Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reviewing - the situation

A while ago I offered my services to self-publishing authors to review their books, free of charge. In this way I hoped, not only to read some interesting books and learn a few things (for instance, I have been reviewing genre that I would not ordinarily read), but also to draw attention to my own writing. This offer has generated considerable interest. Already I have learned things from this activity, although not necessarily about the writing process as such. Here are some of my preliminary “findings”: 
  • While it is always a pleasure to review a book that is well written, with a good story line, it is much more difficult to review one that has serious flaws. It is not difficult to identify the flaws, but it is difficult to draw attention to them in a way that is constructive and is not taken too much to heart by the author. I think I know how to criticise a book sensitively and constructively; what I do not find so easy is sending the review to the author. I know how painful a disappointing review can be. Nevertheless I have to tell myself that we are adults, and that an honest review will do more good in the long run than a sugar-coated one.
  • I am a little disturbed by the number of five star reviews (particularly on the Amazon site) of books that are not, in my opinion, worthy of such a rating. Many of these reviews are certainly written by friends and family, who probably want to show their support for the author. Others appear to be written without much real thought or effort.  While the intentions may be good, giving a five star rating to a book that may really be only worth three stars, is not helpful for the author. The author needs to know about the mistakes he or she has made. She needs to know how she can improve this book, or write an even better one next time. Let’s be clear that a book that gets three out of five stars is still a good book. One that gets four stars is very good; and one that receives five stars is brilliant. Very few books are brilliant; and even fewer, by first time authors or early career writers. I am doing a disservice to an author by giving five stars to a good or even a very good book. There is always room for improvement, and sometime down the road, that author, through having learned and developed, may finally produce that five star chef d'oeuvre.
  • I am disappointed by the number of typographical and/or grammatical errors that I find in self-published books. Believe me, I am disappointed when I find them in my own work, too! It is absolutely essential to have someone else, and even several other people, read your book. And this needs to be not just any “someone”, but someone with a good grasp of grammar and spelling. Our family and friends, for all their good intentions,  may not always meet these criteria. I have even read books that have supposedly been professionally copy-edited and proof read, but which still contain dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of basic errors. And this is without even considering whether a sentence or paragraph, which may be grammatically correct, is also well constructed. Even a good, professional copy-editor/proof reader will not catch every error (and don’t believe anyone who claims they will); but using one should go a long way towards improving the quality of the reading experience.

As long as I have time, and a pool of willing victims, I will continue to review books. I hope that people will appreciate the need to be honest and fair; and I hope that people will come to accept a three star review as positive, although it still leaves plenty of room for growth and improvement.

In the meantime, I may consider expanding into the copy-editing/proof reading business myself. That, however, I will not do for free!

From now until Christmas, electronic copies of Maybe they'll remember me will be available for 50% off at Smashwords (using the code YB48M), and at Amazon.

Paperback copies: 10% off at

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