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.

 

Final copies

Final copies

Final copies – the importance of being finished

Or, as the late Terry Pratchett eloquently put it, ‘Life is like a sewer; what you get out depends on what you put in.’

Because, you know what? We read A LOT of books here are By Rite of Word. Something like ten a month. We really, really prefer being able to give people good ratings. Not because we think we ‘owe’ anyone four- or five-star ratings. But because it means the book was good, which is easier on us as readers; it looks better for you, the author, not to have two stars, one star, or a DNF flashed all over the Interwebz, and because, on the whole, we’re a fairly conscienceless bunch and we prefer not to have to feel bad for you.

Writing back to us afterwards to say ‘But that wasn’t the final version!’ is not going to alter your review. We’re not going to say ‘Oh, really? Well, that’s OK, then, we’ll give you a five.’ Unfortunately, if you don’t give us your final version to review, your final version is going to cut about as much ice as a soap hacksaw.

So, please. Make it easy for us to give you a good rating. Don’t send us your unedited, non-final effort – because a reviewer is not a beta reader. We’re not going to say ‘thanks for playing and take this away for another six months’ work’; we’re going to review what you give us. If the book you give us still has mark-up in it, includes so many typos it looks as if an executive wrote it in a hurry, and the plot meanders around like a drunk spider – well, that’s exactly what your review is going to say.

Make us (and Sir Terry) happy. Make yourself happy. Make sure what you send us is as good as it can be. We really prefer reading things that wow us, and being able to say nice things about how much the book wowed us.

What do we review and how do we rate? Read all about it!

What do we review and how do we rate? Read all about it!

By Rite of Word – what do we review and how do we rate?

A little while ago, we passed our 6-month anniversary here at By Rite of Word. I didn’t actually noticed until I counted fingers: I was probably reading. Or writing. Or wondering if there was any way I could do both of those and enter NaNoWriMo 2016 and keep my day job. Since no-one else nudged me about it, hopefully they were all reading, too.

Anyway, it seemed like a good time to go and have a look over the last few months, see what we’ve been reviewing the most, exactly how evil we are as per our ratings (pretty darn evil), and share the news with the world.

Turns out, in a little more than 6 months, we’ve posted reviews for 73 books. That averages out at a little over 12 books per month (way to go, bookworms!)

That breaks down to give or take 37% sci-fi, 32% fantasy, 25% thriller, and 6% weird and wild.

And… last but not least, just how evil, mean, and nasty are we? Well, not very. Our most common rating is a 4-star (36% of our reviews).

At the other end of the scale, I’m grateful to say we’ve scored exactly one Did Not Finish – we try really hard not to DNF something unless our hind brains are trying to take control of our hands and gouge our eyes out with a spoon.

However, if you want that 5 star rating, and all that comes with it (probably fan mail, possible drooling on your website pages as the reviewer haunts you for the next book)…well, there’ve only been 18 of those in recorded history.

So, basically – keep up the awesome work, and keep sending it to us!

Blurb in reviews – why add it?

Blurb in reviews – why add it?

Blurb in reviewsblurb

The blurb, the jacket copy, back-cover copy … call it what you will, most authors have heard of it, and a lot of authors hate having to write it. However, experience with the book writing world indicates it’s an important factor in getting a prospective reader to actually fork out their cash, so everyone grits their teeth, settles in, writes one, revises it, runs it past a court-martial of their peers, revises it some more, and eventually puts it up on covers and webpages everywhere.

So why, you may well ask, does By Rite of Word spend a paragraph on a synopsis? Isn’t that what the author’s blurb already does?

Fair enough question, and reviewers and review sites vary pretty widely in their policy on this. Some flat out don’t include a synopsis. Their view is that the author has spent time and sweat writing one and they’ll import it from Amazon if they want it. Others (not going to point fingers here) essentially write a review that’s got one or two lines along the lines of ‘Sensational read – the next J K Rowling to watch for!!!’ and then write x words of synopsis.

We aim to hit somewhere in the middle. Because many authors loathe writing copy, and because many sales hookpeople who can cheerfully write 100,000 words have a lot of pain trying to write something catchy, with a sales hook (WTF constitutes a ‘sales hook’ anyway? Sounds painful …) embedded in the very first line … sometimes having someone else write a paragraph of ‘this is a no-spoilers run-down’ followed by ‘and this is what I thought of it’ gives would-be readers a sanity check. I’ve run across several books, especially online, where the title, genre and cover have all looked promising – and the blurb was two lines. At this point I hesitated and went off to see if I could find out just a wee bit more before buying. When those books had reviews that offered a bit more clue as to the story, it helped me make a decision on whether I was likely to enjoy the book or not.

We’ve also, on rare occasions, had authors come back to us after a review and ask if they can use bits of our synopsis in their blurb, because they thought it made the book sound more exciting than the original. This kind of compliment thrills our evil little hearts, but also illustrates that sometimes, another set of eyes will catch something new and different.

Basically, our 3 star plus reviews start with a synopsis because the reason we review is to try and help authors. Yes, any review does that, but writing a paragraph of synopsis doesn’t kill us, sometimes helps a reader make a decision, and sometimes helps out the author. Win-win.