The Reviewer: A Writer’s Great Asset

You have written and published your work.  Definitely stick out your chest.  It is definitely an accomplishment, and the process, at times, is no picnic. 
Now you have to get the word out there.  
You have talked about it on your Facebook page.  You’ve tweeted about it.  You’ve told the various groups you’re involved in about it.  You have received congratulations on your achievement, and it may have been shared or retweeted.  However, it may not always translate into someone checking out your work. 
Having someone do a review serves many purposes.  
One, you have someone who actually has your work to give it a read.
Two, that person can give you more exposure by advertising about it on his blog. 
Third, if you have enough reviews, it may prompt others to get your book. 
There are some book bloggers who do an open call for reviews.  Before you submit your work, make sure you check and see what type of submissions they accept.  There’s no need for you to submit a Young Adult romance novel if the submission guidelines do not accept that type of work for review.  If you submit your work anyway, you run the risk of getting rejected from the gate because you’re not adhering to the guidelines they have put out there.  
In addition, read the reviews they’ve given on others’ works.  Check out the presentation, and keep in mind, if they do a review for you, that is how it will be presented.  How do you feel about the presentation? 
There are others who will want to do a swap.  This means they will review your book if you do the same in return.  If you do this, make sure you uphold your end of the deal.  One of the worst things you can do is have someone do something for you, but it is not returned in kind.  Also, that will lead up to extremely bad publicity.  The Internet world, especially the writing circles, is much smaller than you think.  If word like that gets around, it will definitely take the focus off of your work as a writer and reflect on you as a person.  
Now you’ve gotten your work into the hands of a reviewer.  Here are a few things you should look for or want: 
  1. Thoroughness:  It’s easy for someone to simply say, “I love it.”  Dare to go deeper.  See if the reviewer goes through the process to say what she loved about it.  Is it the pace of the story?  Is it the dynamics of the characters?  Remember the things a reviewer says he loves about the story and utilize those things into future writings. 
  2. Honesty:  As much as writers love to get praise, any writer worth his salt wants the reviewer to give an honest appraisal of his work.  This does present the possibility your work may not be the reviewer’s cup of tea.  You have to be open to that. 
You also have to sit back and weigh whether the disapproval is truly coming from an objective place.  
You may get a review that says, “I hated it!  The person writing this is a moron!” 
You have to gauge if anything is to be gained from going back and forth with the person in the comments box.  You can ask, “What didn’t you like about it?”  The person may respond objectively or the person may just not like your work.  Don’t try and spend time trying to change that person’s mind about it because you can’t please everyone. 
However, most good reviewers won’t call you a “moron”, but they will let you know what they disliked about the story.  You may see something along these lines:
“I could not finish the story in its entirety because there wasn’t enough conflict to hold my interest.”
“The story was pregnant with punctuation, grammar, and spelling mistakes, and I could not continue because I was too busy proofreading it.”  
Yes, these lines are criticism but they are clearly stating why they couldn’t enjoy your work.  
3.  Suggestions:  If a writer isn’t learning, then he isn’t growing.  Be open to taking suggestions.  Even if a reviewer thinks your work is great, they may drop a few things in here and there to make your story greater.  For example: 
“I love how smooth the transition is from the present day events to the past day memories.  However, I would have loved more physical description of the characters to feel as if I can truly see them.” 
In this, the reviewer is a fan of the action and the flow of the story but likes having a visual to match the action. 
Another example: 
“I applaud how metaphorically rich the stanzas are, but there is an excessive use of capitalization.  The writer should weigh when to use capitalization for personification versus using it simply to uniform it to the format of the poetry.” 
In this example, the reviewer loves the language of the poetry but believes the writer is a bit overzealous in his capitalization practices. 
For the review that turned out not so stellar, there is usually further feedback provided on how the story can be improved.  For example: 
“I could not finish the story in its entirety because there wasn’t enough conflict to hold my interest.  In the future, the writer should take more time to develop his character and his central conflict.  Do you want your character to be able to easily solve the conflict?  Do you want the conflict to be a challenge?  Do you want the conflict to be relatable?  Ask yourself these things.  Outline it prior to publication.  This will serve to improve your talent.” 
Another example: 
“The story was pregnant with punctuation, grammar, and spelling mistakes, and I could not continue because I was too busy proofreading it.  If you do not have time to check your own writing, invest in others to proofread your work.  If you are relying on friends, make sure they have a good understanding of the English language and are willing to be meticulous, even at the expense of your ego.  If you don’t know anyone personally to go to and if you have the money, you can pay someone to do it for you.  It is better to take extra time to proofread than to make these same types of errors in another story which may be phenomenal but will get overlooked.” 
In both examples, there was not only an outline of the problem but a suggestion on how to improve for next time.  
  1. When getting someone to do a review, do your research.  Read their guidelines to see if your work is something the person is interested in reading.  Observe his past reviews to see if the reviews are in alignment with the type of feedback you want.
  2. When doing swaps, keep your end of the deal.  It’s one thing to get bad press because of improvements in your writing.  It’s worse to get bad press because you aren’t a person of your word.
  3. Be prepared.  Your ego may get bruised in order to precipitate progress.  Decipher truly objective criticism versus those which are not.
  4. Thank the reviewer for taking time to check out your work.  If the reviewer was extremely helpful, spread the word about his services.
©  2013 Queen of Spades 

* This is also featured on The Review Board, No Labels Unleashed and All Authors Support Group.*

Poet, short story writer, and aspiring novelist. This blog details my writing journey and everything in between: supporting other writers, doing a feature column and serving as editor-in-chief for All Authors Magazine Online.

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