I look for what catches my eyes as an average consumer, because I know I’m not the only consumer who looks for these things.

Mrs Y. – 3 February 2019

About Reviewing

How did you get started?

I wanted to write a novel, but I realized that the best way to know what was popular and popular to write was to read. I also saw on Twitter that most of the Indie writers there write reviews for the books they read to help others. So, after a couple of books, I realized I could help the Indie writers I spoke to every day on Twitter, learn the craft of writing from my reading, and help the literary community.

Also, as a result of this, I took November off from doing reviews. I wrote my novel’s rough draft, and it gave me insight on the writing end of reviewing. With that information and some feedback from my earlier reviews, I revised my website, scoring system, and style. After streamlining everything, I started back up in December.

I like to get feedback from people on Twitter as to what to read out of my own personal requests. December I did a #DecemberToRemember where I reviewed 31 books in 31 days and covered short stories, to big novels to a very cool satire pamphlet.

February, I’m doing #StayClassyFeb where I am reviewing old public domain classic books. I’m giving them as much attention as I would anyone indie and that way people can see what my style is for the things they also have likely read.

I get these ideas based on Twitter conversations and discussions with authors, and basically, that’s how I got started in the first place.

How do you review a book? Is it a read first, and then make notes, or do you make notes as you go along?

I have a pretty decent process that works very well for me. I sit with my notebook at my side, and I read, but take notes as I go. I note page numbers or location numbers in my kindle and anything that catches my attention. I do not make highlights on Kindle because sometimes Goodreads broadcasts it and I don’t want to have some out of context piece of what I’m reading up for everyone to see and get confused about.

There are times after I’m done the reading I go back and re-read what’s in my notes to verify it, and often that means I’m noting it as an example for the review. Additionally, there are times I write drafting notes on my computer as I read especially if I notice something frequently as I go.  If it’s faster to type than writing it, and other times if I’m not by my computer I write it in the notebook.

What are you looking for?

I look for what catches my eyes as an average consumer, because I know I’m not the only consumer who looks for these things. Though, to be fair, I never used to care one bit about grammar or spelling. Now, I point it out because I know so many consumers of novels do especially the avid readers who are glued to their shelves and love the written word. I work for those shelf lovers or Kindle adorers. I try not to criticize the person’s art so much as how it’s presented on the page. I also believe that the e-copies of books should have as much love as the ones that are printed, so I look for issues that happen in e-copies. Why? Because most people I know or knew when I was working in my old office building, was glued to a Kindle and not reading a physical book.

If a book has a great plot, great characters, but the grammar is less than perfect, how do you deal with that?

I note it down in my review, both things the positive and the grammar issues. I know that might seem harsh, but I do that because people want to buy books that they can read comfortably. I have no English degree nor am I a grammar expert, but if it’s really bad where I can tell there is a problem, I note it. At the same time, if there are great characters and plot, I want to celebrate that as well and point out what I enjoyed.

How long does it take you to get through, say, an eighty thousand-word book?

Most of the time that would take me about a day to a day and a half as it’s about 250 – 300 pages depending on the layout. Anything 350 pages on, takes me 2 to 3 days.

How did you come up with your rating system, and could you explain more about the rating system?

Thank you for asking because I take great pride in my scoring system. It is very tough to put a star average on a subjective opinion, so I wanted to look at it from a more logical and linear point of view and use points to make the determination on stars. I looked at Meta-Critic and Rotten Tomatoes meta-data scoring first to get an idea of how they correspond the stars or tomatoes in that case, to the points. Initially, I wasn’t great with the conversions of points to stars, but after a few revisions, I have it down to a science of sorts.

For me, if a book is over 69 points out of 100, it means it’s got all the base level things needed for a good and average book. So, here’s how it breaks down:

01 – 29  points is a 1-star review  ⭐

30 – 69  points is a 2-star review  ⭐⭐

70 – 79  points is a 3-star review  ⭐⭐⭐

80 – 89  points is a 4-star review  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

90 -100 points is a 5-star review  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Looking at the previously mentioned situation where the plot’s good, and the characters are detailed, but the grammar and spelling were atrocious, that could still get a 90 in points. And vice versa, let’s say the book is beautifully spelled and the grammar is perfect, but it has some issues with plot or ending, well it could also get a 90. But it just depends on the issues with the book, how often they happen, and how much of an impact it had to the overall story.

The ones I notice that get the lower scores tend to be the writers who email me or who have told me on Twitter. “I never had a beta reader” or “No one ever read the book, I trust my manuscript, and I know it’s perfect.”

It hurts because I know they trust their manuscript, but no one was there to tell them they hadn’t fixed the spelling of “Doge” when it was supposed to be “Dog.” Or, in one case, it was literally a transfer error from PDF to Kindle, and the words glued themselves together and needed a lot of fixing. That one, however, I didn’t post it on anything, I gave the writer my notes, and I let them know where the trouble was.

What advice could you give to authors looking to get their books reviewed?

Make sure you had a couple of beta readers look at it first. If you cannot afford an editor, get on NaNoWriMo.org and find someone to help you with your revision. Don’t be so anxious to get it reviewed and published if you have no idea how other people are going to take the book you are sending out. You may not get a lot of good feedback at all if you skip this step.

Do you get readers emailing you and thanking you for a review?

I do, and I’m so grateful for them. I get a lot of love on Twitter as well for what I do. It’s humbling, but so appreciated. One of the writers I Tweet with often, informed me that I’m very tough, but I obviously care for the readers and the writers which is why I do this.

My advice to authors on getting a ‘bad’ review (hasten to add that might mean a perfectly honest, well written, fair review – just bad from the author’s point of view) is to take what you can from it and move on. Under no circumstances to ‘argue’ with the reviewer – would you agree with that?

I couldn’t agree more with that. I’ve had authors who misunderstood me contact back for feedback, and I’ve let them know with details. But, I’ve also had the worst case scenario happen as well, and that was terrible. I’m not going into details on that worst case, but it was bad, and I hope that person someday comes to terms with what happened. I have done a great deal to learn from that experience on my end.

It’s why I make sure if someone is kind enough to ask me to review their book that I ask them to read my other reviews. Some don’t like my style and never reply back. Others love my style and ask for a review. I will never ever charge for a review, and I will never force someone to endure my opinion if it isn’t one they respect or like from a stylistic point.

About Reading

We talk a lot about writing here on the blog, and possibly not enough about reading, which is after all why we’re all here. Why do you think people love reading? We’re seeing lots of statistics that say reading as a pastime is dying – do you think that’s the case?

I think people need times of escapism. The world that we live in is difficult at times, and that’s not including newsworthy issues or stories of trauma. Reading takes us from all of that and transports us to a different mindset. Whether we are reading fiction or non-fiction, the place our minds go is somewhere we want them to be, not somewhere we did not ask to journey.

I also think that how-to books and cookbooks do not get enough love. People use that kind of reading to make tangible enjoyment in their lives. Whether you are building a shelf or making cupcakes, you did it to be happy and bring some happiness to you. A new shelf holds books, and cupcakes are delicious, so we should read those books more.
I also don’t put any caveats on what someone needs to read to relax. Some folks it’s very gripping thrillers, others, it’s YA or Fantasy novels to take them out of reality. I personally love mystery and puzzle type novels, and short stories especially.

About Writing

What are the most common mistakes that you see authors making?

Aside from spelling, grammar or the normal things that others note, I feel that series stories are becoming a cliché. Specifically, series that end on cliffhangers but did not answer the questions in the novel that were brought up for that specific novel drive me batty.

There is a massive difference between a cliffhanger and ending the book too early to answer the questions that were raised. George RR Martin wrote cliffhangers in his books, such as Jon Snow getting stabbed in the back, but he also took the time to solidify the points in the stories so that those stories were complete.

I know it seems confusing, but it’s not. Ending a book just to end it in order to have someone buy the next book to get the answer, isn’t right. It’s not right from a reading sense, and it’s a bit unfair from a consumer purchasing sense. I know I don’t like doing that. I generally out of my own personal reading outside of the review work I do, do not read the next in a series if the first one ended like that, because I don’t want to waste money for another scenario like that. I’m fairly certain, I’m not the only one who feels that way either, it’s that “Fooled me once” scenario.

We’re told that the first page, paragraph, chapter, is absolutely key in making or breaking a book. Agents typically request only the first five pages of a novel; what do you think about that? If a book hasn’t grabbed you by the first five pages, do you put it down?

While I totally understand the whole “Grab the reader’s attention” situation, I disagree with such emphasis on only five pages. The problem with some writers is they take that literally and incorrectly focus on just those five pages.  When a writer spends all of their time working to perfect those five pages and not the rest of the book with that same polish, it’s frustrating to the reader.

Imagine having a slice of pie, and the first five bites are the best thing you ever ate, but after that fifth bite, you’re eating mud. How would you feel? Polishing your book should happen on all pages, and yes, a writer should hook their reader’s attention. Please keep up with editing and revising the novel after that though, your future fan base will thank you for it.

Is there anything you will not review?

Yeah, fan fiction and screen treatments. I’m not doing reviews for people who cannot profit from them, and I know nothing of film work to judge if it’s good or bad.

Of course, there are things I will read and review, but I don’t necessarily enjoy reading those things in my spare time. However, I try to limit that list so as to be fair to everyone.

About Publishing

What do you think of the oft-quoted comment that the “slush-pile has moved online”?

I think anyone who feels that online publishing is a slush pile, is out of touch with digital marketing and how consumers want to receive media. I initially got a Kindle because I ran out of bookshelf room, and space for a new shelf. It’s up to me to purchase what I want to read, and just because I found it online does not mean it’s close to such a description as “Slush pile.” People who believe that e-reader copies and the world of digital libraries are lesser than a physical one, need to understand that not everyone sees it in that light.

For me, it’s easier to carry my Kindle than it would be to have a shelf of books I’d have to pack up. Most of my reviews are mobi and e-reader copies because that’s the format I enjoy most. I’m not ashamed of it, nor will I make apologies for it. I also critique for e-reader enthusiasts because I know they want to know how it looks on their Kindles as well. When I do that, I also check formats to be sure the errors translate on more than one copy.

Do you think attitudes are changing with respect to indie or self-published titles?

I’m not sure, because I think I’m too close to the writer’s end of things to see the change. I don’t often see the people’s reactions to it. I know that for me, I’ve always respected the Indies, and I’m glad they accept me enough to be in their Twitter-space. Even before I reviewed, I was into the Indie books because the Indies were where I’d find what I wanted to read and not what someone thought I should read based on trends.

Do you have any ideas or comments on how the industry can ‘filter’ good from bad, aside from reviews?

The publishing industry, and I mean the big publishers not the indie publishers, spend a lot of money to filter things already, and I’m sure they have think tanks and go-to people to tell them what they want to know in specifically worded questions. But, how can they filter it? I’m not sure aside from asking actual avid readers what they like.

Go to indie bookshops and ask the people who are sitting in the armchairs with a stack of books beside them. Ask the tired soccer mom who is at the Starbucks on her Kindle relaxing between pickups what she thinks about the books she reads. Or, if you’re very brave and want to know why he picked what he did to read, ask the dad at the McDonalds who has kids running around the play yard and his weathered paperback what he thinks.

Those are examples of who I review for, and I’m sure they have a lot to say about what is good or bad in their points of view. My advice, take a pulse check on the people and ask them what they like.

End of Interview:

To read Mrs Y’s reviews, visit Mrs Y. Reviews Books.

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