Monthly Archives: May 2015

No Three Star Rule or Why I Write Negative Reviews

Have you seen the blog articles that encourage reviewers to never give lower than three stars? Some of them even urge not writing a review lower than four stars. For the most part these bloggers (at least some of whom are also authors) firmly believe in the old adage “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Others suggest that negative reviews shouldn’t be given due to the fact it pulls a book’s overall rating, which is unfair to the author. I can understand those arguments. However, I don’t necessarily agree with them.

As anyone who has read my past reviews can tell, I do not hold to a three star review rule. Yet, I have only reviewed three books that earned below three stars on my review grading scale. I firmly believe that it is important for reviewers to be honest. Now, I try not to get the genres I don’t enjoy or books that have warnings about mature or edgy content both because I don’t want to read those particular books and because I know I’m not the author’s target audience. And I also believe that negative reviews do not always equal spiteful reader. Nor do I believe that negative reviews primarily come from a jealous competitor. Negative reviews can sometimes be more helpful than the positive reviews because they glean out the readers who do not fall under the targeted audience who would probably leave more negative reviews in their wake.

No one wants to hear that their book fell apart in one area or just didn’t work for a reader. Not one writer wants to hear that and it’s a lot easier to assume the negativity is spouting from jealousy or spite than to admit the reviewer might be right about something not working. Our books are our babies. Getting a negative review can be like having some stranger come up to you and say “That is the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen and I don’t mean in an ‘it’s so ugly, it’s cute’ way either.” Ouch! But, as painful as it is, negative reviews can be helpful once you get past the initial sting . . . or crushing blow.

Negative reviews can have several long-term benefits.

  • They can point out plot holes or character flaws that deserve a second look.
  • They can identify weaknesses in our writing style.
  • They can divert potential future negative reviews from occurring by (a) alerting other readers who aren’t in our target audience that this isn’t the book for them and (b) letting potential readers who do fall in our target audience know this book is something they might want to check out.

It’s never fun to get a negative review but every book has its niche audience and not everyone fits into that audience. Everyone has different levels of what they like or don’t like in a book. POV, characters, storyline, plot, description, dialogue, pretty much anything can be a hit or a miss for readers. For example, I don’t particularly care for love triangles but sometimes an author convinces me that the triangle works for the storyline and the characters. It’s still not my favorite romance arc but it doesn’t “ruin” a book. Like any reader, I have my particular genres and subgenres I enjoy reading more than others and I always try to take a genre mismatch into account when I’m reviewing a book that is more miss than hit for me. A stale plot or less than perfect editing can be rescued by characters and the heart of the story. I’ve read some stories I consider diamonds in the rough because they need more editing rounds.

For the three stories I gave less than three stars to, the key factor I looked at was the content and whether or not I thought it really fit the stated goal audience. I always try to take into account whether the book is written for a secular or Christian audience because different audiences lead to different expectations and I do hold books written for Christian audiences at a higher standard. I also hold books for YA and children to a higher standard for content. I firmly believe writers can address tough topics and include violence and romance without being gratuitous so when I read a book where the content seems to be hugging the gratuity factor a little too much for my taste I ask “Is it necessary?” Is it essential to the plot for this character or scene to be there? Does it add to the story or distract from it? Should I recommend it to people who have different reading tastes than I do? I also admit that I can be really thrown off when anachronistic words show up in medieval/early history settings especially in fantasies because they yank me out of the story mood. Lots of other readers won’t even bat an eye at these things. But I mention these instances in my reviews because I know there are other readers who don’t like anachronistic moments/words to be a surprise and are more tolerant of them if they go into the book knowing they are going to show up or they pass and another negative review is avoided. I also mention them for the authors since many a time it is extremely easy to accidentally use  period/setting-inappropriate words, phrases, and terms because we use them all the time in everyday life. Like I said before, what is a complete miss for me can be or is a hit with a lot of other readers based on other reviews simply because we all have different tastes.

Honest reviews can hurt at times. Especially if they’re not positive. I debated a long time over what the overall grade for the books should be because I didn’t like giving low stars but I also didn’t feel I could just inflate the score or not review at all. But I also tried to recommend possible fixes for the authors to take to help avoid negative reviews in the future. One of the books was by a Christian author who went very gritty and edgy. Just a brief head’s up in the product description would have been enough for me to know I should probably pass because it doesn’t fit my reading tastes. I respect authors for writing the stories they want to write even when it’s not necessarily a story I want to read. It takes courage to put your book out there for the world to see, especially when you know what is sweet or compelling for one reader might be sour candy for another. And of course, one person may love the sour candy and dislike the sweet candy. It all depends on one’s outlook. For example, I’ve discovered I’m not really a steampunk girl so I’m less likely to pick up steampunk for review anymore. But, if someone asks me about Christian steampunk writers, I know what names to give them.

Not every writer or every book is for every reader but for every book and writer there is going to be an audience. I like happier, more hopeful stories. I have friends who like grim, dark stories. I like romance with comedy over outright horror or techy sci-fi. I have friends who like horror, techy sci-fi, and thrillers over any hint of romance or fantasies with humor. I like arranged marriages and friends falling in love over a period of time over love triangles and insta-love. I have friends whose likes are the exact opposites. But we have different options because there are so many books available. I also have taken to reading negative reviews first to see what people are saying and if there are any specific mentions of content or plot twists that would lessen my enjoyment of a book. I don’t want to read a book I don’t enjoy or at least like a lot. Who does? Reviews are naturally biased to your own preferences even though I do try to take these into account and be as fair as possible. Every person’s measure of content, editing, plot, and characters is subjective. This is what writers need to keep in mind when the negative review shows up. Take negative reviews with a grain of salt, this reviewer was not your intended audience, but also keep in mind that negative reviews with solid reasoning can help attract your intended audience, cut down on the future negative reviews, and also give you things to consider with your writing style.

Negative reviews are unpleasant and can be devastating to a writer’s feelings but they are not always bad news.

 

Advertisements

Book Review Wednesday – Devil’s Pathway

Devil’s Pathway (DAWN: Warriors of Valor Book 1) by Vicki V. Lucas

Amazon Book Description:

I force myself to live by one rule: Don’t look at the demons. The two times I broke this rule still haunt me. Tonight I made another mistake. As a huge demon leered at us, I couldn’t fight the urge. I looked. And he saw me. Maybe it’s not a big deal. Nothing happened as my aunt sped beyond it in the car. Besides, I only have one year of high school left. I’ll be fine. But I know exactly what could occur. I’ve seen it too many times. Two men lurked with the demon I saw tonight. Evil clung to them, as if they had given their souls in exchange for something else. I shudder when I consider what they could be. But do vampires really exist? With everything I’ve seen, I wouldn’t be too surprised. Where are the good guys? If there’s darkness, shouldn’t there be light? How come the angels don’t battle the demons if that is the case? Or do they? Maybe there’s a war around me that I don’t see. I just want to be left alone, and after tonight, I don’t think that’s going to be a choice.

***

This young adult fantasy novel weaves angels, demons, and vampires into a thrilling adventure in which angels and humans wage war on demons and vampires. The action doesn’t stop as Nic, the main character, is forced into choosing which side of the fight he is on while both sides are desperately urging him to join their army. Devil’s Pathway is a Christian fantasy novel for teens who are ready to get serious about their faith. If you like Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” or novels by Ted Dekker, you’ll like Devil’s Pathway.

I haven’t really enjoyed the angel/demon subgenre of speculative fiction, too many conflicts with Scripture, but I accepted this book for review because the author made a compelling case and I had enjoyed reading one of her earlier books. Have to say, I am so glad that I took that chance.

Plot – Grade A

This book dug its claws into me and held on from the first page to the last. The plot puts an original spin on the typical angels vs. demons storyline. A spiritual war rages around Nic who is trying desperately to remain neutral instead of choosing one side or the other. Nic is an empathetic character who I related to quite easily. The angels and demons and, yes, even vampires have interesting roles but they don’t steal the spotlight away from Nic. The book ending is resolved without being truly resolved. There are still many questions that I expect Book Two will answer but this book can stand well on its own. The ending comes at a natural breather story-wise and was written in such a way that it left me eager for more without making me feel as though there was absolutely no resolution.

Content – Grade A

This a clean read but it also handles a number of sensitive topics, in particular a school shooting is referenced and later shown via flashback as well as the murder of a parent in front of the child. I applaud Lucas for handling these sensitive situations in a way that showed the horror and grief of such events without descending into morbid bloodbaths, especially in a first person POV. In keeping with having vampires, there are descriptions of a few initial attacks and the aftermath of those attacks; however, there aren’t any gratuitous descriptions of gore.

There are a few instances of mild language, one “damn” and two or three “craps”. Hell is also referenced many times in its proper spiritual context. There isn’t any true sensuality in this book although there are some references to an abandoned mining town having a whorehouse.

The topics of bullying in school and abusive relationships are also addressed and handled with appropriate care. This a spiritually active book as is expected in this subgenre. What I appreciated was not only that the presentation of demons and vampires wasn’t glamorized but the importance of prayer and having a strong spiritual walk was also underlined without descending into the realm of preachiness. The struggle for Nic was real and didn’t come across as flat or like he was merely a puppet. Even I wasn’t entirely sure whether Nic would make the choice I wanted him to make. There is also a tie between Christians’ prayers and the angels’ strength in spiritual battle, which I found very interesting since I don’t recall seeing such a tie before.

Technical – Grade A

This is a very well edited book. There were three or four minor typos in the middle but nothing jarring. The book switches between first-person present for Nic’s narration and third-person past for the sections featuring other narrators (primarily the second-in-command demon, the angel Eli, and Rob). There is one section near the finale where the angel leader’s pov is in third person present, which was only slightly confusing since only Nic had been in present tense. Now, I don’t usually care for present tense but Lucas’ writing was strong enough and compelling enough for me to still be hooked. The characters are fleshed out to the point I actually found myself rooting for them to do what I knew they needed to do if they would just cooperate and I cheered whenever there was a hard-won victory.

Final Grade – A or 5 stars

I devoured this book in about five hours because I could not put it down. Lucas created a spiritual battle that resonated with me and made me think. Devil’s Pathway handles sensitive topics without crossing into crassness or gratuity; however, I would recommend this book to older teens and for parents to be prepared to discuss the topics raised, especially in regards to school violence and abusive relationships. Lucas handles these matters in such a way that I believe it can help open the door for discussions between parents and teens. I eagerly await Book Two. I recommend this book for fans of spiritual thrillers, Frank Peretti’s Present Darkness series, and it’s also a good choice for Christians who, like me, aren’t really fans of Ted Dekker. Recommended for ages 15 and up.

*Please note I was gifted a copy of this book by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not paid or asked to leave a positive review. My opinions are my own.

Devil’s Pathway is available via Kindle.

Next Week – Honor: Second Novel of Rhynan by Rachel Rossano

One Life to Live

Does it ever strike you that we are given only one life to live? There aren’t any do-overs or replays. We are born, we live, we die, and our earthly legacy is only what we achieve, what we do in this life. So how is our one life going to be remembered?

Some of us will be remembered through our families, our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. Some of us will be remembered because we did something embarrassing or incredibly foolish, although hopefully that won’t be our only legacy. Some of us will be remembered through our legacy of works and/or faith. Some of us will be forgotten because we let all the chances to do something memorable, to take the opportunities given to us, pass us by because we were too afraid or were too busy or just didn’t feel it was the right time or that our efforts weren’t good enough to move past the starting gate.

As writers, we have one life to live but that life can produce  many books or only a few books that will impact someone somewhere or no books at all. Writing is hard. It takes courage to bare our ideas, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams, and even a little piece of our soul through the written word. And to be perfectly honest, I know I’ve sat at my desk staring at my looming To Do/Wish list and just thought that I am never going to get to the end of the first leg of the journey (aka publishing). But then I look at the stories I’ve already completed, at the projects that HAVE reached some sort of stepping stone, and at the reasons why it took longer than originally planned to reach the point of “ready to publish.” One, I wanted to have a true polished piece so was unwilling to take shortcuts. Two, I wanted to write stories that honored God and that meant giving my very best. Three, I still have a life outside of writing that demands my attention and time too.

Writing is emotionally and spiritually draining at times because you’re pouring your whole heart into the words, the plot, and the characters. If you are anything like me, you also pour your heart into the non-writing areas of your life. All this effort, this sinking of yourself into your work makes being able to recharge mentally, emotionally, and spiritually extremely important and also difficult. For example, a few days ago, I sat down with a book to read for fun. A major CBA book that wasn’t fantasy but I hoped it would help with the recharge. Instead, I ended up even more drained because there wasn’t anything truly fulfilling or relaxing in the book’s plot. The reason I mention my reader experience is because it also ties into having one life to live and our legacy as writers. Do we want to produce the sort of books that leave readers more drained than they started or the books that provide hope, an escape from the harshness of our world (at least for a little while), a reminder that we can still laugh and enjoy life, and show the different ways Christ’s love surrounds us?

We have one life to live. What is your legacy going to be as a writer? Are you going to be brave enough to put your work out there even if you don’t personally feel it’s as ready as it can be? The hardest part in the editing process is knowing when you’ve reached the point where your tweaking has become detrimental instead of helpful to the story. It’s also knowing when to say this is the final draft even if it’s not as perfect as you imagined. Are you going to be embarrassed by what you have written if your family learns about it? Then do you really want it to be your legacy? Are you going to pour yourself into your writing? Are you going to make the effort to make a difference with your stories by focusing on light and hope in spite of the darkness? Are you going to stop making excuses and procrastinating on finishing what you’ve started, what you’ve been dreaming of and write your book? You don’t have to be a best-selling author to have an impact, a legacy. But you do have to finish the first draft. You won’t have any legacy if you never make the effort.

What is your legacy? When your one life is over, will you be wishing for a do-over or be content in the knowledge that you made the effort and left something behind that’s worthy? Everyone has decisions or periods in their lives that they wish they could do over and do differently but we don’t have to let those moments be our only legacy. As writers, we can leave any number of legacies. Sometimes we’ll write flops, sometimes we’ll write hits, and most of the time we’ll write the middle ground. But even a flop can be a better legacy than never trying. Don’t let your life be one filled solely with “I wish I had” or “I wish I had not” or “if only . . .” Seize the moment, have faith, and be courageous. Be a writer who finishes their work and who leaves a legacy.

Scary “Research” Books: I Really Am a Writer

It’s funny how I’ll stop and look at my bookshelf full of books for writing research and then go “I shouldn’t show some of these to people who don’t know I’m a writer.” They’re not bad, but they are . . . unusual and occasionally a little scary at first glance. Because I am a fantasy writer, I have a lot of Celtic mythology books, general mythology, books on ancient cultures, medieval weapons and warfare, fantasy weapons, and then there are my specialty books. Those are the ones that probably seem a little scary.

I love to write about shapeshifters and other creatures of legend so I have a number of books on werewolves, cryptozoology, and mythical creatures in general. I also have some books on angelology/demonology, which come in handy when I’m revamping original legends into a new creature. But the scariest book for research I currently have in my possession is probably Book of Poisons: A Guide for Writers. And of course, the “a guide for writers” is in much smaller print on the cover (not even on the spine) compared to the main title. I like this book, it’s a very handy reference that covers all sorts of poisonous plants, creatures, and medicines with the all important details for antidotes and treatments and any other special consideration for writerly plots as well as what you should keep in mind when making up a poison or disease, but it’s probably not one of my “look at my bookshelf and you’ll get to know me” books. 😉

Now I know I can’t be the only writer who has somewhat scary research books. So what is one book you would wait to show someone until after they’ve learned you’re a writer?