|Issue #23 of the Writing.Com Reviewing Newsletter.
Your (guest) editor is: Satuawany
(Thanks to Arwee for allowing me to use her format here.)
[ 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 ]
In the forum, "Feedback Central" , Kate - Writing & Reading asked if someone might address item-specific reviews. The suggestion I latched onto was "book reviews" as I have quite a bit of experience in that field as far as reviewing novels and novellas goes. As with my previous newsletter, you’re going to be making comments.
[I am, Chy?]
[ Letter from the Editor ]
The six types of book items on Writing.com are:
Collection (100 Entry Max)
Handbook (250 Entry Max)
Journal/Blog (725 Entry Max)
Novel (100 Entry Max)
Novella (50 Entry Max)
Short Story (25 Entry Max)
If you’re sly, you’ll note that the “Writing” page does not recognize “Handbook” as one of the, as it says, “five” book item types. However, it is there on the “Item Type” dropdown box on the book item creation page. Hey, I didn’t even know that until I started writing this newsletter.
The next thing you might pick up on when digging into book items, especially if you
browse by item type, is the fact that many authors categorize their book items by how many
entries they intend to have. It makes it hard to search for a novella to read when half the novellas on the site are listed as short stories, but we're going to go by intended book item type for the purposes of this newsletter.
There are two widely accepted methods for reviewing book items. One, you can go through
and rate/review an entry at a time. Two, you can rate/review the item as a whole.
[Chy, you can’t rate individual entries of a book item.]
All right then, smarty pants. We’ll start with that.
Taking it one entry at a time~
It’s true that you can’t assign an individual rating for each entry in a book item, but you can re-rate each chapter as you go along. Technically, the rate will stick to the item rather than the chapter, but as long as you intend to rate the item as a whole when you’re done, it shouldn’t cause trouble between you and the author.
You’d be surprised how many people I’ve met on this site that don’t know how to clear a previous rating and replace it. I’m not just talking about newbies. I’m not going to go over that in this newsletter, but if you need help with it, then try this: "Invalid Item"
I suggest re-rating on each review you send in on a book item because that is the only way to ensure that each review you send gets saved to the item itself. If you only send a comment without clearing your rate and re-rating, then the author gets an email. Once the
email gets deleted, the review is gone. And I know some members that delete such emailed
comments and only then remember that they don't exist anywhere else. Okay, fine, it's me. I'm "some member." I can’t be the only one.
Now that we’ve gone over the technical aspect of reviewing each entry individually, let’s talk about the practical reasons for this approach. For collections, this method is especially useful, as the entries in a collection can vary greatly. Taking them one at a time may be the only way you’re comfortable getting your ideas across.
This advice mostly goes for handbooks as well, as most of the ones I have seen have a
whole different sort of advice in each entry. For the ones that cover one idea, with entries for every step, you could use this method or the all-over approach.
As for me, I use this method on novels and novellas. With such items, each entry tends to be a chapter. Taking them one at a time gives a reviewer the chance to discuss the arc of each chapter, how the characters grow within, plus how it follows the previous chapter while leading into the next. Also, such a lengthy piece tends to undergo many turns, highs, and lows. The most thorough way to get at them is chapter-by-chapter.
The most useful reviews I receive also include expectations for future chapters in each chapter review. Think of where it seems the story is going, and how it seems the characters are going to progress. It doesn’t matter if you’re way off base—that may be exactly what the author was going for. But knowing what direction your mind is heading in can help an author decide if they need to make adjustments in their plot cues and characters’ behavior. Taking time to pause at the end of each chapter and considering your journey through the story gives you the chance to notice these things.
A problem with using this method on such items is that there is often at least one chapter in books that, taken alone, doesn’t make much of an impression. But it can be a valuable puzzle piece to the whole. Keep that in mind when using this method and don’t ask too much of a chapter that’s there to let characters and readers breathe. As long as it leads you into the next chapter and doesn’t let you forget the plot, it may be just what the story needs.
[There's another problem, Chy. This method is tedious and time-consuming.]
Well, yeah. But I believe in reviewing karma. Being a novelist myself, I try to give the kind of reviews I crave. If you are not a novelist, then it probably is best for you to give your thoughts on the piece as a whole (Method Two). As hard as it is to get reviews on a novel or novella, we appreciate all the help we can get. It's just nice to know someone read it and had thoughts.
For book item short stories that need lots of work, this may be the best method as well.
Though on most accounts, I’d go for reviewing it all together. For journals, I would probably never, ever go through all this. It can depend on the subject matter and how varied each entry is, however. Some people put as much thought into their journal content as others do their novels.
One review to bind them~
[Chy, I know you didn’t just make a Lord of the Rings reference out of the blue like that.]
All right, if you’re not a break-it-down-and-really-go-at-it sort of reviewer, no problem. It’s important to hear from all kinds of readers. And for some book items, breaking a review down by entry can become so tedious that it ceases to be helpful.
Blogs spring instantly to the forefront, and not just because I ended the Method One discussion with journals. Who wants to hear entry-by-entry reviews on how they didn’t articulate perfectly how personal events transpired? I actually have a rather serious hang-up about reviewing blogs, so it’s best we get past this. If there's a journal/blog-reviewing expert out there, it may be time for you to throw your hat into the guest editor ring. I know I'd be interested in reading what you have to say.
Short stories are made to convey one idea, one set of events. Trying to break that down too much can make a reviewer lose sight of the objective. As I said before, if it needs a
lot of work, it may be easier to break the review down by entries, but it’s still a good idea to back that up with an encompassing review. The author will want to know how you perceived the plot from beginning to end, how the setting evolved, and how you felt the characters made it through. That is to say, I tackle reviewing book item short stories the same way I tackle static item short stories.
For novels and novellas, I believe we already mentioned that I am far more partial to the
entry-by-entry approach, but we don’t all have the time to sink into that. And even if we don’t, we can still make some useful comments on plot and character elements. Think of how the item made you feel, how it felt to finish it, and whether you did or did not enjoy following the characters. One of the biggest senses of accomplishments comes once a writer completes a novel. It makes us especially curious how a reader feels upon reaching the end. Was the conclusion satisfying? If not, what was missing?
It is also important to note how well the side plots wove into the main idea, and whether
they added to the plot or distracted from it. If they were more of a distraction than an asset, what about them made them that way? Can they be salvaged? How?
Want to make a novelist's day? Let them know who your favorite character was and why. It would also be nice if you threw in your favorite scene and maybe even your favorite concept. This is the sort of discussion that can inspire an author to get excited about revising the problem areas.
Oh, come on. Writing.com forgot them. Why can’t I? Kidding. As I just found out that’s a type of book item, I haven’t had much experience with them—only what I’ve dug up in the past couple of weeks. I will say that when they do cover one idea, you can treat them a lot like a novella or short story. What authors of such items really want to know is if you found it helpful and if it is organized in such a way to promote clarity of the idea. These items are mostly for the reader rather than for the author or the sake of a story, so it is important that the reader connects to the material. If you don’t, be prepared to offer up points for where you went astray and how you might be able to get back on track.
In the end, it’s up to you, reviewer~
It’s true, for you can probably find a way to use either method for any book item, and use it well. It comes down to your style and the amount of time you are able to invest in reviewing these longer items. As much as in-depth, entry-by-entry reviews can show an author every detail about what they’re doing well and where they have more work to do, overall impressions really tell them how the whole thing came across. And if you’re the froggy kind of reviewer that sends in a review for every entry and then goes back and sends summation review for the entire item, may you reap every karmic reward. By the one ring and all its counterparts, I know I love you.
[ Editor’s Picks ]
Check out how each book item type lends to the content of the item. Even if you don’t have time to review all of them, try figuring out which method you would use for each one. (Okay, you caught me. The "Handbook" I linked is not actually listed as a handbook, but it should be. )
[ Ask and Answer ]
Man, do I ever appreaciate all the great comments I got the last time I did this. Thank you. It’s all your fault I volunteered to do this again.
As I’m a guest again, it’s probably best you post any questions at "Feedback Central" . Maybe we can get a little discussion going on everyone’s preferred methods and their reasons for sticking with 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