4 Reasons Why I Write Book Reviews

I know, it’s terribly unpopular for authors to write book reviews right now, particularly if the review isn’t favorable.

open old book, a rose in a vase and a feather
Except if you’re an author.

I’ve chosen to write a few reviews anyway, and here are four reasons why.

 

1. I Accept my Limitations

A no point am I going to claim to be an expert. I don’t assign stars, because I don’t feel qualified to do that. I will also not be like Gottlieb at the New York Times reviewing books I don’t love in a genre I don’t love.

I love romance novels, sci fiction and fantasy novels, and books with strong female leads. Because I love them, I feel like I try to give them all a fair shake within the confines of what one expects from the genre.

I don’t review horror books or thrillers or a slew of others because I, personally, don’t love them.

 

2. Validity of Review Process

If I only ever write good things in book reviews, you won’t trust me. My goal is to give a balance interpretation through the lens of my experience. Your interpretation could always vary.  For example, the book North of Need had a few triggers for me. The set-up for the story had the feel of a horror novel to me (being trapped in a snowstorm with a stranger who is much bigger and stronger). Others, didn’t find this triggering. If you didn’t, you might like it more than me.

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Emphasis on fair.

 

3.  I Learn Something When I Write Them

Sometimes it’s something about myself. Like, I have stranger danger even as an adult. Sometimes, I learn more about story structure.

I love Lisa Kleypas as a romance author. There’s a reason why she’s one of the top names in historical romance. Her characters actually have character (something you don’t always find in romance). She lets women be friends, and sisters be sisters. It’s not all convoluted jealousy that I see too often. Her steamy scenes are very good, and her descriptions are amazing without using tired cliches. Like I said, she’s one of the best. By reading her and studying what I like, I learn a little more. Both for my own work, but also what to look for when selecting a new book.

Same is true of books I don’t like. I can learn a lot about plot and character development by figuring out why I don’t like something. After reading Lisa Kleypas, picking up another author that had every woman jealous of every other woman really brought to light how much I dislike that.

 

4. I Never Post to Amazon

As a fellow author, I don’t post my reviews on Amazon. Partly, because this is against Amazon’s terms and conditions, but more because I don’t ever want a review to be taken as an “attack” against another author.

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A reason to not give a bad review. Unless you’re a certain kind of romance writer.

Honestly, there are times I wish I could call some of the authors and tell them I like their work, but I’d love it if they could fix a few things. Do they want me to beta read for them?

Hubris, clearly, but in my opinion, book like the Queen of Swords could’ve been spectacular instead of just good with a bit of revision. This takes me back to Point 3. I learned a lot by reading Queen of Swords. More than I learned reading all of Lisa Kleypas’s books, probably because she makes it look so effortless.

 

How about you? Do you write book reviews on Amazon, knowing writers need them to succeed? Do you only ever write positive reviews?

Progress Update

Thought I’d share a quick update as to how my quest to get a book on your e-reader is going.

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Truth!

Pro Writing Aid

I bought Pro Writing Aid to do a final polish on what I thought was a tidy manuscript. I figured it would take a few hours to go through and make any changes. Okay, stop laughing.

Yes, I have lots of red errors of doom.

ProWritingAid
Yeah, lotta red.

I’m working through them, though after a few chapters, I’m learning I don’t always agree with all of their marks. For example, it tells me the word desire is “corporate”. But I’m a romance author, and this word is common in the genre.

I’m picking which reports work best for me and working through their recommendations, but this has already taken longer than a few hours.

More Edits

As I’m re-reading everything, I’m making changes. I know, but I can’t help myself. As I work on the technical side of my writing, I also find myself rewriting descriptions to make things flow better, revamping dialogue and the like.

I’ve been working on this novel for two years, and I can still find things to change. I’m starting to worry it’ll never be done.

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Starting to feel like this is me.

Cover Artist

I do not have talent with drawing or photo-manipulation, and I know we all judge a book by its cover. So back in August, I reserved a spot with a cover artist I really like for late 2017 or early 2018. She recently said she could start working on mine in February, so I’m hoping her schedule sticks.

My goal is to work with the same artist for all of the books I’m writing so my covers have a consistent look. As you can see from my works in progress, I have a few coming.

If this cover goes well, I’m hoping to use her again.

Editor?

Given everything that Pro Writing Aid has unearthed about my writing, I am seriously considering an editor. I have learned the lesson about compound sentences needing a comma, and that shows in Pro Writing Aid, but I’m still not sure what a hidden verb is.

While I don’t think the book will ever earn back what I pay for an editor, the expense may still be worth it if I learn something from the process that I can apply to future novels. This means finding a solid editor that doesn’t mind romance writing, and who’ll take the work even at mac and cheese prices. So if you know of any, please let me know!

New Story

After having a discussion with my writing group, I decided to start a new work amidst all of these revisions so I don’t lose the ability (and desire) to create something new. Rewriting is important, but so is creating.

 My goal is still to release To Love a Prince by the end of June 2018. Yes, I’m putting that out there. I’d like to have the next book ready by January 2019, but that’s still in the early stages of revision. Chronologically, it comes after To Love a Prince, but I wrote three other books before that one. I have some catching up to do if I’m going to be ready by then!

5 Reasons I’m Considering a Lab-Grown Sapphire

Valentine’s Day is coming, and during this time of year, my husband tends to be looking for a gift. He’s lived with me for many years and is very aware that I have a magpie gene. Yes, it’s true, I am drawn to sparkly shiny things. Always have been.

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Not sure I’d wear it, but cool necklace.

Armed with this knowledge, he knows a trip to the jewelry store will almost always result in me loving my present.

 This year, however, I was doing a bit more research so I could help him.

 Five Reasons I’m Considering a Lab-Grown Sapphire

 There is No Chemical Difference – Lab-grown sapphire’s are not like cubic zirconia is to diamonds. A lab grown sapphire has exactly the same chemical composition as a sapphire mined from the earth down to the molecular level. Yeah. Molecular level.

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Carbon. Building blocks of a diamond.

Some new manufacturing processes allow for the stones to be made much larger and eliminate most of impurities in the process of creating the stones. Seriously, it’s like science fiction made real.

And yes, they are real stones. Made in a similar way to the way they made by the Earth, just made faster. Only way to tell if a quality lab-grown stone is lab-grown is for a trained gemologist to inspect it under a special microscope and look for the telltale signs of how the manufactured gem was seeded.

 

Environmental Sustainability – Lab grown gems are much more environmentally sustainable. Not only does it take less energy to create one than to mine one from the ground, but there’s no long term damage to the earth and surroundings communities. Some of the mining techniques used to extract gems are horrendous.

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This is actually a very mild form of mining.

Origin – You know exactly where the gem was created. There is no worry about conflict minerals. If you read up on how many of the miners are treated, this alone can be worth it. They aren’t called blood diamonds because of their color.

Price – Lab grown gems are much less expensive than gems mined from the ground.

Colors – You can get a rainbow of colors at the same quality.

 I’m still not completely sure what I think, but I am huge proponent of science. I am trying to wrap my brain around why we wouldn’t manufacture all gems if what my research shows is true.

Perhaps I’m missing something. What do you think? Is there a reason you’d prefer a gem that came from the earth rather than a lab? Why do you think we still mine gems at all?

 

 

 

My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

So, when I mentioned that I’m working on a romance novel, or several of them, I also said that editing them consumes much of my writing time.

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Editing is about like this for me.

Beth Turnage had a question on what I do to revise my novels, but it’s so integral to how I write, that I thought I’d share my process.

I’m not saying this is good or bad as every writer is different. As with most creative endeavors, what works for one artist won’t work for another. But here’s my:

My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

1. Spend Some Time Thinking about the Characters

You’ll notice I didn’t say plotting. And I don’t. I wish I did, oh, how I wish I did! You may have noticed that I tend to be an organized person with a spreadsheet for most things. But I can’t do it with writing. Yet.

CharactersPlot
But the plot will resolve itself if I’m mean enough to the characters.

But I didn’t say plotting, I said thinking about the characters. Who are they? What motivates them? Why do I care about them? If I’m really lucky, I can toss the characters around with my husband. Talk about them, about what they’d do in different situations. This is my sandbox time with them. Nothing is off the table. Sometimes, I’ll come up with characters and situations that lead to two stories. Sometimes, they bore me and I table them until later.

Honestly? This is one of the most fun parts of writing.

2. Write the Skeletal First Draft

I’m not kidding about it being skeletal. My first draft of the romance novel is very bare bones. Usually around 40k-45k words for a book that will end up being around 70k-80k words. I’m not sure why I write this way, but I’m not one of the authors that needs to cut a lot. Usually, I need to add more. A whole lot more. But that’s for the second draft. This first draft gets down the characters and what’s happening in the story. Mostly.

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Yeah, my first draft looks about like this

3. Take 6 Weeks Away from the First Draft

Yep. I now spend at least six weeks away from the first draft. I have plenty of other editing to do, or another first draft to write.

4. Go Back and Make the First Draft Coherent

At this stage, I read the first draft again so I have a clue what I’m facing. Then, I try to weave any themes I see later in the book into the earlier sections as I focus on adding all the stuff I skipped in the first draft. This tends to include, but is not limited to:

  • Writing better transitions
  • Adding details such as taste, sounds and smell
  • Giving a better insight into characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Many times, this draft will include adding entirely new scenes. In one story I wrote, it involved moving when the hero and heroine are married from the end of the book to the beginning. Yeah, huge change. But as I was reading the draft, I realized there was a huge plot hole, and to fix it, the hero and heroine required an earlier wedding. It meant using other things to “keep them apart”, but the novel was much better for the change. It was still a lot of rewriting.

5. Tidy Up the Second Draft

At this point, most of the stuff is in the right places. This revision has me looking more at are characters being true to themselves in dialogue tags and mannerisms. Tidying up word choices, particularly word repetition. I add more description, and I smooth over as many rough edges as I can find.

6. Send It to My Alpha Reader

I then send the romance novel to my Alpha reader. They are not a detailed reviewer. Rather, they tell me if they liked the story. If they liked the characters. If they wanted to see the hero and heroine get together in the end, and if the obstacles in the story were believable. They also tell me if there is anything unclear. If I have to explain a part to my alpha reader, then I need to go in and fix it to make it clear as I won’t have that option with a final reader.

7. Alpha Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my alpha reader recommended (usually all). I do another clean-up revision while doing this.

8. Send it to My Beta Reader

At this point, I feel like the story is pretty clean, so I send it to my beta reader. I only have one at this point, but she’s awesome. She gives me constructive criticism where I need it, but she also points out what I’m doing well. She does a much more detailed review, marking areas that feel rushed, transitions that need work, or spots that aren’t clear. She also makes sure my characters stay in character. If I get cheesy or whiny (which, I’ve gotten MUCH better about), she’ll tell me that, too.

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And she’ll tell me those doubts, too.

9. Beta Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my beta reader recommended. This sometimes has a few larger things to address, and as I do them, I do another revision of my own.

10. Detail Revision

This is the revision where I go through the work and look for word choice, punctuation, grammar, all the important things so that the writing itself is understandable and errors don’t pull you out of the work. I purchase Pro Writing Aid this year, and I am going to try that as well.

11. Final Polishing Edit

One last look through before I release my book baby into the wild.

I’d love to afford a real editor, but at $2 per page, I’d be looking at almost $700 to have a book edited. and that’s on the cheaper side. I’m sure they’d make my work better, but I just can’t afford them yet.

So, there it is. I will say that this is my most recent pattern. The first book I wrote after taking up the keyboard again is sitting mothballed, and that doesn’t include all the other ones I wrote ages ago that are also forgotten electrons.

The first romance novel I wrote that I actually plan to publish took a far more circuitous route to finish. But as I now have six novels in progress, not including the ones I started and kicked aside along the way, I’m starting to find my rhythm. It might not be perfect, but it’s mostly working for me.

If you’re a writer, what’s your process? Even if you’re not a writer, any tips or pointers on editing? Maybe you do something else creative? If so, what’s your process?

The Joy Of…

Editing. Even though I write romance novels, you totally knew I was going to say editing.

I spent half of September, and all of October, November, and December editing. Not just normal editing, but the process of turning first drafts into second. It’s been productive as I have turned three different first draft romance novels into second drafts, which tends to be the hardest revision for me.

Some authors a pretty awesome first draft. That would not be me.

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Editing takes me far more time than writing

 

I also did a late draft edit on Knight of Valor. This took about ten days because I’ve been polishing it for a while now.

Progress Ahead

You can always check out my WIP page if you want to see what I’m working on. One of my goals for 2017 is to actually press the publish button on Crowned Prince. Working on finding a good romance cover artist with space for a first-time author now, and I want to do one last edit of it as well. I also need to learn how to format an e-book and use Createspace to make a paperback of it.

Lots of learning ahead!

Rewriting, as hard and messy and unpleasant as it can be, has a certain joy of its own. You get to watch your half formed lump of clay look a little more like David and a little less like that play-doh project your toddler made.

I know lots of people think you plunk down your first draft, then you work through a revision or two as you  fine-tune spelling and punctuation. While that might have worked for my college term papers, I can’t think of a single college term paper I’d have spent precious free-time reading.

I have to confess, I am a bit tired of revising. While I am working through three different stories, I may need to take a break and write yet another first draft I will have to revise later. Still, it’s nice to have a pipeline of stuff to work on, even if it’s not always as exciting as writing new stuff.

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They say writing is rewriting, and I have found it to be true.

Have you found that to be true? Any tricks you use in your rewriting or editing process?