The Search For Honest Reviews

Okay, you’ve written a book. You’ve gone through all the struggle of re-writes, edits, beta readers, workshops and the final pain of self-publishing, formatting and you finally push The Button to publish. There it is on Amazon or Nook or other e-book sites. Now what? It sits on the site for several weeks and you go back and check it. The book is now ranked #5,972,671 in Amazon Books. Not good.

Time to do some marketing. Any author will tell you marketing is akin to having a root canal but worse because it lasts until you quit. The first thing you need are reviews. From personal experience I will attest to a simple fact: the hardest thing an author can accomplish is to get reviews. Good, bad, or indifferent, it’s almost impossible to get a reader to put a few words on paper and post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. It takes time, and if they didn’t like the book, or were lukewarm about it, or if they’re a good person, they don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings.

I’m a retired attorney and business person who has spent the last ten years studying how to write creatively. Not easy to take those professions out of your words. In the course of this endeavor, I’ve attended many writers groups, conferences and workshops. I’ve run workshops on writing, both read and critique style, and free writing with prompts to expand creativity. Understanding how difficult it is to write any book has provided me with the utmost respect for those who take their craft very seriously and want to create a very good book.

Let’s consider the purpose of a review. It’s not to blow smoke up the author’s skirt. The object from the author’s point of view is to encourage people to read their book. But in fact, the true object is to advise the prospective reader of your opinion of the book.

Like all writers, I’ve been faced with this dilemma time and again and have evolved a few guidelines I now use for writing reviews.

To begin with, if the book rambles, is sloppy with bad grammar, misspelling, and punctuation in the first few pages, I don’t go further and won’t review. That said, if it is supposed to be written in a certain vernacular, I’ll go with it, if it is well done.

First I look at the actual pages, how dense the writing is, the amount of white space on the page. When I begin to read, I consider all of the following: story arc, pacing, word use, reader involvement, sentence structure, originality of concept, target audience, the writer’s command of grammar, spelling, sentence structure, word use, pacing and rhythm.

Next, am I drawn into the story? Are the characters well-constructed and do I care about them. Do they change and grow during the course of the book. Are they easily relatable? The response can be positive or negative as long as the characters are compelling

There are many excellent storytellers who may not be wordsmiths but draw the reader in and keep them going along for the story. On the other side of the page, some wordsmiths are so in love with their words the story is unimportant and gets lost in the description and word flow. My preference is a balance between the two, but if I only can have one, I go for story.

In the middle of all this is something I think of simply as ‘care’. Did the writer care enough about what they were writing to do it over and over again so it is as perfect as they can make it, or did they just slap it on the page as ‘good to go’? The mentality of ‘I wrote it so every word is perfect’, does not pass muster with me. Sorry, arrogance is reserved to the reviewer, not the writer.

The last thing I look for is polish. This is where grammar, repetition, sentence structure, punctuation, continuity, word choice, style consistency, and rhythm in both the actual reading experience and the storyline come into play.

When I receive reviews, my prime concern is if the reader enjoyed the book. Were they drawn in? Did they relate to the characters? In all my books, even though they have been edited, gone over time and time again, work-shopped, had beta readers, I pick them up once they are in print, and damned if I don’t find a typo or two. Pick up most of today’s best sellers and they are not perfect either. The day of the perfect edition is gone even in the big publishing houses. But I hope my reader feels I have done my utmost to provide the best reading experience.

If someone rates my books I am thrilled they have taken the time to do so. I do not get upset with a less than five-star rating. Some of my most honest ratings I’ve received have been three-star and I appreciated them for the reviewer taking the time to comment.

When I do my rating, I try to balance all of this with the final element: Is this book worthy of being read? Does it say something? Will it give the reader pleasure, is it enticing, exciting, romantic, humorous, informative, is it well written with care, does it follow a specific genre? Do I want viewers who take my words seriously enough to consider purchasing this book? When I write a review, my aim is to emphasize what appealed to me, why I thought the book was worthy. Seldom do I dwell on the shortfalls. Hopefully, the author will get what they are by the number of stars or lack thereof.

As a reviewer, I must feel I’m being honest. I can forgive some elements if, when finally putting down a book, I think to myself, ‘that was a good read!’

The Beauty of Hands

Yesterday I gave myself a manicure. Most of the time I take my hands for granted, forget they are the implements of my life, allowing me to create, survive, love, and often express without words my innermost feelings through touch. But yesterday, I really looked at those appendages at the ends of my arms. My digits are bent and twisted now, age has taken its way with them, but after some consideration, I decided they are more beautiful than ever.

When I was a little girl, my hands first grew out of proportion with the rest of me. There are photographs when I was twelve, wearing a navy suit and white gloves, the cotton kind with the seams held together on the outside with tiny stitches. My hands are so big in front of the navy suit my sister said I looked like Minnie Mouse. There was a period growing up when I used to bite my nails, keep them behind my back, or sit on them so no one would notice how big they were. But, as time often has it, I grew into my hands. Stopped biting my nails, learned how to groom them and keep them properly clean, then decided they were just right after all.

Once reaching maturity, I became proud of my hands—large for a woman, long fingers, veined, and very strong. Their look sang melodies of sensuality, capability, and finesse. Each night I followed my mother’s almost religious practice—before bed using hand cream.

Living in New York City, I learned never to go outside in the winter without leather gloves. I didn’t want my hands red and raw looking from the cold, no, I wanted them smooth, sensuous, soft—the hands of a well cared for woman. Those big hands could carry large rings, diamonds, gold, elegant sculptures in precious metals requiring a large stage to display their artistry.

My hands worked to create many things: contracts, jobs, sweaters and scarves, money, jewelry, sublime dinners, tiled floors, family security, flower gardens, gracious entertainment, and stubborn certainty. Over the years, my hands pinned diapers, patted dogs, slid across a lover’s silken skin, cut bait and reeled in fish. They wrote, or typed, to-do lists, television presentations, books, letters, deals, stories on airplanes, love notes, memos and menus.

The scars are many, like the time I sliced my hand while making lunch for my husband in the galley of our yacht. Not a smart thing in a storm. When I came on deck trailing blood, he almost fainted. Another scar resulted from leaving a knife, blade up, in a dish drainer, bad move I’ve never repeated. The other various nicks are so plentiful, I’ve forgotten how most were acquired.

The bump on the left hand index finger is from taking copious notes in college, then law school for two degrees. The bumps on the right hand index and second fingers come from use over thirty years, beginning in the days when my first computer used two big floppy disks, one for programs, the other for data and then on to the facility of the mouse.

To my initial horror, I watched the slow changes to my beautiful hands. First the bumps on knuckles started, next the fingers twisted and turned of some inner volition of their own over which I had no control. It was a slow decline, years in the making. Recently, I noticed one finger had decided to take its own path, heading west instead of remaining straight. The next neighboring digit then accommodated by snuggling up against the runaway.

Now I like the way they look in all their gnarled beauty, in fact, I find myself proud once again of my funky phalanges. Each bump, twist, turn, crook and lump is another chapter in the story of my life. Like the Andean tribe in South America who left their history written in quipu, or knotted strings, I think of my fingers the same way. I can look at them and read the memory of times, places, events of my life in every one. And who can deny the beauty in that?20150830_145104-1

We Are All Witnesses

Today, I send an urgent message to all who write: you of the younger generations learning about the world of today, those of you have managed to reach an age that has passed into ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ or perhaps even delved into the ‘antique’. Now is the time to take up pen and paper, tablet or computer, and write.
We live in an age where life has been reduced to minuscule correspondence by ‘twitter’ sent out in a thoughtless and meaningless plethora of electronic garbage. Once there was a different time, people wrote letters to friends, lovers and family, telling of their thoughts, ideas, emotions and facts of the history taking place around them. Those that remain are a gift from the past, a glimpse of what life was like, a veritable time machine in ink.
All of us have been witness to changes beyond imagination. We have seen remarkable turnabouts in science, culture, religion, politics, life styles, technology, and social mores unthinkable only 100 years ago.
If you don’t write down now what you have seen, what is happening around you, what you remember, then the generations to come will only know how our lives have been through the slant of whatever future ‘expert historian’ has chosen to write about it. Not what has actually happened, but what they want to have their age believe transpired.
Women have been castigated through the ages because they were written of by men who sought their power and were jealous of their ability to create life. Hence the demise of the goddess religions when they were branded as whores and witches. This same approach has been used throughout history on other religions and cultures, abused and annihilated because of the words of tyrants and fanatics.
Do we want our time on this planet remembered only in the words and rantings of egotistical fundamentalists, petty bureaucrats, morons, haters, or self-obsessed billionaires? There is only one way to tell the truth about our lives, our times, our thoughts and our feelings. Write it down.
and sent it to the world. Speak out, blog, post on facebook, write stories and e-mail them to friends. The time for silence is gone! We are all witnesses to this life. Tell the future what you have seen. Stand firm as witness to this age and your words can’t be silenced.