1. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    Looking for advice on reviewing

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Edward G, Jan 21, 2011.

    Since joining this group I have found that I really like critiquing short stories and such, but I want to try something new. I want to start reviewing books.

    When you critique, you get down into the minutia of the writing, but when you review, you can stay more general and talk about how the novel is different or how its symbols are manifested and maybe even how it will help or hurt society. And then you can recommend it to your readers (the people who read your reviews) or not recommend it.

    I think I would like to focus on gothic fiction from small presses and independent publishers, and maybe even include in my reviews things related to how the book is made available, how well it is edited, how the Kindle formatting looks, and that sort of thing.

    In my wildest imaginings, I would even like to maybe have a yearly award, like a $500 prize or something for the best one that year. Not a contest or anything, no entry fees, just an award for the best one. I'm not quite sure how I would finance that. But that's something I can deal with down the road.

    Does anyone have any advice for me on this?

    I ask because it’s something very new to me, but it feels like a path I should go down, you know?
     
  2. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    Start a book review blog, and start reviewing books published by people from this and other writer sites
     
  3. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    Yes. I mean, that would be the logical first thing to do. Good thing about a blog, too, is that people could comment on the reviews--as opposed to a website.

    Thanks, Sasha.
     
  4. Jonalexher
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    Jonalexher Contributing Member

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    Yeah, a blog sounds nice.
    The prize money is definitely a good incentive to lure writers and readers into your blog/website. Don't know much about the subject, since I don't consider myself a reviewer, but there's one thing I can tell you: Check out the website Goodreads, it's one of the best where you can find reviews on almost every book out there (even those that are not very renowned)
    Hope I helped :]!
    And I'll send you a PM when I put my short story up, it'll be an honor if you critique it!
     
  5. Boring Editor
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    Boring Editor Member

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    Hi, Edward.

    People review books to great success with wildly different styles, so the first thing I'd say is find your "reviewier's voice" and stick with it.

    Secondly, read as many reviews as you can, from Amazon to The New Yorker--for obvious reasons.

    Most magazines want book reviews, so look around on Rayland or Duotrope. Pay is usually small, ranging from none to token, but some mags pay professional rates for their reviews. The point is not to get paid, of course, but it's to let you advertise your blog.

    Good luck.
     
  6. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Edward, if this is where your heart is, go for it. If it fails, at least you have tried.

    Just a quick thought. You need to think about features where you make a difference. I am not deep in this, but as a quickie: develop a clever and consistent rating system. Have publishers in mind that can pick the winners quickly. You may be able to negotiate a fee from an author that finds a publisher on this basis.
    HTH.
     
  7. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Blog is the natural first step these days. Even with just a blog dedicated to reviews, you can often get advance reader copies of upcoming books. It's also a nice format where you can have guest reviewers come in, and you do a guest spot on their blog, to mutually help build readership. Because it's basically your own mini publication, you can do all sorts of things, and pretty simply. You can have authors coming in to talk about their book, in conjunction with your reviews, or even interviews. Any articles you want. A 'news' section. You can basically create your own mini newspaper/newsletter/magazine/journal and get to keep creating (and the not so create) control over it all.

    I'll say this, though. Blogging is hard work. It's not hard to crap out a few ideas (it's what I do on my blog, heh). But to actually get and maintain a readership and make it a site people respect and consider an authority is hard. Even harder to make it into something that generates income, or even any acclaim what-so-ever (hard to put 'I have a blog' on your resume if it's just you and a few family members reading/following).

    It's a good start, though. Something that can get your name and work out there, and that you can point to as proof of your efforts when looking for work in related fields. They aren't going to think you're hot stuff if you have a blog (we all have blogs!), but you can at least have a functional, interactive, up-to-date demonstration of the work you create. And, if you can get some readership, it looks better than nothing as it's not always easy to have a blog that shows any success at all (most are dead).

    I'd be very careful about your definitions and methods of 'critique' and 'review' though. Getting into things like how well a book is edited, or how the formatting is, can get dicey. Especially if you're reviewing small/indie press or self-publishers. It can quickly be seen as picking on the little guy if you aren't always positive. In the professional world, where people's lively hoods are at stake, it's risky to go with the idea that as long as you're constructive feedback will be taken well.

    Especially on a blog, where a google search on a book may end up at your site saying how the editing was a bit slack.

    The best advice I've ever heard when it comes to this sort of thing is if you don't have EVERYTHING nice to say, don't say anything at all. The writing world is awkwardly small, and especially for someone starting out, who isn't yet established, it's a minefield for gaffs and faux pas.

    Hell, my blog is just my thoughts on writing, usually pretty technical, and I've had people say I should be 'careful' because if I'm giving my thoughts as to what a 'good' writing technique is, there may be some writer/editor/publisher reading who does that in their writing, thinks I'm taking jabs, and then you're known as the elitist who thinks they have all the answers, etc. I know, ridiculous, but still a somewhat reputable warning I got.

    If you're actually trying to make a name for yourself or turn a blog into a platform, it can be a tricky balancing act. You want to stay interesting and 'honest,' but at the same time it's far too easy to tick people off or put your foot in your mouth. And literary grudges are forever, I swear.

    The traditional book review business is a weird one. It's one of those things where it seems impossible to break into it if you aren't already in it, at which point you're in it so don't need to break in. But yeah, you can just do book reviews on your own and submit them to journals just like other articles or short stories. A blog lets you get started actually doing it, though, but beware it can get dicey.
     
  8. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    Thanks for the tip on Goodreads. And of course I'd be delighted to read any story you might post.


    Yeah, I hear you on that. I've ordered a book on how to do reviews, so I'm going to give that a good read. When I critique in here, I'm usually pretty hard on writers, but I realize that's not the way to go in reviews. From what I've been reading, and what Popsicledeath says below, even negative stuff has to be spun in a positive light, and I've seen done quite often in Publisher's Weekly.

    Thanks, I will.

    I'm not sure what you mean about the publishers, but I agree with the rating system. I'm going to have to think of something clever. I think I have an idea in mind, actually.

    I think that's very good advice. Thank you. It's funny, I thought a review was for the readers, and thus they'd want to know the hard-hitting truth--by God! But what you say has changed my way of thinking. Very few "readers" read reviews. Reviews are read by writers and publishers--that's the actual audience.

    Good advice, Popsicledeath.
     
  9. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    I think this is backward. Many writers avoid reading reviews because it affects their output or just because they want to avoid bad vibes. Publishers might read reviews, primarily so they can quote from positive ones in order to market those books, but the sales numbers mean far more.

    As for readers, of course we read reviews. Are you kidding me? Amazon's review system, for example, is one of the first things I look to when I think about buying a book from an author I haven't previously read. And I also read MITSFS reviews (though they're fewer in number) to see what my peers have liked or found wanting.

    ... Sometimes I just can't tell when you'be being sarcastic, but if you're at all serious here, you've got it wrong.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sure seems so to me, too, hf!
     
  11. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Just so it's clear, I never suggested readers don't read reviews, just that those in the industry also do, and often have something at stake. In fact, reviewing is widespread in the industry. Sure, readers read reviews and then write reviews, especially on user-based sites like Amazon, but it's also amazing how incestuous reviewing can be. Very often it's a favor system, or favoritism system.

    It's interesting, though, when you know the person who write a book and are familiar with a local writing community and personally recognize most of the names on the Amazon reviews, and also know of several of the people who have NOT actually read the book yet. It's how it works, writers trade reviews and blurbs, and sometimes or even usually read the work, or at least become familiar with it, but not always.

    But that's the benefit of blogs, you can trade guest posting to increase traffic.

    It's all good, though... until you cross the wrong writer/editor/publisher, etc. Then things aren't always all good anymore. DOOOOOM!!! I mean, it's really not that bad, you just might get spit on or something, but it's not like your career will actually be sunk (if you're good enough, especially). It's not like there aren't a ton of cynical, bitter, pessimistic, negative and often attacking writers out there that are perfectly successful (okay, not perfectly, but still are).
     

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