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Selecting books for review – what do we look for?

Selecting books for review – what do we look for?

Selecting books – the unknown and arcane

Probably what a lot of authors and publicists want to know is: just how does a book reviewer go about selecting books?

Well, we can’t answer for all book reviewers. Some people (lucky sods) can read pretty much full time, and may not ever be in a position where they have to select. Unfortunately, gluttonous book devourers as we are here, we have full-time jobs that eat into our reading time, and so we get sent far more books for review than we can practically read in any useful time-frame.

So, we triage the submissions each week. The easy ones to knock off the list are the folks who, for whatever reason, haven’t read the submission guidelines, tried to bypass the submission form, or didn’t complete all the needed fields on the submission form (we made it as short as we could…).

Of the ones that are left, we head over to Amazon, pull them up, and have a very high-level look at the book pages, where available. Things we look for include:

  • Does the cover look professional?
  • Is the blurb free of editorial errors?
  • Is it really in a genre we read?
  • Does the blurb make us want to read the preview?

If the answer to all of the above is ‘yes’, then congratulations – your book has made it onto the week’s shortlist, usually one of between three and ten books.

After that, we pull up previews.

It makes our lives much easier if there is an Amazon page, and there is a book preview, but if not, then we go into the file attachment in the submission form and check out a few pages there. And frankly, much the same criteria apply to the preview as to the book page. If that preview is showing easily-avoided editorial mistakes, bad formatting, or clunky phrasing, then you probably aren’t going to be in the final cut.

Some weeks, that takes our selection down to a book. Other weeks, we get a bumper crop of awesome submissions, and we still have to cut the list down a bit.

So the final round for a week, when no matter how much we spin the Time-Turner, we have still got to get the list down a bit more, is based on a much more subjective criteria, and it comes down to ‘Did we get hooked?’.

We’ve been asked why our submission form is so short, and why we don’t want to see the usual, laboriously-constructed pitches and press releases. The honest answer is, By Rite of Word is a book reviewing outfit, not an author-reviewing outfit. We know you’re all wonderful people, you’ve written a book. Great. However, ultimately what we’re interested in is your writing, and your story-telling ability, and how professionally you have put together your book. We neither need nor want press releases and biographies; your writing will tell us everything we need to know.

Spread the reviews

Spread the reviews

Man-spreading is annoying. Why do I want to spread the reviews?

There’s safety in redundancy. Amazon has tweaked its algorithms again, and every breed of author has noticed reviews taken down, even ‘verified’ ones, which are supposed to be proof against most Amazon nonsense.

Amazon sees policing farmed reviews, bought reviews, and reviews from people who may know the author, as its business. Unfortunately, it leaves this policing up to computer programs, and as you will know if you’ve ever asked why a review has been removed, you can ask three different customer support people and get three different answers. Basically, no-one but the tech who made the change knows what they intended to achieve, and no-one, including the tech who made the change, knows what that algorithm may do in practice.

In this latest case, no-one’s been able to find out exactly what they were targeting, but a lot of legitimate reviews have gone missing.

Which brings me, slowly yet surely, to my point. Spread your reviews as widely as you can. Do an author a favour and add some redundancy.

Obviously if the author’s still at the stage of trusting that Amazon will do right by them, they may only be on Amazon. Even if an author is still Amazon-exclusive, it might be worth seeing if they’re on Goodreads.

A lot of authors, though, are up in other stores where you may have an account: Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, iTunes, Google Play Books, Waterstones, Kobo…I tend to run a Google search on the book title, and anywhere I have an account and the book is listed, I copy and paste the review in there as well. Just in case Amazon decides that reviews containing the letter ‘e’ are biased, unsafe, immoral, or possibly from your estranged second cousin twice removed’s boyfriend.

2017 at By Rite of Word – it’s a wrap!

2017 at By Rite of Word – it’s a wrap!

2017 – it’s a wrap!

By Rite of Word started up in March 2016, so 2017 is our first full year up and reviewing. (We’re a little bit excited about this.)

We’ve had a lot of awesome indie and trad-pub books come in for review, which makes the first order of business saying ‘thank you’ to the authors willing to share their work with us. No matter if we gave you a 1-star or a 5-star, you wrote a book. The world needs more people writing books. Kudos to you, you crazy one-of-a-kinds – keep going and keep sending us your stuff. We’ll read and review as many as we possibly can.

So, without further ado, what exactly was that voodoo that we did?

Books reviewed


5 star reviews


4 star reviews

…You noticed that we’re evil, evil sods with our ratings? We mean that bit about ‘Free, honest, and independent’ in our headers. So if you get a 5-star rating, it’s not something we give out in cereal packets. Nor are our 4-stars, so 41% of the books we review getting one indicates some seriously great writing coming into our inbox. Keep it up!

And, because we totally do play favourites…our top picks for each of the genres we review from 2017!


Our #1 top pick out of 35 great sci-fi reads this year….

Stalk the author in their lair and on Amazon!


Our #1 top pick of the 24 fantasy books we reviewed…

Stalk the author in their lair and on Amazon!


And, our #1 winner out of the 15 thrillers we read…

Stalk the author in their lair and on Amazon!

Yep…in case you have a few days off coming and were wondering what to read, grab at least one of those.

Actually, even if you don’t have some time off coming up (although we hope you do…) you should totally treat yourself anyway. Be good to yourselves in 2018!

Why ‘it’s complicated’ isn’t a bad thing

Why ‘it’s complicated’ isn’t a bad thing

Or, why thinking is good for you

Complicated books, oh my. We’ve been seeing a lot of reviews in various spots on the Interwebz recently, saying that a book was complicated, or used UK English (gasp) instead of US English, or used words the reader didn’t know. Usually, the reviewer is knocking off stars for this.

Complicated booksYou know the reaction at By Rite of Word, if a book makes us think, or, better yet, uses a word we don’t already know? We get excited. We go and look shit up. We tell our friends about the cool new word / idea / whatever we found. Yes, this may explain why we read about ten books a month and don’t have many friends.

So, yeah, we’re not big fans of the belief that a book should be written to the lowest likely reading level. We don’t agree that books should confirm to ‘grade-level X‘…unless of course you’re in grade school. The English language has an incredibly rich vocabulary. Over 170,000 words. Tragically, the average native speaker knows between 10,000 and 20,000 of those. There seems to be a growing noise out there that anyone using a word that doesn’t figure in that most common 10 – 20 thousand is, at best, grossly inconsiderate of their less-lettered readers.

Bullshit. Pardon our French, gentle readers.

Using a word the reader doesn’t know is not a crime against humanity. (Providing, at least, that it’s used correctly. If it isn’t, well, then we might join you with tar, feathers, and pitchfork.) Writing is an art form. Making use of the incredibly rich linguistic heritage of English is what writers should be doing. Do you expect painters to stop painting and move to stick figures, because it’s easier to understand?

Thinking is fun. Thinking is, in fact, good for you. While there is certainly a line to be drawn between writers who get so hopelessly mired in their world-building and plots that the story never coalesces into a readable whole, and writers who expect that their readers can follow something a little more complex than ‘Peter and Jane saw a BUTTERFLY!!’, on the whole the point of reading is to think. We read to exercise our imaginations, or to learn. We read to see the world, for the span of a few hours, from a different point of view.

If what you read never challenges you, never makes you think, never evokes an emotional response, never teaches you anything new…what’s the point?

Reviewing Myths

Reviewing Myths

Here’s the first of the reviewing myths that needs busting: there’s a surprising number of people out there who think that a review needs to be a complex essay, analysing every aspect of the author’s writing and which classical authors impacted their style.

Not so. Some people, usually book bloggers who review constantly and so have a lot of experience to draw on, may have a lot to say about a book, and that kind of detailed feedback is a precious thing to any author. However, in general terms, and certainly as far as Amazon’s algorithms go, a simple one-liner carries just as much weight as that professional review. Probably more, if the one-liner also happens to be from a verified purchaser. So don’t hold off leaving a review because you can’t think of a moving eulogy to that character that rocked your world. ‘Couldn’t put it down’ works just fine.

Another of my pet, favourite reviewing myths: The author will hate me forever if I tell them what I really think.

I’ve gotta go with Dr. Seuss here: more or less, them as matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter. Getting negative feedback is part of any type of art. 99.9% of authors are not fragile flowers, and either their shoulders are broad enough to shrug it off, or, in the case of a valid point, to learn from it. The .01% that will try to start a flamedown because someone didn’t get on with their story are going to have very stressful careers. The best thing to do is touch your cap to them and walk on around.

Conversely, the ‘Ah, what’s the point? No one will notice anyway’ feeling is also more common than I’d thought. If you’re reviewing Twilight, maybe yes. If you’re reviewing pretty much anything that hasn’t hit international bestseller status, quite the contrary. The author will notice. Other people wondering whether or not to buy will notice. The website software will notice.

A book review is one place that your opinion, good or bad, cannot fail to make a difference to someone.