Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review Your Own Book--An Insider's Tips

A reviewer uses the same guidelines as any good writer, so allow me to explain that there’s nothing secretive or magical about the process of reviewing. In my opinion, a good reviewer points out a few weaknesses in the novel, as well as the strengths. Depending on the way the scales tip, a reviewer will give a mediocre, fantastic, or a poor score. I can safely say no reviewer wants to give someone’s special project a low score.
I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing for a short while. The only drawback to the task is the time factor. A reviewer uses much of her/his valuable time to read the book and write the review—usually with no or few perks. But I enjoyed it, and I may take on another review task when I feel I have extra time to do the assignment justice.
Receiving free books is one perk of the job. I read novels I never would have, because some of the genres weren’t my usual reading fare. In essence, I broadened my horizons in a positive manner.
I learned as much from reviewing as I did by reading how-to books, studying, or attending a writer’s group. Why? Because the Reviewer’s Guidelines impart a wealth of knowledge.
When you finish a manuscript, what methods do you use to self-check your writing? Self-editing guidelines? I have a set downloaded and use it all the time. Ask a partner to critique it? I do that, but on a limited basis. Another good method, to put the icing on the cake, is to consult a set of reviewer’s guidelines.
So, sit back, or grab a notepad and pen, and learn how to review your own book.
1. Is the title appropriate? I like titles that give a hint about the book. Have you ever picked up a book, read the title, and not have a clue about the contents? Titles may not be important to one person, but they may be to another. Also, a reader doesn’t want a title that sounds like peaches and cream, but turns out to be a murder mystery.
2. Are the hero and heroine multidimensional and interesting? Are their goals apparent? Will a reader understand details and reasons for their behavior? Are their actions believable and not forced or contrived? Does each have internal and external roadblocks?
3. Does the plot gather momentum as the story moves forward? Pacing can make or break a book. Think of one you’ve recently read. Did the action slow to a crawl, bogged down in backstory? Is the pace appropriate for the targeted line?
4. Does the story evoke emotions? As a reader this is extremely important. If I don’t shed a tear, have chills down my back, sit on the edge of my seat, can’t put it down, laugh, or sigh—then the book has not touched me. I must like the heroine, or if she annoys me a little, I must see a reason for this behavior and believe she’ll change.
5. Is the storyline interesting and exciting? Storyline—the skeletal framework of a novel. Does the basic plot invoke some sort of feeling? Is it interesting and does it unfold naturally? Could it stand alone as an interesting book? Number five is the basis of a synopsis. You simply tell about the story—without the dialogue, the action, or the internal dialogue. This is why an editor wants a synopsis—to read the entire novel condensed into three pages.
6. Is the book original, different . . . or perhaps a bit too familiar? Ahhh, this can be tricky. You’ve begun to read stories that sounded too familiar, haven’t you? Probably, you weren’t certain you wanted to continue. Don’t you look for something original—a little different? So does a reviewer.
7. Are the transitions smooth during the storyline, or are there gaps? This one is the most difficult. What is a gap? I think it’s a lack of smooth transition. If the writer jumps from one scene to something unrelated with no warning, that takes me away from the story.
8. Does the ending leave you satisfied? Sigh! Cry. Pump your fist and say, yes! Comment to oneself—this was so good.

9. Is the dialogue well-balanced with the narrative, and believable and unique to each character? Example--the narrative written in a formal literary style, while the dialogue is breezy with many contemporary slang words. Or perhaps a character speaks in a formal manner to his best friend or wife, but speaks naturally and easy to his co-workers.

If you’ve ever entered an RWA contest and received critique sheets, you’ll find the same questions as you might find on a reviewer’s guide sheet. If you don’t like these suggestions, take the ideas you think are important and make your own review guideline sheet. In the end, you can review your own book. What score will you assign? Five Stars? Four Lumps of Sugar? Three Lattes? Try it. You may discover flaws in your book you never caught before. Then, you can repair the damage before a real reviewer gets her hands on it.

Celia Yeary
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  1. Hi Celia,

    This was very helpful. I'm trying to write the synopsis for my new novel and the elements you've listed will definitly help me refine all the pages I have so far.

    thanks for sharing

  2. Good blog, Celia - I appreciated knowing what reviewers may be looking for - some of them I'm strong in and some weaker - lynn

  3. Hi Celia, I've been cramming how-to-edit and style guide books in preparation for my final edit and this is the same info packed into a small space. ;-) Well, they have grammar stuff in them and so on, but very good basics here.

    I'm a CRR reviewer and it does expand horizons. I'm enjoying getting tastes of genres I wouldn't normally read. I believe it helps make a better writer.

  4. Thank you for sharing this list, Celia. Just the other day I was wondering what criteria reviewers used. This will help us all make our stories stronger.

  5. Kathy--yes, the bit about a synopsis helped me, too. don't we all dread a synopsis? It's becasue it's unclear what to do. but looking at the process as in Number five does clear it up a little. Celia

  6. Judi--We all fall into that category. My weakness is becoming lazy about writing dialogue and just reverting to narrative. Celia

  7. Loraine--the first review I wrote, I did not have the guidelines. So I critiqued the mechanics of the novel.then I learned that's not the job of a reviewer. You have a great deal of knowledge about reviewing, and you do a good job, too. Celia

  8. Hi, Linda--yes, all you need is a short list of items to remind you what to look for. Thanks for commenting, and also commenting on my previous one! I appreciate it. Celia

  9. Awesome article, Celia. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I'll point writers in this direction.
    Donald James Parker
    Author of Love Waits

  10. Thank you, Donald--you're very kind. I do appreciate it. Celia

  11. I review for PNR Reviews, but I never thought about reviewing my own books. Interesting idea, though. I'll have to try that out.

  12. Thanks for giving just a little bit of what reviewers do. As a reviewer myself,I have came across many authors that I never would have know about before, and genre's that I had never read before that I have now an interest in.

  13. CLOVER--I hope to get back to reviewing soon.I've been asked by a group, and I do hope to make room for this in my schedule. Thanks for stopping by--Celia

  14. READ--I liked that, too, reading genres I wouldn't otherwise. I even read some kind of horror novel!Celia

  15. Celia, I loved this blog entry. I think it captures what a reviewer should try to do. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  16. Thanks for the info, Celia. Very good questions to think about when writing. I appreciate this and will definitely copy them down, or maybe revisit this post.


  17. Hi, Steph--you could have written this essay yourself! You do a good job of reviewing. I'll probably return to reviewing when I find the group I want. You know, groups are asking and asking for more reviewers. Gee--I wish they paid us! Celia

  18. Michele--Thanks, Michele--even taking a few points will help review your own book. By the way--I don't think I told you--did I? that I read your book, the one you sent to me. It took a long time--it's so different from anything I've ever read, and had to read slowly--I'm a slow reader anyway, becasue I try to read every word. I liked it, and understood the man and son. probalby I'll read it again--I re-read books--and maybe some of the finer points will click. Celia

  19. Very interesting post, Celia. Thanks for inviting me here.

  20. thanks for the tips. Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it

  21. Celia,

    Thank you~ wonderful, helpful information.


  22. Celia,

    What a wonderful compilation of very pertinent info! I just finished the first draft of a sequel that may break certain genre traditions, so each of your questions really got me thinking!
    Thanks for your dedication and best of luck w/your book sales.

    Joanna Aislinn
    The Wild Rose Press Jan 15, 2010

  23. Celia- This is very interesting. I never knew that reviewers received guidelines, same as contest judges. Thank you for helping us understand reviewers.