Reviewing Made Easy!

I was having a conversation with Ana, a fellow reviewer with a blog HERE! about the nature of reviewing. Recently I’ve been getting a blush worthy amount of attention for my reviews, which is fantastic, but as I was telling my lady-friend, Katherine, I never set out to be a reviewer. The intention behind this blog was to create a conduit through which I could interact with my readers. That my reviews have garnered more attention than my published works is ironic, but hey, you gotta start somewhere!

Anyways, my conversation with Ana got me thinking about reviewing in a broader sense and what it means to write good reviews. I have a bathrobe and a pointy hat, but I’m not a wizard, so I can’t provide any magic answers. Or am I?

wizard

Are you sure? I have a pointy hat.

What I can do, however, is provide some little tips and tricks into my reviewing process. Some of these are really obvious, some of them maybe not so much. Will these work for you? Boy howdy, I don’t know. Reviewing is like writing a story, there is no right way, just the way that works for you.

So here’s some food for thought when you’re writing your next review, blog post, short story, love letter, or eviction notice.

1) Make your words do more.

I can be notoriously long winded. I type as fast as I speak, so if I’m not careful I end up with a deluge of words on the page. This is actually a common problem for most authors. A good rule of thumb is that the difference between your first draft and final draft should be -10%. Meaning cut out 10% of the unnecessary words. This gets rid of fluff and filler which have no nutritional value anyhow. They’re the literary version of popcorn: eating more doesn’t necessarily make you feel fuller, so cut them out.

What do I mean by this? Well, I went to my WordPress Reader, found a new blog post at random and took the first two sentences which read:

“I realize this topic is as incredibly deep and complex as it is general. I will start this by stating that I am not in robotics nor do I work with artificial intelligence.”

After a little jazzercising, here’s the passage minus the fluff:

This topic is as incredibly deep and complex as it is general. Now, I don’t work with robots or artificial intelligences, but…”

The first passage has 33 words. The second only has 22. That’s cutting well more than 10%, but hey, I like using my Fiskers! The substance of the draft remains, but it’s punchier and more succinct. Is it better? Hell if I know, but the point is it’s less likely to create ‘Reader Fatigue’ (a new disease I just invented). Reader Fatigue occurs when Mrs. Reader is subjected to too many unnecessary words and starts cognitively shutting down. Soon, she’ll start skimming, and all those hard fought words you bled to get on the page will be worthless.

hemingway

Side-note: Your blood is important, keep it inside you.

Another snazzy way to make your lazy words do more is to make them self-referential. Simple things like referencing earlier portions of a work give the reader a nostalgic sensation. It makes them feel as though they are on the inside of an inside joke.

This doesn’t mean be heavy-handed with your references: subtlety goes a long way. Then again I’m just a guy wearing a bathrobe and a pointy hat, so what do I know?

gandalf1

Yes?

2) Review The Stuff You Hate

It will happen, guaranteed that you will come across a work that you simply despise. As a reviewer you got some choices to make. On the one hand, nobody is holding a pair of safety scissors to your hair and forcing you to write a review. Momma always said, “If you aint got nothing nice to say, don’t not say nuttin’ at all.” Momma, with all her double and triple negatives, was a hard woman to understand.

But that doesn’t work for me. It’s a cop out. If you’re doing it right, people come to read your reviews to get your opinion, your likes and dislikes. If you only review the works you like, then the reader only gets half the story, half your opinion. Your short-changing them.

Some of the most valuable feedback is negative. Constructive negativity is a formidable force for good.

3) But Don’t Be A Dick!

Dissecting other people’s work makes you feel like a real jerk, especially when you have nothing positive to say. But hey, as a Reviewer that’s your job. As an Author it’s your job to take the criticism as best you can and keep trucking.

Reviewer and Author are not enemies. Don’t go out of your way to make somebody feel bad for their word-baby, that just makes you a bully.

Here’s a couple things I do to blunt the edge on my words when I don’t want to appear ‘ranty’.

First, use a compliment sandwich. The idea is that you lead with something nice, then say something mean, and finish with something nice again.

For instance, in my recent Jupiter Ascending review the general structure looked something like this:

I was really looking forward to the movie based on the trailer. It looked fantastic and I was very excited. Unfortunately, it sucked. Here’s why. But ya know what, that’s okay, ’cause the visual effects were cool with some neat action sequences so it wasn’t a complete waste of my money. I just recommend not wasting any of your own money.

That’s the watered down version, but you get the idea. This softens the blow by displaying a certain amount of objectivity. If you simply eviscerate a book or movie, then people are likely to think you are just bitter. If you want them to take you seriously, you have to soften the blow, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still throw the punch.

The second technique I use, and this doesn’t work for everybody, is to throw in a fair amount of self-deprecating humor. Making fun of yourself does a number of things: it invites the audience to not take you so seriously, while also diffusing any tension accumulated over the course of a particularly scathing review.

Self-Deprecating humor is tricky, though. If done incorrectly it comes off obnoxious and self-serving. Almost as if the writer is begging for somebody to come and say, “Oh no, that’s not true. That’s a lovely robe, and that pointy hat is very wizardly.”

not a wizard

yes i am

This won’t work for everybody, but it works for me because it stays true to my internal voice. I’m not putting on an ‘act’ so to speak, but I am making a conscious effort to highlight parts of my personality I want the reader to engage with.

4) Stay True To You

Whether you are a reviewer, or author, if done correctly, people are coming to hear *your* opinion or story or voice. People don’t pick up Stephen King books anymore, read the blurb, and then debate whether or not they think they will like the story. If they like King, they are probably going to like the story regardless of what its about.

This happens because King has a distinctive voice that the reader knows they’ll like. It’s the same with reviewing. People are coming to hear *you*, so don’t be something you’re not. Don’t try and emulate King. Nobody wants a King copy-cat. If they want to read a King’esque story, they’ll read King.

Give the audience something only you can provide. Your personality, marred and scarred with all sorts of quirks and foibles, is unique. So use it. This will take some thought on your part as you consider what side of yourself you want to present. Do you want to be ultra-serious with laser like directness, or more loosey-goosey with only cursory attention to detail?

jack black

That’s your choice and nobody can make it for you.

But here’s something to consider: Don’t try and be something you’re not. Besides being exhausting and impractical in the long run, readers will see through it. Use your natural strengths and weaknesses as an asset because only you, dear reader, have the peculiar mix of characteristics that makes you so gosh-darn irresistibly weird.

Anthony

13 thoughts on “Reviewing Made Easy!

      • Longmire is the central character in a series of books by Craig Johnson – they are mysteries, but set in Wyoming where he’s the sheriff of a small town. One of his favorite phrases is Boy howdy. Johnson has an enormous following – his characters are rich and funny. If you want to try one of his books, I suggest you start with Junkyard Dogs. The books were made into a TV series, Longmire, The actors in the series are fantastic – it was on A&E for several seasons, then cancelled because the powers that be said the demographic of the audience was too “old.” This, even though it was the most watched series ever produced on A&E. The Longmire Posse worked hard and Netflix picked it up. A&E has not been able to replace it with a show anywhere near as popular. We “older people” have clout!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, I had no idea! Not about the inherit power of our elders, mind you (for which there can be no doubt as my grandmother with a ruler is all that’s needed to make me fall in line right quick). I love the power Netflix has given back to the viewers. As a company they seem willing to bring back shows to satisfy devoted fans, whereas only a few short years ago that could never have been the case!

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  1. I am so overwhelmed for having inspired you, eheh. Thank you so much for your words and for linking to my blog.
    Great advice and great text, as usual. I simply cannot get enough of your humour.
    Thank you for brightening up my day!

    Like

  2. Say… do I know you?

    I feel like we have similar writing styles. No, really! If we put both of our prose in a dark room, you would not be able to tell them apart. Maybe you’d find schroedinger’s dead cat in that room, too.

    I digress. I’ll bet you do, too.

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    • “Two prose shall enter the dark room, but only one shall leave!” I imagine our prose styles having a really bad ass knife fight ala Highlander in that dark room. More realistically, it’ll probably just be a really bad ass slap fight, but hey, that’s cool, too!

      Matt, your blog posts on military ranks within the sci-fi/fantasy genre was fantastic. I come from a military family and even so I get tripped up on this really important aspect of world building. It’s an interesting nut to nibble on, though, especially within the Military Sci-Fi genre. Avid readers of those sorts of books will call you out real quick, and then give you a swirly for good measure, if they notice you fluffing the details.

      I was in a rush and didn’t get to dive too deep for pearls within your blog, but what are you working on currently? Any stories germinating inside that old brain-pan?

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      • I’m in new writer hell right now. I mean, there I was, having this conversation with a Published Author, beta reading like a boss and totally killing it in the developmental editor style of things, and he says: “So, you said you are a writer. I’m a fan of your amazon reviews, I’d like to see a sample.”

        Oh yeah, I write the BEST Amazon reviews, for stuff like disney princess backpacks and the motherboard that caught fire in my computer. (It did not garner a good review from me.)

        *cough* I um. Well. I said, “Lemme see what I can do,” and pumped out 15,000 words of pure and lovely sci-fi, military fiction. Oh. No, wait, it wasn’t lovely.

        There was something missing. Oh yeah! It’s called the plot. I sadly walked away from my poor 15,000 word baby and told my author friend to just delete it. Throw it away. Burn it.

        Now I’m reading craft books and making mental notes. I’m 17% of the way through James Scott Bell’s “Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure”, which all the pantsuit authors sneer at. I am not a pantsuit author. I’m clearly a plodder. Yes, you little pantsuit bunnies, the plodder turtle will win this race. [“It’s not a race, dad!” my kids say. Except, it is.] Publish quickly, before all the other guys do, because… because. Wait, the race is with my mortality. I’ve only got another 10,000 days or so before I shuffle off to buy the mortal farm. Wouldn’t it suck to leave a bad legacy? Trashy fiction? Stuff that people will sneer at and my heirs would get paid $1.11 a year and say “it was totally not worth it for dad to do that book,” with a laugh.

        Ouch.

        Anyway, yar, I’m also going to read through The Positive Trait Thesaurus by Ackerman and Puglisi and the Negative Trait Thesaurus by the same authors and see what I can gin up. Combined with the snowflake method, it ought to be enough to start writing a sci-fi novel with MARINES! and stuff.

        Funny thing: This whole writing a novel thing would make a good plot. Lead character: Me. Interesting, fun-loving, like Grover only not covered with blue fur. Opponent: Mediocrity. Conflict: Learn to write a novel correctly. Boss fight/conclusion: Write the novel.

        Sorry, it’s like author tourettes. Gah! Everything is plot analysis.

        One thing that helps with the military rank system is to look at a wiki page listing the ranks and their purpose. Talking to military vets to get the inside on it helps, too. Certainly the military of the future isn’t going to be same as the military of modernity; and there might be lore lost or changes brought on by fundamental changes to humanity suggested by nanites, genetics, and cybernetic changes.

        Reading helps too. The US army releases field manuals into the wild all the time on things from military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) to squad and platoon management, and everything else imaginable. There are some gems in there, though most of it is pretty dry and has no application in stories, other than giving details on things that no one outside of the military is going to understand. Thus, if you were setting up a machine gun position, and you put some pegs in the ground, and started making a range card for the position, along with ranging information, that’s a detail that comes from study or experience. You don’t just plunk the gun down in a prepared position, there’s stuff to do. That would happen in the future, even if you had telemetric data with a power armor suit and heads up display, though maybe a little faster.

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  3. Yeah, I read a lot and always try to find something positive to say while being honest about what does not work for me. But every so often you come across something which you can’t find anything good to say. Hate panning something, but have to be honest. Cheers!

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  4. Reblogged this on Shirley McLain and commented:
    I am reviewing more and more just because of the nature of the beast. I found this blog interesting. I am not a long winded reviewer. My reviews are short and most of the time sweet because I usually like what I read.

    As a writer I have found out how important the book review is. I spend a lot of my day asking for reviews on Dobyns Chronicles. Everyone is buried alive by the amount of requests they get. Most of the time I get very kind responses back telling me they are just two backed up or it will be 2 or 3 months before they could possibly get to it.

    I said all of this to say if you read a book then please review it on Amazon or whatever site you choose. I prefer Amazon and Goodreads , but to each his own. You can always ask where they would like a review to go.

    Have a blessed day and happy reading.

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