Here’s the new reviewer interview the IndieView quizzed me on. The single most comprehensive directory for free indie book reviewers, if you’re hunting for some.
How did you get started?
A) When I finished my book, I realized there were no real niche review/marketing sites for the genre. I was sick and tired of screening hundreds of reviewers to find the 10% or so that might, just maybe, possibly be interested in my techno thriller. I wanted to do something about that, but didn’t have the energy to change the world.
So, I decided that I could help by starting a review program based not solely upon genre, but by background of the author. That’s why active duty and veteran authors get first priority. They don’t have to write about war, hell, secretly I’m sick and tired of writing and reading about fighting, but if they served, they have my attention. Regardless of the tale.
How do you review a book? Is it a read first, and then make notes, or do you make notes as you go along?
A) Detailed notes as I go along. I give the notes to the author as a bonus.
What are you looking for?
A) Practically anything from a veteran author; doesn’t even have to be military related. However, for civilians, I have to insist that the story deals at least loosely with military life or veterans issues. Not that I’m uninterested in other subjects, but there has to be some niche focus to this blog or I’d be swamped with reviews and unfocused.
If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?
A: The devil’s in the “less than perfect” line. How bad? The occasional typo or misplaced comma is going to happen. I’ve never read a perfect book, even by so-called professional authors. It’s only an issue worth mentioning if it becomes distracting. If the reader’s being knocked out of the story too often.
How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?
A: How long is itself a great measure of quality. Maybe four days if the tale snatches me by the throat and takes me prisoner. Probably closer to 2-3 weeks if I’m struggling to really get emotionally engaged. Most books fall around the 1-2 week window.
How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?
A: I rank based upon whether a book is worth the time and/or money to read, in terms of simple entertainment and/or thought provoking value. I don’t do 1-2 stars because I obviously couldn’t finish such a story. 3 stars mean it’s worth the time to read, but unless it’s free or discounted, you probably can find better books for the price. 4 Stars mean you get the equivalent value for your time and money as most similar books, so take a chance on this. 5 Stars represent something you’ll probably not only buy for yourself, but will want to recommend to everyone you know.
What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?
A) Do your homework and create a custom request for each reviewer. It’s a hell of a lot of work, I know, I’m a struggling author as well, but it pays off. These people usually write 1 or 2 reviews a month and have a long backlog. “Spray and pray” requests won’t work. Screen the reviewers carefully. Not just their submission guidelines, but read their whole site and last couple of reviews.
– Are they pretentious and snobby (a common problem in the literary world)? Then kiss their butt in your pitch. “Your review of ‘x’ blew my mind…”
– Are they the down-to-Earth type? Then be yourself. Skip the hype in your pitch. “I wrote this book because…”
– Do they obviously prefer a particular type of book, regardless of the genres they say they like? Try to relate your story to their favorite style. If it’s too much of a stretch, don’t bother. Just move on.
Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?
A) Yes, and that’s the right thing to do. I try to stay in touch as much as possible.
My advice to authors on getting a “bad” review (hasten to add that might mean a perfectly honest, well written, fair review – just bad from the author’s point of view) is to take what you can from it and move on. Under no circumstances to “argue” with the reviewer – would you agree with that?
A) 100% right on! If you want to be treated as a professional, you have to act like a pro. Besides, a few negative reviews make all your other reviews look more believable. No one trusts 100 five star reviews. Also, be thankful for honest, detailed feedback. Free editorial services! If you have thin skin, then I’d suggest rethinking getting into this business.
We talk a lot about writing here on the blog, and possibly not enough about reading, which is after all why we’re all here. Why do you think people love reading. We’re seeing lots of statistics that say reading as a past-time is dying – do you think that’s the case?
A) I have no hard stats, but from what I’ve seen, yes, a smaller percentage of the world’s population are deriving most of their escapist entertainment from reading. It’s not a rapid drop, thankfully, but still a slow and steady drain. On the other hand, since books, especially ebooks, are cheaper and more readily available, those that do love to read are reading more.
What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?
A) I’m flexible about the concept of a “mistake.” Down that road of criticism lies the straight jacket of stuffy conformism. I love to see writers intentionally breaking the so-called “rules” of writing. That said, there’s a fine line between pushing the boundaries to test new styles and just simply screwing up. The deciding factors are intent and, unfortunately, the capricious tastes of your readers.
Two errors I’ve seen (or made in my own writing):
– Incomplete editing. More than just grammar/typo checking, great editing balances the story. “Too much detail here, not enough there, etc…” Get beta readers. The more the better. Not just your spouse or best pal, but people you either don’t or only barely know.
– Rushing the end. It’s always a temptation after months of work to shove that ending in there and cap the story real quick. Who cares if you miss a detail or two? If someone hasn’t gotten the point after 90,000 words, they won’t ever understand, right?! Well…
Most authors expend far more writing and polishing effort on the first chapter than the last. Remember, the first 5 pages convince a reader to buy your book, but the last 5 convince them to buy the next one! One suggestion is to write the beginning, then the end and fill in the story last. Whatever you do, spend as much effort on the climax as the start.
We’re told that the first page, paragraph, chapter, is absolutely key in making or breaking a book. Agents typically request only the first five pages of a novel, what do you think about that; if a book hasn’t grabbed you by the first five pages, do you put it down?
A) Well, I prescreen the books I review, so I’m more flexible. Since, I believe, I’m providing a service, a book doesn’t have to grab me at the get go. As long as it’s professional, i.e. well edited and the author has done their homework, I’ll keep going. I remember one book where the first 20 pages or so were a complete snooze, but at the 10% mark it really took off and had me hooked. I begged the author to redo the beginning if he wants real commercial success though.
Is there anything you will not review?
A) Romance, erotica, poetry, children’s, or extreme religious works. No disrespect to the artists and their creations, but I’m not the type of reviewer you’re looking for, nor is my blog’s audience really interested. Sorry, wrong market.
What do you think of the oft quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?
A) The entire publishing industry has moved online, both the good and the bad. I don’t just mean the majority of sales, but the very process of finding and vetting new talent as well. The era of the respected, stately “professional” publishing houses holding the keys to the kingdom are over. It wasn’t technology that did them in, but rather their own ultra-conservatism.
All the other branches in the entertainment industry have embraced the revolutionary new technology and the ever-growing “indie” army. Record labels, movie producers, art studios, etc… everyone except for the major book publishing houses view online self-publishing as a vital filtering mechanism to discover new talent and then market them in cost-effective (viral) ways.
In the near future, reality will force those mega book publishers to pull their heads out of the sand and adapt or be wiped out. I’m actually hoping for the former. I fear a world where Amazon is both the world’s largest retailer and publisher!
Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to Indie or self-published titles?
A) Absolutely and rapidly. I don’t base that on anecdotal evidence, but the raw sales indie’s produce. Every year they represent a bigger slice of the pie. More importantly, indie writers are crucial to expanding that pie.
The 50th hastily produced book from some mega author isn’t encouraging many new customers to buy ebooks. The hundreds of thousands of small-time authors emerging every year, who convince dozens of friends, family and acquaintances to buy their first ebook and then get them hooked are the ones expanding the industry.
Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can “filter” good from bad, aside from reviews?
A) Social media presence. Check out the author on Facebook or Twitter to see how active they are. Such research doesn’t take any longer than reading reviews and can be even more enlightening. Most bad books fall into one of two categories:
1. The lazy writer unwilling to put their heart and soul into their work. These people likely aren’t going to actively promote their works longer than a couple of weeks.
2. The super star writer cashing in on their name. We’ve all seen this. Had a few great books, now pumping stuff out 2 or 3 times a year. Refers to launch day as “ringing the cash register.” If they aren’t willing to put the work into their book, of course they won’t market it actively.
It’s conceivable that someone can give 100% to a story, aggressively market it and engage with fans, but still have a poor product. Possible, but rare.
With all that said, I’m still a believer in the 3-4 star review system. Such people probably don’t have an axe to grind, but also aren’t likely close friends of the author. Lookup the author on social media to double check before spending your hard-earned money.