Friday, April 27, 2012

The Ten Commandments of Reviewing by Mayra Calvani

Not long ago, I saw a notice from an awesome blogger asking authors what they think of 3-star reviews. Let me say, I've received my fair share and don't object one bit --as long as the reviewer has, for the most part, followed The Ten Commandments of Reviewing. I think we all agree people have different tastes when it comes to reading, as they do in all areas of life.

But there are several reasons I object to certain commentary in a review. Please allow me to stress I adore bloggers/reviewers and realize without them our books would lack exposure. I promote bloggers and reviewers as much as I promote my colleagues on Twitter and other social media sites I realize their importance in the entire cycle of publishing.

On one of my recent reviews the reader/blogger said scenes in the book bordered on, or were, rape. The novel was too graphic for him/her. This book comes with a huge warning on Amazon and all sites where the book is for sale: WARNING: Scenes of intense and graphic man love.  I can understand this commentary if a warning hadn’t been posted, but clue #1 should have screamed "This books isn't for me." Great, please DO NOT read and review then. You'll be unhappy and I'll be unhappy.

An interesting fact in history: In the 70s and 80s thousands of “bodice rippers” were released in the romance genre. Bodice rippers is a watered-down moniker for strong sexual elements.I remember reading Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss, among others – and let me tell you, there was nothing “consensual” between the characters when it came to sex. (Btw, I adore both authors and their books). I’ll cover this topic in another blog post so stay tuned.

Secondly, I recently received a 3-star review from a blogger that went on and on about what kind of book she likes, what her tastes were and thus, the 3 stars. See below: The review is not about the author and not about you, the reviewer.  Pleasing all readers or writing to their specific likes is an insurmountable task for an author. We realize a book either resonates with you or it doesn’t. BUT . . . the review should not be about that. It should be about writing style, depth of characters, word building, believability, and many other things that make the book a very enjoyable journey.
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So on with the post: The Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing -  written and posted by Author Mayra Calvani  Here is her site: MAYRA CALVANI WEB SITE

Thou shall have no other gods before the reader. The review is not about the author, nor the publisher, and especially, not about you, the reviewer. Reviews are all about the reader. Don’t try to impress with pompous words in an attempt to glorify yourself or appear scholarly. Give readers simplicity and clarity. They’ll appreciate it. If they want verbose and fancy, they can read Shakespeare.

Thou shall not lie. Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you’re doing nothing but selling copy. When you give facile praise or sugar-coat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony.

Thou shall try not to offend the author. Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There’s no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible novel!” say, “This book didn’t work for me for the following reasons…”

Thou shall not eat the evaluation. Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and leave out the evaluation. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, “I really liked this book” is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying.

Thou shall not reveal spoilers. Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader’s reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author.

Thou shall honor grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Don’t be one of those reviewers who are more in love with the idea of seeing their name online than making sure their reviews are well-written and thorough. Your reviews may hang around on the internet for years to come and will reflect on your level as a writer. Run a spell check, edit, revise, and polish your review, as if you were posting a short story. Get a good book on grammar, and punctuation, take an online course or listen regularly to podcasts such as The Grammar Girl.

Thou shall honor deadlines. If you join a review site where the turnaround for reviews is 3 weeks, then you should respect that agreement. If you promise the author to have the review ready in two months, you should honor this too. Be honest and straight forward from the beginning. If you’re so busy your turnaround is six months, make sure to let the person know. If for any reasons you cannot meet the deadline, contact the person and let him know. It’s your responsibility to maintain a do-able schedule.

Thou shall not be prejudiced against thy neighbor. Don’t assume that a self-published or small press book is poorly written. Give it a fair chance and let it speak for itself. Likewise, never assume a book published by a major NY house has to be good. You’d be surprised by the high quality of some small press books by unknown authors, as opposed to those written by big name authors whose titles are often in the bestseller lists. In general, most subsidy books are mediocre, but there are always exceptions. If you’ve had bad experiences with subsidy books, then don’t request them nor accept them for review. If you decide to review one, though, don’t be biased and give it a fair chance.

Thou shall not become an RC addict. RC stands for Review Copy. Requesting RCs can get out of control. In fact, it can become addictive. You should be realistic about how many books you can review. If you don’t, pretty soon you’ll be drowning in more RCs than you can handle. When this happens, reading and reviewing can change from a fun, pleasurable experience into a stressful one. If you’re feeling frazzled because you have a tower of books waiting to be reviewed, learn to say NO when someone approaches you for a review and stop requesting RCs for a while. Unless you’re being paid as a staff reviewer for a newspaper or magazine, reviewing shouldn’t get in the way of your daily life.

Thou shall honor thy commitment. Remember that any books you’ve agreed to review beforehand are being sent to you in exchange for a review. If your policy is not to review every book you receive, state it clearly on your blog or site so the author or publisher will know what to expect. If you have agreed to review a book, but have a valid reason for not reviewing it, let the review site editor, author, publisher, or publicist know.

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KendallGrey said...

I'm going through the review process with my book right now, and I agree 100% with every point you made. Especially the one about honoring your commitment to get it back by a certain time. I sent out about 90 ARCs (some of them paperbacks, which cost me about $13 per book with mailing cost) beginning in January. I asked reviewers to have their write-up done by my release day of May 1. I sent out a reminder (because many asked for it) with links earlier this week. As of this morning, I have 45 reviews on Goodreads and only 20 on Amazon. To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. Live and learn, I guess. After this experience, I'll be much more selective about which reviewers I choose to read the next book.

Thanks for a GREAT post!

Jack Durish said...

Generally, the 10 Commandments of Reviewing are good guidelines. But (you knew it was coming) I have on occasion qualified my review by specifying what I like or don't like in a book. The reason being that I believe that by establishing my "point of view," I am putting readers on notice that my opinion may or may not be relevant to them. For example, I place more emphasis on character over plot. I know that others may feel the opposite. Thus, they are forewarned as to whether or not my recommendations should influence their purchasing/reading decisions.

Christina Carson said...

I ran into a strange situation with a reviewer/editor. I never read one of her reviews, but in her editing of my book Dying to Know, she confused the premise of the book(with which she greatly disagreed) with the work itself. Thus she attacked both me and the book. I didn't realize people in that line of work could be that obtuse and unprofessional - call me naive. It was not a pleasant experience. The worst, she didn't even see what she was doing as she asked if I'd write a testimonial for her site. I told her she didn't want one from me and explained why. To which she answered, "I have a strange sense of humor. Sometimes people misinterpret it." Trust me, I'm 66 years old; I can tell the difference. Chalk it up to one more lesson learned the hard way.

ravenous-reader-book-reviews said...

I am building a new book review blog, and actually am trying to stick to each of these commandments.

I think it's really important for reviewers to separate the artist from their art. I see way too many reviews that don't do this.

And then you have the reviews that will give a literary work a low star rating because of the subject matter. Meaning, that if there is dog fighting in the book, then the author MUST be an animal abuser (a certain Feast of Snakes review on Goodreads comes to mind that someone pointed out to me).

Thank you for this blog post.

Maria Powers said...

Very good points one and all. I do appreciate what Jack said, "I have on occasion qualified my review by specifying what I like or don't like in a book. The reason being that I believe that by establishing my "point of view," I am putting readers on notice that my opinion may or may not be relevant to them." I agree that when you are explaining your POV it assists readers in understanding whether or not the reviewer's point is valid for them.

Also, I have to take a smidge of offense at the use of Shakespeare as a verbose and fancy writer. He wasn't and still isn't verbose at all. He wrote during a different age with different language development and what we read and/or hear as fancy is simply where English was at that time. He wrote his plays for the common man who could not read and thus, had a rich oral and aural tradition. Using today's standards to judge the work of writers from prior historical perspectives loses a great deal.

Okay, down off of my soap box. A great post and one I'd recommend to many.