Tag Archives: book reviews

What is an ARC, and Why Would I Want One?

In the publishing industry, the term “ARC” refers to an Advance Reader Copy. This is a book sent to reviewers prior to release so the book in question can hit the ground running with a slate of reviews already. Publishing companies have been doing this for a long time. Many moons ago, each one had a list of professional reviewers to whom they sent ARCs of anything they thought the reviewer would like and give a positive review to.

Usually, an ARC is a final draft. It may or may be not a final version. What’s the difference? Proofreading, primarily. There could be minor formatting problems. It may still have a hefty dose of typos. The prose itself should be in pretty good shape by this point, though there could be a few problem spots that need rewording. If it’s a print copy, it has text making it clear the book is an ARC or a Proof. An eARC also has some kind of indicator if it’s not a final version.

I wonder what typos this version had?

Look at that: Harcourt Brace was still around. This thing is super-old.

The Big 5 publishers still do this, of course. As a tactic, it works. Having the NY Times reviewer say something nice–or wretched–about a book grabs eyeballs and opens wallets. Those of us in the indie and small press wilderness do it, too. Except in our case, it’s generally not the NY Times reviewer whose hands we shove them into. Instead, we put them into the hands of fans, bloggers, and genre-specific minor celebrities. Sometimes, we can convince local or regional media folks to give it a go.

How, you might ask, does one get an ARC? There are a myriad of ways to do it. First, of course, you can become a professional book reviewer. Second, you can join a book review service. These organizations come in many sizes and shapes, from the big kahuna of NetGalley to smaller operations like The Masquerade Crew and Choosy Bookworm. Nearly every book-oriented site, from Goodreads to tiny blogs has some way to help authors generate reviews by providing free copies of their books.

Individual authors you love will often be happy to provide an ARC if you ask. It’s important to note that, unlike purchasing a book, receiving an ARC comes with the obligation to review it. There’s usually a time frame attached, because the author wants to have reviews in time for the launch.

So, why would you, a random person, want an ARC? To support an author whose work you love, or to help curate a genre you love.

Why I Write Book Reviews Part 2

I’m officially stepping off the 1-book-a-week grind. I had a long lapse last summer and fall while I moved from the right coast to the left coast of the US, then slipped back into it. What I didn’t realize until recently, though, was that I find myself reading a lot of books that really suck.

I've read this book several times, in several genres.

I’ve read this book many times, in several different genres.

As a general rule, I write a review of any book that I finish, and avoid writing reviews of books I don’t finish. With the small number of traditionally published authors I read (at the moment, only Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne, though I’ve read plenty in the past), I generally don’t bother for them, as by the time I read their books, even if I get them on release day, five thousand other people have already posted their reviews, and presumably have said anything I might think of. Besides, no one cares if I didn’t really like Cold Days all that much, but reveled in Skin Game.

The point of that: I write reviews specifically to help indie books find more audience. Unless it sucks. Since I’m also an author and dislike being told I suck as much as anyone else, I try to be fair and keep it strictly about the book and what specifically is wrong so other folks can know if they’ll also think it sucks. (I sometimes fail, because I’m also human. Shocking, I know.)

Back to the grind issue. There have been times when I’ve powered through a book that struck me as mediocre just so I could spend a post talking about it and feel justified with my complaints. This is a waste of my time. I would much rather spend that time writing or reading awesome books.

This past week, I started fifteen different books (all of which I got for free or very cheap) that I didn’t like enough to go past chapter 1 or 2. In some cases, the editing–rather, the lack thereof–was too distracting. In other cases, the subject matter held no appeal, and in the rest, I just didn’t get hooked enough to care. I find this happens to me every six or seven weeks, when I’ve burned through books I actively sought out and am left with ones I happened across for one reason or another.

Now, here I am on Wednesday night, only five chapters into something holding my attention, with a deadline looming for Moon Shades, and twelve or thirteen other things demanding my attention (including two kids), and I just don’t have it in me to finish this book tomorrow in order to crank out a review on Friday. This seems like it’s going to happen with more frequency as time goes on, especially the deadline part.

And thus, I am currently working on a replacement for every other Friday. Wish me luck.

Writing Useful Book Reviews

After writing about this subject before, I’ve had several people say it was helpful, but they’d really appreciate something more…specific. It can be tough to take that feeling you get when you finish a book and translate it into a handful of sentences. I’ve had a few times myself when I had to stare at the screen for a few minutes to come up with something to say. Here are some questions to ask yourself so you can pin down your reaction and write a review:

1. Did I like the book?

Seems obvious, but worth mentioning. Say directly how you felt about it. ‘I loved it!’, ‘I hated it!’, ‘I liked it.’, and ‘I can’t decide if I liked it or not.’ are all valid things to include in a review. The more you liked it, the less things you should have found wrong with it, so if you’re unsure how you really feel about the book, or the degree to which you liked or disliked it, move on and come back to this one.

2. Did the main character inspire any feelings for me?I sometimes wish people had a gauge like this to check

The underlying question here is whether the book was written well enough to emotionally involve you in the character. It’s not about whether you liked the character or not, it’s about whether you cared. If you don’t care about the character, it’s harder to have significant interest in the book overall. Wanting to smack a character for doing something dumb or obnoxious means you’re interested enough to care and have an emotional reaction to it. Likewise, wanting to meet the character in real life (for whatever, I don’t judge) is being interested in them.

3. Did everything feel ‘realistic’?

Most fiction is, of course, not real. The question is whether you had moments while reading where your ability to suspend disbelief was strained to the point that you lost immersion. If you find yourself stopping and thinking ‘that makes no sense’, that’s a problem. In some genres, such as sword and sorcery fantasy, that’s less of an issue, but it still happens. I’ve read books where the setting left me confused as to why any sane person would settle in a place where a town is, and it detracted from the story.

4. Did you notice poor grammar, lots of typos, or confusing phrasing?

If you didn’t notice, great! If you did notice, the necessity of re-reading sentences and phrases can pull you out of the story long enough to get annoyed by it. Don’t nitpick about a few typos, though. There’s no such thing as a proofreader who catches them all, and it’s monstrously easy to get one or two inserted during the formatting process. Cut authors a little slack–but not too much. My guideline is that I’m willing to ignore up to 1 typo per chapter. More than that and I comment about it.

5. Do you think the blurb/description is clear about the subject matter, or were you completely surprised by the contents of the book?

As an author, I know this much with certainty: writing blurbs is tough. Few of us like doing it. Many of us aren’t that great at it. Sometimes, the blurb highlights parts that the author thinks are important, but the reader disagrees. The author may have forgotten to mention something you think is critical to know before starting it, or maybe it really needs a trigger warning or other content note. Feel free to provide such a warning or note for other readers.

6. If you didn’t like it, unless it’s already addressed by one of the above questions, what specifically turned you off?

This is probably the most important question of all. There does not exist a book that is universally liked by everyone. Every single book in existence, ever and forever, has a segment of humanity that will not like it. Guaranteed. The important part is why you didn’t like it. The things you hate could be the very things I love, and your negative review may be what sells the book to me.

Take the answers to these questions and do your best to articulate them in words. Here’s one more note to keep in mind:

Reviews are not intended for the author, nor should they be about the author. Instead, it’s a notice for other potential purchasers to help them decide if they want the product or not. Because a book is a product, much like a painting is a product. Writing and painting as verbs are art. Writing and painting as nouns are products.

How to Write a Review

Because I, like many indie authors, need book reviews to prosper, it’s crossed my mind to wonder why so few readers write them. There are lots of theories.

1.Readers are lazy and/or can’t be bothered to take the time. They read books, toss them aside, and move on.

2. Readers don’t think their opinion matters; the pros do the reviewing, and no one cares what anyone else thinks.

3. Readers aren’t sure what to put into a review.

As for #1, there’s nothing I can do except implore you to reconsider. When you like a book, the only way other people get to share your joy is if you tell them about it. Likewise, when you hate a book, you can help others avoid inflicting the pain on themselves.

With #2, I’ve written about this before. There are professional reviewers out there, sure. They read what the Big 5 publishers give them. That’s it. The ones that lower themselves to the level of reviewing indie books require payment to spend their time doing so. That’s where you, the ordinary reader, come in. You read it, you have an opinion, and there are probably at least ten thousand people who will agree with exactly what you liked or hated about any given book. It’s a small way to help your fellow readers find something awesome or steer clear of something awful.

The issue then becomes #3: what the heck do you put in a review? If you were a writer, you’d be writing your own books, after all, and if you had the skillz to be a pro reviewer, you’d do that. Fear not. It’s not that tough.

What makes a good review?

It’s about how the book made you feel. Did you race through the story, eager to discover what happened next? Did the characters feel like real people? Would you pick up the author’s next book? Was there any point at which you thought something along the lines of ‘that’s just plain ridiculous’? Were there editorial problems bad enough that they distracted from the story (typos, confusing turns of phrase, continuity breaks, etc.)? How seriously did it take itself? Does it delve into controversial topics?

The answer to every single one of the above questions is good to put into a review. If you read my reviews, you know I take a little time and put some effort into it. No one is required to do that. A few simple statements suffice. For example, with my most recent review, of Strike, I had a few hundred words to say about it, but I could just as easily have put the following:

Entertaining, but a little empty. Not enough happened, and most of the characters didn’t feel real. Campy, cute, and a straight line from start to end. I liked it without being awed by it.

That doesn’t quite say all the same things, but it gets the message across. A review like that helps other readers set expectations. It sounds like a light-hearted summer beach read, probably best suited for those who aren’t looking for lots of depth and complexity. Which is useful information.

That’s it. Give others a hint of what to expect, and say what you think. Be brief if you want. Just please, please say something.

Why I Write Book Reviews

Someone asked me recently why, as an author trying to promote my own books, do I spend so much of my time writing about other people’s books? I more or less said ‘karma’. That is, of course, a highly simplistic answer to what’s actually a kind of interesting question.

I grew up and reached adulthood before the internet became widespread. Back then (by which I actually mean ‘all the time between when I started to read and fairly recently’), it never occurred to me that anyone might find my opinion of a book I read to be worth anything. Book reviewers were, so far as I knew, like Anton Ego in Ratatouille: old, white, male, snobbish, and scathing. They published their reviews in the New York Times and various book review publications that I never read and didn’t care about.

The way I found books was to wander into the bookstore or library, grab something from the science fiction/fantasy section more or less at random, read the back, and read the first few pages. If I liked what I found, I was done and I got my book. What reviewers said about it had exactly no bearing whatsoever on the choices I made. Even as a young person, I knew they’d only put flattering quotes in the book itself, and other reviews weren’t near at hand.

Which brings me to last year, when I took the plunge into self-publishing. I’d read product reviews on Amazon, but hadn’t really been reading anything outside my favored authors for a while. Young offspring can curtail reading time, as it turns out, so I only went for books I knew I’d like already, and got stuck in that rut for a several years. The kinds of books I read already had lots of reviews, because they were already popular by the time I got to them. Why bother writing a review for a book that already has 500 reviews?

Then I found out that reviews matter. For the indie author, it’s all we’ve really got. There’s no big name, and it doesn’t ever sit on a book store shelf. Oprah, Jon Stewart, and Jimmy Kimmel will never hear about it, let alone pimp it. All a prospective reader has to go on is a blurb, a cover, a and a sample. Just like before the internet. Except they have product reviews now.

I started reading reviews of books I found my way to, and realized they actually had a great deal of bearing on my decision of whether to purchase or not, even for free books. More importantly, I’ve also learned that reviews affect Amazon rankings, and rankings determine what Amazon recommends to people based upon shopping and browsing history.

Which brings me back to writing reviews. I read a lot of books. Knowing what I now know about reviews, I feel selfish if I keep my opinion to myself. Besides, there’s no downside to helping others, and it’s preparing me for the inevitable negative reviews of my own stuff.