Mon. April 3, 2017: Difference Between Review and Evaluation

Monday, April 3, 2017
Waxing Moon
Venus Retrograde
Sunny and mild

This will probably be the only sunny morning we have all week. So much for getting any yard work done!

I can’t believe another weekend flew past. I did some work on POWER OF WORDS. I did research for NOT BY THE BOOK on corporate espionage. The research was very depressing, especially in light of everything going on in the world today. It makes me glad I turned my back on corporate work (except for the temp jobs until I earned my way into full-time theatre work) as early as I did.

I did a lot of work on contest entries. I finished the preliminary read of the print books in one of the categories I’m judging, and moved on to the next one. Once I’m done with all the print entries, I do the digital entries; then I go back and take another look at both the “yes” and the “maybe” piles in each category. I re-read, if necessary. It’s usually just a case of a point or two difference in the top contenders, and I want to make sure I weigh everything fairly. It’s a lot of work. I put in A LOT of time. Which is why I only take paid gigs of this kind at this point.

Although I turned down a paid judging gig a few weeks ago; I’d done it last year, and not been happy with it. The pay was low, and they dragged their feet paying (it was per entry). The entries were the weakest I’ve ever read in ANY contest. Most of them were first-draft quality, and shouldn’t have been entered ANYWHERE, much less called themselves published books. But to me, the unethical part of it was this: The entrants were told, when they paid the entrance fee, that they would get reviews they could post as part of the contest. BUT THE ORGANIZERS DIDN’T TELL THE JUDGES. Instead, we were given a 92-word limit to evaluate the manuscript. First of all, a thorough manuscript evaluation often runs for pages (when you do it correctly). Second, there’s a difference in the way one critiques if it’s for publication, or if it’s a private edit/evaluation letter to a writer. Third, if I’d been told that the entrants expected to have a usable review (often for material that needed far more work), I wouldn’t have agreed in the first place, because that’s just WRONG, in my opinion. Reviews and evaluations are two entirely different animals. They come at different parts of the process.

To me, one of the most important aspects is that: AUTHORS DO NOT PAY FOR LEGITIMATE REVIEWS. That includes not paying the publication for the review (several publications have lost their status, in the eyes of the industry and of librarians, because they now charge for reviews, which makes them suspect). The publication pays the reviewer. The reviewer’s ONLY obligation is to do as fair and thorough a review based on the quality of the work.

In addition to the dozens of requests I get daily to review books by individual authors for free (there are plenty of authors whose work I’ll read and host on BIBLIO PARADISE, and I’m not paid for that, but I usually have some sort of relationship with them first, even if I’m hosting fellow authors from the same publishing house, or authors I’ve met in my travels), I get frequent requests from authors who want to pay me for a review. And I say no.

While the bulk of the reviews I do are paid, I am paid BY THE PUBLICATION. The author (or the publisher) sends a request w/media kit to the publication. The review editor decides if it’s suitable for review by the publication. If yes, the book goes in to the publication and is then assigned to the reviewer. The reviewer reads the book (I usually read it at least twice, sometimes three times) within the two week period of assignment, and writes a review. It goes back to the publication. It is fact-checked (all references have to have attribution), and edited. Then it goes into the publication queue. I usually invoice the publisher for every three or four books reviewed, and I’m paid within two to three weeks of invoice, depending on where I fall in their accounting cycle.

Being paid by the author throws it out of balance. The author needs a good review to post. By paying a reviewer directly, it takes away the objectivity — the author is paying for a service. Let’s face it, no matter how much they claim to want “an honest review”, they want a GOOD review.

And, as I said, a REVIEW is different than an EVALUATION. An evaluation (for which I DO accept money from an individual author) is done prior to a book’s publication, often prior to its acceptance. It’s about story, structure, and all the things that need to be fixed BEFORE publication, and, most importantly, BEFORE it goes out for review.

An EVALUATION helps make the book better (one hopes) BEFORE it is sent out in the world to rise or fall on its merits. A REVIEW is the judgment of whether it meets the standards set for engaging, strong, POLISHED work.

Evaluations are critiques; reviews are the criticism of the finished work. Each type of read/comment comes at a different stage in the process. Both are valuable, but for different reasons.

Reviewing is a specific skill, whether it’s literary, art, music, theatre, etc. A reviewer MUST know the protocols of the medium in which he/she is reviewing. It’s not just about “liking” or “not liking” something, although that is one of the many factors. It is an understanding of genre, craft, and the finished piece.

Genuine reviewers/critics, who knew what they were doing (even if the result wasn’t always what people hoped for) are: Kenneth Tynan, Frank Rich (believe me, I have many a bone to pick with him), John Simon (likewise), Pauline Kael, Virginia Woolf (read her COMMON READERS — they’re a revelation), David Denby, Edmund Wilson, George Jean Nathan, Mel Gussow, Walter Kerr, Brooks Atkinson. If you want to learn about the genuine art of this skill, read their work.

What some random reader posts on Amazon or Goodreads, complete with spelling errors, may help, as part of sheer bulk, get you higher in their matrix, but it’s not actually useful to your craft. Of course the opinions of individual readers matter. However, reviews are different than opinions (although they include opinions) and are an art form unto themselves.

I do very little reviewing anymore. Part of it is that, far too often, the word count is so small (often less than 300 words), it’s difficult to do the book justice. Part of it is that most publication don’t pay a whole lot, and, in order to genuinely write a well-crafted piece, I need to read the book being reviewed several times, I need to read the writer’s other work (unless it’s a debut novel), I need to be able to pull other references within the genre. That takes time. What most publications pay covers about 15 minutes, when it’s more likely to take the equivalent of 25-30 hours or more to do it truly well. Often more. When you read Virginia Woolf’s diary, and you see how long she took to do a review, and how much work, time, and thought she put into it, it suddenly makes sense, and you see how this modern model causes more harm than help to authors.

I judge fewer contests, too. I also, now, have learned to ask more questions about the expectations, before I say yes. It’s not that I think I’m so brilliant, or know so much more than everyone else or that my own work is perfect; it’s that I want to make sure the organizers are dealing with both the judges and the entrants with integrity.

Hop on over to the GDR site. I have a very simple list for April. There are things that need to be dealt with that prevent me from loading the list as much as I’d like.

Tomorrow, I’ll have an essay up on BIBLIO PARADISE about my first re-read for National Poetry Month, Susan G. Wooldridge’s POEMCRAZY.

Have a great week!

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Published in: on April 3, 2017 at 9:25 am  Comments Off on Mon. April 3, 2017: Difference Between Review and Evaluation  
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Thurs. Feb. 13, 2014: Thoughts on Reviews and Literary Criticism

Thursday, February 13, 2014
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Stormy

We’re getting slammed by another storm, so I’m just going to tuck inside today.

Decent workday yesterday. I kind of felt like I dithered a bit, but got more done than I expected. I’m doing some research on history of police procedure, so that the Sparkle and Tarnish books have a jumping off point with what was typical and what was fresh, rooted in the reality of the time. Also compiling lists of popular authors and best sellers of the day, since literacy is such an important theme in the books.

Wrote a review, polished it, and sent it off to my editor. Had mixed feelings about the book, and tried to make the review fair, praising what I felt worked, but also pointing out where I felt it went off track — but in a diplomatic way. I don’t like reading snarky reviews (even if I agree with the technical elements), and I try not to write them. If I truly despise an author’s work, I suggest that it be assigned to someone else, who will give them a fair reading. Every writer pours a lot into a book, and every book deserves a fair shot at a balanced review.

There are some authors whose work I can’t stand. There are authors I don’t like personally, but like their work — again, the review has to be based on the work, not any personal bias. There are authors I like personally, but I don’t care for their work. In the best of all possible worlds, I truly enjoy the writing, and then meet the author and discover the author is as delightful as the writing. But, if at any point I’m assigned a book to review and don’t feel I can be fair, I ask the editor to reassign it. In twenty plus years of reviewing, I think that’s only happened twice.

I am always grateful when someone enjoys one of my books and leaves a comment. When something doesn’t work, I am interested to know that, too, and why, provided it is presented well. If it’s just an attack, without form or substance leading back to the elements of the writing itself, it is meaningless. It’s still unpleasant, but one has to shrug and move on. Not everyone is going to like everything. Authors need room to try new things that don’t always work. If something doesn’t work, it’s helpful to get comments on what didn’t work and why. I can take useful comments and apply them to other work (provided they align with my vision or convince me to look at something in a new way), and make the next books better. It is not helpful to get attacks. There’s a huge difference, and social media doesn’t always discern between a genuine review or criticism and an attack.

The people who run around attacking the books of authors they don’t like — why? If you don’t like an author or an author’s work, why are you reading it, much less reviewing it? There are thousands of books that will give you pleasure, so why read something that makes you unhappy or angry? Yes, you have to read a book thoroughly in order to be qualified to comment on it. But if one or two don’t work for you — move on. There are certain authors out there, with long, best-selling track records that attract some readers who slam a book and say, “I’ll never read anything by so-and-so again because she did THIS” and, six books later, they’ve said the same thing on every book. If you know you don’t like the author and the series, don’t read any more! Read something you LIKE! It’s unhealthy to lock oneself in a dance of negativity like that.

With the lack of credential filtering on many review sites, any “reviewer” with a personal axe to grind can do so publicly and hurt the author. That’s just wrong. Also, if a review is badly written and filled with errors, I discount it. Reviewing is a particular skill. Criticism — genuine, literary criticism (which is different from “critique”) — is an art form that, sadly, is going by the wayside. Well-written literary criticism can open up a book in a whole new way, both in light of the book itself and in the context in the cannon — within the author’s body of work, within the genre, within literature as a whole. Well-written literary criticism is wonderful. Yes, some of it is nasty, which I don’t always like. But the genuine criticism, well-done, opens new vistas into a work.

Okay, enough about that. Time to get a bunch of WRITING done.

Published in: on February 13, 2014 at 9:05 am  Comments (3)  
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