Fifty Shades of Telling it Like it Is – Meet the Reviewers Part One

Your mother loves your book. Your sister, your aunt, your best friend, and that guy that is desperately trying to get you into bed all think you are the next Hemingway. So you publish your book. Then it gets reviewed.  Someone who doesn’t know you and has no vested interest in your happiness, loves your book. Five whole stars from a stranger! Or, to your utter amazement, someone that neither knows nor loves you,  thinks your seven hundred page tome on the joys of accounting, thinks it stinks.Who are these people and where the heck to they get off not loving your book? Meet the reviewers in the first of a two part interview.

Livia Ellis

  • Question 1 – Who are you people? Why do you like making writers cry? Don’t you know we’re entitled to the sort of fame and glory that comes along naturally when we figure out how to self-publish on the internet?

Cat Alley

  • Cat alley avid reader and big mouth…lol. I am a single mother of a 3-year-old boy; I work full time and read every time I get the chance in between. I don’t think I have made a writer cry, ever… or anyone for that matter… at least not in years. The majorities of the writers I have read for deserve all sorts of fame and glory for their work.

Samantha Truesdale

  • Samantha Truesdale. A mom of 2 boys and a total book nerd. I work part time, and I wish there were more hours in the day so I would have more time to read!

DelSheree Gladden

  • DelSheree Gladden…writer, reviewer, reader of just about everything, mom of two very smart and very silly kiddos, married to the most supportive husband ever, and dental hygiene student. That last one is currently eating up the majority of my life!

PW

  • I’m a mom, former active duty Marine and Executive Assistant.

Livia Ellis

  • Question 2 – How and why did you start doing book reviews? I know from my personal experience, the first few times I wrote book reviews was because I was very angry I spent good money on a really terrible book.

Cat Alley

  • I have been a heavy reader for many, many years. Within the last year, I have made close friends with those who are writers. That is when I learned the importance of writing a review on Amazon. I than joined a couple of groups on Facebook where I could beta read and published read/review. For me, it was a way to get free books and help someone at the same time. After doing that for a while and needing a hobby, I decided to start my own blog with my reviews. I have only been doing it for a few months in a blog, but I have been enjoying getting my thoughts out there for people to read…good or tastefully bad.

Livia Ellis

  • I’ve thought about doing reviews, but I’m worried that as a writer there might be a lot of backlash. As writers do, I’ve spent a lot of time reading what’s out there in my genre. I just have two things to say – It’s a Japanese kimono, not a Japanese Komono and a wench is a woman and a winch is used for lifting heavy items. I fear I would just be too mean. How do you keep it nice?

Cat Alley

  • It is hard; I have a very sarcastic voice even when I am trying to be nice. It takes me time. If I don’t like a book and I know the stars are going to be low, I always try to state why they got the stars they did without giving away anything about the story line, I don’t like spoilers. I have given zero stars before. I have also given three stars, because I didn’t like its contents … even though the story was OK. And if I see a grammar issue, I will point it out, because they have to be big for me to even notice them… so I point them out…
  • Lol… and that is funny…about the wench…

DelSheree Gladden

  • I actually started doing book reviews after reading Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus.” It was such a fantastic book, I had to tell people about it. My review blog started out as just a place for me to talk about books I was reading, then it became a serious effort a few months later when review request started coming in.

Samantha Truesdale

  • I have always loved to read. In elementary school, while other kids were playing on the playground, I was in the corner with a book. In January of this year, I had a baby and am now home all the time. I used reading as a way to fill my time and decided that if I was going to spend so much time reading, I should look into doing reviews. I found that there was not much to it so I created a blog.
    I am really enjoying this new chapter in my life. The way I look at it, authors have given me so much in life just by writing books. This is one way for me to give back to them. I know it can help tremendously!

PW

  • I started because I love to read and the amount of money I was spending on books, I decided to start reviewing when I noticed a request for reviewers from one of the online sites. The big draw for me was the free books. I still spend over $100 a month for books, but it is not close to what it used to be. Another advantage is that I get to read authors I may not have looked at before.

Livia Ellis

  • Question #3 – where do you get your books from? What is your preferred method to acquire a book?

Cat Alley

  • There is a site, eReadrIQ.com. They send me an email daily with free books from Amazon. Other then that, I get them for beta reading or reviewing. I read all my books on my Kindle. I do however have a few authors that I will buy their kindle vs. but also buy a paperback for my personal library.

Samantha Truesdale

  • I get a fair amount of books from Amazon. I would say at least half of the books I receive are in exchange for an honest review. I also receive quite a few from Goodreads first reads giveaways.

DelSheree Gladden

  • I have several small press publishers that regularly send me their new books and put my into touch with the author. I really like this setup because I know the quality of the publishers.

PW

  • I too subscribe for the email re free books from Amazon. Of course there are free books I review, but I have purchased a few. There are a few authors I buy instead of review since I email back and forth with them sometimes. I also buy books at thrift stores, online, and at B&N. The book club I belong to also has a book exchange.

Livia Ellis

  • Question #4 – do you have a preference? Is there anything on your “I will not read this, not even if the paid me” list?

Cat Alley

  • Anything scary or historical I won’t read. Other than that, I like a synopsis of the book. I have learned in this process to ask for those as I have gotten books before that I have not liked and had I had the synopsis, I would have known that from the beginning.

Samantha Truesdale

  • I will read almost anything. I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi or history, but I have still read them.

DelSheree Gladden

  • My first love is YA. I’ll read just about any subgenre of YA, but I am a pretty eclectic reader. The only things I will NOT read are erotics, self-help, and political books.

PW

  • I don’t read a lot of historical unless I really like the blurb, I prefer not to review YA though I do read a few books. I am a fairly eclectic reader with a bent toward erotica, sci-fi, and fantasy.

Livia Ellis

  • Question #5 – I’m guessing you are asked to read/review more books than you could ever get through. What is the best approach a writer can use when asking you to read/review their book?

PW

  • I have reviewed a few books for a couple of authors I am friendly with, but I don’t do it often. Two of the three sites I review for has lists that the reviewers can choose from and the other will send a book depending on the number they get, though a couple of times I had to request a different book, as I had reviewed for another site. One of the sites though, we can follow the entire series if we want, which sometimes gets a small backlog if a lot come in at once. One site allows authors to request a specific reviewer if they want to. I have also been asked to review a couple of print books through these sites as well. One thing an author needs to understand when asking me to review a book is that I will give an honest assessment of what I think regardless of my relationship with them.

Cat Alley

  • I am still fairly new at this so I don’t have a long list of people I read for nor am I in that many groups to obtain a large amount of books. So I tend to have free time for my own interests in reading. When someone approaches me for the first time I usually want to know how they found me, how much they write and what they write. Then I decide if I want to read for them. Usually once, I read for someone, I get repeat performances…

DelSheree Gladden

  • Be thorough. I’m much more likely to be interested in a book if they send me a summary of the book and a little info about themselves. If all I get is a title, and I have to go look it up on Amazon to see what the book is about, I’m much less likely to review. I’m incredibly busy with school and family that I don’t always have time to do that. Plus, my blog is booked six months out, so I’m being very selective lately.

Livia Ellis

  • Question #6 – What isn’t going to work? What advice would you give to an author that wants a review?

Cat Alley

  • Don’t make the reader pay for the book, if you are working with a new reader and you have a series and on book 2, offer the first book so the reviewer can get caught up. (I personally will turn away an offer if it is in the middle of a series without reading the others), and be nice.. no one is perfect. Ask a lot of questions from the reviewer about your book. That way if they did not like it, you can find out why, if it is truly something about your book, or if that person just doesn’t like “those kind” of books. Some people may not explain why they do not like a book. If you are looking for a beta reader, once they are done reading, schedule some face-to-face time with them… so you can get a true feeling of what they thought about your book. It is always good to have 3-5 beta readers you trust. (I personally like to beta read more then read/reviewing)

Samantha Truesdale

  • Don’t pay for reviews! Know that you don’t have to give away swag or anything to get reviews, although a copy of the book in exchange for a review is nice. There are plenty of readers out there that want to review your book just to do it. Be prepared because there is inevitably going to be someone that doesn’t give you that great of a review. It doesn’t mean that your book is a flop, it just means someone didn’t understand it like you meant them to.

DelSheree Gladden

  • Offering a free book in exchange for a review is expected, at least for me. The only books I buy are when it’s an author I know personally and want to support. As far as advice to authors, offer a giveaway along with a review. This is a great way to increase exposure and get more comments.

PW

  • I agree with Cat about series books. Reviewers like me expect the free book but that is all. Samantha is right about payment, I feel that puts the reviewer in a conflict especially if they don’t like the book. One rule of thumb, is always give constructive comments in that case. Don’t take it personally. Sometimes authors will do giveaways on blogs, then it is always nice if the person winning does a review as well.

Cat Alley

  • Thank you PW. I agree with all you said. Me personally I know a lot of authors that do contests and give a ways. It is a great way to get people involved. I personally do not participate as I don’t want to take the chance of getting the book away from someone who has not read it and who can become a potential fan. But that is a personal preference.

50 Shades of the Next Big Thing Part 1

I have a friend that owns a bunch of small bookshops in Dublin. When there is a scheduling pinch and I’m free, I go in, sit behind the counter, read, and take peoples money. I could make a career out of this. Possibly the best job I’ve ever had. And get to sit around and read AND I get paid in books!!! Sweet!!!

So what have I noticed as I sit perched on my stool reading and drinking a latte? There’s always a BOOK. That one book that just about everyone walks in the door and asks for. Last year it was Game of Thrones. Every other person that walked in the door, regardless of age, sex, race, or fashion sense, wanted Game of Thrones. Couldn’t keep it on the shelves.

No shock, the BOOK that everyone has to have right now is 50 Shades of Grey. Disturbingly, I had a bunch of old ladies in when I worked a morning last week looking to buy 50 Shades of Grey. Even worse, they asked me about it. They were sort of cute about it actually. Very giggly and girlish. I had to tell them the truth. I hadn’t read it. Bondage isn’t really my thing. Besides, I’d heard that it’s not really that good. This comes from a few unrelated sources that I usually trust when it comes to books. The big critiques; poorly written, the characters are wholly two-dimensional, the sex isn’t all that great. One of the nice old women in her petal pink windbreaker with the Princess Cruises emblem on a sticker stuck to her boob, very rightly pointed out that I had said myself that I hadn’t read it. So, who am I to judge?

Absolute right! I haven’t read it. I am in no position to judge. Number one thing that bugs me about people smack talking a book or an author is when they haven’t even read the book themselves. Hand up – guilty as charged. They left with their books wrapped in discrete little paper bags and I picked up a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. I sat there on my perch with my latte in one hand and the current BOOK in the other hand. My mind couldn’t get into the story. I kept on coming up with alternative names. 50 Shades of Tie Me Up and Tie Me Down. 50 Shades of Smack Me on the Ass Because I’ve Been a Bad Bad Girl. 50 Shades of Please Don’t Make Me Read Anymore of This Crap.

Oh my… sigh… If we lived in a meritocracy where only the truly stellar books made it to the top of the sales charts, then 50 Shades of Grey would be lingering on EL James’ laptop never to see the light of day. I have writer friends that are working like dogs to get noticed that produce books of much higher quality than 50 Shades of Grey. Yikes it’s bad!

It’s not that I think it isn’t sufficiently erudite or contains the sort of verbal gymnastics most people with advanced degrees in English think books should have before they become worthy of our notice, it’s just really poorly written. I mean ehhhh…. I’m a firm believer that books should be thought provoking, entertaining, accessible, and have a plot that can be found by the average reader without the need of a compass and a flashlight. I would have cheered 50 Shades of Grey for being at the forefront of the push to make erotica mainstream accessible and acceptable. But it stinks.

So how the heck did it get so popular? How did such a badly written book become the next big thing? I don’t know. I have no idea. If I knew I’d be out doing it. I’m pushing my new release Memoirs of a Gigolo like it was one of a million other books available for download on Amazon… which it is. I know two marketing people. I’m going to try to wrangle them into talking with me about what drives this sort of mass hysteria when it comes to a book.

50 Shades of the Next Big Thing Part 2 will be available a week from today

The Two Scariest Words in Publishing – Synopsis and Outline

Emily Dickinson. She lived quietly. Wrote a few things between the beginning and the end.  Died. Had her brother and his lover publish her poems. Then became famous.  Personally I’d like to get published while I’m still alive. Fortune and glory isn’t really my goal. Telling a good story that people enjoy reading is. So, unlike Emily Dickinson, I’m putting what I have to offer out there.

I’m playing it safe and leaving no stone unturned. To that end I’ve self-published the first of a twelve part series –  Memoirs of a Gigolo, I’m signed with two small publishers – The Wild Rose Press and Liquid Silver Books, and I’m going to take a stab at once again trying to court an agent. This isn’t my first voyage of the damned – I’ve tried traveling this road before – I usually get hit by a couple of cars (big American made cars, not tiny little Japanese hybrids) then give up.

After a bit of email repartee with a friend that has not only an agent and a publisher, but also a couple of best sellers racked up on his score card and very little tolerance for my “incessant pissing and moaning” about the injustice of the publishing world when I refuse to “suck it up and play the game”, I’m going to try to tackle a synopsis and outline that might get me some airtime with an agent.

I’ve finished a manuscript that ticks every box for me. It’s topical. It’s well written. I’m passionate about the characters. It has commercial appeal. I love it. It’s YA dystopian with a Hunger Games meets 1984 vibe. I’m too paranoid to give up any details. I get like that when I really like something I’ve produced. I clutch my manuscript to my chest and start looking over my shoulder. I will say I’ve drawn extensively from my knowledge of ancient Persia and modern day Islamic nations, found a character that turns from a lump of coal into a diamond under pressure, and then added a healthy dose of the more things change the more they stay the same.  I think it’s worthy of publication. More than that. I think I have a break-out novel on my laptop. I’ve read what a lot of the publishers that deal strictly in YA have to offer and it stands up compared to other works.

So what next? I must confront the blank page and write a synopsis & outline. Then it’s time to open the proverbial kimono to the world to be told either yes, I have nice boobies or no, my bottom is flabby. Because that’s what it’s like.  As marvelous as I know my manuscript is, unfortunately I can’t walk into Simon & Schuster or Scholastic and hold a gun to the receptionists head until she calls an editor to disarm me. Even if she did call an editor and got them to come down to the lobby, I’d have to turn the gun on the editor and then I’d have to wait while they read my brilliant manuscript, my arm going numb from holding up the gun for so long… let’s just say it’s not done.

So I need to write a synopsis & outline. I really really really don’t want to. I never know what to write. How to condense 100k words into a couple of pages? It’s not like I haven’t tried. I even have a file filled with rejection letters from agents on my laptop. My famous writer friend that has no tolerance for my “whinging and f***ing moaning” doesn’t mind letting me know that he “sucked it up and f***ing did it”, so I have to too. He hated it. Everyone hates it. I have yet to find the writer, published or not, that finds either of these tasks less than daunting. But it has to be done. There is no way around it unless you’ve already proven yourself and the dynamic has shifted.

I’m no quitter, and I don’t really take rejection on the nose, but I’m not great at selling myself. If there was another way, I’d grab it. But I don’t think there is. So I’m off to write a synopsis and outline.

How to Query a Book Review Blogger by Anne R. Allen

Dear Readers (can I write dear readers without sounding twee? I don’t think so, but anyhow…) –
Earlier this week I had a bit of a professional crisis wondering how the heck a little ant like me could make it to the top of the publishing heap when those who had made it were making a concerted effort to be jerks. My post about the skulduggery of R.J. Ellory reached more than a few people who were outraged, but also had been around enough to know that he is just one bad example in a world filled with people that truly to go out of their way to help others.
Anne R. Allen, author, blogger, speaker, and all around decent human being that would never write a spiteful review of anyone’s work, commented on my post, and added a link. The topic, one which I had been discussing at length with another writer that is struggling as much as I am, how to query a book review blogger. The very thing I’d been biting my lip and scrunching my nose trying to figure out. And voila – in the way that only these things can happen serendipitously, the answer was presented to me.
I have cut and paste Anne’s recommendations below. I do encourage you to have a look at the full post. We may have Anne around later, so please feel free to leave your thoughts, impressions, and questions.

How do you find interested book bloggers?

The best way is to check similar books in your genre—especially those that have been recently released. Do a search for those titles with the word “review” and read as many reviews as you can. Make a list of the reviewers you like and read the review policy.

Almost no blogger will take all types of books. Some only read traditionally-published paper books; others want only indie ebooks for Kindle. Some specialize in Nook. They almost always have specific genre requests, so read carefully, and always follow them. Even if the blogger agrees to do a review outside their genre, you won’t reach the right readers. People don’t go to a chick lit review site to discover the latest zombie gore-fest.

How do you approach them?

You should make initial contact with a query—the same way you approach other gatekeepers like literary agents and editors. This means you send a professional letter—not a Tweet or wall post on Facebook.

Here are some general rules for scoring a review:

  • Read the guidelines carefully.
  • Then, um, follow the guidelines carefully.
  • Never send an unsolicited book: query first.
  • Don’t query with books outside the prescribed genre. Personalize the query.
  • Keep queries short and intriguing.
  • Don’t take it personally if they turn you down. Reading takes a lot of time and most of them are swamped.
  • Understand the review is for the READER, not the writer, so negative reviews happen.
  • If you get a less than stellar review, mourn in private and move on. NEVER respond to a negative review.

Last November I interviewed popular childrens’ book blogger Danielle Smith of There’s a Book, and she gave some great advice on how to get your book reviewed by a blogger. She says the best way to approach a book blogger is to keep your query professional, but show some personality.

Reviewer Danielle Smith’s guidelines for authors:
  1.  Make sure you address the blogger by name
  2. Include a two to four sentence synopsis—no longer
  3. Keep personal information to a minimum. And don’t guilt-trip.
  4. Attach an image of the book cover
  5. Give the age range of the intended audience
  6. Include the page count (for print books)
  7. Provide the publication date and expected time frame of when you’d like to see the review posted for scheduling purposes.
  8. Don’t ask for a review outside the blogger’s genre
  9. Don’t query if you don’t have a website or a blog. (That screams “unprofessional” to a blogger.)

In other words, treat the book blogger like a professional and she will reciprocate.

If you want to know more about book bloggers and how to approach them, Danielle Smith is leading a panel at the Central Coast Writers’ Conference with several Book Bloggers, including Amy Riley of My Friend Amy, and Pam Van Hylckama Vleig aka Bookalicious Pam who is also an agent with San Francisco agency Larsen-Pomada.

And if you want to read some genuine, not-paid-for Amazon reviews, here are some hilarious ones for a set of Bic pens.

How about you, scriveners? Would you ever consider paying for reviews? Does this change your opinion of John Locke? Do you read book review blogs?