Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to Write a Rockin’ Review

Now Presenting:  


Shera at Book Whispers has some mad media skills. (She’s studying media design in college.) The quality and zest she put into her review of Entangled impressed me so much I asked her to contribute a guest post on writing reviews that engage, entertain, and enlighten.

Here’s Shera!

Briefly describe your review style.

Nervous organizer/organized ranting. I always plan my reviews out and redo them and redo them.

How do you go about writing your reviews?

Before I start up any review I make two lists. The first one contains things that I enjoyed about the book and then the second contains things that I disliked. After the list is complete I come up with my rating. Since most sites that host reviews only have 1/5 to 5/5 rating I created my own rating list around that. Keeping to that rating key is the most important part for me.

Mine goes:
5/5- Fabulous, a beautiful obsession!
4/5- Great! Really enjoyed it.
3/5- Adored it, just a few minor details held it back.
 2/5- Average/disappointing, library check-out
1/5- I couldn't finish it or wish I hadn't

Even if I’m posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads I put my rating at the bottom of each review. Because in my mind 3/5 is well worth reading and for others it might not be readable. So make sure the reader knows how you rate things.

When I was really new to review I would make an outline. Showing where the opening and ending paragraphs would be, and then list the items I wanted in the body. Now that I’ve had more experience I don’t usually do outlines unless I’m stuck on a review.

For the review editing process I don’t have anyone besides myself to read them before they get published. So after a day or two I go back reread my review and then make any edits, which usually helps to make sentences or a point clearer, fix grammar errors and such. I’d recommend this for anyone who doesn’t have an editing buddy. 

How do you keep them not only informative, but entertaining?

My biggest goal is to never recap the book. Sometimes I don’t even summarize the beginning just because that bogs down the review. In any review I always make sure to touch down on the characters, plot, and the style of the writing. To me these are the most important parts of any book, and when I read a review that is what I’m looking for.

For entertainment . . . I pull on my own weird humor. I’d like to think it makes others laugh and keeps them entertained.

Summary – how do you sum up the story without giving away all the goods?

Just be vague. Yes, that sounds hard and it is. Sometimes I don’t think the summaries on the back of the book do a good job, they either don’t sell the book or give too much away. There are many different ways to sum up a book and I try to only sum up the beginning of the book and make hints to the rest of the content. (This is the main thing I use for myself.)

Any good reviewer will keep summing up the book as the review progresses. Talking about certain points that were important to characters, or events.

Is there a delicate way to handle a book you didn’t enjoy? And how do you go about that?

I try to be as polite as possible, which can be hard when you read a book that literally every friend recommended to you and you wasted your cash on it after you realized how horrid it was.  

The first and most important part of writing a review for a book you disliked is having valid points. Don’t just say the “book was awful, and a waste of my money” or “book sucked, nuff said.” No one will take you seriously and I think the author deserves more respect than that. Elaborate, say that “the book was awful do to the lack of plot and the one dimensional characters.”

Swear words are another hard spot for me. If you’re a personal reviewer it’s OK, and I’ve read many reviews I’ve liked that drop the potty mouth all over the review.  However, if you’re doing it for a blog, organization, or a group keep it clean. Most readers I’ve asked state that after they hit the potty words they just can’t take the reviewer seriously. That’s not to say you can never amp up the language in your review, just do it tastefully.

I’ve actually had more replies from authors on my 1 to 2 star ratings then reviews praising the book. Why? Because the author is so happy to see a reviewer who didn’t like the book actually take the time to state why. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

I loved it! Yeah, and? How do you go about describing what made a book worthy of your love?

That list thing that I do before starting any book is the big factor for this one. Sometimes when a review is written for a book that you really enjoyed you just can’t stop raving. In fact, before I started using the list to help me I would write 2 to 3 page reviews. Some people can’t put into words what they liked, but listing it helps you put your thoughts in order.

A poorly written review for a book you love can sometimes kill another reader’s interest in a book.

Also don’t just throw words around like great, amazing, awesome, and perfect all the time. Be creative.

Are you currently accepting books for review and what kind?

Yes I am! My main focus is urban fantasy and paranormal romance, whether it is adult or young adult. Steampunk, dystopian, and other such genres are also accepted. If it’s fantasy I will read it.

One final and very important question: You ask every author you interview whether they’re on Team Vampire or Team Werewolf… What team are you on?


Ouch! Way to put me on the spot! For a long time I've been on the border. But I would have to say I'm firmly on Team Werewolf. 


Thursday, March 29, 2012

My (Non)Review Policy

Here’s irony for you: I am a writer and clam up when it comes to review write ups. The thought and articulation that reviewers put into their summaries knocks my socks off. I don’t generally review books unless I love them so much I feel I owe it to the author and potential readers to get another 5-star vote up with a couple of brief lines saying I loved it.


I try not to read books I won’t like. I’ve got agent mentality when reading samples on my Kindle. A book has about 10 pages to draw me in or I’m moving on.

And if I happen to finish a book I didn’t particularly enjoy I usually don’t review it. It’s not that I’m being nice; it’s that I have a complex and close relationship with karma. That is to say, for every one unfavorable review I write I’ll receive five back in return.

I appreciate readers who do review books. Long before I had my own book on the market I gave thanks for all the people out there who took the time to share their two cents. I like to do a review sampling while shopping online and I like to read at least one review from each star rating while browsing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Review Team: Good Choice Reading

Now Presenting:  
  

Good Choice Reading is a book review site with 3124 members and counting. 
What is especially unique about GCR is the site is run by a team of four women who have another four guest reviewers in reserve. I imagine between the EIGHT of them, they cover a lot of pages!

Without further ado, here’s Wanda.

What country (or state) do you blog from?

Good Choice Reading is located in the USA. The founder Damaris is located in New Jersey, Maria and I are in New York and Amanda lives in the Midwest.

On average, how many books do you read?

I can read between 1-2 books a week. It mostly depends on the book. If it's a fast paced book. I can read it within 2 days tops. But if the book is slow paced then it can take a good 3-5 days.

What is your ratio of books personally chosen to review vs. solicited by publishers and authors?

At Good Choice Reading, I believe the majority is solicited by publishers and authors. However we do take a time out to read our pleasure reads. 

Ratio of agented authors vs. indies?

We are pretty much 50/50.

Ratio of physical books vs. e-books?

I tend to read more e-books. Most publishing houses now send out e-arc's of their novels for review and it's cheaper for indie authors to send out their books through e-books. However I do love the feel of a physical book in my hands.  
Where do you enjoy reading most?

As funny as this sound, I enjoy reading my book during a bubble bath. After a long day at work and taking care of my son, my body deserves to unwind and I take that relaxing time to read my book. And also on my way to work on the train in the morning.

Tell us about your review group in three sentences or less.

That's easy. The GCR girls love to share the love for reading. And most of all, we work hard to keep our authors, publishing houses and followers happy.

What would you like to see authors doing more of in their novels?

There really isn't much I can say, write what you know and make your book believable.

What turns you off of a book most?

Funny you should ask, Damaris and I were discussing this the other day. She says she doesn't like instant love. They meet and fall in love. As for me, I don't like reading about immaturity. I read a book recently that had two brothers bickering back and forth during a do or die situation. But my biggest turn off is a HUGE cliffhanger. As in the main character dying at the end. But will somehow mysteriously be alive in the next book.

What would you do if a friend asked you to review their book and you didn’t enjoy it?

That's a toughy because during these past 2 years, GCR has made many author friends. But we try to be as honest as we can without hurting their feelings. 

List a few of your favorite books in the past year.

This is my favorite question. Divergent by Veronica Roth is OMG good! Eve by Anna Carey. Haven by Kristi Cook. Bloodspell by Amalie Howard. Reunion by Jeff Bennington. Unlovable by Sherry Gammon. The Duff by Kody Keplinger. Poughkeepsie by Debra Anastasia. That's just a few. I have some more.
What do you love most about reading?

For me reading is like taking a vacation in my head. If the story is well written I get lost in the book and I become a silent character.

Are you currently accepting book for review? If yes, what are you open to?

GCR is currently open for reviews. But since we get review requests by the dozen, we are very selective with the ones we choose. I am also very selective. Right now for me, I'm kind of in a YA, paranormal, dystopian kick. I'm currently reading a dystopian. 

How has reading changed your life?

Reading literally has opened my eyes to the beauty around me. Now I may sound corny, but I see buildings with character and certain trees look more beautiful to me. Everything to me has a story. And I want to read and learn about it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Author Lucy Swing: The High School Years

Now Presenting:   

Author, designer, mother, and all-out upbeat woman, Lucy Swing, came soaring onto the YA paranormal scene this month with debut novel: Feathermore.

Enter to win a signed copy and beautiful feather pendant below.
But first, Lucy shares a glimpse of her high school years in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and how she draws on those experiences in her writing.

Where did you attend high school?

I was born and raised in Argentina in a city named Mar del Plata. (It would be the equal to Miami, minus the warm weather. Brrr). My high school was Holy Trinity College. It was a trilingual school, which means our morning classes were all in English, our afternoon classes in Spanish and twice a week we had French. No, I did not learn a single thing in French.

How is Brushwood High (in Feathermore) similar to your high school experience?

At first I was going to make it exactly like my high school, but then, a lot of things weren’t going to work out and readers might get confused. The description of the physical appearance is spot on though. Here are a few pictures of my school/ mansion.
Now, before, when I went there, there were rocks leading to the front door and the rest was all garden/grass. It looked much better than it does now, unfortunately.
This is what was added to accommodate ALL of our students. You can’t really see it, but it’s actually three floors there. On ground level there are small windows.
What clubs/activities were you involved in?

Schools in Argentina are different. Way different. For instance, classrooms where assigned per grade, so you were in the same classroom for the whole year, not like here that each period is in a different classroom. Also, we didn’t have activities to sign up for that were elective. No, not at all. Thursdays, for example, was sports day. So that meant we had swimming, field hockey for girls/ rugby for boys, and did all the stuff you see at the Olympic games. We also had Volleyball after school and regular PE after school. Plays and choir, required too. You had no choice. In my opinion it is much better than in the US, in the sense kids HAD to be active, hence, less obesity and lazy kids.

How many boys did you go out with? : )

I was dubbed “La novia de America”, which means “America’s girlfriend” as in, I had a different boyfriend every week. What can I say? My attention span was very limited and I got tired of boys quite fast. Let me note, though, my first was my husband. I may have given kisses for free, but that is about as much as I gave.

What was your favorite class? Least favorite?

My favorite class… Probably English and/or literature. Least favorite? Chemistry… and it still is!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child I went through teacher, veterinarian, lawyer… when I was in my teenage years, I didn’t have a clue. Though my best friend and I spent every single weekend doing choreography and singing the Spice Girls songs. What can I say? They were popular down there… I always, secretly, wished I would become a pop star, little did I know I actually needed a good voice… *sad eyes*

Were you a good student or a trouble maker? Explain.

I was definitely NOT a good student, nor was I a trouble maker. I didn’t study, there was something in me that just wasn’t built for that. I didn’t do terrible either, but school just wasn’t for me. Now, when I went to college here to do my nursing pre-requisites, I applied myself and was an A student, but only because I HAD to.

If you could travel back in time and offer Lucy Swing, the teen, one piece of advice, what would it be?

Be strong and enjoy these years. I often look back and miss them, no matter how miserable they were, how bullied I got, life goes by too fast… Sometimes I wished I could do it all over again, this time being stronger and not letting people bring me down. I would enjoy myself and savor every second of it.

As an adult, how do you keep current on the teen experience? (Certain books, movies, etc. you read/watch to stay in tuned to teenagers today.)

I read a lot, that’s for sure! My genre is YA and so I stay in touch with teenagers that way. I also try to tap into my memories, which sometimes seem so distant. I think the feelings of teenagers don’t change, it is just the experiences that do. Kids now a day’s scare the living crap out of me. I used to think I was going to be the cool mom; I would take them to parties, etc… NO WAY! On the contraire, I think I will be the psycho that doesn’t let them go anywhere. Sorry kids!

Nikki, it has been a pleasure being here today and I had a LOT of fun with this questions! I definitely feel closer to teen-me than ever before!


SUMMARY

Jade, like any other student at Brushwood High, awaits the start of the school year with a certain measure of dread. Worse, she is being threatened by a voice that only she can hear—a voice that lurks at the edges of her awareness, haunting her and warning her of something unknown. She has always been able to count on her two best friends, Claire and Nate, but can she confide in them now? About this? Would they even believe her?

Life takes a turn for the better when she meets Avan, a darkly handsome new student who, somehow, seems to drown out the voice and make her feel at ease.

But Jade soon comes to realize that good things don’t last forever. When everything spirals out of control, she is shattered by something she never saw coming. Dazed and despairing, she must now overcome tragedy and embrace her true existence and a new but dangerous love. Will she be able to save herself and those she loves, before it’s too late? Or will she let the surrounding darkness consume her?


ABOUT:
Lucy Swing lives in sunny Florida with her husband and two children.

She is a YA Paranormal/ Romance writer, whose works include: Feathermore #1 (Feathermore Trilogy), Bloody Valentine, the novella, and Bloody Valentine is also offered in "Death by Chocolate," an anthology consisting of 6 fantastic YA short stories with a chocolaty twist.

She is an absolute book hoarder and must always have a book at arms distance. Music is her muse, and there is always a soundtrack that plays along her life.

For more information on Lucy Swing please visit her website:
http://www.LucySwing.com

GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY
Signed paperback copy of Feathermore and a winged necklace. The giveaway will run until Sunday, March 25, 5 p.m. EST. (US Only.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

When Do You Find Time to Read?

We’re nearly a quarter into the year. That means if you made a goal to read 50 books in 2012, you should be at 12 or 13. If your goal is 100 books, you want to have read around 25. If you’re one of those super star readers with an impressive 200 book goal, you need to be about 50 books in at this point.

So, how to squeeze more reading time into an already packed day? Five seasoned book bloggers share their tips:

Listen to Audio-books! While you are driving, cleaning, shopping, exercising... it's a great way to "read" while doing other things.  

Always have a book with you. Anytime you have a few extra minutes read a few pages. 

Instead of watching TV... READ!” – Kathy, I Am A Reader, Not A Writer!


“Well, if you're an avid reader, you probably do this anyway -- but always, always take a book with you. No matter where you're going or what you're doing, even if you're positive you won't have time to read -- take a book. Inevitably, you will find yourself broken down on the side of the road or waiting for your parents to finish grocery shopping or waiting for a professor who's running late to class. Even 5 minutes here and there is better than no reading at all in a busy schedule.” 
Casey, The Bookish Type

“I would say that even if you can't physically read a book, listening to them is a great way to keep your imagination going. I try to find time to read whenever I have a break as I currently work two jobs, so I spend a lot of my time doing that, but I make sure I always have a book on me either on my kindle or print, which helps when I have some time in transition from job to job. So, for the best tip: have what you want to read accessible, so when you have some down time read it or if you are able to instead of listening to music..listen to a book.” 

“I work full time and am pretty busy with family and home obligations when not at work so squeezing extra reading into my day is essential. I do this in two ways. 1. I listen to audiobooks while driving, and 2. On days that I can get out of the office for lunch, I drive down the road to the park and read in my car while eating lunch.” 

“In all honesty, I don't currently have a job. So my days are pretty much open to reading for as long as I like. I drop my son at school in a morning and as soon as I get home, I put my nose in a book until it's time to pick him up. Most days, anyway.

There are obviously days when I need to do household chores. Hoovering, washing up, the dull stuff!! *boo* 

So, on these days, my reading time is obviously lessened. But I have arthritis so it isn't like I can do all the housework in one go. So, what I do is: Wash-up> Read... Hoover> Read... Polish> Read... You get the pattern!

On the days where I must go out and about, I take either my Kindle or a book and read them wherever I am. For instance, on the bus. If I have a long journey (as I am reliant upon public transport) I will read a few pages. 

If I am at the doctors, it helps pass the time if I have a book with me. If I am at the job centre, waiting for an appointment time is passed quicker if I read a few pages.

So that's me. I read as much as I possibly can. Yes, life interrupts. My son obviously comes first. But my books come a very close second!” 
Keren Kiesslinger, Gothic Angel Book Reviews

Thank you to contributing bloggers: Kathy, Casey, LaToya, Melissa, and Keren for answering this week’s reading question. Check out these ladies blogs for book reviews, interviews, giveaways and more.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cover Appeal with Naj Qamber

Now Presenting: 

Naj Qamber is a designer and book blogger who lives in Bahrain. Where is Bahrain you ask? We'll get to that momentarily. But first, let's talk cover design because a book without a cover is like a song without a tune, and I think it's safe to say that authors and readers lust equally after a striking cover.

Cover Do's & Don'ts

Yes:

In your opinion, what makes a good cover design?
How well the content of the book reflects the cover. It's really difficult to achieve this without proper models etc., but doing this is a MUST and makes the cover brilliant in both the readers' and a designers' eyes. 

What attracts you, as a reader, to a book cover?
The first thing I notice is the colors of the book. If they're bright and colorful, I usually pick them up first. Also, covers that are all black or white with just a simple element on the cover really catches my eyes. 

Biggest Cover No-No's:

1. When the model or the entire cover is scaled tight or squished. 
     - This is the worst mistake anyone could make. Indie authors and publishing companies need to avoid this at all costs. It's the one thing EVERYONE will notice and eventually look away from the book altogether. :( 

2. When book covers don't have anything to do with the content of the book. (Covers with just text are the exception.)
      - I know sometimes this doesn't matter. BUT a lot of book reviewers take this into account and may also decrease the rating just because of the cover when the writing is what matters. To avoid that entirely just stick to the books content when designing a cover.

 3. Toooo much texture. 
   - If the content of the book is all grudgy and stuff then that's fine. But sometimes having too much texture drowns out the other elements and makes the whole look of the cover very dirty and people start to question the professionalism of the author/publisher.

4. Small bylines
  - Just coz they're bad! :DDDD big titles = better cover. 


5. NEVER use copyrighted images for covers without permission.
  - This will give you and your designer some big issues. So either ask permission to use the image, use free stock images or buy the stock images from places like iStock, 123rf.com, and stockfresh.com.




What can authors do to help you create the right look for their novel?

I have a new system where I send authors a requirement sheet, where they fill in information about the main character, the genre, the blurb and whatever concept they have in mind for the cover with stock examples. This sheet also helps me when they don't have anything in mind. 

The most helpful thing an author can send me for a cover is what the book is about, its genre and examples of what they want the cover to look like. :D That is all I need. But some authors can be picky and change their mind often. In those cases, I consider myself a robot. :D The good kind! 



What advice would you give to book designers just starting out?

Practice! Go and follow loads of photoshop tutorials and try to imitate some covers but in your own style with different elements. The best advice I could give you is to do the work over and over again with different covers. This kind of repetition will help you excel in book designing. Also, start a blog, website, whatever it is and post up your portfolio and go around book forums and make your presence known. This is how I go myself out there.

Now let's get personal:

So, Bahrain… I never heard of the country (or do you say Kingdom?) until I met you. Can you tell us a little bit about your home?

Yeah! I get that a lot. Bahrain just recently got out there when protesting started here and all over the GCC. So yea, Bahrain. Bahrain is a quiet, peaceful place I call home. Its a little off the coast of Saudi Arabia. There are loads of foreigners around here but not as much as Dubai. :D Nice people, a little racist at times especially towards halfies (half foreign and half bahraini) like me. It really depends on the places you're in. I'm grateful to be born here mostly because Dinar here is higher, when you convert it to dollars and our gas prices, bread and some other food products are subsidized by the government so consider us spoiled! :DDD But the education system here is kind of sucky. >.> 


What’s a typical teenager’s life like in Bahrain?

This depends on what type of group or clique you're in. I was in the halfies, filipino group. So there was a lot of walking, malling, and drama involved. Haha. I think the fact that our Filipino and Bahraini blood mixes makes us and people around us into such drama queens! :DDD But yea, Normal teenage life. I'm glad I'm out of that scene *even if I'm still 19*.
 
How do you find time to attend school (college?), read, review, and do design work?

A few months ago Uni wasn't as hard as it is now. So it was fairly easy to be a straight A student, read, review and design. But now that my Uni is going through reforms and made things harder. Also the fact that, I'm in my senior year and about 10 months away from graduating has made everything hectic. Especially, when we have to write up 2 theses and several other projects in between to finish up our requirements to graduate. So I usually do work, read and review all in between uni work. Yes, I am stressed out because of all four aspects at the moment. :D But I'm living it as much as I can! 

Sometimes, on twitter, you mention rioting in the streets right outside your window. Do you ever feel unsafe? 

Nope, not really. I'm used to the whole thing and theres nothing the system can't handle. Police are everywhere so the worse they can do is Tear Gas (that is if no one resists). Otherwise, everything is mostly quiet and safe. :D

What are you studying and what are your plans for the future?

I'm studying Business Informatics (yep, waaay off my line of work). My plans for the future are simple. Graduate with a Bachelors, then establish my career even more, save up for a family and a house (I want to buy land close to home and build a fabulous cozy home with a HUGE Library :DDD), then perhaps get a Bachelors in Design and maybe a Masters and a Doctorate. I want to be called "Dr. Najla Qamber" Hahahahahahahaha. :D


You have a Book Blog?! Tell us more about it.

Yes, I do! :D It's called Unputdownable Books. I started it because I tend to read and review books plus I needed a place to post up my reviews. Now, I keep it running mostly for authors. I love helping them market their books. :D Its something I enjoy doing the most (besides reading and designing).

Note: In case it wasn’t obvious, Naj was the cover designer of Entangled, my tale of witches and magic. I’ll end by saying that Naj is a joy to work with. If you love what your designer does for you, don’t forget to let them know they’re appreciated!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Now Scheduling Interviews and Features

(updated as slots are filled)

Designer Najla Qamber - "Cover Do's & Dont's"                 March 16
Author Lucy Swing - Tour Stop                                           March 22
Book Launch Party with Bob Friel                                       March 24


How to make a low cost (kick-ass) book trailer                   TBA

Friday, March 9, 2012

An American Writing in England

Now Presenting: 

Suz Korb, author of Eve Eden vs. The Zombie Horde: Book #1 in the Bedeviled Trilogy.

Q: For starters, how does a girl born in Hawaii and raised in Utah end up in England?

A: I met a British guy in America back in '99 and followed him across the channel. That relationship lasted two years. Now I'm on my own with my two daughters and I have a hate/love relationship with England as the country I'm stuck in (for now) but also as the country I always wanted to live in. The midlands rock my world with their natural beauty.

Q: What are the biggest differences about living in England (good & bad) compared to the States?

A: Pretty much EVERYTHING is different about the USA and the UK. Even the language. You know what they say, two countries separated by a common language.

Q: How has living abroad inspired your writing (and changed your habits)?

A: Living in England has opened up a world of words for me. My vocabulary has expanded immensely, which is perfect for fiction writing. Win.

Q: Any notable difference between British readers/writers and American?

A: To say there are SOME differences in writing for an American audience and a UK readership is putting it lightly. I write novels that are for an American readership and it's a struggle to keep the American lingo going when all I hear are British accents all around me 24/7. Basically, I watch a ton of American TV shows and movies to keep up on the American dialect that is becoming foreign to me! And of course it helps to correspond with friends and great authors such as yourself, Nikki!
Every girl needs a getaway vehicle when fleeing zombies.
 Q: What’s scarier? British zombies or American zombies?

A: Definitely British zombies. Especially if we're talking movies. The film 28 Days springs to mind. That movie has fast zombies in it, and everyone knows how much scarier fast zombies are than slow decrepit zombies. Am I right? Course I am ;)

Q: Describe your target audience. (What books do they read? Movies do they watch?)


A: I write paranormal young adult romance novels for teens and women readers. Although, guys can read my books too, if they enjoy supernatural adventure and much kick-assery. And who doesn't enjoy that?!