Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the WTH???

Attractive Woman with Her Books

Book reviews. Every author wants them. Every author fears them. They can be the shining star used to promote your work, or the one thing holding readers back from deciding to one-click and add to their growing collection. Over the last week, both of my books have received reviews: a 3, a 4 and a 5 Star review, and each has seen the dreaded 1 and 2 Star reviews. Each reviewer has had something different to say and it made me think…

What good can a review do for the author? How can you read through the lines? And when do you ignore them?

The first rule to any book review is: everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Easier said than done sometimes, right?

The fact of the matter is, no matter how well your book is written, no matter how clean you edits are, or how many people sing your books praises, somebody out there is going to hate it.

What’s that old saying, “You can’t please everybody?” No truer words have been spoken.

Above all things you must remember readers have different taste, like different types of storytelling, or crave a certain type of drama, fantasy, or escape from reality. If your book doesn’t hit the mark for them, chances are they will not like it. A good example of this is the romance genre. There are many ‘heat’ levels out there. Everything from Hard core BDSM, to the tame ‘bedroom door shuts in your face’, and where I fall, somewhere in between…not erotica, but definitely erotic. (I recently had a reader tell me my scenes made her blush, lol, and they are in no way close to what makes me blush!)

The flip side to this is if your book is intentionally written to draw on a readers emotions – depending on their personality type – they may dislike your characters because they cannot or do not sympathize with your characters decisions. They get so upset they are personally offended or pissed off and no longer read the full story.  They base their opinions on the characters actions and what they feel should have happened, thus the bad review.

As an author, what can you take from this?

For starters, learn to read between the lines. Once the emotional sting is gone and the tears have dried, or you stop using the ‘f’ word, whichever comes first, try to decipher what the reader is trying to say. Did they dislike the character, the plot, or the writing? Was the character unrealistic or did the decisions they make just piss them off? As the author, only you know what motivates your characters and what emotions you want to draw from the reader. So the questions you must ask yourself are:

  • Did I do too much or too little?
  • Was enough back ground information given?
  • Was the scene or reason behind the decisions made explained clearly?
  • Were questions/goals asked, defined, and reached?
  • Were there enough unanswered questions to keep the reader interested without boring them?
  • How well thought out was the plot?
  • Are there gaps in the story that leave the plot line open?
  • Was a resolution found and satisfying?
  • What about the pacing? Too fast, too slow, or just plain boring? (you’ll know the answer to this if a majority of your reviews say the same thing)
  • What can I take from this review to make my next project better?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Some characters are meant to piss people off, but you want your main characters to pull the reader in, keep their attention and have them rooting for them to reach their goal. One of the most important things to remember, no matter what genre you write, pleasing the masses (lovers of your genre) is the key, not the people who don’t or won’t agree.  In other words, if you write Sci-Fi Erotica, don’t expect a Historical Romance lover to go crazy about your book. That’s not to say readers won’t cross over to different genres, but some are more comfortable with what they know.
  • If your book is getting an influx of negative reviews, pay attention to the market your promoting to. If book lovers of your genre continue to say the same thing, you may need to step back, re-evaluate your style of writing, learn more about storyline structure, and find honest beta readers or a writing group to help you find out what went wrong. Revamp, rewrite, try again!
  • Like TV shows and movies, there are various book genres that have a different style of pacing. Some readers want the satisfaction of a full ride that has them hanging on from the beginning to the end with no breaks. (Think roller coaster ride, 0-60 in 2 seconds). They want if fast, hard, and with a sudden stop. Other readers like the slow walk on the beach, long conversations, the romance, staring off at the sunset, and a satisfactory ending. And then there’s the in-between reader who likes the road trip. They want to leave the house doing the city speed limit, but when they hit the highway, they cruise with the traffic, enjoying the twists and turns and the fast pace. They like to visit the rest stop and stretch their legs before merging with the flow of traffic again. A well written story has the mixed pace of fast, slow, and cruise control to keep the ride interesting.

What does all of this mean?

As writers, we know what our comfort zone is when it comes to telling our stories. We know what our intentions are and what we want our character to see, think, and feel. We view our work as our babies and it’s often hard to put down the laptop and share it with the world. Will we ever be able to win over the masses? No, because there are too many genres which means readers what different things. If your book doesn’t deliver for them, chances are it’s not your story, but your style of writing or vice versa. Either way, don’t let a bad review get you down. See it as a learning tool. If you can find room for improvement, make it! If it’s more of a personal issue for the reviewer, ignore it and move on! In the end, YOU, the writer, know how much time, effort, and work you put in to make your ideas hit paper. Don’t let the negative stop you! As a good friend and fellow author says, ‘you have to put on your big girl panties and get over it!’ – Carmen DeSousa

It DOES Take A Year To Write Your Prose!!!!

My collection: Roberts, Brockmann, Evanovich, and yes that IS Twilight, and it belongs to me, not my daughter!
How in the @&*% does Nora Roberts manage to publish three to four books a year under two different pen names, yet still have time to water and plant her garden?!?!?!?!?????
Is there a ghost writer in her house?
I love Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. I have twenty-five of my favorite books penned by her in my collection. Talk about inspiration! It seems like every few months I walk by the book section of my local grocery store and find two brand new books sitting on the shelf, one in each of her pen names. Wow, the woman is good.
I watched an interview with her a year ago, and they asked her about her writing schedule. Yeah, she definitely has one, along with an office built by her husband where she writes. She also follows a strict writing routine that does in fact leave her time for her favorite past time, gardening. I, on the other hand, can’t seem to write a schedule let alone follow one! Plus, my four kids, ages ten to sixteen, are at a stage in life where they have various activities – orchestra, jazz band, art, book club, and etc. – that demand I spend time taking them places. (Finding Creative Ways to Edit While Running My Household) Nora’s children, on the other hand, are all grown. Her writing career started years ago when her boys were young, and she was a single mom. What ever she did to get her career started and make it to the level of success she’s seen over the years, I have to give her props. If I ever have the opportunity to meet her, I’m going to demand tips.
But, until then, I have to stick to what I’ve learned.
When I first began my writing journey, I checked out books from the library dealing with the art of writing. I remember one book, This Year You Write Your Novel, by well-known author, Walter Mosely. He is the famed author of books such as Devil in a Blue Dress, (later turned into a movie staring Denzel Washington), and many others. One look at the title and I scoffed, thinking, ‘A year? Yeah right. I’ve written my first three books already…in nine months!’
Sigh…..Don’t I feel like an idiot! Well, at least I had some form of confidence that encouraged me to keep going; even when I found out I still had a lot to work on!
And now, two years later, I’m just beginning to see the EXIT sign as I near completion of my first book. In December my editor will get her hands on the manuscript, but the journey won’t end there. Once she sprinkles her fairy dust on it, it will come back for yet another rewrite. I’m praying that will be the last one, because the characters for the next book are tired of waiting.
That said, I’d like to share with you:
M.J. Kane’s Top Ten Things I’ve Learned During My Writing Journey:
(Check out the links, they go back to related blogs)
10. Research comes in many forms. Don’t be afraid to use them!
If this is your first time writing a novel, I’m sure you’ve already stockpiled your personal library with books on writing and editing to get you started. My local library was a great place to find books, but not all can be found there. Tip: Hang out at your local book store (if you can still find one) Take pen and paper and cruise the shelves for books on writing and writing in your genre. Find a nice corner, and take notes. It’s free, and the access to the information you seek is priceless. Scan the Internet for articles and blogs on writing – such as this one – and pick up pointers from those who have been in the game longer than you have. There’s a wealth of advice to be found. (Finding the Correct Genre for your Prose)
9. Patience, coffee, and a box of chocolate.
Screen savers can be inspirational! Oh yeah and the butterflies, too! LOL!

Patience is key when working on your character back story, story plots, and settings. It takes time to discover who your characters are and what motivates them. This amount of research takes more than a few hours. Sometimes it can take days. Find a in-depth character profile chart that works for you. Settle in with your coffee, something sweet, and get to know your characters intimately. It’s the only way for your characters to leave the one/two dimensional life on paper and become three-dimensional. From there, the story will grow and find a life of its own. (The Importance of Writing Outlines – I’m Glad I Did!- Part 2)

8. Find music that inspires you to write and edit too!
Now that you’ve got your outline and discovered your characters, you need to find inspiration. Music can establish the mood of a scene, influence the story’s flow, or even explain what a character is feeling when they can’t say it themselves. (Does Your Story Have a Soundtrack?)
7. Passive Word Check List.
This is like holding a magic wand in your hand when editing. Search for words that make the passages wordy or boring because you use them repeatedly. The trick to writing a story that does not bore your readers is to paint your prose with colorful and creative ways that express your characters emotions and thoughts. My ‘kryptonite’ list includes the words:  was, that, saw, feel, look, and see for starters. Then there are words that are often misused: a/an, to/too, its/it’s. My personal list has forty-one words/phrases I check before the chapter is marked ‘edited’. This list came from words my critique partners pointed out as they read my work. (Digital Audio Recording Devices + Editing = ??????)

6. Thesaurus and dictionary.
This is the answer to the dreaded passive word check list. If your brain is fried and you can’t think creatively, this is your life line. Not sure if that word will fit correctly in your sentence, use the dictionary. Need to find another way to say ‘see’…thesaurus is the way to go.

5. A locked door and a good pair of headphones can make any workspace personal.
The beauty of fall!

Unfortunately, not everyone can have a dream writing space like Nora, but you can create your own slice of writing heaven. Mine is in my bedroom where my desk is located next to a big picture window. I enjoy watching the trees change color and the squirrels run around collecting food for winter. As long as the door is locked and the head phones are on high, I can ignore the knocking and get into a scene…lol, at least that’s the plan. Still haven’t got the kiddies to go along with the plan. For some reason, every time I start working on a love scene, that’s the time ALL of them suddenly need my attention. Talk about a mood killer! (The Dynamics of Writing a Love Scene)

4.  Beta Readers, what can I say?
So, you’ve burned up brain cells and blown a few fuses to create your literary perfection, it’s time to take that baby on a test run. Find your beta readers, whether they are critique partners, family members, or a friend you’ve made on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social networking site. You need real feedback. If you can get someone who writes the same genre as you, they can let you know if your MS fits the genre or if you’ve missed something. Finding someone who doesn’t normally read your genre and hooking them with your story can build confidence. That means you’ve got what it takes to tell a strong story. (The Value of Critique Partners and Beta Readers)
3. Join social networking sites for support, marketing and promotion.
Most of us have already joined Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. Now’s there’s Google plus, Linkedin, Klout and a god only knows how many more. In this day and age, you can never have enough ways to connect to other writers for advice and support. If you haven’t done it yet, start writing a blog. It’s not only a great way to share your work with others, it’s also a way to create a fan base and let people know what you’re doing.
2. Find an editor!
Whether your goal is to self-publish, e-publish, or try your luck with the selling your book to one of the big publishing houses, an editor is key! Readers are picky and will not fail to notice if your story has not received that ‘professional’ touch. Not everyone can be an English major and know every writing rule known to man. That’s why God created editors! But seriously, we all need them. It will cost some money, but having that touch added to your work will separate your hard work from those who aren’t willing to put in the work. Think about it, we’ve all read a book written by a well-known author distributed by a major publishing house and have found some sort of grammatical or technical error. So, Indie published authors don’t fear. Do the best you can, work with an editor, and understand: you can’t please everybody. No matter what you do, somebody is NOT going to like something about your story and find a reason to criticize it. Look at it this way — at least they read it. (The Joys – and Woes – of Editing)
1. Have the will and desire to try again and again until you get the story right, no matter how many re-writes/edits it takes.
That statement pretty much says it all. If you don’t have the desire to work through the ups and downs of telling the story and doing the best you can, then maybe becoming an author is not for you. Admit defeat and try your hand at something else. But if you step away and find you can’t keep your mind off writing and your characters keep nagging you to tell their story, try again. Take a writing class, read more books on writing. Read books in your genre and see what it is they have done to make them become successful. Then try again. (Finding Inspiration…Again!)
With that said, Breaktime is over, back to work.  I’m off to work on my second round of edits….
Until next time, WRITE WELL!!!!!