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JAN 19: in our humble opinion...

Today's Monday morning will be brightened by emily83176, who has shared her love of m/m books in reviews that are thoughtful, encouraging, entertaining and useful to the readers, potential and existing.
And hard work, too! She recently covered the Dreamspinner Press Advent Calendar, a delivery of Holiday Fiction to her inbox on every single day of December!

From beginning her reviews as a friend, sharing her love of good fiction, she's now taken up a position as co-owner of Rainbow Review. Spreading the m/m love even more, hurrah!!

So what's it like being a reviewer?
Here is Emily's post. You're going to find lots of things that are obvious to you... maybe some that make you think!

There are several wonderful review sites out on the Internet these days, many of them focusing on books that have either heterosexual or GLBT content. Unfortunately, with the number of heterosexual books that are published, it can be easy for the GLBT books to get lost. That is why it is so great that a review site like Rainbow Reviews exists, thanks to J.M. Snyder.

I started reviewing with Rainbow Reviews in June and have read and reviewed numerous books, somewhere over 80 books by now. As of August I officially moved into the new role of co-owner, so needless to say I spend a lot of hours each week on maintenance for site and working with all of the reviewers. I easily spend 10 hours a week, if not a lot more, working on Rainbow Reviews. We have a great group of people who love GLBT books and like to share their opinions, making for a wonderful site.

A lot of people think it's really easy, that anyone could do it. I personally disagree and find that reviewing is a fine art, one that takes a lot of work and a lot practice. I look back at the reviews I did at the very beginning and they are nothing like what I am writing now. I have gotten a lot better at nailing down what I like about a story and writing a useful summary. I easily spend an hour, at least, on every one of my reviews. Not everyone needs to put that much time into their reviews ~ but I figure the author puts a lot of work into their writing, they deserve the same when it comes to a review that I am writing.

Each reviewer is different, of course, and each has a style that is unique. But I think there are a few things that mark a good reviewer.

1. Ability to give a summary of a story without giving away too much information.
You have no idea how hard that can be sometimes! I can think of many times where I had to change my summary over and over because it was just too much information being revealed. I feel pretty strongly about not "spoiling" the story for the review reader. I want readers to be able to experience the story like I do when I read it so I don't want them to know too much going in. (Heck, although the identify of Dr. Fell's boy was revealed a few stories ago, I still refuse to write his name in one of my reviews.!) I have read a few reviews in my time that basically gave away the ending of the story and I was furious each and every time.

2. Explain why you like a story.
Anyone can say, "Boy that was an awesome story! I really loved it!" But as a reviewer you need to tell people what it was you liked. Did you like the characters? Did the story engage you as a reader? Were you pulled into the story? Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? Could you not put it down? Did you start to dream about the characters? You get the picture.

3. Even more importantly, explain what you didn’t like about a story.
You can really enjoy a story and yet find a few faults, and things that could be changed that would make the story even better. This, I think, is one of the hardest things to do, constructive criticism. Maybe one character wasn't as well fleshed out or as effective as the others. Maybe there was a plot point that didn't ring quite true. Maybe there is a section of the story that could be expanded a bit more. Zeroing in on that, and turning it into constructive criticism is a difficult art, one that I am most definitely not an expert at.

4. Be a bit objective.
I think this one is hard to get a handle on. When you really like an author's work, or run into them online, sometimes it can be hard to give a fair review. After all, sometimes it is hardest to critique our friends. At some level I find that you need to "forget" who the author is and review as if there was no history. That is when you can get a ruly honest, and real, review.

5. Be respectful.
I almost hesitate to mention this as I know there is a wide range of opinions on this across the Internet. I personally don't really enjoy reviews that are biting and harsh, or looking for laughs. Even if I don't like a story, the author no doubt put some amount of time and effort into it and deserves both an honest and respectful response. You can give criticism and explain how the story really doesn't work without being nasty or snarky. I have seen it done! I know others find it funny, otherwise they wouldn't be so popular, but they just aren't for me.

So there you go. A few of the things that I think make a good reviewer. Others would no doubt disagree, but that's why there are plenty of review sites out there ~ something for everyone! And if you enjoy reading GLBT books of any genre, come visit Rainbow Reviews. You will find reviews for lots of books, and our new feature Author Interviews. Lots of stuff to read when passing time at work. :)

Big thanks to Clare for letting me stop by and talk about reviewing. I do reviews both at Rainbow Reviews and on my blog so stop by and friend me. And let me know if you write reviews as well, I am always looking for more reviewers to follow!

Sez Clare - Have a good week, everyone! ♥


Follow this month with Clare (yes, it's all about the MEEEE...):

Week 3 :
Jan 16 : jenre discusses what she loves best about m/m fiction...
Jan 17 : clare posts YouTube frippery and her brief skirmish with a recording career...
Jan 17 : report from the prestigious *cough* OTP Con UK 2009...

Jan 09 : ravensilver describes the creativity of independent manga publishing - and the challenges...
Jan 10 : kitzheng talks about Kink...
Jan 11 : chrissy munder shares the struggles of writing, NC17 penguins and mantyhose...
Jan 12 : 1more_sickpuppy bares her soul about confessing her love for m/m fiction...
Jan 13 : erastes talks about taking that leap from fanfiction to the 'original' world...
Jan 14 : meet my Muse, the 'man' who has way too much power in my writing house...
Jan 15 : Sloane Taylor heats up those chill new year nights...

Jan 01 : the Cheeky Cherubs welcome us to 2009 with a pithy verse or two and the threat of piercings...
Jan 02 : sweet, sexy fiction from lilzazu, all about the perennially tricky problem of a sticky shift...
Jan 03 : excellent editing tips for all authors who ever wondered whether to be cruel to be kind to their prose, hosted by jolilightner...
Jan 04 : Clare pimps the fabulous I DO anthology, now available in ebook and all proceeds to Lambda...
Jan 05 : abstractrx ponders the changing role of Romance and its reflection of - or on?! - the society around it...
Jan 06 : FREE FICTION from me and my friends!
Jan 07 : Jordan Castillo Price discusses what tempts us to try out a new author...
Jan 08 : Clare rambles on about perceived plagiarism and posts excerpts of her Torquere titles...

Want to grab a day to pimp, pose or pontificate? (just a couple left now...!)
Comment HERE!!


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
This is just such a succinct and eminently sensible summary of what must be a tricky job *lol*.
I can read all that and think 'yes, that's *exactly* what I expect of a review', but I wouldn't want to do it. It's interesting to know what attracts someone to review, what skills you think they need to do it well.

I think most authors are keen to talk about their stories ^_^. I think a review should give constructive and maybe technical feedback, but can also engage the author and let them know someone has given their work care and attention - to the extent they'll talk about the characters and plot. If the reviewer brings enthusiasm to their job and a good, encouraging knowledge of the genre and the industry, all the better!

Also, in return, I think authors should appreciate a good review - and a good reviewer! - and take the comments in the right spirit. A reviewer may not always like all your work - what *author* likes all their stuff, equally? - but it's only one opinion, and if it's written well and sympathetically (not gushingly, but with care), I think we as authors should be able to appreciate the exercise as it is, and consider taking the comments on board.

God, sounded a bit pompous there, sorry! LOL. Thanks for the interesting post!!
Jan. 19th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for opening up your blog to so many people this month Clare! And thank you espcially for your wonderful comments.

Reviewing is a tricky job, and I think we get a lot of flak sometimes. There are *a lot* of bad reviewers out there, but there are a lot of us that really care and want to do a good job.

I was worried my post would be boring or not make much sense ~ so glad it came together how I wanted it to!

Em :-)
Jan. 19th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
Hello Clare & Emily! Wonderful post. Great list, Em. I wholeheartedly agree with you on each point. When a reviewer misses any of them I find I don't have a whole lot of respect for the review. So many miss #5 these days, and really, if you nail #5, the rest kinda follows naturally.
Jan. 19th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks Addison!! When I sat down to think about what I would want in the list it was kind of interesting what came to mind. Lately especially #5 has been the biggest one for me. I know how to have fun with a review, but I could never live with myself if I used someone's hard work as a platform to be scathing and make cheap shots. No matter how much I dislike a person's work.
Jan. 19th, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
When I see one of those reviews where the reviewer is essentially making a joke of the book I can't even finish reading the review. It just makes me feel so bad for the poor author. Several sites have dropped off my read-list for that reason. The crazy thing is, you'll often see a reasonably favorable (or at least constructively balanced) review for the same book somewhere else.
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
So very true. I makes me feel bad ~ to the point of just feeling ill. I can't read that kind of thing at all without empathizing withthe author. A few have practically brought me to tears and I didn't even write the book!
Jan. 19th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
Emily is a good example of a good reviewer. Fair, sensible, honest, and well written! No cheap shots, but no pulled punches.
She is also an excellent interviwer -- well tailored quetions for the particular author she is interviewing, not simply stock questions.
(Even Dr Fell thinks she's "more than adequate" -- which means bloody brilliant by normal human standards.)
Jan. 19th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much Syd!! I work hard at at reviewing and knowing that people recognize it makes my day. And interviews are so much fun!! I love coming up with questions that really get an author to think. :-)

Well I can die happy now!! If Dr. Fell thinks I'm "more than adequate" my life is complete. Sigh...
Jan. 19th, 2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
Very interesting and thoughtful post. Thanks for the insight of just what goes on in the review process and why you do it.

Edited at 2009-01-19 05:09 pm (UTC)
Jan. 19th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks hon!! :-D
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks hon!! And yeah 1 and 5 are probably the most important, at least in my mind. If a review gives away all the plot points for a book it really ruins it for me. I have learned to avoid certain reviewers because of that problem.
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks for giving that insight. A well written review can be agony to write or it can be easy. Your reviews show your intelligence, great writing and above all #5, the respect for the work, even if things didn't work.

Thanks to Clare and Emily!
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much hon!! I try to make sure that my reviews are interesting yet fun to read. :-D
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post! And very timely too *g*

I'm bookmarking this to refer to when I'm writing my own reviews.

And to anyone reading: Rainbow Reviews is a great place to review for - very helpful and supportive.

Jan. 19th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
*g* Thanks!! I am not the master of review writing, but after 80 somethin' I have figured out a few things. :-D
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Emily, for putting into words so wonderfully what is on a lot of reviewers's minds, I think. (I review for the Dark Divas and Uniquely Pleasurable) I know I try to give the kind of review I would hope to receive, and as a writer, i try to receive reviews with a certain amount ot professionalism.

It is hard to write a good, balanced review, and harder to write a good, balanced review for a friend. Our genre is so small, it's impossible not to know at least some of the people who's books we are reviewing. It's always good to be reminded there is a person and a lot of hard work on the other end of the stories we are talking about.
Thanks, Jaime
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:56 pm (UTC)
Absolutely!! I have to focus a lot more when reading a book by a friend, to make sure I am being fair and not just loving it because I like the author as a person.
Jan. 19th, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
This was really interesting! I've never thought of things from the reviewer point of view...but I do have a question or two (that are trying to form in my head and I'm afraid they don't sound as logical written down than they do in my head ^_^;;)

My question is...does the reviewer have to stay completely objective, or is putting themselves into the review that makes it special? For example, you said to explain why you like the story. Would it be a good part of the review to say, for example, that you particuarly identified with one of the characters due to past experiences? I mean, those experiences are not something that everyone would have, right? Or what if you particularly identified with a character in terms of personality traits, or vast differences that let you see things in a different pair of shoes? Just how 'personal' can one get in a review?

The second question is with regards to being objective. How do you deal with that if the author has a certain...flair in their writing, or a certain style, and that's part of what attracts you to the piece? Would this only work if you commented at some point as to the style (or whichever author-specific trait there is) that is so attractive, and did the rest of the review without mentioning it again? Is that what it is like to be objective? And what if you read a couple works by an author you didn't really like; is it really possible to read another work that doesn't give you the 'I don't really enjoy this' kind of vibe? How do you pull yourselve away from that?

Finally, my last question is, how does a reviewer deal with the author coming back by disagreeing on something, or explaining themselves? (Or, er, does this not happen, since I've never been reviewed by a professional...) Is it part of etiquette to give them a reply or to ignore it since the review was already finished?

This was really interesting! Thank you! =)
Jan. 19th, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC)
You can stay objective and yet still put parts of yourself into the review. I often mention that I identified with a particular character for some personal reason, like we have the same job, or I had the same experience, or have the same personality traits. You just also have to keep in mind, would the general reader who isn't like me still like this character?

If an author has a certain style that I think readers should be aware of I totally mention it. Something like nonconsentual sex is an issue for a lot of people so if that is part of a story I make sure to mention it. If it is a style that is quite unique I try to describe as much as I can without giving away the story so the reader can make an educated decision on whether to read the story.

I think it is possible to read multiple stories from an author and like some and not like others. It jsut makes reviewing a bit more difficult because you really need to try to start with a clean slate when reading a book for review. If a book is part of a series I make sure to mention the other stories and whether I think the book can be read on its own. I just try to give every book a fair chance when I start reading, even if I didn't like previous books. And the same goes for when I have loved everything else an author has written. Doesn't mean I will love the new story.

Well it is usually hard for an author to "disagree" on something in a review since it is one reader's opinions. If a reviewer gets something wrong with the plot then the author can most definitely speak up and the review should be changed. The author however should not ask a reviewer to change their opinions of a book.

If the review is on a blog then it is easy to add comments, but an author needs to be careful to not challenge the reviewers opinions. Then it just comes across as the author challenging the reviewer. On sites like Rainbow Reviews there is no commenting functionality. Not everyone will like everything. Take reviews for what they are, one person's opinion, and if you can get constructive feedback that awesome otherwise just let it be. You don't have to reply to reviews, although I haven't met a reviewer yet that doesn't like hearing from authors. You can always start a conversation with a reviewer, but it shouldn't necessarily lead to changes in the content of the review.

Hope that helps! :-)
Jan. 19th, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
It does help! This was really interesting. I guess I did feel that it could be stupid to challenge a reviewer's writing (like you said, it's an opinion) but talking sounds good.

Thanks for replying to everything!
Jan. 19th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
Rainbow Reviews is a good site that's getting better all the time. It's gratifying to know, Emily, that there are reviewers who take their avocation seriously and put time and thought into it. Thanks for your efforts, and for giving us your take on an under-appreciated side of the writing biz.
Jan. 19th, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! Rainbow Reviews is still growing and definitely getting better all the time. :-D
Jan. 20th, 2009 09:34 am (UTC)
Interesting perspective from the 'other side'! I think it would be a very hard job, and I like your take on what it means to do a fair and balanced review.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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