I’m pleased to bring you another fantastic guest blog post, from BookEater Gem Thompson. A founding member of the popular review site, Gem and the BookEater team have published more than 150 reviews in less than a year.
Gem described the questions as ‘tough’, but her answers have given me much food for thought. I hope you get the same value…
As the queen of reviews, which genre of book do you prefer to read in your downtime?
Ha! I don’t know about being the queen of reviews! The BookEaters only started about eight months ago, and it’s been a steep learning curve. There are ten of us altogether and we read a lot. We all have slightly different passions, but my favourite books are those that touch on spirituality or metaphysics in some way. I like books that are a bit weird and which make me think, whether they’re giving answers or asking questions.
Do you think absolute honesty is the best policy when it comes to a review, or do you prefer to offer constructive feedback only?
Absolute honesty. We owe it to those who read our reviews regularly; if we steer them wrong they’ll stop reading the reviews, and that won’t help anyone!
Having said that, I do recognise that my view is subjective – things that I hate another person may love. I also know how hard it is to write a book. I’m in the middle of writing a trilogy myself and it’s a lot of work, so I am sympathetic towards authors. But since becoming a reviewer I’ve become more conscious of the time it takes to read a book, and I’ve read a couple that were definitely written for the glorification of the author rather than the pleasure of the reader, and that’s something I find very hard to forgive.
Do you now find that you’re a more critical reader, even when reading for pleasure?
Yes and no. A lot of the books I end up reviewing I start reading just for pleasure, but then, because they’re so great, I want to tell the world about them! I think I do appreciate the art of writing a good book more now, though. So, when I review a book that only gets two or three ‘bites’, I’ll include in the review a little constructive criticism about what could have made it better.
What do you look for in a book? What do you think makes a good story?
For me, characters that are believable are absolutely essential. If I don’t have that, it really doesn’t matter how exciting it is, as I won’t care if they live or die!
After that, I want a story that makes them learn and develop somehow, and which preferably has a bit of mystery or action to it.
One or two spelling or grammatical mistakes I might forgive, but they do interrupt the flow and push me out of the story, so authors should be really careful of that. Particularly now that so many books are self-published; mistakes can make the author look unprofessional or sloppy.
How important do you think reviews are for books, given today’s saturated market? Are they more crucial than ever?
I do think they’re important, particularly as they can be shared so widely through social media. There are so many books to choose from that it can be quite scary for readers to choose a title – even more so if it’s self-published. Traditionally published books still offer that reassurance of a publisher having deemed them worthy of publishing (and having sprung for an editor!) but even those rely on reviews to help them sell.
We regularly review self/independently published books alongside traditionally published books, and honestly, many of them are great stories brilliantly written. However, the days when you could upload a book to Amazon and get thousands of people to download it to their Kindles because it only costs a pound or two are long gone.
Readers became cynical, as many free or cheap books weren’t always well written. A review enables people to make a better informed decision before buying.
How should an author go about asking for reviews?
The first thing they should do is make sure the reviewer reads their genre. It’s pretty pointless asking a sci-fi buff to review a romance, or vice versa! Because we have a group of reviewers on our site we do cover most genres, but those that take the time to read what each reviewer likes, and read a few of their reviews, then requests them specifically, will usually see their book allocated to that reviewer. If they send a general request it goes out on a list and may get chosen by one of us, or it may not. Basically, doing a bit of homework on the review site goes down well.
When requesting a review they should never ever ask the reviewer to buy a copy of their book. I read very quickly but it’s extremely rare that it will take less than four hours to read a book – usually, more like eight. When the time to write the review and publicise it is added too, you can see that it is a lengthy process. Although I might end up loving their book so much that I can barely breathe by the end of that time, I don’t know that at the beginning; I’m risking hours of my life that I will never get back!
Be respectful of their timescale. Even though we have a group of reviewers we get a lot of requests and we all have lives outside the blog as well. We usually tell authors it will take two to three months to get the review up. Book reviewers are fans and we want to help authors as much as possible, so if they can send review copies out before publication and let us know about any promotional drives, etc. we’ll do whatever we can to fit in with those times.
One thing that regularly surprises me is how rarely authors publicise the reviews. Very few retweet our tweets about their books or share our Facebook posts; they’re really missing a trick by not doing so. I’d definitely recommend authors shout about every half-decent review they get!
The BookEaters publish honest reviews of books in most genres, including self/independently published books (alongside traditionally published books), and books published before this century – as well as regular feature pieces.
Developmental editor and publishing consultant Diane Hall is the author of three books; she has also ghost-written books for others and created a plethora of content, on more subjects than you could care to imagine, for numerous clients since the beginning of her career. She is proud to have fundamentally shaped series of books and more than a hundred individual titles over the last decade with various authors, nationally and internationally.
Among her editing qualifications, she holds a linguistics diploma, which involves the study of language and speech. Diane employs this knowledge in the forensic linguistic work she sometimes undertakes.
Diane has seen the introduction and subsequent rise of self-publishing, and passionately keeps abreast of its disruption of the publishing industry. She is a thought leader when it comes to the future of book marketing, fuelled by the poor results authors see when employing traditional techniques.