Monday, November 5, 2012

Confessions of a Book Reviewer

I review for an online romance site between cranking out two or three of my own books every year and doing promotions. Reading a few books a month gives me the opportunity to see what other people are doing and along the way I’ve discovered some really good writing. I’ve also acquainted myself with some sub-genres I’d never read before.

When I request a book to review I try to pick an author I haven’t heard of or may not be too familiar with. If it’s someone who isn’t well known and I can give them some positive exposure, I’m paying it forward and creating good Karma. For that reason you won’t see me post a review for a writer who has the words “New York Times Bestselling Author” after their name. If they’ve achieved that status I figure they don’t need one more write-up. May Nora Roberts forgive me.

I’ve noticed that since e-readers have become the new norm, many of the books have gotten shorter. Once I reviewed a story that was a mere twelve pages, but the author packed more plot, character and action into those twelve pages than some do in a hundred-and-twelve. Conversely I’ve read some that had more bulk but very little substance. Who says size matters? I know I’m in trouble when I find myself skimming versus absorbing the author’s words.

Now for the downside. (You knew there was a downside, right?). I’ve seen a trend to use erotic e-books to peddle what is basically cover-to-cover porn. Plot, character development, conflict and tension – those bothersome things our editors harp about – were non-existent in many of them. In some cases the writing wasn’t up to the standards of a Penthouse Forum stroke piece. I have a very short list of authors whose books I won’t review again because of this. A couple of writers on my list also imply that their female characters are underage and they depict sexual acts that most publishers don’t allow. I won’t promote that kind of writing.

Much of what I read is self published and I’ve been impressed overall with the quality of the writing and formatting. In the pre-digital age self publishing had a stigma attached to it, but that’s no longer the case. On the other hand, some of the above-mentioned books fall into this category, and with good reason – a few were so poorly written, no reputable publisher would touch them.

For those who use sites like Manic Readers to request reviews, allow me to give you a few tips. Remember to include a summary or blurb. Yes, people actually put their books out there for review without saying what they’re about. Listing the genre doesn’t really tell potential reviewers enough to generate interest. Also include the page count. There are occasions when I’m looking for a short book because I’m pressed for time and I get upset when it turns out to be longer than Gone with the Wind.

Be realistic about the heat level and content if it’s an erotic romance. You won’t score points with a reviewer if you promise five flames and we find that it generates as much heat as a used can of Sterno. If you make a pre-release or review copy available it’s also beneficial if you include the cover.

List your contact information and purchase links. Most sites require their reviewers to notify the author when the review is posted and it’s frustrating if we have to do a Google search to find you or your book.

This hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve heard from some of my peers that authors actually tracked them down to complain about the reviews they received. I’ve suffered a few bad write-ups but I always maintain that it’s merely that person’s opinion, nothing more. What strikes me as bronze may be platinum in someone else’s eyes. So repeat after me: don’t shoot the messenger!

I suppose it’s inevitable to discover typos and grammatical errors and I’ve run across some whoppers. I try not to mention them in the review unless it’s rampant to the point of distraction. I realize there’s no such thing as the perfect manuscript, but a few stand out.

A setting in one of the books was a ranch and the hero was taking the heroine horseback riding for the first time. Here’s how it was described: “Hank showed Laurie how to mount the house.” Did he tell her to hang onto the chimney in case the house bucked?

Another gem was found in this love scene: “He cupped his face in his hands then kissed her.” Kind of a different way to do it.

“This afternoon we had an interesting conversation earlier in the day.” Huh?

This is from a sex scene in a supposedly erotic story that promised a bonfire: “He shoved his hard pipe into her sweet peach.” And you thought purple prose was dead!  

“They watched as the sun set over the Sea of Japan.” Excuse me, but doesn’t it face east?

If I gave a good review to anyone reading this blog, you’re welcome. If it wasn’t good, I’ve changed my name to Sterling Lackluster and entered the Witness Protection program.  

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author whose books range from romantic thrillers to contemporary erotic romance. More information about his books can be found at his website, www.timsmithauthor.com.     


Harlie Reader said...

As reveiwer like you, I've seen some really, really bad erotic books out there. And what's really sad is that some of the "bigger" epubs seem like they are pushing their authors write more and more porn.

I have stopped reading authors that are just writing for shock value. I mean, really how many people have to be in bed? After three, I'm lost. Always, a book that I pre-ordered was deleted off the Nook because it contained a gang bang scene while the heroine was under the influence. Ugh! I thought that most publishers don't want that?

I think that with that evil book(s) that is so popular, that publishers are looking for that "special" book that pushing them over the edge. As a reader, I think its dialuting the books that are out there.

At this point when I review, I look for quality, not quantity. Plus, I'm getting really particular when it comes to putting them on my blog for review.

If I want porn, I'll watch it for free or order Skinamax.

Great post Tim!

Marika w/a Harlie

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Tim, you know I adore you and all that you do for our fellow authors out there. Your post was hilarious if not the bitter truth.

When I first met you at Lori Fosters conference, you greeted me with such warmth and I will never forget your genuine sincerity. You are one of a kind!

Wishing you the best, my dear, and looking forward to seeing you again this year at Lori's!

Tina Donahue said...

LOL - I loved this one especially:

Another gem was found in this love scene: “He cupped his face in his hands then kissed her.” Kind of a different way to do it.

LOL. You're great, Tim. I love your posts. :)

Fiona McGier said...

Hi Tim, you are certainly right about some books being thinly-disguised porn! When the sex scenes drag on and on for pages, your eyes start to glaze over and you wonder when they will finally be done! Many readers I've spoken to said that about The Book That Shall Not Be Named...they skipped the erotic parts because they got to be boring! In an erotic book, the sex should NEVER be repetitive and boring!

I recently read a book in which I was enjoying the world-building, but the author in describing the society said that due to the shortage of women, that polygamy was the norm. Excuse me? Polygamy is the practice of multiple wives! Polyandry is the practice of multiple husbands! I almost didn't finish the book because of such a basic error! I did, but with page after page of sex scenes, after a while you want them to just go out for coffee and talk! Yes, tab A fits well into slot B...or even slot C. Now let's see if they have anything in common other than their body parts!

By the way, your books don't suffer from either lack of plot or undeveloped characters. Your books have people I'd like to meet and sex scenes that actually contribute to furthering the plot, instead of interrupting the action.
Great post!

jean hart stewart said...

The errors you quote are hilarious. I'd never have the patience to be a reviewer. More power to you....

Adele Dubois said...

Hi Tim! Your post made me smile. I wish we could get together and chat over a cup of coffee. You said things I want to say about the changes in the publishing industry, but haven't. Yet.


Tim Smith said...

Thanks, everyone - glad you enjoyed the post and all too true excerpts. My favorite was the "showed her to mount the house" thing - I still chuckle at the visual that one creates.

Renee, the adoration runs both ways. Thank you.

Adele, I'll have coffee with you any time, and I'm notorious for picking up the check.

Fiona, thank you for the nice words. Your points were dead-on. There really can be too much of a good thing.