Saturday, September 1, 2012

Confessions of a Book Reviewer

By Tim Smith (Guest Blogger)

I review for an online romance site between cranking out two or three of my own books every year and doing promotions. Reading a few books a month gives me the opportunity to see what other people are doing and along the way I’ve discovered some really good writing. I’ve also acquainted myself with some sub-genres I’d never read before.

When I request a book to review I try to pick an author whose books I haven’t read or may not be too familiar with. If it’s someone who isn’t well known and I can give them some positive exposure, I’m paying it forward and creating good Karma. For that reason you won’t see me post a review for a writer who has the words “New York Times Bestselling Author” after their name. If they’ve achieved that status I figure they don’t need one more write-up. May Nora Roberts forgive me.

Since e-readers have become the new norm, many of the books have gotten shorter. Once I reviewed a story that was a mere twelve pages, but the author packed more plot, character and action into those twelve pages than some do in a hundred-and-twelve. Conversely I’ve read some that had more bulk but very little substance. Who says size matters? I know I’m in trouble when I find myself skimming versus absorbing the author’s words.

Now for the downside. (You knew there was a downside, right?). I’ve seen some writers use erotic e-books to peddle what is basically cover-to-cover porn. Plot, character development, conflict and tension – those bothersome things our editors harp about – were non-existent in many of them. In some cases the writing wasn’t up to the standards of a Penthouse Forum stroke piece. I have a short list of authors whose books I won’t review because of this. A couple of writers on my list also imply that their female characters are underage and they depict sexual acts that most publishers don’t allow. I won’t promote that kind of writing.

Much of what I read is self published and I’ve been impressed overall with the quality of the writing and formatting. In the pre-digital age self publishing had a stigma attached to it, but that’s no longer the case. On the other hand, some of the above-mentioned books fall into this category, and with good reason – a few were so poorly written, no reputable publisher would touch them.

For those who use sites like Manic Readers to request reviews, allow me to give you a few tips. Remember to include a summary or blurb. Yes, people actually submit their books for review without saying what they’re about. Listing the genre doesn’t really tell potential reviewers enough to generate interest. Also include the page count. There are occasions when I’m looking for a short book because I’m pressed for time and I get upset when it turns out to be longer than Gone with the Wind.

Be realistic about the heat level and content if it’s an erotic romance. You won’t score points with a reviewer if you promise five flames and we find that it generates as much heat as a used can of Sterno. If you make a pre-release or review copy available it’s also beneficial if you include the cover.

List your contact information and purchase links. Most sites require their reviewers to notify the author when the review is posted and it’s frustrating if we have to do a Google search to find you or your book.

This hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve heard from some of my peers that authors actually tracked them down to complain about the reviews they received. I’ve suffered a few bad write-ups but I always maintain that it’s merely that person’s opinion, nothing more. What strikes me as bronze may be platinum in someone else’s eyes. So repeat after me: don’t shoot the messenger!

I suppose it’s inevitable to discover typos and grammatical errors and I’ve run across some whoppers. I try not to mention them in the review unless it’s rampant to the point of distraction. I realize there’s no such thing as the perfect manuscript, but a few stand out.

A setting in one of the books was a ranch and the hero was taking the heroine horseback riding for the first time. Here’s how it was described: “Hank showed Laurie how to mount the house.” Did he tell her to hang onto the chimney in case the house bucked?

Another gem was found in this love scene: “He cupped his face in his hands then kissed her.” Kind of a different way to do it.

“This afternoon we had an interesting conversation earlier in the day.” Huh?

This is from a sex scene in a supposedly erotic story that promised a bonfire: “He shoved his hard pipe into her sweet peach.” And you thought purple prose was dead!

“They watched as the sun set over the Sea of Japan.” Excuse me, but doesn’t it face east?

If I gave a good review to anyone reading this blog, you’re welcome. If it wasn’t good, I’ve changed my name to Sterling Lackluster and entered the Witness Protection program.


Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author whose books range from romantic mystery/thrillers to contemporary erotic romance. His latest novel is the romantic mystery Lido Key from eXtasy Books. More information about his books can be found at his website,

His forthcoming release is the romantic thriller Never Look Back from eXtasy Books.

A former CIA spook and his lover are pulled into a deadly masquerade by a rogue agent from their past. Who will win?

Nick Seven and Felicia Hagens left the CIA to carve out an idyllic anonymous life in The Florida Keys. The last thing they wanted was to be used by their former employer as pawns in America's war on terror. Nick and Felicia navigate a complex maze of intrigue and double-crosses while dealing with a rogue agent from their past who has a score to settle. When Felicia becomes part of the scheme the stakes get higher and more personal. Can Nick keep her out of harm's way or will he finally be outwitted? Will Felicia stay with him or return to Barbados?



Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Tim,

Welcome back to Beyond Romance.

As I also do "professional book reviews" - I know exactly what you're talking about. You've got some great examples of scary writing, though!

Best of luck with the new release!

Bob said...

Interesting insight into the life and hard times of a reviewer. Thanks, Tim, for sharing your perspective.

Author H K Carlton said...

Great Post, Sterling, er, Tim. Kidding my book hasn't come out yet, so I have not had the pleasure of a good review , or to endure a bad one yet. Thank you for the tips and I agree with Lisabet, some of the writing samples were frightening. Congrats on the new release.

Maria said...

Great post Tim and so true about the grammar issues in some books today - small or large they can pull the reader out of the story and that's bad when you are reading the book for review. I've had to force myself to finish some books where sex was the only "plot" and it wasn't even written well. I'm also not a fan of the books that require a diagram to figure out who is doing what to whom - a schematic shouldn't ever had to be made in order to figure out what's going on.

Tim Smith said...

Thanks everyone, and especially Lisabet for having me as her guest today. It's always a pleasure to drop by Beyond Romance.

What's scary about the excerpts I quoted is that they're all real and very much out there. I don't expect perfection when I read a book - and Lord knows I've had my share of "oopses" pass three sets of eyes - but come on.

H.K., best of luck with you impending release.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

You said so many informative things here, Tim. Thank you for reminding authors to put their blurbs, page count and contact with their review request. I've passed up books I would liked to have read because I didn't want to get into a biblical length book when I had other books checked out to review. Finding an author without a contact is a pain.
I have read sensational stories by new-to-me authors. I agree with you that reviewing gives us an opportunity to find these talented but yet unknown authors. I do find some authors that I simply cannot resist and I'll check out their books every chance I get.
Wonderful article, Tim. I wish you great success with your upcoming release, Never Look Back.

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