Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

SUNDAY INSPIRATIONS: As for literary criticism in general

Sunday Inspirations. Send us your favorite quote, image, poem, idea … anything that has been helpful or inspirational to your writing process. If we love it, we may use it as is, or take the inspiration and modify it in some way. Give us a link to your website or blog and we’ll be sure to give you credit! Email inspiration@writemarketdesign.com or post your suggestion in the comment section below!

Here’s today’s inspiration: “As for literary criticism in general: I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.

knight fighting hot fudge sundae.jpg



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Badly reviewed book? Write another one!

I typically avoid movie and concert reviews before I go to see a show. If I like a band or a movie trailer looks interesting, I decide to go – and I want to make up my own mind about the show, without the influence of others clouding things up ahead of time. I typically pay more attention to book reviews, perhaps because of the time investment required to read a book. Nevertheless, a reading recommendation from someone I know carries a lot more weight than a review from a stranger, regardless of the source.

U2 ie tourLast night was one of those nights I was really glad not to have read the reviews ahead of time. We saw the first of two sold-out shows on U2’s Innocence and Experience world tour – and it was the most disappointing concert ever. This morning, as I looked through some of the reviews of other legs of this tour, the worst I saw described them as “good, not great.” The thing is, I believe they played really well last night. Bono almost certainly sang as well as he ever has, and The Edge’s iconic guitar was probably amazing.

It was the sound system that ruined things. When they were here in 2011, U2 played the football stadium. Last night, they played the basketball arena, but it seemed as though the sound was still set for the MUCH larger venue. I have no fear of loud – but this was so loud that the sound was completely distorted. Even when Bono was just speaking to the crowd, you could barely make out what he was saying.

I love this band – and I really, really wanted to enjoy this show. I just couldn’t do it. The visual elements were spectacular – but I don’t typically attend a concert for the visuals. I go for the music. Especially this band’s music. Clearly, the sound issue did not affect every concertgoer’s experience. One guy wrote on Twitter wrote that it was the best concert he ever saw. In fact, the whole arena cheered and held up their cell phone lights (21st century lighters) as the band played themselves off the stage with “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But I wasn’t the only one who had a problem with the terrible sound. My husband and I overheard several conversations as we walked to the train about how bad it was. So where were the sound engineers? Why did some of us hate the sound quality, while others seemed not to even notice?

Here’s the thing. No artist, film director, sports team – or author – is going to hit it out of the park every time. Am I wickedly disappointed that U2’s bad show was here? Of course. Do I still love the band? Of course. And am I still glad I went last night? Of course.

I think our most important job as authors is to make the best books we can. But the more we write, the more we open ourselves up to criticism, and the more likely we are to eventually write a book that flops. For whatever reason, it misses the mark. What’s a book’s equivalent of a bad sound system? Some of our loyal readers will love us, no matter what. But others will notice – and perhaps comment on – the disappointing book. Remember, you didn’t set out to write a disappointing book – it happened in spite of your best efforts.

The question is, what will you do next? Will you close up shop, never to write another word? Of course not. You’ll take a day or two to lick your wounds. Analyze what you might have done differently. And then you’ll sit down at the computer (or pull out your yellow pad) and start your next book. Those loyal readers will still be there, anticipating your next release. And the readers you disappointed last time? Well, if they’re like this U2 fan, they will no doubt give you another chance because they know that one less-than-stellar book is the outlier. Your next one will again be outstanding.



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Book review BS: When reviews are bought (or coerced), the unaware reader suffers


This is a true story.

A couple years ago, a colleague referred a businessman to me as a prospective client. I met with the man, we chatted, he seemed interested in what I had to say, but he did not hire me for my editing or self-publishing consultative services. It happens. Frankly, I didn’t think much more about the project.

A year … 18 months … go by. I start a Meetup group for authors, and this man joins. He’s finished his book and is in the process of marketing it. He invites me to an early launch/book signing event. Many of his friends are there. All speak very highly of the book. He gives me a copy, which I graciously accept. I take it home, anticipating a fantastic read after all the glowing reviews.

Disappointment does not begin to convey my response to the book. Two words summarize my review: unreadably bad.

From the first 3 paragraphs of the preface, as it is printed in the book:

A legend, lived and believed, if you have clarity and confidence with unwavering focus and determination, anything is possible and achievable in life… (ellipsis by the author).

This writing is a collation of life long events, incidents, and anecdotes driven by passion and focus, irrespective of lack of resources, and numerous distractions that created obstacles along the path to his goals of undeterred integrity and humility for service.

And it never improves.

I would not be mentioning this — the book would simply have continued to gather dust on my bookshelf until it made its way into a yard sale or the donation bin for the VNSA book sale — had I not received the following “request” from its author: “I hope to read your fantastic testimonial of my book soon on Amazon.”

Initially, I did not know how to respond. So I went to Amazon to see what others had to say about the book. Of the 15 reviews listed, 14 of them were 5-star reviews; the last offered a miserly 4 stars. WTF??? I must have read a different book — or been having a really bad day when I stopped reading after the first 17 pages in my first go at this story. So I pulled it off the bookshelf and picked up where I’d left off, hopeful that maybe I’d been mistaken. No — I had not been imagining things. It was still a terrible book. But there they were, 15 glowing Amazon reviews.

And then I got angry. Because these are not honest reviews — they are reviews from people who, in all likelihood, were similarly coerced by the author with comments like the one he made to me in his email. This is a smart man who spent years in sales and knows how to get what he wants. But those reviews are either (a) flat-out dishonest, (b) repayment for some perceived debt, (c) written by friends who, while they may be doing the author “a favor,” are doing prospective buyers a grave disservice, or (d) written by people with absolutely no common sense or appreciation of the English language.

It occurs to me that maybe this poor guy really believes his own hype and thinks he’s written a magnificent book. But how could no one who’s read it (including the professional editor he allegedly hired) have pointed out that his first sentence in the book is not even a sentence?! I was truly reminded of the Hans Christian Anderson tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” And still I didn’t know what to do.

Finally, I decided to reply to the email:

I’m a little taken aback … by your assumption that I would write a fantastic testimonial for your book. I haven’t written a review for it because, honestly, I don’t think you’d like what I would have to say. If you truly want my opinion, I will offer it privately, but please don’t ask if you don’t really want to know what I think. I respect you and will not sugar-coat things just to avoid telling you what no one else, apparently, has been willing to say.

A friend suggested to me today that it might appear as if I am upset that this person did not hire me. That is simply not the case. Some hire me; some don’t. Some make great books; some make awful ones. If I lost sleep or sought revenge on every author who went with someone else, I’d be living a pretty miserable life. I am aggravated by the attempt to winnow from me something wholly unearned.

As a rule, I don’t offer unsolicited advice. Friends and acquaintances often give me books, or I buy them to support the author. If I don’t tell them how good the book is or offer praise, that’s probably because it isn’t a great book. But unless they ask, I keep my mouth shut. They know what I do for a living; if they want my opinion, they can ask — or hire me. I’ve received pushback more than once for offering my honest opinion, when asked. Here’s what I tell people: “Don’t ask me what I think if you don’t really want to know.”

If you’re an author, and you’ve got a good book on your hands, I will tell you so. If you’ve written a mediocre book that, with some work, might have promise, I’ll tell you that. I recently had a client  to whom I could not be more philosophically opposed. I edited his book, but told him I was not the one to help him market it. I referred him to someone I think will do a good job for him, in terms of getting his book into the hands of readers. I think this author would tell you I was fair in my editing, only questioning him once where I felt he was deliberately misleading the reader. And even though I personally disagree with about 75 percent of his premise, I think his book has a potential audience, and I’ll be interested to see what he winds up doing with it.

Most books have at least some promise; even the above-mentioned bad book probably has a decent story buried under the dreck.

Here’s what I recommend to authors and aspiring authors who are (or will be) looking for reviews: Don’t attempt to stack the deck. Earn your good reviews honestly. Have the common sense to get some honest feedback before you send your book to the printer. And if someone gives you a bit of a harsh critique, be realistic enough with yourself to explore their comments, provided the critic is not just a crank with an axe to grind. If their suggestions could make for a better book, don’t take offense — just fix it! That’s the beauty of self-publishing. There’s always a do-over.

Here’s what I recommend to readers/prospective book buyers who are relying on reviews for guidance: Beware ANY book that offers only gold-star reviews. If there is not a single dissenter about the wonders of a given title, it’s a pretty good bet you’re not reading actual reviews, but “reviews” from friends who will say whatever the author wants them to. Think about the best movie you’ve ever seen. Now, go look it up on RottenTomatoes.com. I almost guarantee there are at least a couple reviewers who didn’t like it. Why? Because no matter how good it is, people’s tastes are diverse, and there’s almost always at least one person who doesn’t swim with the rest of the fish.

Here’s to great writing … and good, well-earned reviews!




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Check out Laura’s newest book, Practical Philanthropy: How ‘Giving Back’ Helps You, Your Business, and the World Around You. A percentage of all book sales is donated to Art4TheHomeless.org and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

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january tip of day

January 8 Book Marketing Tip: Decide how soon to send your manuscript out for review

This is more a question/issue to ponder than a tip, necessarily. It comes out of a real-life conversation with a friend. Beth is a retired adoption case worker. Since retiring, she’s hung out her shingle as a private adoption counselor and is still very much involved in the adoption world – mostly U.S. infant adoptions.

chicken egg

One other thing she does to stay current with adoption is review adoption books and movies on her blog, Bibliotherapy for Adoption. A few weeks ago, she was telling me about a book she’s been asked to review, pre-publication. Her comments spurred this post:

In just the short piece I’ve read, I’ve found three typos. Darn! The editor in me can’t get past that, to read the content. You can add: “Proofread your copy before you send it out for review” to your list of [author] TO-DOs. Since the typos bother me so much, I am tempted to read through and mark it up, then reread for content.

And Beth is absolutely right. Any worthy reader is likely to notice grammar errors and typos in a published book, let alone one that is still in draft form. Here’s the conundrum, as I explained to Beth.

If a self-publishing author waits until their manuscript is fully proofed to send it out for reviews/endorsements, it’s quite often way too late for the reviews to be of much use. Yet no reader worth their salt will allow grammar issues and typos to go unnoticed. I suppose putting UNCORRECTED PROOF on the front might assuage some expectations, however.

Your book timeline has to factor in editing and proofreading, preferably before you begin sending out review copies. This might seem like a no-brainer – of course you get it proofed before you send it out! But some of the more established reviewers (not necessarily book bloggers like Beth) must receive the book 3 to 4 months in advance of your publication date. That means either (a) you wait till it’s proofed, professionally typeset, and in perfect shape for review, postponing your publication date until you know the reviews will be in or (b) you send a relatively polished bound manuscript for review, which you identify as an “uncorrected proof,” and hope your advance readers/reviewers can overlook any small mistakes.

I will keep hammering this point for as long as this blog endures: editing and proofreading matter! Once your prospective reader gets past the cover to open your book, they’re going to read your words. If Beth is just a few pages into this manuscript and is noticing errors, what are the chances she will see errors at p. 97 or p. 133? You want your reader to open at any point in the book and KEEP READING.

If the thought had occurred to you that you’re a good writer, you’ve worked hard on your book, and you don’t really need editing and proofreading, I hope this post has disabused you of that idea. No matter how good you are, you cannot edit/proof your own work!

What are your experiences with the review/proofreading process? Please share them in a private message or in the comment section below!

Happy writing!



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A few gifts to say “Thanks for reading!”

OK, gifts may be a bit strong. But here are a few miscellaneous things I thought you might find interesting and/or useful, and I truly am grateful to all of my readers, both old and new.


I recently came across a goldmine in the form of this blog post by the folks at Step-by-Step Self Publishing: an index of book review bloggers. The best thing about it? They’re constantly adding new reviewers to the list. They also offer tips about getting your self-published book reviewed (many bloggers won’t accept self-published books for review) and how to approach independent bookstores.


Would you describe yourself as happy? If you’d like to be happier, you’ll want to make a point to see this film. A few amazing things I learned from it: our happiness is mostly genetic. Fifty percent is attributable to genetics; 10 percent is circumstantial (what’s going on in your life at the time); and 40 percent is up to us, meaning we can do things to increase our happiness, like exercise, hobbies, volunteering, etc. Also, there’s a HUGE happiness differential between people in households earning $5,000 a year and those earning $50,000 a year. But there’s virtually no difference at all in levels of happiness between those earning $50,000 a year and those earning $50 MILLION a year. The movie is subtitled in part and is available via Netflix. See it if you have the chance!


For the font junkies in the house, Fonts 101 offers a free font of the day! Sign up to get it emailed directly to your inbox. Granted, I personally don’t have much use for a battleship font and some of the others are best described as odd. But we’ve all got different tastes and needs, and occasionally there’s a gem among their offerings.


I’m giving a presentation today about eBook Basics and was prepping some CDs for giveaway. Included in the mix is an eBook I modeled after a poorly done tri-fold brochure titled “How to Hire an Air Duct Cleaner.” I kid you not! The obviously much-photocopied brochure was referenced in the workbook from a marketing course I took as a great way to self-promote. I was inspired to improve on the idea by creating a 33-page eBook titled, The First-Time Author’s Guide to Hiring the Right Editor for YOU! As many of my readers are authors, I think there’s a lot of useful information in this book, but beyond that, you might also learn something from the concept. If you’ve got a business in which you can demonstrate expertise and you want to set yourself apart from the others, an instructional book like this is a great way to do so. Download your copy here.


A year and a half-ago, I was blessed to marry a wonderful man who embodied a characteristic I’d always desired in a partner: he’s a talented musician. He got laid off from his job as a commercial plumber a few weeks ago, and has been taking the extra time to hone his guitar skills. Here’s a short Bach piece he’s been working on for the past few days. I hope you enjoy it.

Wishing you all the best!



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4 books for the VETERANS in your life and the people who love them

Since the start of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve met combat vets – but I have no one in my immediate circle who is a vet or has a vet in their family. Nevertheless, I am ever aware of their sacrifice and the devastating effects of these wars on them – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. In tribute to our vets and in honor of Memorial Day, I decided to compile a short book list. I didn’t start out with these books in mind (I was actually thinking more along the lines of Flags of Our Fathers), but this is where my research took me, and appropriately so.

Regardless of your position on US involvement in these – or any –wars, I’m thinking we all can agree about one thing: our vets deserve our honor, respect, and the best medical treatment they can get. Though I have not read the books below, they come highly recommended for vets themselves and the people who love them. Each segment contains an excerpt from the book, portion of a review, and shot of the book cover.

Fields of Combat: Understanding PTSD among Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan (The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work)

by Erin P. Finley

In Fields of Combat, Erin P. Finley deftly weaves the experiences of these young men and women who have participated in the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan into a larger fabric of the U.S. military enterprise, including the clinical responses to a health crisis in treatment and prevention of debilitating traumas of war. How Americans, civilian and military alike, respond to these veterans says as much about the mental health of U.S. society as about them.

— Matthew Gutmann, Brown University, coauthor, Breaking Ranks: Iraq Veterans Speak Out Against the War


War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Edward Tick

I am a combat vet of the Viet Nam era. I purchased a copy of Dr. Tick’s book WAR AND THE SOUL last week. I can’t begin to express how deeply it affected me as a veteran, a father and as a man. Edward Tick has brought out into the open the essence of the problem with the aftereffects of war. We are of the “don’t talk about it and it will just go away,” generation. I’m referring to the loss or corruption of every mans’ soul as a result of the horrors of war, and the lack of a true warrior class in America as DR. tick describes it. Like no other terror on earth, war is so traumatic that indeed one’s soul may be lost forever. However, it does not have to be that way. We indeed may regain intimacy, trust and a purposeful life if treated as humans with souls, not like men having to be drugged with antidepressants to keep us away and out of public sight.

— Robert Cagle



The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle against America’s Veterans

by Aaron Glantz

“A breathtaking rebuke to government hypocrisy and an overdue contribution to gaining critical public awareness of this official neglect.”

Publishers Weekly


Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home — Including Combat Stress, PTSD, and mTBI

by Charles W. Hoge, MD

“John Denver’s lyrics about coming home to a place you’ve never been before sums up this book. A brilliant guide, and very much needed now.”

—Gordon R. Roberts, Medal of Honor recipient

In sincere thanks to all of our troops –



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In honor of our 1-year anniversary (May 2, 2012), we’re hosting the Author Blog Challenge! It starts June 2 and is open to published authors, authors-in-progress, and would-be authors. Come check us out and register today!

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