Thursday, 30 April 2009

How To Respond To Reviews

I have a tiny blog called The Self-Publishing Review in which I consider self-published books from the viewpoint of a mainstream publishing editor. As I read I count all the errors and instances of sloppy writing that I find; and once I've found fifteen problems I stop reading and post details of how far I got in the book, and the sorts of errors I found.

I began the blog because a self-published writer took exception when I wrote that most self-published books were dreadful. He insisted I just hadn’t seen enough of them: and so I decided to start my review in order to rectify that.

Overall, I’ve found it a disappointing experience. Judging by the books I’ve been sent so far, the vast majority of self-published writers are bad writers who have published terrible books. So far I’ve only read one book right through to the end. I’ve not even got half-way through any of the others and some of the writers involved have not taken it too well: a few have tried to engage me in arguments and one author even had the misfortune of having some very argumentative friends who were determined to defend her writing reputation.

I was more than a little pleased when Rosalie Warren, the author of Charity's Child, emailed me to thank me for the review I’d written about her book. It was clear that she had thought about my comments, understood them, and had gone on to apply them to the rest of her book. I had no doubt that her writing would improve as a result of her positive attitude and I wasn't surprised when I subsequently learned that she has a novel called Low Tide, Lunan Bay being published today by a good mainstream publisher, Robert Hale. I shall buy myself a copy with a great big smile on my face—which is much more than I'd have done if she'd argued with me!

24 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

I have fond memories of an author's friends attempts to pile on me for a less-than-gushing review while the author tried manfully to restrain them. Bless.

Fiona said...

I'm dyslexic. My rough work, emails etc are probably littered with mistakes. But before I sent out my completed manuscript to my publishers - I had a contract for a little non-fiction book - my good friend, writer and grammar queen, Lane, edited it for me. The publisher's editor was wonderful but I am pleased he had very little to worry him.
So even if my writing was rubbish, at least it was grammatically correct rubbish.

And well done Rosalie.

Sally Zigmond said...

Spot on, Ms Smith. I know for a fact that there are quite a few pin-festooned wax effigies of me on the desks of those of whose writing I, as editor or reviewer, have had the affront to suggest could be improved...and explain how.

I don't do it to show how clever I am (because I'm not) but to try and help. But you know, some people don't want to be helped. They just want to be told how wonderful they are. But that's not what reviewers and editors are for.

Then again, I've had some lovely responses from others who have continued to develop and improve.

Kate said...

A well deserved success story.

green_knight said...

At the London Book Fair, I had the chance to browse a whole lot of self-published works in one go. On a stand that was curiously empty, in comparison to almost everybody else.

There was a marked step in quality of *everything* betwee those and everybody else - and that included the Lightning Source samples (!).

After picking up eight or ten books, some of which were unreadable (neither single spaced 10pt, nor double-spaced text invite me to read), I lost interest in browsing further. Then I picked up a book I would have liked to buy; but it was *so* amateurish, and it was trying to be two (non-ficition) books in one, with little doodles everywhere that looked like something I would draw (I can't draw at all) - andso the book in a subject area I'm interested in and where few books exist was put back on the shelf.

The next book I picked up was professionally published, and what a relief to have a cover copy that tells you about the contents without mentioning a single clichee, and an eye-friendly interior design.

Leila said...

I really enjoy this blog. Am finding the editor's point of view very interesting. Don't know how you find the time as you seem to have several websites/blogs all kept current.
Leila

Jane Smith said...

Buffy, Ms Zigmond and I shall make a space for you on our side of the table. You can learn the Editor's Cackle from her, and the Sneery Eyebrow-Lift from me. They are invaluable tools for the serious reviewer.

Fiona, my youngest son is profoundly dyslexic, and both my husband and I have dyslexic tendencies, so I can really appreciate your difficulties. But I'm glad to see that you're not letting dyslexia limit your ambitions, and that you're getting on with your life despite it.

Ms Zigmond, you might remember that I have at least THREE wax effigies pinned to the walls around my desk. They all have the same greying, shoulder-length hair: I can't imagine who they are meant to represent.

Jane Smith said...

Kate, Rosalie has worked hard at her writing and it shows. I hear she has a signing due next weekend: I do hope it goes well.

Green Knight, you're right: despite great advances in POD technology, the one thing that hasn't changed is the design capabilities of your average self-publisher. It doesn't matter how good your writing is if you have the visual equivalent of a cloth ear, and can't see that your layout stinks: and people won't buy books that look unreadable (as chance would have it, one of my regular readers here, Maggie Dana, is an excellent typesetter and has promised to write me a piece about her art which should discuss that properly).

And Leila, thank you: but I have to point out that my other blogs aren't as intensive as this one: don't be too impressed!

Kristen said...

Nice!

Derek said...

There are some excellent books out there on typesetting, notably the Bringhurst and the Felici. Oddly, the people who most need them are the least likely to read them.

Rosalie Warren said...

Jane, thank you so much for mentioning Low Tide, Lunan Bay on this blog and your other one - and for your very kind words.

My attitude to honest, well-informed criticism is to treasure it - especially when it comes from an experienced editor and writer like yourself. OK, the truth can sometimes be painful, but writers have to develop thick skins.

My signing is next weekend - Sunday May 10th, 11.30am-2pm at Borders, Arena Park, Coventry. Needless to say, anyone in the area who who would like to drop by is very welcome.

Thanks again,
Rosalie (Warren)

Jane Smith said...

Derek wrote, "There are some excellent books out there on typesetting, notably the Bringhurst and the Felici. Oddly, the people who most need them are the least likely to read them."Too true, Derek. As is so often the case.

Rosalie, I hope that you have a fabulous signing session: it's a shame I'm too far away to come and gawp at you!

DanielB said...

Enjoying my (necessarily brief for now) look at your other blog. There are some real comedians on there. I especially liked the one who says "I think there's a revolution coming with self published authors. What we're going to see is less polished writing, but stories that are worth reading in spite of that. Who's to say the filter of a "professional" editor or a publishing house is always a good one?"

Chortle, chortle.

mags said...

Cloth ear!

Jane, that's priceless. May I borrow it for my article?

ps: I just emailed you about it.

Jane Smith said...

Dan, it's clear you've not ventured far into the world of self-publishing if you find that quote remarkable: it's a common attitude (but not one I support, just in case anyone was wondering). No wonder self-publication has such a bad reputation by all of we mainstream published meany-types.

And Maggie, feel free to borrow my cloth ears if they're any help at all. I shall go and read my emails when I've finished scheduling this latest round of posts for my review blog. There are some absolute corkers among them. In all senses of the phrase.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oooooh, thanks for the invite! So long as you don't mind me talking out loud to the authors whose work I'm slushing. They should be glad they can't hear me! lol

green_knight said...

Fiona, I've met a good number of dyslexics on the net, and if they hadn't told me, I'd never have known. They were among some of the most eloquent writers, and are often people who love words so much that they take extra care to get them right.

The worst writing, I find, comes from people who feel entitled to their readers' time and effort, not from second language speakers, dyslexics, or people with other disabilities, all of whom would have an excuse.

catdownunder said...

If someone is ever kind or foolish enough to read anything I have written I will endeavour to respond nicely. Of course if they tell me it is absolutely terrible then I may just curl up in a corner and refuse to come out. I am not brave enough to argue.

DanielB said...

It's true, I do keep well clear of self-publishing and don't consider myself an authority on it at all.

I was also very amused by the one who tried to claim that, no, the novel in question was not written with a flagrant disregard for the English language, it was in "beat" prose. And that its subtle nuances were lost on you.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

All these folks that have a high regard for themselves and an overdeveloped sense of self entitlement are the sort that love vanity publishing. They are the X-factor wannabe's who come with their deluded parents and family and sound like a bag of spanners in a tumble dryer whilst in their head they are the next Britney! They exist in all walks of life and heaven help anyone that should burst their bubble and feedback anything but praise! I love the arrogance of the comments that have been repeated from your other blog here. I think most of them have been my neighbours or colleagues at one time or another....

Jane Smith said...

Dan, I guess the nuances of that particular book were lost on me: the writing seemed so very similar to bad writing that I assumed it WAS bad writing. Philistine that I am.

And MOB: spanners in a washing machine: that's me, singing in the shower. How did you know?

Fiona said...

Green Knight - you are so right. If I submit something to an agent (okay, not done this yet) or a publisher, I don't want to give her a reason to reject me right away. My dyslexia is my problem. God knows there are a thousand worse disablities. If I have to live off chips and Asda beer for a few months while I save up for a good editor, so be it. It's worth the wait - and the fat bottom.

Anonymous said...

That self publish review blog sucks. You are raping self published books and gloating that you do not even read past several pages. I will have to hold RICH professionally published authors to the same scalding standard. I doubt you will list the books that you edit. I am sure I would find mistakes in them.

Jane Smith said...

Anon, you're right: I'm not going to list the books that I edit, or the books I've researched, ghost-written, revised or worked on in any way. At least, not on the request of a Seattle-based troll who is only interested in insulting me, and is too cowardly to use his own name in order to do so.

I've responded to several of your comments over on my self-publishing review blog now, and have attempted to answer some of your questions and deal with your many misconceptions in a reasonable way: I would now very much appreciate it if you'd go away, read up a little on how nice people behave, and not come back until you have mastered a more civil tone.

I thank you.

(Everyone else: respond if you feel a burning need to, but it's probably best to ignore him now: if he doesn't get a reaction he'll go away sooner or later.)