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Posts Tagged ‘Book reviews’

I’m Sorry About the Puppy…But It Had to Die

May 28th, 2017 1 comment

Spoiler Alert: This post discusses early plot points in FALLING. You may want to save this post for after you read the book. If you have read the book, then you are the awesomest person ever. Carry on…

Sun in the clouds

I’m not going to be a terrible person and add a picture of an adorable puppy here. So, instead, since this is a blog post about a one star review, here’s one star that I really love…the sun! Photo via Visualhunt

There are a lot of things I’d rather do than read reviews of my books. Most things, actually. Ride a rollercoaster. Watch the grass grow. Manual labor. Even go to a baby shower. Yeah, reading reviews is that bad.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a thrill to read reviews by readers who totally, utterly “got” my book, who loved my characters as much as I did and who cried for their wounds (of body and soul) just like me. However, where such golden treasure lurks, so does danger.

A writer’s ego is a fragile thing, and while a dozen amazing reviews can prop it up on a high marble pedestal, a single bad review can kick out the bottom stone sending the whole thing crashing to the ground.

So, it was quite by accident that my eye wandered over a review when I was checking my book data for FALLING on Kobo. Of course it had to be a one star review.

One star reviews exist for one purpose only. The affliction of pain and devastation. No book I have ever read – and I’ve read a lot – has truly deserved a one star review. Seriously. A one star book, in my opinion means, that an author hasn’t grasped fundamentals, like sentences. A teenager’s angst-ridden diary, where every page is a cringe-worthy soliloquy on the injustice of the world mixed in with doodles of hearts around the name of the football quarterback is still worthy of at least two stars for emotional output alone.

It is my experience that readers give one star reviews out only as a form of punishment, to make a gleefully self-righteous point, and/or to wound. In the case of the one star review I received, the reader had a bone to pick with me, and the reason was simple.

I killed a puppy.

Okay, it wasn’t actually me who did the puppy killing, and I shouldn’t probably mention right upfront that it wasn’t a real puppy either. One of the characters in my book, FALLING does the unhappy deed.

In FALLING, my main character, Maya, changes into a hybrid angel who needs to feed on the life energy of living creatures to survive. During the transition process, she is in desperate need of a quick source of energy or she’ll die. Her two erstwhile rescuers find themselves scrambling, and what Gabe comes up with is to break into a pet store and bring Maya a puppy for her consumption.

It was bloody or gory, but it still isn’t a very pleasant scene. I felt a little queasy writing it, and my characters certainly didn’t feel any better. Gabe – a fan of all things cute and cuddly – was less than thrilled and Maya was disgusted with herself when she got over the whole starving-to-death-need-food-now-now-NOW situation.

For my upset one-star-giving reader, it was all about the puppy. That was it for her. The end. Book closed. Never trying that author again. How could anyone ever write about killing a puppy? What was wrong with that sicko author?

In a weird way, I understand where this reader is coming from, (though I truly wish she had reviewed the book based on the quality of the writing rather than a disagreement with a plot point). The thing is, this reader and I have some stuff in common. I also love animals, and I hate watching any type of animal violence. (Game of Thrones is a challenge on so many levels.) Just as this reader didn’t like reading that puppy scene, I really didn’t like writing about it. In fact, I pretty much hated writing any of the scenes in my Girl With Broken Wings series when Maya drains energy out of animals.

…but here’s the thing. As much as it personally made me uncomfortable, I had to do it for the story.

The foundation of Maya’s story is her struggle to maintain her humanity while fighting the hunger and the need to drain the life force out of others. Maya’s condition means that she can’t just grab a burger and fries when she gets peckish.

As an author, I am obligated to stay true to the characters in my novels and to represent their real actions. When I saw that one star review, a part of me was tempted to go back and rewrite the puppy scene in FALLING, but I stopped myself. That scene is supposed to be uncomfortable to my characters and my readers. It is supposed to showcase that Maya is a new thing.

I watch Game of Thrones, which burns, slices, decapitates, and abuses animals and humans alike with sensational glee, because it is an amazing show that depicts the violence of war and royal politics with a type of gruesome truth that I appreciate when I am not wincing and biting my lip.

So, I want to state right here, right now for the record that I am very, truly, and utterly sorry for the imaginary puppy that I killed, but I am not sorry for that scene or my novel or anything that I write. I know that I cannot please everyone, but I hope that I can entertain, captivate, and please some of you.

I’ve Just Realized That I’m A Total Review Hypocrite

February 4th, 2016 1 comment
Embarrassed baby

Total review hypocrite here, nothing to see! Photo credit: Mandajuice via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Trying to get reviews for my books is kind of the bane of my existence. Reviews are more important than most readers realize. They help give an ebook credibility. Think about the last time you scrolled through a list of books on Amazon. Your eyes scanned the title and the book cover…and the star rating. You probably looked at the number of reviews too. It’s hard to miss, since the book’s rating is right at the top of each book’s page.

Reviews are also important, because many of the best advertising opportunities for authors only accept books with a certain star rating (usually at least 3.5 stars) and a minimum number of reviews, (anything from 10 reviews to 50). This is the reason you’ve probably noticed that most indie books, (including mine), conclude with a slightly desperate request from the author for their readers to leave a review.

<<< Want to write a review, but not really sure how? Here’s my quick and easy guide to writing an awesome book review>>>

But Writing a Review Is Hard…

Here’s the rub…writing reviews more than kind of sucks. At least for me. I always feel like I have to be thoughtful, clever, and insightful in my reviews, but what I really want to do is just start reading the next book in my list. Writing a review seems like homework, and once I’ve got that thought in my head, it gets lodged there. Writing a review becomes just about the last thing I want to do, along with cleaning the grout in my bathroom and clipping my bunny’s nails (which he treats with the same amount of hysterics as if I were giving him a live autopsy).

Manning Up….er, Womaning Up

But I know that reviews are incredibly important, so my goal this year is to write a review for every book I read. I’ve come up with a fail-proof system for accomplishing this – I simply won’t start a new book until I’ve written and posted a review for the previous one.

Imagine how smug and self-congratulatory I felt after making this resolution. Yeah, J Bennett’s getting serious this year. Helping authors. Doing her part. A hero? No, no, well, maybe a little.

Then, this morning, a realization hit me with the gentle tap of an aluminum baseball bat. I am a total review hypocrite.

Books Aren’t the Only Things That Deserve Reviews

This whole time, I’ve been patting myself on the back just for writing a handful of book reviews, as if books are the only things in the world that need reviews. All around me, every day I consume media, use products, and patronize businesses that live or die in a big part on reviews. Have I written a positive review of the CrossFit gym where I’ve been a dedicated member for over two years? What about the brilliantly made podcasts that I gobble up like the last chocolate cupcakes on the planet? Or any of the myriad things that find their way to my Amazon cart?

I never once considered writing reviews for any of them.

Shame on me.

My rating and review might convince another person to try out a product, business, or media that I love. That person could then become a loyal fan and continue the positive cycle.

My new challenge to myself is to be an equal-opportunity reviewer, to support all the things I really like, whether it be a book, my dentist, or the new headlamp I just bought on Amazon. I encourage you to consider posting more positive reviews as well and give a little boost to the businesses and products that have served you well.

Categories: Essay Tags: ,

How To Write An Awesome Book Review

May 26th, 2014 1 comment

You can totally write an awesome book review. I believe in you!

One of the nicest things you can do for an author you like is to write a positive book review. Seriously, book reviews are a HUGE DEAL to authors, especially indie authors. They not only provide validation (of which we authors are always in the most desperate of need), but also a solid collection of positive book reviews can convince new readers to give the book a try.

Many readers find the idea of writing a book review intimidating. They imagine that writing a book review is akin to the struggle of cranking out the requisite high school literature class essay. Not so! You don’t need to take pains to highlight symbolism or how the protagonist subverts the feminist ideal in your book review. You’re not getting graded. All you have to do is to share your opinion of the book in a thoughtful manner.

Writing an awesome book review isn’t as hard as you think. Trust me. I wrote over 100 book reviews during my tenure as co-owner of Compulsion Reads, a (now-defunct) company that evaluated and reviewed indie books.

If you’ve never written a book review before, then here are a few basic guidelines that might help:

Start with a short setup of the book

Book reviews are written for potential readers, so it is helpful to provide some setup of the story. Consider writing a few lines that introduce the main characters, the setting and the primary conflict. Be careful not to give away too much of the story, or you’ll ruin it for new readers.

Here is an example from a review of my novel, Falling, from the book review blog, Book Marks The Spot:

Maya is living a totally normal life until she gets swept up off her feet, literally. All in one night she gets kidnapped by an angel and learns she has two half brothers oh and the elephant in the room is that is turning into a monster. She now has to survive on animals auras if not she could go on a killing spree. If things couldn’t get worse, her older brother is always looking for an excuse to kill her.

Tell readers what you liked

After the setup, explain what you liked about the book. (Again, you can do this with just a few lines.) Did you have a favorite character? Was the plot fast and entertaining? Did the author have a strong narrative voice that had you laughing and crying? Don’t worry about trying to be particularly witty or finding the exact word. Just be honest, and readers will appreciate your thoughts.

Here is an example from the review I wrote for the very enjoyable book Red Shirts by John Scalzi :

Redshirts is a sweet gift to anyone who has knowingly lapped up the crazy improbability of old (and some not so old) space adventures where drama outweighs plausibility and faceless crew are torn to pieces as a picker upper before the commercial break. Author John Scalzi puts his fingers perfectly on the pulse of these cult shows and breathes life into the poor red shirts that are so often blasted, torn to shreds, and crushed in the background while the heroic officers save the day.

I loved Scalzi’s insight and felt that this book was truly written for me. Scalzi has a gift for witty dialogue and proves himself to be a masterful plotter. The story twists and turns and balances precariously on a crazy premise that does justice to the very genre he unmasks. (See the full review)

Tell readers what you didn’t like.

If you absolutely loved the book, then there might not be any need to point out deficiencies. However, if there were areas of the book that you thought could be strengthened, you can address these concerns in your review. Just take care to mention weaknesses in a constructive and fair manner. (No need to attack or criticize the author directly.)

Here is a short excerpt from my recent review of the book, Beauty is for Suckers by M.A. Carson:

The last quarter of the book picked up some serious speed and a few big revelations piled up. Personally, I felt this part of the book was rushed, and I didn’t like that Nolan (my fav character) faded into the background. Despite these issues, I thoroughly enjoyed Beauty is for Suckers. The book was deftly woven with humor, strong plot points and a good pace. Iris Green proves that death can be the beginning of a meaningful life. (See the full review)

Add caveats.

Remember, your book review is written to help other readers decide if the book might be right for them. If you think the book would appeal to a specific audience or that a specific audience would find it offensive, consider adding a caveat at the end. For example, if I review a book that contains graphic violence or sex scenes, I make sure to mention that at the end of a review.

In my novel, Falling, my characters speak naturally, which happens to introduce a lot of F-bombs and other, shall I say, inventive language into the mix. Several of the bloggers who reviewed my book pointed this out to their audiences, including Maria, of A Night’s Dream of Books:

In spite of the book’s dark theme, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole plot, from beginning to end.  That was largely due to Bennett’s deft characterizations and brilliant prose.  I was even willing to overlook the unfortunate appearance of “the F bomb” every few pages.  Believe me, it’s not every day I find myself doing such a thing!

Finish with a summary sentence

Consider capping your review off with one or two sentences that summarize your overall response to the book.  A book I read earlier this year, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore absolutely blew me away. At the time I finished the book, I was drowning in other work and didn’t feel that I had the mental resources to do it justice. However, I knew his book deserved my praise, so I managed to cobble together a short review with this final sentence that truly sums up how I felt reading the book:

Biff is a lovable narrator, and through his eyes, Jesus truly does live again. One of the best books I’ve read in the last year! (See my full review – Good example of a short and sweet review that will still make an author over-the-moon happy)

Create a strong headline

 Many book review retailors, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, require reviewers to title their reviews.  You may be able to just reuse your summary sentence at the end. If not, think of a short sentence or phrase that sums up the book in a positive manner. As you write more reviews, you’ll find that this part becomes easier and easier.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when writing book reviews:

Be sensitive

Authors spend a great deal of time and effort writing their books. To an author, their book is like their baby. Even if it’s a very ugly baby, it’s still their baby. Be sensitive when writing a critical review. If you felt a book was not very good, you certainly have the right to air your opinion, but be mindful that hearts and feelings are on the line. Be fair in your judgment and constructive. If you come off as a hysterical hater, then you’ll end up looking worse than the book you’re trying to haze. Many authors read every review of their book, so keep this fact in mind when writing anything critical.

Limit spoilers

Nobody likes to read spoilers in a review, though they can sometimes be hard to avoid, especially if you want to talk about how much you liked or didn’t like specific plot twists. When discussing later parts of the book, be as general as possible. It’s better to say that, “The surprise ending was disappointing to me.” Rather than, “I can’t believe Krista got hit by a car on the last page after surviving that psychotic stalker.”

If you feel you have to give something away, then make sure you warn readers so they can stop reading. The best way to do this is to write SPOILER ALERT in all caps before revealing any spoilers.

Keep it clean

Writing a book review doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require a little effort and focus. Make sure you write your book review with care, focusing on correct grammar. If your review is all over the place and half the words are misspelled, no one will take you seriously. Again, and I really can’t emphasis this enough, it’s okay to write a short review, but make sure the review is coherent. One of the most frustrating reviews I got from a short story of mine simply stated:

This story wasn’t for me.

Not only does this type of say-nothing review drive authors to distraction (Why wasn’t the story for you???), but it’s completely useless for readers who might be interested in purchasing the story.

Spread your review

If you really want to help your favorite authors, then post your review to multiple websites where readers are likely to congregate. The top websites include Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. If you have a personal blog, consider posting your book review there as well and then be sure to link to your review on your social networking pages to let your friends know about the great new book you just read. If you want to go the extra distance, post a link to the review on the author’s Facebook page. If it’s a positive review, it’ll definitely make their day.

Read other reviews

One of the best ways to learn how to write a review is to read other reviews. Reading a dozen reviews for your favorite books on Amazon will give you some insight into all the different ways a review can be constructed.

Now go forward readers and spread your awesome book reviews across the land!

Categories: Essay, Writing Tags: , ,

How to Ask for Help Without Having a Panic Attack

April 5th, 2012 No comments

J Bennett Discovers that Book Review Bloggers are Incredibly Nice

                                                                                                                                                    

Asking for help ranks on my pleasurable scale somewhere between sticking my hand in a wood chipper and attending a baby shower.

The main reason is obvious. Asking for help makes you vulnerable. Someone could say ‘no’. To a shy person, the word ‘no’ never sounds like “no, sorry, I’m just busy. It has nothing to do with you.” Rather, ‘no’ sounds like “Ech, the fact that you even have mass offends me. Also your breath is horrible.”

Then there’s also the guilt factor. Asking for help means that you are trying to take something from somebody, whether it’s their time, their expertise, their money or their energy. You are imposing – little, inconsequential you who’s having a bad hair day, is secretly wearing mis-matched socks and is generally in no way worthy of receiving said requested help.

Even your mismatched socks are rooting against you

Did I mention my dryer eats my socks like it needs them as fuel to survive?

Anyway, you can see how a panic attack is a completely legitimate response to having to ask for help – at least for shy people.

The problem is, asking for help is kind of necessary. It means speaking to people other than your childhood teddy bear Mr. Buttons. But, while fluffy and adorable, Mr. Buttons can’t invest money in your business (he can invest his love though), drive you to the airport, lend you his car for a couple of days, critique your manuscript or show you how to finally set up your Facebook page.

Mr. Buttons is a shrewd bear of business

For that, you’ll need to ask for help.

I’ve recently had to ask for help a lot. It’s been an education. After I published my novel, Falling – Girl with Broken Wings, I realized that I had to do this whole marketing thing. Detailed marketing research indicated that marketing goes beyond finally telling your parents and roommate that, “oh, hey, I’ve been working on this novel thing for the past two years, and it’s done, so please buy 1,000 copies.”

I needed to get people to read and talk about my book. People other than my mother (oh wait, she hasn’t read it yet).

So, I put together a list of book bloggers. It was a very nice list. I added a colorful header and lots of different columns to record the dates I sent out a review request, if I got a response, when I sent in the files, when the review would post, etc… It was very pretty. I stared at it a lot and occasionally changed the color of the header.

Did I mention it was pretty?

Who’s a pretty little chart? Whhhhoooo’s a pretty wetty wittle chart?

The problem was sending out the request. Asking for help.

You see, book bloggers get lots of books. Piles of books. Mountains of books. Enough books to build a house of books along with a detached book garage and book guest house and maybe even a book swimming pool filled with books.

This is what a book blogger’s pool would look like if it was filled with water instead of books

So where did I, a measly first-time self-published author, get off asking these people to review my book? I guess the real questions is: How do you ask for help without taking a detour down Panic Attack Central? I’ve found that breathing is a good start. Feel free to use the assistance of a brown paper bag if necessary.

Possibly your new best friend

In all honesty, asking for help is best done with sincerity, politeness and a touch of humor. It’s like diving into a cold pool. That first leap is the hardest thing in the world to do, and the landing may be uncomfortable, but you’ll acclimate quickly.

Be prepared for rejection, or, more commonly, complete silence on the other end. Logic says that if you put good vibes out with your request and don’t overreach, people will respond positively. I know this sounds somewhat simplistic, but, in most cases, the worst you can receive is a no.

Most people aren’t mean. They don’t want to see you fail and laugh while you flounder.  If they do, then don’t feel afraid of them. Feel sorry.

Perspective is important. Also, it can’t hurt to keep Mr. Buttons within arm’s reach, you know, just in case you need a dose of adorableness to keep you strong.

 

As for the result of my book review campaign, I found out that book review bloggers are incredibly nice. Of course they are. They love books. That practically ensures that they’re good people.

I eventually put together a list of 60 book bloggers who read paranormal and who accepted self-published ebooks (or at least didn’t outright refuse them). After sending carefully tailored emails to each, I received positive responses from about 15. That’s a whopping 25% response rate.

In one month, just from this list of 60 book review bloggers, I’ve gotten four reviews, written five guests posts, and participated in three giveaways. Okay, so it’s not a knock out marketing launch, but it’s not bad for spending a couple hours of spare time each week.

Thanks Mr. Buttons

My point is that I’ve been amazed and delighted by how supportive and gracious the book review blogging community has been. Every book review blogger I’ve interfaced with has been extremely positive and nice. Even though many of them were extremely overwhelmed, they were still willing to take multiple hours out of their day to read my novel, write a review, put together a giveaway, or trust their readers in my hands when I sent in a guest post.

Book bloggers blog in full regalia

Sure, a majority of the people of my list never responded, but nobody tore off my arm and ate it in front of me.  So, I’d say the whole experience was both pleasant and encouraging.

No panic attacks necessary.

The lesson of this post is that the world is full of people who are willing to help others – who actually enjoy helping others. If you approach someone with respect, it’s amazing how often they will give you their time, effort and expertise while asking nothing in return.

Ask for help. Be sincere. Be respectful if you get a no. Be grateful when you get a yes. Utilize the help you receive and pay it forward.

I’d like to thank the book review bloggers who have given me their time and support. You gals are the best:

An Example Of A Book Review Request Pitch

March 1st, 2012 No comments

Below is the template I use to pitch my novel Falling – Girl With Broken Wings to book review bloggers. I’ve had about a 15% success rate so far using this pitch, which I think is pretty good.

Personally, I think the pitch is a little long, but I always struggle to write short pitches. Also, it’s important to stress that this is only a template. I carefully review each blog I want to target and pay particular attention to the submission guidelines to make sure the reviewer excepts my genre and is accepting submissions. I then tailor my template to their blog, sometimes commenting on recent posts or something they wrote about themselves in their “About Me” section.

Lastly, when pitching, I usually try to come up with a clever and enticing email subject line. In this case, however, I’m sending a book review request to a book reviewer, so I opted for upfront and clear in my subject line.

 ***

Email Subject Line: Review Request: Falling – Girl With Broken Wings

Email Body: Hi [F Name],

I am a fan of [blog name] and appreciate your unique and witty reviews. I know that you are probably inundated with review requests, but I’d like to offer my debut novel for the pile.

Falling – Girl With Broken Wings is a paranormal adventure that will appeal to older teens and adults. From your previous reviews, I know you are drawn to strong and flawed characters. My protagonist, Maya, fits this bill. She is an unapologetically quirky narrator who holds grudges, usually bombs the witty comeback, and is mostly sure she isn’t a monster—at least not a full one. You can read a short summary of the story at the end of this letter.

The novel is approximately 70,000 words in length and is available as an ebook at most online publishers, including Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and Smashwords for $2.99. If you do choose to review my novel, I can provide a thumbnail of the cover and an eBook file in whatever format you prefer.

Additionally, I would love to provide up to five copies of the book for a giveaway if you’d be willing to host. Lastly, I am offering a pretty significant free sample of the book on my website, www.GirlWithBrokenWings.com if you or your readers would be interested in getting a taste of the novel.

Thank you so much for your consideration and for your support of authors like myself,

J Bennett

JBennett@GirlWithBrokenWings.com

About FallingGirl With Broken Wings

Maya knew something was wrong.  The stranger’s glowing hands were a big tipoff.

 

When the stranger murders Maya’s boyfriend with a single touch, drags her to an abandoned storage unit, and injects her with a DNA-altering serum, Maya prays for a savior.

 

Instead, the college sophomore gets a double helping of knight-in-not-so-shining-armor when two young men claiming to be her half-brothers pull off a belated rescue. Now Maya is swiftly transforming into an “angel”, one of the scientifically-enhanced, energy-sucking creatures her brothers have spent their whole lives trying to destroy.

 

Maya’s senses sharpen, her body becomes strong and agile, and she develops the ability to visually see the emotions of those around her as colorful auras…beautiful auras…tempting auras.

 

One brother wants to save her. The other wants to kill her before she becomes too strong. Maya just wants to go home.

 

Struggling to control the murderous appetite that fuels her new abilities, Maya must find a way to accept her altered condition and learn to trust her brothers as she joins them in their battle against the secret network of powerful and destructive angels.

 

Oh, and she’d like a few words with the one who changed her. Words, then lots of stabbing.