|-- Table of Contents --
1. About this Newsletter
2. Letter from the Editor
3. Editor's Picks
4. Ask & Answer
5. Useful Links
-- About this Newsletter --
I have the pleasure of being the first guest editor here on this, the fourteenth issue of the Reviewing Newsletter. Are you excited? I'm excited. I'm Satuawany and today we're going to see if we can learn how to make use of the replies we get on our reviews. Be prepared—you're going to talk to me, and you're going to call me Chy.
Oh yes, you are.
-- Letter from the Editor --
While reviews are the sun in a writer’s day, replies reflect that light back to the reviewer. Replies to reviews, however, tend to be a harder animal to shave down to the parts that help you improve. Especially since not many people review a review.
We’re going to have to split off here. To the left, let’s have those that enjoy sticking with one particular author long enough to learn just what they look for in a review. To the right, let’s have those that can’t be nailed down, that must roam and dip their feet into many portfolios. You can get into both lines if you like.
We’re going with the lefties first.
To the left~
Okay, you have found yourself an author that makes you want to stick around and
review a number of their items. It could be because you find their work entrancing. It
could be because you feel like you have a lot offer in the way of help for this author. In any case, if you’re paying attention, you can learn what aspects of your reviews are particularly useful to your pet author.
[Chy, it offends me that you used the word “pet” there.]
Now, one of the most difficult things for me to decipher is whether or not an author finds any use of technical corrections. The way an author replies to this can help you hone the way you point these things out. What do they say?
“Thank you for pointing out my typos.” In this case, it is generally (notice how I said generally) safe to assume that this person sees the punctuation or spelling error as soon as you point it out. That means that in the future, simply pointing them out is enough.
“Thank you for pointing out my mistakes.” In my experience, when an author uses the word mistakes it means that they have a hard time figuring out when to capitalize sir or when Comma’s big brother, Semicolon, needs to step in for him. You got some ‘splainin’ to do, if you want to help this author in future endeavors. The great thing about reviewing the same author is that after you’ve explained it, you can lapse back into simply pointing out these “mistakes.”
[But Chy, not everybody comments on that stuff.]
That brings me to my next point. Ask questions. If you want to know if your explanations are necessary, ask. You’re in there, item after item (or chapter after chapter). Any concerned author is going to help you give them the review they crave. Asking whether or not an author needs you to keep pointing out they’re misuse of homonyms (or the like) is one of the easiest questions between reviewer and reviewee.
[Chy, that should have been “their.”]
Good eye, good eye. Is this a newsletter for reviewers or what?
[Um, actually, Chy, in that particular case, it should have been “his or her.”]
All right. Don't get smart with me.
Once you know an author’s technical preferences, you can get to the real meat in the joy of sticking to one author for multiple items at a time. If you’re building a rapport, chances are your author isn’t going to criticize your reviews. Now it’s time to really pay attention.
In my experience, almost every single author I have sent thoughtful reviews to reply with
specifics on that review. What you’re looking for here is things like, “Thanks for pointing out Gerald’s inconsistent dialogue. I have a hard time keeping him in character.”
Ah-ha! If it’s a novel you’re reviewing, you know to look out for Gerald. Additionally, when you find Gerald staying perfectly in character, you can assure the author of such. Then, when you move on to some other item, you know this author may have trouble keeping some of their characters “in character.” It’s something you can look for.
Authors will give you a lot of hints about their problems areas, whether they do it consciously or not. When you see they’re having problems with specific things in
one item, chances are they have the same problems in other items. If those problems do
show up, you know they appreciate having them pointed out. And if they do a superb job on
something they had trouble with in a previous item (secondary plots, love scenes, jokes,
etc.) it’s good to let them know where they got it right. (Never underestimate the power of a positive comment. It can be a reference point when an author has problems later on.)
To the right~
No, no, I didn’t forget you, righties. I hope you glanced over at the left-hand line, because a lot of that applies here; your methods just have to be different. You have a broader view and will start to see that there are a lot of things that various authors have difficulties with. You learn to look for them.
This helps, too, with your positive feedback. If you review a string of authors and find that most of the animal stories ended with the death of the animal, when you hit such a story where the animal gets to live, it’s okay to share your relief with the author. Most especially if they did a good job with it.
[I don’t read many animal stories, Chy.]
It’s an example, dude.
One strange thing I’ve found out from reading a great variety of items on this site is that there are phases. One week, it seems that every new item created has tons of independent clauses joined with nothing more than a comma. The next week, everyone has
stopped off at the adverb shop and iced their story with their metric boatload of purchases. Following the trends helps you look out for likely problems right off the bat.
As for the “deeper” stuff, the two most widely appreciated comments you can make are on plot and characters. In some cases, setting may be a biggie, but that depends on the story. While anyone can say they enjoyed the plot and felt like they got to know the characters, that’s not the kind of thing that elicits more than a thank you.
Why did you like the plot? Was it the progression? The subject matter or twist?
The subtlety? Going into specifics tends to get an author excited about discussing their
piece. They will often tell you where they ran into problems or how relieved they are that something turned out the way they had wanted.
We’re all similar beasts. You’ll start to see the similarities when you make specific comments that elicit specific replies. Just remember to pay attention to what your reviewees are telling you.
Everyone together, now~
Yes, please form one line in the center. No pushing. Stop rolling your eyes, Gerald; it’s out of character. Try scowling. That seems to be something you’d more likely do when annoyed.
[Oh! Chy! Don’t forget that seeing what troubles other writers can help you turn your reviewing eye on your own work.]
Of course, of course. Receiving good replies strengthens that even more. When you see
what other writers are worried about and what they most want to fix, it can give you a new
perspective on what is important to you. Writers are readers, too, and this is one more way to listen to potential readers.
I thank you all for listening and I hope I was able to give you some things to think about. Or perhaps your experiences tell you something different. I’d love to hear about it.
-- Editor’s Picks --
I'm highlighting items by authors I know to give great replies to good reviews.
As a special bonus, I'm including a savagely beautiful tale of rating on this site with special commentary on how important it is to read in order to review well. Incidentally, this is by another author that gives great replies to good reviews.
-- Ask & Answer --
[Chy, you're just a guest editor. You don't have any questions to answer.]
Aw, come on. We'll think of something.
[All right, all right. You keep saying "in my experience." Just what is your experience?]
Ooh, make me admit that I've broken the cardinal rule again and again. That is, I read a heck of a lot more than I review. But if I reviewed everything I read, I'd never have time to do all the reading I enjoy, all the reading that has taught me about trends and common mistakes.
If you've glanced at my reviewing stats, you see that I currently have 225 items that I've reviewed. You have to understand, that number is misleading in a few ways. For one, it gets hacked when authors delete items I've reviewed. For another, it does not account for the books I've reviewed chapter-by-chapter. I send thirty-some-odd reviews to an author and get a single credit on "items reviewed." I understand the reasoning there, I just wanted to say that I've reviewed a lot more than that number gives me credit for. And I've read a lot more than that.
-- Useful Links --
"Feedback Central" 13+: Have something to say about the reviewing newsletter? Here's the place for your comments!
"Reviewing Newsletters" E: All issues of the Reviewing Newsletter