Author of OUTBACK LOVE a contemporary romance novel set in Australia, JETTING AWAY a short story prequel to OUTBACK LOVE, MOON OVER MADNESS a paranormal romantic comedy and BAYOU BLUES AND OTHER SORROWS a collection of short stories and poems about life and love. All are available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, Diesel and Kobo. On Twitter @TeriHeyer

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Art of Reviewing

Wildflowers, not perfect but beautiful.
There is an art to reviewing. Think of it this way. In my yard there are numerous wildflowers. They are not perfect compared to the lilies, roses and other hybrid flowers bought from the store. But in their imperfections they are beautiful in their own right. That is what reviewing is all about.

We can all pretty much agree on the literary greats, Tolstoy, Hardy, James, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck. The list can go on and on. As readers we can all put together our own list of authors who outshine all others, the authors we put up there on a pedestal.

Reviewing books written by contemporary authors is not the same as reviewing literary classics. How could we ever compare say, Lisa in Love  (not a real book) with The Grapes of Wrath? As reader reviewers we don't want to do that. Most of us would admit that if the literary greats are 5-Star books then our books are somewhere in the zero or below. I'm not saying that contemporary writers don't write great books. We do. It's just that our short stories, novellas, novels, have yet to season and stand the test of time.

Does that mean we shouldn't review books by contemporary authors? Of course not. Authors need reviews for their books. Good reviews help authors promote their books and help readers find great books to enjoy.

Here's the deal, this is where the art of reviewing comes into play. If you're a professional reviewer, I ask for your patience here, you already know your craft and I'm not trying to tell you how to review. This is for the rest of us, we readers who love books and want others to know what we love.

The book you're reviewing is not a literary classic, so don't compare it to those honored tomes. You're comparing the book to others in the genre. You're weighing the book to see if it is what it claims to be. Lisa in Love is a romance novel, a bit steamy, with love at first sight, some misunderstandings and a happy ending. After you read Lisa in Love did you love it? Did it give you a warm tingly feeling? Did it make you think about the characters or the situation after you read the final page? Did it make you want to read more books by that same author?

A lot of books don't fit into any one genre. Let's look at Alexander's Demise (not a real book). It has elements of mystery, romance, time travel with some thrills thrown in. Be open minded when you read and review that kind of book. Don't write a bad review because it didn't have enough romance to your liking. Or perhaps you dislike time travel. Remember, every book stands alone. Every book is an individual entity. Please review the book for what it is and not denigrate it for being something different than what you expected. Books are insights into the heart, mind and soul of the author who wrote that book. Enjoy the read, savor it, relish the journey.

I am always awed when I read a book, knowing the author spent countless hours, days, weeks, months, years of their precious time writing that book. I feel privileged, honored to be offered the opportunity to read that book. What if all authors decided to hide their books, keep them hidden in boxes in their closets or under their beds, because they're afraid someone out there won't like their books? It would be a sad world if that happened. So please remember that you're reading an author's treasured words. Those words may not be the exact same ones you would use if you were writing that book. Please don't tell the author, "I could have written it better." You didn't write the book, the author did. Just remember, a positive, kind review means the world to an author.

This is what I'm talking about. Here are my suggestions for learning the art of reviewing.

1) This is not a time to spew hate. If you personally hate science fiction, romance, thrillers, paranormals, time-travels, historicals, this is not the time to attack a book for belonging to your hated category. Walk away and mutter that hatred to yourself. Don't put it into a review.

2) Did you like or love this book? Did it make you feel good? A review is the time to say just that. It doesn't have to be a long review, two or three sentences will do.

3) Would you recommend this book to others? Be sure to say just that. Other readers are going to see your review. They're looking for books that others liked, enjoyed, loved. It's as simple as that.

4) Were there some formatting errors, typos, misspellings, etc. in the book? Yes? Well, of course. Writers are  human and not perfect, so how can anyone expect their books to be perfect? Do you point all this out in your review? Hopefully not. Email the author and let him/her know your concerns. Don't denigrate a good book just because of a few errors. If the errors are overwhelming, maybe you should just walk away and not review the book. Email the author and let him/her know why you couldn't review the book.

5) In reviews, it's all about the stars. If you liked, enjoyed, loved a book and would recommend it to others, then you should give the book 4 or 5 stars. If the book caught your interest, but maybe was so-so, then that's probably a 3 star book. Personally, if I can't give a book 4 or 5 stars then I don't review it. Bad reviews hurt authors and I don't feel that it's my responsibility to do that to another author.

6) Be kind. This is so important. Authors are fragile beings who put their whole heart and soul into their books and then put them out there for others to read. So weigh your words and strive to be kind.

7) Remember that what you write in a review reflects upon you, the reviewer. If you spew hate, then it shows you as a person who hates. If you show kindness, others see that you are kind.

8) Write reviews. Authors need those reviews on their books. The reviews can be simple, only two or three sentences, or longer if you feel the desire to write more. Readers want to see  reviews. So let readers know why you liked/enjoyed/loved the book.

9) Where do you write those reviews? Since Amazon and Barnes&Noble tend to carry the market these days, be sure to write your reviews there. If you're on Goodreads, Facebook or other social media, write your reviews there too. If you have a blog, that's a wonderful place for your reviews. Though if you do write reviews on your blog, please remember to at least write a shortened review on Amazon and Barnes&Noble so that more readers can see that review.

10) Encourage the author to write more. If you liked/enjoyed/loved the book, then encourage the author to continue writing. It's so easy for authors to get down in the dumps. But if they know that readers love their books it boosts them up. A kind, positive review is inspiration for an author's soul.

11) Share the love. Tell the world about the books you loved. Tweet about it. Tell your family and friends.

Once again, thank you to all who read this post. I'm an author who is an avid reader. I love books, short and long, old and new, romantic and thrilling, contemporary and historical, funny and sad, mysterious and inspiring. I love them all. I hold all books in awe, in reverence for the written word. I hope other readers feel the same.

If I have one wish in writing this blog it's this, please share the love. That's all I ask.

I hope others will weigh in on this discussion and comment below. What are your tips for writing a good review? What do you hope to convey to readers? If you have blog posts about writing reviews, please include the links in your comments below. Your input is greatly appreciated.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Talking About Reviews

Seagulls Talking About Reviews
I am trying to understand the concept of writing book reviews. As a reader and as a writer/author, I am looking at this issue from two different angles.

Until last year, when I became a published Indie author, I always considered reviews from the angle of a reader. I read a lot of books and some I consider so great that I want to talk about them. Those are the books I want to shout to the world, "Hey, you have to read this! This book is great, stupendous, glorious, outstanding, incredible, amazing, awesome!" You get the picture.

I wrote a fair number of those reviews on Amazon about books I loved and thought others would love too. I penned 5-Star Reviews for the ones I loved the most and 4-Star Reviews for those I enjoyed and felt them good enough to recommend to others. So for me, reviews were all about recommending a good/great book to other readers. It never dawned on me that reviews might be written for another purpose.

Now, as an Indie author, I'm hearing that reviews are really for constructive criticism to tell the author what's wrong with his or her book and how to make it into a better book. Huh? Did I hear that right? Now let's look at this from the author's point of view. Said author has spent one, or two, or more years writing a novel. Said author has put his/her whole heart and soul into that novel. Now that novel is published and out there for the reading public to read, savor and hopefully enjoy/love. But wait, a reviewer comes on the scene.

This reviewer may or may not be an author. That part doesn't really matter. But this reviewer wasn't part of that blood, sweat and tears process. This review says, "This book is a piece of crap and should be thrown in the garbage." Say what? I'm not making this up. I've seen so many reviews like this one that I've lost count.

I like to study things and analyze the whys and wherefores of something. So I've made it a point of studying reviews, hundreds of reviews, maybe into the thousands by now. I've studied reviews written on books by best selling authors published by the Big Six,  books written by genre authors, books written by Indie authors. The reviews that say, "This book is a piece of crap..." run the gamut of all those categories of books.

Now we're going back to the constructive criticism part of reviews. Is the review that says, "This book is a piece of crap..." constructive criticism? Or is this just pure meanness being vented at some hapless author? This is what I'm trying to understand. If this is constructive criticism, is the author truly supposed to take the reviewer at his or her word and throw the book in the garbage?

Here's an example of 1 and 2-Star Reviews for a single book. One review says, "This book is so bad the author should never write another book as long as she lives." Another review says, "I was looking for a romantic comedy and this is anything but." Another says, "I would have liked the book but it didn't have enough dialogue." Another says, "Too much talk and not enough action." Another says, "Not enough sex." Another says, "Warning, explicit sex. Don't read." Now, if this is constructive criticism, what is this author supposed to do?

Assuming this author can pull the book off the market and make changes, what changes need to be made? Add more dialogue? Or less dialogue? Add more action? Or less action? Add more sex/romance? Or clean up the explicit sex?

In most cases, the book has gone through a publisher, either the Big Six or one of the zillions of smaller publishers out there. So the book can't be pulled off the shelves, rewritten and then republished. The result, these reviewers have virtually just killed this book. Most readers will now pass on this book, because obviously it has too many problems to be read by anyone.

If this author happens to be an Indie who self-pubbed, maybe the book can be pulled and rewritten and re-published. But to whose standards? Reviewer A, B, C, D or ? Which reviewer is really in the know and can tell that author exactly what needs to be done to improve that book? No matter how you look at it, this is a no win situation, because when the book is rewritten it's most likely going to garner another whole set of 1 and 2-Star Reviews.

Then there's the reviewer who wrote that 1-Star Review and said, "This book is so bad the author should never write another book as long as she lives." Does the author take that reviewer at his or her word and never write another book again? Sadly, some authors do just that. Authors are sensitive souls who put it all on the line when they offer a book to the reading public. Does the reading public, the reviewers, have the right to destroy that writer's career and break that writer's heart and soul? I don't think so.

Another side to all this, I've heard many reviewers say that all 5-Star Reviews are suspect because no book is perfect. That may or may not be true, but as a reviewer is it your job to find every flaw in a book and point it out to the world? Is that what reviewing is all about?

I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever read a single book that didn't have a misspelled word, a missing word, the wrong word, grammatical errors, a typo. Even with the innovation of spellcheck, errors get through. Even with editors and beta readers, errors get through. It's a fact of life. Writers are only human and so are the editors and beta readers. What I'm getting at is that people aren't perfect, so why should we expect the books they write to be perfect?

I think we need to back up here and determine the real purpose for writing a book review. This isn't like in college when we had to write a paper, literary criticism, of some classic. Reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes&Noble, etc. are not meant to be literary criticism. Unless I've got it all wrong, these reviews are to recommend or not recommend books to other readers. If you really loved a book, shouldn't that be a 5-Star review? If you only liked the book, shouldn't that be a 4-Star Review? If you read it, but you're not particularly crazy about it, shouldn't that be a 3-Star Review?

Personally, if I can't write a 4 or 5-Star Review on a book then I don't write a review. I don't believe it's my place to point out the flaws to another author. So I don't write 1, 2 or 3-Star Reviews. Like I said, that's a personal thing. When I write a 5-Star Review it's because I absolutely loved the book and think others will love it too. I'm not saying, "This book is perfect." We've already come to the agreement that no books are perfect, though actually I think I've read some perfect books through the years.

Personally, I'm a bit offended if someone would think that a 5-Star Review I happened to write on a book is suspect. If I say I loved a book and think you'll love it to, well, I mean just that. I'm not writing that review to make points, or please a friend, or trying to see how many 5-Star Reviews I can write. If I love a book, it's a 5-Star book. That's all there is to it. For me a 4-Star Review is a book I really enjoyed, but it didn't get into my "best of the best" books that I love. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the book. It just means that particular book didn't resonate in my soul, didn't have that extra "zing" that made me say, "Oh, wow!" A book that I write a 4-Star Review may be a 5-Star book for someone else. We all have different likes and dislikes.

I'd really like to know what other readers, reviewers, writers, authors think about reviews. Why do you write reviews? What is the purpose of those reviews? What are you hoping to achieve by writing those reviews? I hope you'll join this discussion.

I happen to love great reviews and not love the mean reviews, it's as simple as that. First off, I think it's wonderful that someone would a) buy one of my books, b) read one of my books, c) take the time out of their busy schedule to write a review about one of my books. I can't thank those readers/reviewers enough. You are wonderful, incredible, awesome people!

Now here's one of my pet peeves, and it happens to the best selling authors, the Indie authors and everyone in between. Why would anyone write a 1-Star Review about a book they've never bought or never read? Is this to just be mean? Is this to eliminate the competition? Is it because the reviewer got out of the wrong side of the bed in the morning or his/her toast was burned? What motivates a person to do that?

I can't tell you the number of 1-Star Reviews I've read that go something like this, "The book was so terrible I couldn't get past the first page." If that's the case, get a refund on the book, take it to the library or the used bookstore, give it to someone on the street, throw it in the garbage. Why in the world waste precious time writing about why you couldn't read past the first page?

I read a 1-Star Review this morning on book that was a best seller years back and has now been brought out as an ebook. This reviewer went on a tirade, about a thousand words in length, about why she couldn't read beyond the first page. To sum it up, she couldn't get past the first page because, a) the book was different from what she expected it to be and b) the book had religious elements and this reader didn't like religious books. All I can say is, read the free excerpt on a book before buying it. Most bookstores or online book distributors will take the book back and give a refund. This particular review was on the Amazon/Kindle version of a book. Amazon will take the ebook back and give a refund. It's not necessary to rant and rave about it.

I've bought many books that turned out to be different from what I thought they were going to be. I read them anyway and usually find the journey enjoyable. Sometimes I come across a book that just doesn't come together for me. Maybe it's too slow or too violent or it doesn't have that "zing" that I've mentioned before. I put the book back on the shelf and often give it a try later. Many a time I've picked up one of those books and found I loved it at the second try. I can only imagine that the first attempt I was in the wrong frame of mind to read that particular book. For those books, very few I might add, that just don't do it for me, I pass them on. I give them to a neighbor, a used bookstore, the library. I've never thrown a book in the garbage and never come across a book I thought should be thrown in the garbage. But remember, this is just me, this is just my personal opinion.

Thank you to all who have read this lengthy post. As you can probably tell, this is an issue I feel passionate about. I think it's incredible to have the privilege to be both a reader and a writer/author. This is a dream come true. I know it's a dream come true for countless others too. I can only wish all other writers/authors the very best in their dreams. It's certainly not my purpose in life to write reviews that destroy that dream. Just sayin'...

I hope you'll add your comments to this post. I truly feel this is something we can and should talk about. By the way, I'm just sure this is what those two seagulls were talking about the other day on Pensacola Beach.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Greetings from Pensacola Beach!

Teri Heyer at Pensacola Beach
My husband and I went to Pensacola Beach today. It was packed with tourists from practically every state in the union. Well, this is good for the local economy considering we are still reeling from the PB Oil Spill from two summers back.

Yes, if you are seeing ads about how beautiful the beaches are here, the ads are correct. The sand is powdery, sugar-white and squeaks when you walk on it. The water is usually a sparkling turquoise with very little surf.

Today was the roughest surf I have seen here in years. Only one surfer ventured out into the waves. It was so windy I thought my hair was going to be blown from my scalp. No, this isn't usual for our area, unless we have a hurricane heading our way.

Yes, hurricanes do come here. Hurricanes Opal, Ivan and Dennis all left their mark in years past. Another hurricane season starts June 1st. Hopefully the hurricanes will fizzle out in the Pacific or the Gulf this season and not make landfall.

One of the reasons for hitting the beach this morning was to shoot the photo for the cover of my latest book, "Romance in a Bottle." It's a short story with plenty of laughter and romance. This is the first of a series of Beach'n Short Stories that will be available for your Kindle, Nook or other eReader over the next several months. The stories are all set on Pensacola Beach, so you'll soon know all about this beautiful and fun area.

Be sure to check back to see the cover for "Romance in a Bottle." The book itself will be available at Amazon and Smashwords in May and at Barnes&Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony and Apple by June. If all goes well, I'll be releasing a beach book a month through the end of summer.

I'm really excited about "Romance in a Bottle" and hope you'll all enjoy reading it soon.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Black Cats and Friday the 13th

Slick, the black cat with yellow eyes, on Friday the 13th
Another Friday the 13th and the issue of black cats. Well, I happen to love cats and think that black cats with yellow eyes are just plain cool. So I do not have a problem with the old "do not let a black cat cross your path" thing. I would be in a world of hurt, because a really gorgeous black cat with yellow eyes, by the name of Slick, lives right next door.

Now Slick has a very interesting story. As a small kitten he was rescued off a bridge in Key West by a tourist couple who decided to bring him back home to the Florida Panhandle. Slick lived in a nice quiet neighborhood and proceeded to make friends with everyone he met on his daily explorations. You see, Slick was allowed to roam the neighborhood and that's just what he did.

Well, some years back, about five years ago if I got the story right, Slick's family moved away and left him behind. That's when Slick adopted my next door neighbor, a really cool person who happens to love black cats. Slick is now an inside/outside cat in our cat-friendly neighborhood.

Now my dogs and I have been acquainted with Slick for the past three years, ever since we moved into the neighborhood, right next door. It's a daily thing for him to walk slowly across our front yard, he's on neighborhood watch, don't you know? He peeks in our front windows just to make sure all is well and to check up on my two dogs.

Shani, my ten year old, 85 pound Collie/Chow mix is not too keen on having Slick look in our windows. So the two have worked this out. From our living room, Shani ducks her head below the window sill and Slick looks inside. Then outside, Slick ducks his head below the sill and Shani looks out. It's pretty cute to watch. On the other hand, if Shani sees the cat out in our yard or, heaven forbid, across the street, then Shani has to bark at him. Still not sure if Shani is telling him, "Get back over here!" or "Go away!"

Dude, my year old, 106 pound, Retriever/Hound mix happens  to be "friends" with Slick. They've been practically nose to nose, Slick meows and Dude wags his tail, so I think that means they're friends. Dude never barks at Slick, though he does huff and puff when he see the cat across the street.

Now back to Friday the 13th. Supposedly bad luck can happen on this day. Personally, I haven't experienced any Friday the 13th bad luck that I can remember. "Knock on wood" that my luck continues along that path. I mean, I'm not expecting particularly good luck on this day, but I really don't need any back luck.

Slick crossing someone's path on Friday the 13th
One of my husband's sisters, he has five of them, used to pose for newspaper photos on Friday the 13th. She worked for the newspaper in our small California town and she was young and quite pretty. So she'd pose standing under a ladder on Friday the 13th. As far as I know, it never brought her any bad luck.

Some people make it a point of staying home on Friday the 13th. They're not taking any chances when that day comes around. As for me, I think I'll cut my losses and stay home today. Just sayin'...

By the way, I've heard that Slick is now 13 years old. So maybe today is his birthday? I imagine he'd like to celebrate it on Friday the 13th.