurb says the book is about X... but this is misleading. Here's what the book is really about..." You can chide the publisher for that, especially if you enjoyed the book more than you thought you would from the misleading blurb.

Usually, the author doesn't have nearly as much control over the outside of their book as they do the inside. So it's something I might mention, but I wouldn't let that affect how I rate the book in itself.

Marc P said...

When the word 'Content' is popular coin in publsihing - hello!

Anonymous said...

Marc: Look at the list of blog readers and their blogs in the top right corner of Janet's blog. :)

Good question, Laura Mary.

I only look at reviews if I'm really on the fence about buying a book. Money's short these days, so I usually fall off on the 'no' side.

When I do read reviews, the ones like,

"It cost too much"
"I don't like him as a person"
"I'm tired of fantasies set in medieval England"

Just make me want to buy the book. Seriously. Why did you buy the book? Or did you? Did you read it? These are completely unhelpful for other readers, though they can be harmful for the authors (I've heard.)

Colin: 'Literary analysis' doesn't belong in a book review, anyway. Book reviews are meant to help readers choose books to read or buy. That's it. There are other places for literary analysis, usually in academic literature. (Which I know you are entirely too familiar with :) )

Now I gotta run - my ride should be here in an hour, and I need to finish packing. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Recaptcha made me choose pies. The only pies there were pizzas. And that's what Recaptcha accepted.

Marc P said...

Lol.. I did Colin.. that was what I was saying I found it before Janet linked me :)

Anonymous said...

You guys are all too fast for me. Answering everything I post before I post it.

Dena: Since I firmly believe that reviews are for buyers of books, I would mention that the back blurb is misleading. I wouldn't let that affect the star rating, though. The buyer might read the back blurb and say, "This is/n't what I want to read", so by saying it's misleading, you can help the buyer know not to believe it.

Okay. Now I'm gone. Stop being so communicative so I can get ready to go! :P

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Capt. BS a man of words forever.

Craig F said...

I would personally like to see reviews standardized:

Is the grammar functional within the parameters of the writing?

Is the plot well throughout or did some magic appear in the plot hole to act as a bridge?

Are the scenes functionally accurate or doesn't the author understand research?

Are the scientific bases accurate or do they do carbon testing on metals in 1912?

Remove all types of personal bias:

I don't care if you think it is too expensive.

I don't care about your idea of token people of color.

Grammatically correct dialogue is an oxymoron.

Colin Smith said...

bj: Enjoy your weekend! :)

Marc: I believe I'm correct in saying Janet actively encourages writers to review books. We need to be critical readers, because this only helps us develop a sense of what works, what doesn't, and what kind of books we want to write. And I think she has the support of just about every successful published writer in the world on that point. This doesn't mean we all need to be writing book reviews, but the process of writing a book review serves a couple of very helpful purposes:

1) It gives us the opportunity to tell our friends about great books, which in turn helps fellow writers. I'm not big on you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours thinking, but you can always hope that when your book comes out, those whom you've reviewed will return the favor.

2) It helps us develop our critical thinking and analysis skills, which is very useful when it comes to proof-reading our own novels, or beta reading for others.

3) It's writing, and any writing helps us hone the craft.

4) We provide a service to readers, i.e., the people who will, one day, be buying our books.

And regarding self-promotion vs. publisher promotion. I don't see this so much as publishers dumping more on authors; I see it as a recognition of the world we now live in. Each writer has a sphere of influence and can reach people beyond the scope of the publisher. The publisher can notify the rest of the industry that your book is available. They can send memos to book stores, put ads in PW, and all that stuff. But they're not going to go through your contacts list and email/text all your friends about your book. First, I don't think your friends would appreciate that, and second, hearing about your book from the publisher isn't nearly as effective as hearing about it from YOU. That's why Janet attends events where her clients are speaking--she doesn't get up and speak for her clients. As much as we love Janet, if we've gone to hear about Stephanie Jaye Evans's latest book, we want to hear Stephanie talk about it, not Janet.

So that's what I think about that. And... my goodness, are we still on topic? :-O

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Panda, I get it. When I'm working (vaca this week) I'm not able to check in until lunch (maybe) but only after I get home. Which means, the Reiders are 100 comments in and my eyelids are drooping and my brain is barely able to tap keys. Enjoy your nap. Great invention naps.

Colin Smith said...

Panda/Carolynn: I try to read all the comments, even on days where I haven't been able to keep up with the discussion, but I know I don't always manage to. That's one of the reasons Janet's WiR is such a blessing. Mind you, then I feel guilty--it's not like Janet doesn't do enough for us already! Yes I really did just say that. :)

John Frain said...

Time. I seriously cannot figure out where some people find time in their schedule. Am I the only one limited to 24 hours each day? I feel like I'm productive till I come here and run into you ridiculously amazing people who can not only consume numerous books, but then blog about them and write another one.

I'm editing right now and it sucks time like a Hoover. As a writer, is it expected that we disown ALL of the rest of our lives?

Speaking of books, this isn't a review or the place to do it (and I don't have a place), but this was pretty fun --->>> Started reading the new Patrick Lee the other day (SIGNAL) and it's almost in real time! That is, the book begins on Saturday, August 8. How crazy is that. I'm reading while the event is going on! And OMG -- no spoiler alert, don't worry -- but what a story.

Marc P said...

Hi Colin

Yes still on topic, Lol. I would agree with you if you could link me to the review sites of very successful writers reviewing other writer's work. I don't know of any other profession that does such a thing. I could be wrong there. Professional associations give awards not reviews so much. Big name writers write comments on book jackets because they are asked to.. sometimes they have even read the book they are commenting on. This is not the same as writing a review. Journalism isn't fiction. Unless it is in England.

And Janet is absolutely right to encourage people to do this and people should do this - because that is the nature as you say of the world at the moment. Whether it should be or not is of course a completely different matter. Does it hone novel writing skills. No. Does it hone writing skills. No. No more than writing in here does or writing a diary. It is probably useful in deconstructing particular novels to see how they are structured - but the genre does that for you too. And plenty of how to write story books I guess. But yes am not saying t shouldn't be done, just a bit sad really that it is kind of 'expected'. And the reality of course is that it is not. Publishers take on novelists without doing such things as do Agents. Janet herself has said she wouldn't not read something because of a lack of such a thing. I am writing off the top of my head but I shall google Girl on a Train writer and see if she used to. I lose if she did lol. I guess what I a worried about is the ' Goldmanism' at work here really, and a divestment as such of responsibility. This does not come from the editorial gods and goddesses in publishing I can assure you but from the gnomes of Zurich and the like. None of this is to go against common sense and good advice to do as much to create the 'social network presence' that is required by the industry. Just commentating in a holistic sense.

The truth is things have changed and things are changing.

I'm probably a rubbish writer because I prefer to read than write - so making me write about other people's books seems like double punishment!


Colin Smith said...

John: Are you of English origin? And I mean either you're an ex-pat or first-generation?

I, too, marvel at how people here manage to accomplish as much as they do in the same 24 hours I have. Perhaps they're more disciplined in their Janet Reid Blog Commenting, which I'm sure helps. I think discipline is the key word. Setting time aside to write, to read, to have a life, to sleep, to eat... Some people have reading days, some people have set time periods for each activity. The key is discipline. And I speak as one who lacks it, and feels in the same boat as you most of the time. It takes me a while to get through a book because I'm usually grabbing chapters (sometimes just pages) in between times, or before going to sleep, or on the toilet. Sometimes I'll force myself to crash out and read for a good solid hour or two, telling myself everything else can wait. Some books compel me to do that. :)

So, sorry, John, I don't really have an answer for you on how to do read, write, comment, work, and do the rest of life. All I can suggest is read about how others manage it, and do what best fits you and your situation.

Anonymous said...

This is a tough subject for me. I've written a few reviews. I owe Jo Bourne some reviews. I've done some, but not all of her books and she was kind enough to send me two ARCs.

I do pay attention to reviews. I was going to buy a book recently about Civil War female spies and didn't because of a review. The reviewer pointed out glaring misrepresentations. The author added some very sensational bits into this non-fiction book and later said she had no evidence the accusations were true. That taints the entire book to me. It's like me taking an article out of The Enquirer and using it as a fact in my non-fiction. I won't even put things in historical fiction from unverifiable sources.

I've been on a book buying binge lately. Even with me snapping up collections of letters and journals, I still read reviews. One diary version, for instance, had been heavily edited, leaving out a great deal of pertinent material. That steered me to a later issue of the diary that was issued in its entirety along with footnotes about various people and events. The editor did a great job of researching and verifying things in the diary. The footnotes were more interesting than the diary at times.

I'm trying to read Mary Stewart's IVY TREE now. I wish I'd paid more attention to comments on it. I usually inhale her books and I'm having a tough time with this one.

Things like this are why I really appreciate thoughtful reviews for those of you who are so inclined to do so.

Unknown said...

I'm with you, John. Edits and rewrites drain me more than writing the damn book, and if I manage to get one comment per day on Janet's blog, I'm giddy with excitement.

I'm up at 6:30 am, bed by 10 pm, and there's not enough time in between to get everything I want to do, done. I blame my husband. He expects me to talk to him.

Maybe I need vitamins.

Marc P said...

Julie M you would have bought the Mary Stewart book anyway.. The Crystal cave had made you want to ready anything she has written. You bought it you didn't care for it so much... it's ok. In England we have Politicians telling us what to think and do, and restaurant critics and music etc etc.

The best of reviews are word of mouth and friends recommendations so on and amateur basis why not... but peer group am/pro reviews? Would they influence me - no. If there is an agenda it factors. Most of my friends don;t read the same books as me. What works me usually though is the if you Liked Mary Stewart you'll love the Earths Trilogy kind of thing. :)

DeadSpiderEye said...

I'm gonna say that book reviewing is a tough gig, it takes more time to do a book justice than a Saturday afternoon stirring a breeze with the pages of a paperback. You need to know what you're talking about and since you're likely to be sampling books embedded in diverse genres, tackling an endless variety of topics, you're gonna find yourself short on personal insight, quite regularly. And don't give me the, I can research it line, insight acquired over the weekend is gonna be perfunctory at best.

That doesn't mean you're gonna have to stay within your own orbit of interests, it does mean that you should place the review in the context of your personal insight. I'm afraid, that's the wall I see most reviewers butting their heads against. That's because there's a convention that reviews should definitive; x = bad, y = good, z = mediocre, that kind of thing, mistake! That convention arose, through the relationship between the publishing trade and widely circulated reviewers, it's not necessary or even seemly to emulate it, in the context of more diverse opinion.

Then you have write reviews that are gonna hold the reader's attention, that means be entertaining, here's a clue to hint at how tricky that can be: 'I read a book the other day, it was great, you should read it too'. Yep, that's why the most widely read reviewers, spend so much time demonstrating their alacrity at ridicule, it just makes a more entertaining review.

Colin Smith said...

Marc: Actually, I disagree with you that writing reviews doesn't help your writing. But I couch my disagreement in these terms:

If you view writing as simply a way to get something out of your head and off your chest, then it really doesn't matter how well you write, or what you write. It's just a cathartic exercise and won't necessarily make you a better writer.

If you write to be read, to communicate ideas, stories, thoughts, concepts so other people can understand and enjoy what you say, learn from it, engage with your ideas, then everything you write is important. You are going to care about sentence structure, word usage, grammar, and all the elements that make up good communication. You're also going to care about being readable, and making even your work-related emails something people actually enjoy reading. I've started doing that latter point more often and found two things that really satisfy me as a writer: first, I've had co-workers respond to emails with an LOL, or some other comment indicating they actually enjoyed what I said, and second, I've had people (e.g., my manager) compliment my communication skills, and the fact my explanations are clear and informative.

I can't believe this in no way translates to how I write when I turn my hand to fiction. I can't believe that even now, as I write this comment, choosing each word, crafting the sentences, making sure I'm coming across the way I intend to come across, I'm not developing voice, and honing the craft of, as Stephen King calls it, telepathy: transferring ideas from my mind to yours over the space of 3,500 miles.

Speaking of Mr. King, I suggest you get hold of a copy of SECRET WINDOWS. It's a collection of his essays and short stories. In there, he does a 100+ page review of the history of the horror genre in which he reviews specific novels. Not only does this demonstrate the breadth of his reading and his deep understanding of the genre, but he can review books on a level that I can only dream about. It's no lie: my respect for Stephen King as a writer grows the more I read what he has to say ABOUT writing and books.

If you treat everything you write as practice--even your book reviews--then everything you write will help make you a better writer. That's my view, anyway.

Anonymous said...


"What if the back cover copy is misleading regarding the contents of the book. Is that something (1) to mention in the review, or (2) to affect the scoring?"

I read back copy and it does make a difference when I'm in a bookstore. That is why I get irritated when they are so generic or misleading they count for naught. The back copy of GAME OF THRONES is so generic as to be useless. If I made my buying decision of the book based on that, it would still be sitting on the shelf.

Of course, I'm wise to the back copy failures, so I read the first few pages and then jump around through the book to see if the writing holds up.

I would mention it briefly because some people may be off-put by it.

Marc P said...

It's a good view and I have no argument against it. Mr King is writing a review there though he is writing a thesis an examination and interpretation of a Genre. And yes writing anything helps the facility of writing. Lifting logs helps with the strength aspect of a physical sport - I wouldn't say it helps me to be a fencer though, of the foil wielding variety. Novel writing is a craft, it is a specialisation and given that you have a greta graph of writing generally and communicating thus, writing reviews won't help develop 'novel writing muscles' particularly. Do it because you love it and enjoy it and because it is needed. But no it is not professional for other writers to criticise other writers if they are professional in my experience. Hated the Grey bashing in a lot of ways on twitter.. even though that makes me a hypocrite in some ways as I kinda did it myself above. There are professional critics having said all that who are also authors -but I don;t think it should be the norm,

I am aware that I am the fool in all this - but just putting it out there. And it is something everybody has to decide for themselves - like I say horses for courses. It seems a strange word to use but it comes back to professional courtesy for me - let the readers review let the writers write. But like I say I know I am a complete Canute in all the above :)

Adib Khorram said...

I've always taken the line on ARCs that they must be surrendered to the publisher upon request a bit like the line in my passport that says it's technically the property of the Department of State.

That is to say: I'd better be charged with something before I give it up!

As far as reviewing things, I have to disagree with the notion that reviewing books does not improve your writing skills. I've read 72 books this year and written reviews of 70 of them (the other two are in the queue to review once I've had the chance to articulate them). The thing is, reading the book is one thing: I react viscerally to it. But then reviewing it is a second thing: I have to figure out why I reacted the way I did. And the act of writing the review helps me not only understand the book but myself. It's helped me hone in on my own likes and dislikes. It's helped me identify what I admire in other writers' work, and what I detest.

And the reviews are pretty much only for me: I can go back and look at the books I've read and remember them, remember how I felt, and remember what I learned. If other people happen to read the reviews, that's great, but it's secondary. I'm no New York Times Book Review reviewer, that's for sure!

Colin, I found your reviews but I was unable to find any kale recipes on your website. The links may be broken!

Anonymous said...


"Julie M you would have bought the Mary Stewart book anyway.. "

I still have her Crystal Cave trilogy in hard cover sitting in my bookcase. However, I've read several of her other books and always found them mesmerizing. I used to snap up everything I could find of hers and Jude Deveraux's.

I just needed something to cleanse my palate so to speak in between reading all these Civil War research books. Reading good fiction primes my pump to create good fiction. Well, let us say for me to attempt it anyway.

I think what I'm having a tough time with is the trope about a MC impersonating a long lost heir to trick someone's dying relative.

Colin Smith said...

Marc: About writing reviews, what Adib said above. Yes, a review is not a work of fiction. But if you know you hate certain tropes in novels you've read, then you're not going to use those tropes in your own novels. The process of analyzing and critiquing novels (i.e., writing a review) helps you form such opinions. No, not every reviewer is a novelist; and not all novelists make good book reviewers (e.g., me!). But the exercise is a good and worthy one for fiction writers because it not only helps us determine what we want to write, but we can apply the same kind of analysis to our own work in order to improve it. In fact, it might actually be a good exercise for writers: after finishing your novel, set it aside for a few weeks, then go back and write a book review of it. That could actually be quite instructive. :)

Adib: I think some malicious Kale-hater hacked my blog and removed them all. I'll have to fix that... :)

Marc P said...

Nobody has ever sold a book on the basis of their reviews of other books ever. Has it helped a writer get to the stage whereby it is considered for sale - they it would seem increasingly less. But... no one has ever sold a book in the history of publishing based on a single review they have ever written of another book. Not one.

Of course it can help your writing. Your writing has to be at a level before even attempting a novel. The one thing a review does not have is STORY. Storytelling is what we are all about as novelists.

So yes flex your fingers hone your metaphors and your master your turns of phrases. It's part of a novel. It's on a checklist for reasons now of driving people to your blogs and generating social presence - no publisher will ever analyse the content. Unless of course you are Blog girl who sold millions with her first novel (hint - ghost written!)

And to repeat I am not criticising the people who are writing reviews or saying they shouldn't, I certainly would;t agree with Janet here - I am just saying I don;t like the top down pressure on this issue and why it is there - which like I say has NOTHING to do with the quality of your literary skills.

Marc P said...


Nobody has ever sold a book on the basis of their reviews of other books ever. Has it helped a writer get to the stage whereby it is considered for sale - they it would seem increasingly less.

Please ignore this sentence above - this is what I wrote .. honest:

Nobody has ever sold a book on the basis of their reviews of other books ever. Has it helped a writer get to the stage whereby it is considered for sale - then yes it would seem increasingly more so....

Anonymous said...


"Lifting logs helps with the strength aspect of a physical sport - I wouldn't say it helps me to be a fencer though, of the foil wielding variety."

Precisely. People who show Quarter Horses tie on to a log or railroad tie and back their horses up to drag the object. This seems like an odd exercise, but it develops the inside gaskin of a horse. This is the muscle on the inside of the hind legs above the hock. It's a muscle that often isn't very developed, but you want a good gaskin if you're showing halter (conformation).

Writing technical things, reviews, etc. will develop my grammar skills, but it doesn't improve my storytelling craft.

Marc P said...

Thanks Julie - I am going to re read the Crystal Cave trilogy again now and Maybe the Weirdstone of Brisingamen and then The Once and Future King..

Dammit, you know what I am going to write A Robin Hood novel next - may come to you for Wrangling advice and shooting arrows from horseback! :)

Colin Smith said...

Is a query letter a novel?

Does an agent read a query letter observing the voice, the pace, and the quality of the writing, considering these as indicators of what to expect with the novel?

My point: Writers should care about everything they write and make the most of every writing opportunity to improve their skills. A book review is not a novel, but the best novelists can write very engaging book reviews because they know how to write.

Marc: Yes, novelists do write book reviews, but you'll tend to see them in major publications (e.g., NYT, Sunday Times, etc.), not on blogs. Some of the more prolific author bloggers (e.g., Neil Gaiman) might post reviews on their blogs, but I'm not 100% certain about this.

Karen McCoy said...

That book cover. Oy.

Excellent tips. I attended a conference on book blogging recently that covered some of these same facets. The main takeaway was that the blogger had the right to refuse if the book wasn't something they were really into. I heard a minimum of three stars for posting, but I'm sure that number is variable (I might have mentioned this before, but I forget).

Back to work--I just selected Otter Loves Halloween for the library system, and came across this very intriguing children's book from HarperCollins.

Colin Smith said...

And just to be sure you all hear me on this: I'm not saying every writer needs to write book reviews. And I'm not saying writing book reviews makes you a better fiction writer. But I would contend that it deepens your understanding of what makes a good story, which could have a very positive impact on how you go about writing your fiction (story structure, genre tropes, etc.).

Alright. As long as we're clear about that. :)

Marc P said...

@Colin Query letters are entirely different things. I should think three sentences or so in - certain conclusions will be made of a negative nature f you allow them to be made. Good writing in these kind of things is often not giving a person the opportunity to reach for the no button, rather than immediately saying by golly this is it,

Writer's shouldn't care about anything they don;t want to care about really. I would love to get you to ask JK to review Billy Bob's new novel and care about it. Writing is an art and a craft. There is rarely art in a review. Some people maybe - but then if it becomes more about the reviewer than it is about the novel - then .. you know.. what's that about?

I think what is at play here is encouraging amateur writers to review not to learn as you say - nut to direct traffic. If I was teaching Novel writing at University for a degree - I might set an exercise to do as you suggest to review some novels. Not much though. A proper structural anwyslis and deconstruction is more the thing - and again only so much. Fine Artists don't also do a history of art degree, There are crossovers of course - but History of Art students rarely paint or sculpt.

My point: These exercises are to drive traffic to do web blogs etc. Not to learn how to write novels - and as far as I know nobody is seriously suggesting they are, not novelists anyway. A food critic does;t teach you how to bake.

Donnaeve said...

Ahem. Um, excuse me @Marc P, but this jumped out at me, "Nobody has ever sold a book on the basis of their reviews of other books ever..."

I have to ask... how are you able to make such a definitive statement?

Here's how my brain works:

I review a book because I have strong feelings about it. (I usually only write a review in like genres I write in) Somebody "Googles" the reviewed book. They see I reviewed it. They read the review. They either agree or disagree. They are curious about me, because of the review. They see if I have any books published. (just for funsies, let's say I do) They go out and peruse phantom books by Donna Everhart. They decide to buy it b/c that's the genre they read too.

I use this lame example as a possible example b/c it COULD happen. You know. If I had a book. Just saying. It's not impossible. So I was just curious how one makes such a definitive statement that a book review by x author would never "ever" result in a sale?

Did I miss something somewhere in the comments. Could be. I've been known to skip. :)

Colin Smith said...

And because I seem to be afflicted by the inability to think of things to say within the scope of just one comment, let me add this:

I am contending that writers should care about everything they write. I know, this is a bit beyond the scope of Janet's article, but we've not been doing a good job of going off-topic today, so here's a corrective to that:

Bob tells you he's a chef, and is about to open a restaurant next month. Then, one day, the two of you go see a matinee movie, and after he invites you back to his place for a quick bite to eat. He serves you a ham sandwich, and it's the worst thing you ever put in your mouth. The bread is stale, the mayonnaise is clearly some very cheap store brand, and the ham is only a shade off rancid. Yet Bob is tucking into his sandwich without a care in the world.

Would you eat at Bob's restaurant? Or would you think, "well, this was only just a quick bite to eat, and it's not really reflective of his skill as a chef, or his palate."

Food for thought. Hmmm... it is close to lunchtime here...

Marc P said...

Sorry Colin leapfrogging with comments so am missing some of your replies. Maybe having a BA Dip Ed MA means I consider that writing a review won't really deepen my level of understanding about the ART?CRAFT of novel writing,,, but I can see that for some it can. My point is that this is has nothing to do with why it is a hot topic. It is to do with driving traffic and presenting a marketing case to publishers - nothing at all to do with content. Janet is recommending it for that AND for the reasons you suggest - for writers who are trying to GET an agent and Publishing deal, and Publishers want blog presence afterwards. Unfortunately -my point is that traffic could be generated by naked pants off dancing to Billy Ray Cyrus videos and they would be just as happy.

I know it is a fact of life and my comments are purely on the CULTURE/V COMMERCE debate, balances shifts and changes in tone. It's blockbuster world now.. not nuance. Books are going MARVEL and not Art House. And there has to be balance of course but.. the top down pressure onto writer to be a jack of all trades will have impact in the long term. Both ways!

Marc P said...

@Donnaeve.. because it is true. Publishers buy books not reviews of other books. It sounds a sensationalist statement but if you look at it is just stating the obvious.

Colin Smith said...

Marc: I can't speak for everyone, so I'll speak for myself. Yes, I do hope people read my book reviews. But as a writer, I write to be read. And even my "practice" writing that is for myself is so that I'll be a better writer so people will want to read what I write. But I don't review simply for blog traffic. If I do, I'd better quit because it isn't working. In fact, if I'm all about blog traffic I need to write about nothing else except suitable alternatives to Graham Crackers in the UK. The three articles on that topic are by far the most popular on my blog. And I mean by a huge margin.

I write reviews because it helps me analyse novels. It helps me remember what the book was about. It helps people like you who ask "What did you think of THE CASUAL VACANCY and GO SET A WATCHMAN." And because I take time to make sure I'm communicating accurately and, hopefully, engagingly, it helps me write better.

But that's just me. Some people make a living writing reviews. I don't. And if I tried to, I'd be very poor. :)

Marc P said...

I like your metaphor Colin but it is flawed. The Ham sandwich in writers terms Critic to Writer is a bloody Mary and not a food product at all. Saying all writing is the same - Is like saying a man who can't play a banjo can't play a piano. But n the context of restaurants your story is true.

Colin Smith said...

Marc: The analogy works (at least in my mind) on this level: Someone who says they know about food (as the writer claims to know how to write) but can't even make a decent sandwich, and worse, can't even tell they've not made a decent sandwich (like the writer who can't write well in a query letter, an email, a comment, or a book review, and neither knows nor cares to know they've failed in that task) loses credibility.

Colin Smith said...

... and (sorry, can't-put-all-thoughts-into-one-comment affliction again) I wasn't saying book reviews are the same kind of writing as fiction writing. That was my disclaimer a few comments ago. I'm advocating reviewing books as a good exercise for novelists to improve their critical skills and hone their communication skills, not as necessary fiction-writing training.

Marc P said...

That's great Colin and I read and enjoyed our reviews. I learned something about you and your taste and your mind and your analytical skills from them. They are great.

If a publisher with my book in her hand asked to read one of my reviews of another book before she would publish my novel - I would probably laugh.

Like I say that's not what the drive is for, and not why you are doing it - certainly not the man reason - so I am all for it, and think it is good...

...just don;t like the top down pressure and current market forces.

That's it really I don't like the modern commercialism driving these things. I want publishers to know how to sell a book when they buy it. To love it, nurture it, promote it, generate enthusiasm and get people wanting to read it and loving it when they do because they TRUST those publishers. Brands Imprints -whateer you want to call them, stables -I am worried that that is all going away - probably to do with the digital revolution and a bit of a catching up game that everyone is playing because of it.

I know I am officially a luddite - but I am looking ahead from both sides of the publishing walls that are simultaneously going up higher and disappearing entirely.

Marc P said...

To be honest Colin this is a conversation we would have over maybe one or one and half pints and we would see we actually agree with one another lol. I am pretty sure. I think Janet would as well. I think everyone would want a world whereby we just let novelists create great stories and let them just do that. I never was very good at multi-tasking... but then I am a man.

Marc P said...

ANd sadly we don't have such a world now - so we all have to do what we can to get the work out there.

Colin Smith said...

Marc: You're probably right--face to face over a pint a two we'd probably find we agree. Next time you're in town, let me know... :)

I do think a lot of the change you talk about is a result of the growth of digital media and digital communication. There is a deeper distrust of Big Publishing, which almost makes grass-roots promotion a necessity. But thanks to digital communication, authors now have the ability to self-promote directly to their readers in a way publishers can't. But I talked about that earlier. So it's not all bad. :)

Marc P said...

Yes that what I meant by walls simultaneously going up and down Colin! Exciting times in a lot of ways. And I am talking as a 'wanky' if I am allowed to say that here, creative artist rather than a salesman and I know that my attitude has hitherto impacted probably quite seriously on my career. So I am embracing change just not necessarily going to be a reviewer blogger lol. And I know No One is suggesting I have to be. Next time I am States Side the drinks are on me! :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay boys, (Colin and Marc) I've been standing over there behind the fake Ficus listening to your conversation. Caught some of it, missed some. I also heard some thoughts on "finding time to write".

IF you are a serious writer, one writing to be read, one trotting for a career, not just a ride along the highway, then reading and reviewing is a tremendous time-sucker, the results of which may afford little return to your own professional efforts.
Like I said a few days ago, we can always find bits and pieces of time along the edges of our lives in which to fit our own efforts. BUT, using that precious time for a review, and attributing it's worth to help or hindering someone else's marketing of their book, seems a waste. Especially IF you are on the climb for your career.

Marc P said...

Ficus. Yup that's what they are trying to do!

Sorry 2N's. :)

Marc P said...

On a serious note though - on a one to one basis though I don't mind now and again running my eye over someone else's work to give my thoughts if asked. But for them to gasp at the genius of my narrative analysis and not necessarily of my writing skills. Which is either just as well..or the opposite.

Lucas Darr said...


Love me some book reviews, especially ones with almost no author focus and mostly on the work in hand. My own policy, stated on my website) is to do "book recommendations" rather than a traditional book review. I also no longer accept ARCs or free copies, and purchase any book I recommend to avoid brain-dead FCC requirements littering my pristine website.

While my recommendations (reviews) have glacier slow release schedules (that Evil Day Job), I have learned over time book reviews are an excellent reader and author engagement device. I've had public and private discussions with readers that were very eye-opening to me as an author. I've also had authors contact me personally and chat about some rather wonderful topics.

I've had readers read my recommendations and tell me they bought my books. I know a small portion of my sales are generated by my book recommendations (how much remains a mystery to me). If my book recommendation is timely (sadly, no longer the case), then my website gets (unique IP) traffic from the book recommendation, even if the author I am reviewing deals in low-volume sales.

As a reader I will search an author's website for book recommendations, one of the reasons as a writer I started making my own. Many readers like to talk about books just as much as they like to read about books. How cool is that?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Marc P, ha clever.
Hey, I'm usually the one napping on the curb with my eye on the gutter. Funny.

Marc P said...

Lol 2N's - that definitely my position in life!

Steph said...

I wish I reviewed more books more frequently, if only on Amazon or Goodreads. Unfortunately I am in the habit of devouring: Last week I took the train to Munich and back, I read more than a thousand pages; by the time I had internet access again I was more intent on checking out Book 2 of the series I'd started than reviewing Book 1 (or the other books, I'd read). However, there seem to be such good arguments for reviewing...tomorrow is a long flight day (i.e., major reading day) maybe I'll manage to review ONE book.

Colin Smith said...

Which reminds me--one of the appendices to ON WRITING is a list of books that Stephen King recommends. He included it because people ask him. Not because he's a world-famous book reviewer, but because he's a writer of renown, and as such people assume he knows something about books. :)

Donnaeve said...

Well shoot, Anthony (so glad you used your delurker device!!!) b/c you actually just made my earlier case to Marc, that somehow, someway, at some point in time, some write somewhere has had a book purchased by a reader simply b/c they liked the review of said writer and became curious about their own works.

Soooo, Marc, I was coming at it not from a publisher view, but a reader/writer view. I.e. at a consumer level making a simplistic connection with a writer.

More specifially, Anthony's point, "I've had readers read my recommendations and tell me they bought my books. I know a small portion of my sales are generated by my book recommendations (how much remains a mystery to me). If my book recommendation is timely (sadly, no longer the case), then my website gets (unique IP) traffic from the book recommendation, even if the author I am reviewing deals in low-volume sales."

That. And Anthony, glad you came out of Lurkdom! Did I already say that?

Donnaeve said...

And Marc, I do get your point however, about reviewing books not getting the attention of a publisher. That would easily stand as fact I imagine. So our wires likely crossed on that point.

Colin Smith said...

But I do hear you, 2Ns. One of the reasons I stopped reviewing every book I read is because it became a time-suck. I'd sooner pick and choose the books I comment on, and write reviews of books I think deserve a review (for whatever reason) as I have time to write such reviews.

Marc P said...

I am sure King is a great guy and probably a great writer - I don't know. I only ever read one of his books The Talisman which I enjoyed - I think he co wrote it. I am not a big fan of Under the Dome tv show - it just rambles along and resolves nothing, promises big revelations and forgets them as that would end the arc. I can see why TV companies like this show - in terms of returning audiences etc rather than finishing it satisfactorily and starting another - but I don't. It's stiffing the audience in a way that BattleStar Galactica did and WHO has. Setting up monstrously awesome potential storylines then not delivering, it the Wizard of Oz making television. gIve me Firelight! That's what I say.

There you are -that's why I don't like writing reviews and knocking other writers.

I liked it when he popped up in the cafe though :)

Marc P said...

Ah yes Donna fair point lol and I have certainly bought books because another writer has recommended them. :)

Colin Smith said...

Marc: I read the book UNDER THE DOME. It's a big book, but King has a knack for keeping pace and interest. I wasn't a big fan of the ending, but having seen the first few episodes of the TV show, I can understand your hesitance. As is so often the case, the book is better.

Marc P said...

That is of course a very good point!

What about Firefly though! Haha - I LOVED THAT SHOW! Gets cancelled - goes to show what I know :)

He is directing the next Stars Wars mind. Am I excited? I admit to just a tad! :)

Marc P said...

That is of course a very good point!

What about Firefly though! Haha - I LOVED THAT SHOW! Gets cancelled - goes to show what I know :)

He is directing the next Stars Wars mind. Am I excited? I admit to just a tad! :)

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc P said...

Sorry to hear that Julia -hope all goes well in there. A lot of people in there will care.

Kate Larkindale said...

After receiving some rather nasty hate mail from both the author and the small-press publisher of a book I reviewed on my blog, I decided not to do reviews as such anymore. Instead every Wednesday I write a post about a book I've loved. Sometimes they're new books, other times they're older titles.

By focusing only on the good things I've read, I feel like I'm passing something on to people that they might enjoy.

I do miss reviewing the less-than-good things I read too though. There's a lot more skill needed to write a bad review or one for something mediocre. But I'll save that for my film reviews. I've never had a filmmaker email me to complain about getting a bad review…. Once an investor in the film, but that's a whole different story.

Unknown said...

Holy garbage pails batman I missed a rager! And this awesome (and quite respectful I might add) comment battle makes my bachelor party week look like a third grade birthday party.

I think there are two things I don't understand.

1) I couldn't agree with 2n's more. Writing reviews is a time suck, regardless of advantage. And i think it's clear Marc is saying no one has sold a book to a publisher or agent based on reviews of other works (which, as a matter of principle still might be wrong, (because for every rule there's an idiot who broke it and it worked) but I digress... The point is, I don't feel any sort of pressure from Janet or from the industry to write reviews. I see it as an option... One if used correctly could help build personal connections with readers who might become my audience where in turn having an audience might help me secure a following/fan base/aka contract. i guess 1 wasn't a question. Which brings me to 2.

2) In what world is it ever soneone else's responsibility to make me money? I heard this all the time in music and it's ridiculous. Band books show with venue. Band does nothing to promote. On show day no one comes. Band yells at venue. "what the heck! You booked me. Why didn't you promote the show? Yes you still owe me that 500 bucks you promised!"

Anyone else see the issue? We think art is this transcendent and inherently holy thing sometimes. And that leads us to believe our commodity needs no introduction. Cream rises to the top, right? Good writing trumps all, right? If I write the next great American novel, someone should pay me big bucks to sell it and promote it.

But you can't judge an industry based on six-figure exceptions. And so often, those who weren't willing to accept mediocrity, who worked harder than every other entitled writer who felt they deserved something, ended up at the top of the pile.

In a perfect world, sure, everybody would be a millionaire, and publishing companies would be overloaded by writers, but only the good ones.

I love the concept Marc. I just don't ever see it happening. And I think too often writers (not you, because you really do have a good handle on writing and research and are actively reading Janet's blog to learn and grow) use this as a license to complain and not work, feeling as though the work is owed to them... Not the other way around. :)

Colin Smith said...

Julia!!!!???!!! :( Please keep us posted on how things are going as you are able. I pray for a swift and lasting recovery.

Adib Khorram said...

I completely disagree that writing reviews is universally a time suck.

It might be for some people. We all have different habits.

And I'm definitely not saying it will help me sell a book directly.

But indirectly? Hell, yes.

Janet has said—and I believe she was paraphrasing Stephen King here—"The first million words are crap."

No matter if I'm writing a review or a novel, or a comment on a blog post, every time I string two words together, whatever the purpose, I'm honing my craft, and finding my voice, and (hopefully) learning new and better ways to get my own ideas across effectively.

Writing a hundred, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand book reviews won't help sell my book. Neither will having a hundred thousand visitors a day to a blog. But a hundred thousand words, even if they're words about someone else's work, is a lot of words, and hopefully I'll be writing more clearly and concisely at the end of the hundred thousand than I was at the beginning.

Revising my own reviews before I post them has shown me how I tend to repeat myself, and given me practice at pruning my prose. I realized this point as I was revising this comment before posting it.

How's that for synchronicity?

OOOH, CANDY. That's a new one!

Anonymous said...

I'm taking a break from boring stuff like writing.

I think, and I'm probably going to offend a lot of people here, that if people are very active in social media, facebook, twitter, even commenting on this blog and others, forums, they have to be very careful when they say they don't have time to write.

I've spent three hours on the WIP today, but that's been mostly rearranging things and organizing chapters. I've been writing in chunks up to now. I'm trying to get things in order at this point to see where the story is going. Still, I only have 250 words. The goal is a thousand words a day.

If I added in the nearly 800 I have here, guess what? I would have made my goal already.

It's awesome to write about writing, but at some point we need to decide what is more important, writing or writing about writing?

It kind of goes back to the real cowboy analogy. Most real cowboys are at the ranch working, not riding a barstool.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I hear ya, and I agree. Even if I'm not very good at putting it into practice, you are correct. I probably do practice my craft way too much here as opposed to my WiP. No ifs or buts about it. Not that I want to stop commenting here (please!), but I ought to be more balanced. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I want you guys to know I love you. No, really I do. Much of what you say has value. Actually it all has value because opinion and knowledge shared is a very good thing. Having said that let me drop this on you.

If you are a writer you write.

If you are a writer you learn about writing and implement that which best serves your genre within the craft. Part of learning is reading, sharing thoughts and testing what works best for you. Every part of writing requires that you write your shit down. (Sorry Janet. I using “shit” to get attention).
What gets me, and this is NOT targeted toward anyone in particular, is that a lot of writers (so called), like to talk about writing rather than write. If you call yourself a writer, don’t do that. It smacks of a**hole-ism. Okay now that you are paying attention let me drop this on you.

Mr. King is a writing God. Until you have read ALL his early work and the later stuff, until you dismiss the movie and TV interpretations as simply versions, and not actual King-craft, until you have read how he has at times analyzed his own writing, do not speak ill of the icon and this is why.
Years ago he wrote, (I am paraphrasing) “I knew I would never write the great American novel. So I write horror because that’s what I do best.” We all know he writes more than that.
I personally believe many of his short stories and novels would indeed line my shelf of great American works.

If reviewing is your thing, (I know of one reviewer in Pennsylvania who is brilliant at it), then review ‘til the cows come home. Pros and cons DO make a difference for us writers, regarding sales and learning.

My point, sh** or get off the pot. Fish or cut bait. Nike. Just do it.
Write damn it. Write don’t just talk about it. You talkers are damn good writers. We’re up to well over 13,000 words again today. I think King said he tops out at 10,000 before he shuts down the ‘puter and goes for a walk. I’m not saying this is all a waste, (you learn good-stuff here) I’m saying…actually I’m not sure what I’m saying because I have a another deadline and I’m going to do what Janet says. “Write.”

Julie, it's hard huh.

And Julia, hang in babe, we’re rooting for that lousy pancreas of yours to get better.

John Frain said...


I think it was an hour ago that I started reading the comments and saw this, but it's still funny out west in the Mountain Time Zone:

"...there's not enough time to get everything I want to do, done. I blame my husband. He expects me to talk to him."

Since I can't blame your husband, I'm getting back to work.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: To use Mr. King as an example of what you say: compare the number of books/articles he has written ABOUT writing versus actual novels and short stories. Yeah. He knows what he's about.

Donnaeve said...

Here's what I know about Mr. King:

Colin, if you would?

Some Richard Bachman in there too. And I have ON WRiting. And I have Secret Window.

Donnaeve said...

Oh, and Julia - get better soon. And keep writing. When you can. Even if it's only a word, five words, whatever. Even if it's on a notepad. Or in your head.

Colin Smith said...

My pleasure, Donna:

Marc P said...

@Brian, thanks I think.. But the concept you describe is not one I have outlined. :) Re point 2 - a contract is based on two parties agreeing on doing certain things. The happiness or unhappiness of the outcome for both parties is usually predicated on what the other has offered to do. If the publisher you sign with expects you to review other peoples books to guarantee sales then that is what you have agreed to do. I have no problem with that if that is the terms of the contract. And they strive to do what they have agreed to do.

All this is cool. It is called business.

If an essential nature of a normal business relationship changes then that is all cool too.

This is why you have agents and meetings and contracts etc. A contract is an AGREEMENT between two parties. It is the changing face of publishing and the unchanging face of publishing, and where they are and where they meet is in some small way what I was addressing and throwing it out there. My point was not that publishers owe writers a living - it was that publishers sell writers work. There it is. Historically they have sold writers work through the power of distribution - as in anything else. Some publishers love the arty writers and some like the commercial. And in the main there has been a good balance. The shift in the area of distribution both physically through the grocers and digitally via Amazon and etc has thrown the cat very much amongst the pigeons. Mergers within publishing are creating powerhouses where less work is published mainstream. My point is that this is economically driven changing of the gateposts - which nobody has any real idea of how it will fallout. The novel itself is probably under threat - maybe we will go back to the Dickens style of serial publishing. Certainly in the large series in Fantasy publishing for example we are already seeing that - Game Of Thrones, Robert Jordan - following on from my point about TV Shows like Under the Dome, Lost and etc. Publishers are looking for certainty - so they look to celebrities and known money spinners -even if those spinners are dead - the brand can live on. So responsibility is thrown onto writers to provide marketing support that hitherto they haven't traditionally been expected to do. And well over 99 percent of that won't work for the average Joe as you say and figures show. BUT... one spark will start a forest fire.... and a million others won't.

The industry is in a state of flux and of course some cream does not get the chance to rise - as has always been the case, Don made infinitely more money out of that Starry Night than Vincent ever dreamed of.

When the modes of delivery in a marketplace change - everything about that market changes. Some of what writers are being asked to do now don't make sense and some do - and sometime or other we will find out which. But it won't be the same for everybody.

It's business. As you kinda say Brian, if there were any sure fire guarantees in business we'd all be millionaires. Except of course we couldn't be. Art is ok though - you can set your own yardsticks as long as you don't rely on other people to buy into them.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh Donna, lucky girl. I donated my books years ago and wish I had them all back. My mother-in-law's church was having a rummage sale. King books made them serious bucks so I did my part.

I figure that rather than showing up early to cut the line, I'm hoping that this fan's generous donation gets me to stand way back at the end, for a long time, until it's my time, to show up at the gates they call pearly.

Marc P said...

To be fair 2N's it al depends on whether you turned back the corners of any of those books you donated - and I think you know that.

Unknown said...

Carolynn - I agree wholeheartedly about King. If you've never read "The Body", "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" or even "The Running Man" (which he claims to have written in a frenzied 48 hours following the completion of another novel) then you might just tag him a pop writer. Even my lesser favorites have completely engrossing parts that reveal oh-so-much about humanity and make you just go, "oh, my." Like "Hearts in Atlantis" - the first part IMO stunk but the second part that didn't make the movie, the part about the college kid playing hearts so much that he failed out and got sent to Vietnam - "oh, my."

As far as the setting of word goals - it kind of happens naturally, I suppose, but I tend to go through feverish periods where I write 2-3 thousand words in a few days, but then what I'm writing tends to rankle. Sometimes I need time to digest and reflect, and make sure it's on the right track. Breaks are good, and life, and distractions. Even a writing distraction, like commenting here or completing a flash fiction entry, or writing a song or anything.

I find that, except for those feverish periods which tend to coincide with moments in the WIP when my characters surprise me (and Jeez, those suckers are getting harder and harder to tell what to do!) I find I can only expect about an hour of good work, even on a day when nothing else is going on.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Marc, I guess I am woefully naïve.

You say " was that publishers sell writers work."

I thought WE, as writers did that by writing a book nobody can put down. I get all that marketing and promotional crap but if you use an example like THE SHACK, it didn't take a huge publisher to send it into the stratosphere, it took writing a damn good book that faithful-amateurs believed in and marketed by word of mouth.

Like you say, cream rises.

Marc P said...

@N's that was my point. :) What they sell is what we write.

Unknown said...

Oh, and there are times when I am literally too busy to write, but they tend to clump together, and as long as they don't take me out of the game entirely (as long as I get back to it when I do eventually have time, usually Saturday morning) it doesn't have much of an impact, other than slowing it down, of course. One of King's rules of writing was to finish a draft - any draft, even a long one - in 3 months. That's one I'm throwing right out the window. Not many people suffer from his rare form of verbosity.

Donnaeve said...

I'm sure your donation (kinda funny it was a church rummage sale) has loaded you up with some good karma. You can remind St. Peter lest he forgets.

Thank you Colin!!!!

Unknown said...

Marc - i think we agree, but I think we look at this differently.

Writers sell themselves to agents. Agents sell books to publishers. Publishers sell books in brick and mortars.

But nowhere in any contract is a publisher required to sell a certain number of copies for the author. There may be escalators, and they may lose if no books sell, but no contract (should) have a minimum number of books that need to be sold to fulfill the contract. So sure, they sell books, books we write. But we have much more at stake if our book does poorly than they do. After all, there's only one of us, and we're only one of their plays. They've got a few hundred other releases next week. So to me, anything (within reason) that is suggested that might, just maybe, help my career despite requiring me to lose sleep, will be something I'll be doing. Because their business and contractual obligations begin and end whether my career sinks or sails.

Theresa said...

I especially like the reminder that a review shouldn't comment on personal issues pertaining to the author and/or the book cover or cost of shipping, etc.

The "reviews" I post on Goodreads I really consider to be brief comments, and I don't include stars. I use that site mostly to keep track of my own reading and to jog my memory about what I liked and didn't like. Sometimes, if a book really speaks to me, I will write about it on my blog. And rules of politeness always apply. I would never write about a book I couldn't say something nice about. We all know how much of ourselves/our souls go into our writing, and I just couldn't do a hatch job on someone else's pride and joy.

Marc P said...

Well actually there is in a contract Brian - it's called an advance whereby a Publisher agrees to sell a number of books up to a certain number and will pay you regardless of whether they do or not. After which when the advance is earned out then you get royalties in differing amounts depending on the format of sales and where sold and how discounted etc.

Depending on your deal of course.

Marc P said...

But yes your principles are all right there Brian. Mutual respect is the only basis for any relationship

Marc P said...

And Theresa that's it for me in a nutshell - I don't want to do a job on anyone's pride and joy either.

Panda in Chief said...

One of the problems with commenting from the other side of the country, is that usually everyone has already made the points that I would have like to have made if I could get up at say, 3:00 AM. Thus I find myself wanting to say "what he/she said", so though a lurker I may be, I learn a lot from reading all pf your comments, and of course, Janet's posts.
One of these days I will screw up my courage and enter the flash fiction contests.
And now I have just discovered the page with ya'll's websites! Oh boy! More reading and procrastination in store. Just read Colin's review on GSaW, and actually now I want to read it, which before I didn't.

Any way, looking forward to my dessert of Kale Flambe, from Colin Smith's "Stunning Desserts with Kale" chapter of the Carkoon Cookbook.
I don't know how one gets on the website list of Janet's blog readers, but just in case I can get there by adding my website here, it's definitely NOT literary, but hey! Everyone needs a good laugh from time to time, and also, PANDAS!

Anonymous said...

Damn, you all make it difficult to lurk, even though I am still reading along. Well, skimming today.

With all this discussion of what reviews are "good for" -- and the only motivation, I think, should be to share enthusiasm for a book with other readers -- I must say it is certainly possible to write a review and gain attention from the author of that book, as well as the attention of their agent. And if that agent then links to your review on their blog and says nice things, well . . . it can garner more attention than you might believe possible. From writers and agents and, yes, even publishers. As to what that attention "means," I have no idea. Perhaps nothing.

But the goal of a review shouldn't be what it can do for the writer of it. I dislike this idea of an agenda and it has compelled me out of lurkerdom to say so. The goal should be to celebrate and share a book you love, in the hope that other readers will discover and enjoy it too. At heart, all writers are readers first. Let that appreciation of good writing shine through in a review. I don't think there's ever a downside to that.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Panda I did check out your sight earlier. Funny stuff there.

Colin Smith said...

Panda: If you want to just say "What [insert name(s)] said" that will work. I'm sure those you agree with would be greatly encouraged to know you share their thoughts. :)

As for Carkoon's Most Wanted, I have the honor of maintaining that list. I'll add your name and site later. If you don't see your name on the list by tomorrow, give me a kick and remind me. :)

Unknown said...


Earning out on a contract isn't the same as promising to sell a certain number of books. The promise is in the publication and a reasonable marketing effort. If the book sells 2 copies, the only disadvantage is the huge company gets to write off the cost of promotion and loses a drop in the bucket, but the writer loses a HUGE selling point in their career (ala their debut novel). When an authors debut fails astronomically, a new publisher is far far less likely to buy the sophomore release.

The publisher isn't agreeing to sell a number of books. They're agreeing to try to sell a certain number of books, and maybe pay residuals, and possibly a guarantee that they may or may not recoup.

(Janet, correct me if I've got my foot in my mouth)

The distinction may be minor but it's pretty important. The stakes are NOT the same for the writer and the publishing house, so leverage is not in any way equal between the two. The purpose of a contract is always to protect (or exploit) a party with far less leverage from a party with far more.

Sam Hawke said...

I've just joined Goodreads and hoping to start posting on there regularly. I actually don't really like reviewing books - it feels a bit like schoolwork, perhaps? :) - but I know how important they are to writers, so that's really the only reason I would like to start contributing more in that regard. I don't like the star system though. Just joining they made me rate all these books and it made me uncomfortable. I don't know how to equate my feelings into stars. Sure, it's easy if I adored the book. Anything less than that, it gets murky.

I'm also conscious that you can get yourself in trouble with fellow authors if you don't like things. A SFF/horror writer friend of mine never reviews any more because on more than one occasion she got so bashed over having given a couple of largely positive reviews with some minor quibbles - people following her to all her social media sites and harrassing her, etc. And these weren't even BAD reviews! I can see why you'd want to avoid that aggravation...

Unknown said...

John, glad I made you laugh and thanks for taking the time out to tell me.

As for the rest of you...I've never met a more polite bunch of debaters in my life. Are y'all Canadian?

I'm on the Colin/Adib team. Everything you read and write is one step closer to making you a better writer. I read some bad, bad books when I was reviewing. I wrote down, for my eyes only, what made them bad, and that has helped me tremendously.

Sure wish I could have jumped into the fray, but I was busy reviewing my own work. I had nasty things to say about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm with kdjames. I do write reviews, but I write them to spread the word about books I like. If I don't like it, I don't waste time writing a review. For me, posting a book review on my blog is the same as telling my co-worker about a book, except it reaches a lot more people. (Maybe a lot. I don't get that much blog traffic.)

I also agree that all writing is learning. I found my "voice" by writing web copy and advertising-type emails.

Just my two cents, long after everyone else has gone home. lol

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

Julia: I do pray they/you get this all figured out soon. I can't imagine how frustrating and worrying it must be. And if "listening" helps, I'm all "ears". :)

Marc P said...

@Brian - yes I do know that. But it's the same thing. Otherwise you don't get an advance and that is changing a lot now. Advances ain't what they used to be. Good publishers are good publishers - a contract is never abut them exploiting their POWER over you. If you ever feel that is the way Brian - walk away. Like I say it is always about Mutual respect. Of course Sales can't be guaranteed that is why they are doing what they can by guaranteeing you the equivalent amount of money had they sold X amount. Editors in publishing love writers and they love books. They honestly arrant out to get or exploit you Brian. My comments re the bigger picture are just that, there is a shift going on in the traditional templates if you like. Some of that will be good, some of it not so good.

Never feel you don;t have any power. You have the power to walk away. Not everything comes down to money. A deal is only good if mutual respect is there. With legit companies it pretty much always is and agents are there to make sure the nuances as well as the traditional nuts and bolts of a contract are in place. Re Agents - always bear in mind that they have a strong relationship with commissioning editors too - nobody is out to exploit anybody in a film flam way - but as in any business when it comes down to the nitty gritty then both sides have to be happy. That's called negotiation.

When you say the stakes are not the same for the publishing house as for the writer. I don't believe that that tin a holistic sense is true. All cases are different on a one to one basis. But... in the industry as a whole Publishers stand as the interface between the Reader and the Writer. It is the reader who holds the power ultimately. Sure on a one to one basis the Publisher can choose what to provide to the reader (Although you see what I meant about digital revolution changing all that here) but the short term is not what I was mainly talking about. Believe me it's not something that isn;t been discussed at the highest levels. For the publishers to maintain the strong relationship they have with readers through their distribution outlet infrastructure - cutting off the amount of product they have isn't going to be be useful. Monopolies that don;t offer variety to the end user will eventual suffer.

But that is a financial/economical conundrum that will play out over the coming years and no one is really sure how it will settle, Look at the big battle recently between Hachette and Amazon.

My concern is on a cultural level for the Novel. If the industry this that the 'artists' aren't so important and that they can sell books big time simply by putting the name of a celebrity on it or by massively promoting a project regardless of the literary or ethical nature of it's content - I think we know the book I am talking about here - then in cultural terms it;s not healthy. Mid list writers are being squeezed hard apparently at the moment. If the book industry follows what happens in the Music industry and a couple of big companies run pretty much the majority of the musical cultural output - it is not good for creativity and evolution. And Art is all about evolution.

Yes Money is important. Yes big publishers are big companies. But if the people who don;t care about 'content' run everything then WE all lose out. Humanity itself.

So that is the position in which my comments should be viewed It is the very state of the cultural development and existence of Mankind itself that is at stake.

What is the topic again??

Panda in Chief said...

Colin, thanks for adding me to Carkoon's most wanted list.
Also thanks to 2NN's for visiting the pandas.
In my life as a painter, I have learned as much from the other painters I hang out with as I did in art school. So, this is a great place to learn more about writing and the business end of writing. No matter how much we might to say, "but my art is pure, uncontaminated by filthy lucre," we all need to pay our rent/ mortgage and cadmuim red light is $40 or more for a little bitty tube.

I like reading reviews and find many great reads/ series that way. Of course, since I am a librbary girl, most people are not getting rich from my reading. There are definitely books that once I've read them at the library, I find I can't live without the book on my own shelves.

Marc P said...

PIC don't think that. Writers love being read and a payment every now and again from the Libraries can add up to a nice sum! :)

D. B. Bates said...

"A fair review does NOT include a critique of the author's demeanor, behaviour, lifestyle, social media presence, etc. A fair review is about the book, and can include mention of other books by the author."

Hmm, I don't know about this, Janet. I read a lot of movie reviews, and they demonstrate that the best way to critique is to make wild speculation about the intentions of the stars/filmmakers, based on tabloidy details of their personal lives. The movie is only relevant as a springboard for juicy gossip. I don't see why book reviews should be any different.