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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Friday, April 16, 2010

Waxing Moon
Rainy and cold

I was up at 5:30, but decided not to run, a mixture of the rain, the coyotes,and the fact that I could barely put weight on my left knee yesterday. Nothing says “prey” like a limping target, right? If I feel better tomorrow, I might give it a shot later in the morning, not at dawn.

I did a little writing Wednesday night, after I scheduled the post — mostly outline work.

Yesterday morning, the cleaning crew came in, so I packed up and took off for the Greenwich Library, to do research for the Chet Grey story. I’ve wanted to do it for weeks now, and the story is at a standstill because of it.

It was a very intense few hours of reading about neurology, neuoplasticity, interior and exterior artificial “brains”, neurowarfare, biological and chemical warfare, and the development of the elite “warrior-athletes”, commonly labeled “Super Soldiers” in pop culture. My dad was a chemist, and wanted me to be a nuclear physicist. I forget, in between bouts of science reading, how quickly I take to it, and how natural a lot of it is for me. Truly good science writing is a joy. It’s inspirational on so many levels — quality of writing and quality of content. And it sometimes makes me wonder about the road not taken.

The research will serve far more than this Chet Grey story — which may well turn out to be a novella. It’s given me a few ideas for some straight-up sci-fi, and additional info to get past the “stuck” on a piece that started as a screenplay for Script Frenzy a few years ago, and then morphed into a novel.

I also picked up a nice stack of books at the library sale.

And Strand Books, bless ’em, already have some relevant books on their way to me. They are my go-to book resource.

At first, I was totally elated by the research, high on the possibilities, both in actual terms and in terms of fiction. However, as the day progressed, and the weight of the information really began to sink in, I was filled with a combination of hope and despair. I don’t believe that the governments and the private companies funding this work have the ethics to safeguard it. And, deep down, most people want to believe they do, but don’t and therefore ignore the fact all this even exists — hence the basis for best-selling espionage fiction. Anyway, it depressed the hell out of me. We can’t just have the intelligent in charge — even the most intelligent of people can get caught up in the excitement of discovery or of greed. We need people with strong ethics and a strong sense of social justice. The right wing nuts in this country have hijacked the term “social justice” to be a Bad Thing for America — when, in reality, the only “bad” about it is that it doesn’t let the corrupt have all the money and all the power. “Social justice” is a concept far removed from “socialism” — but then, most of the people who toss around that term have no idea what it really means, either. This country is not heading towards socialism, and socialism wouldn’t work here.

Basically, I think we’re all fucked at this point, no matter who’s in office, because there’s so much greed and so much corruption, corporations can do anything they want without consequence, and the ones who scream the loudest against it,the fake protesters, pretending to be grass roots, but, in reality, funded by the most corrupt and ethically-challenged individuals in this country, funded by the ones who want to maintain the status quo and just have all this distraction, the noise, the smoke and mirrors, so they can continue to economically and socially rape the country. The current administration hasn’t taken strong enough steps to turn back the previous regime’s corruption — and the Cheney years will go down in history as the most corrupt since post-civil war reconstruction — provided we have a world left in 200 years to read the history of this era. And, honestly, I’m beginning to doubt that we will.

But you know, with all that volcanic activity in Iceland, in addition to their economic collapse, I’m kind of glad I didn’t buy a place there a couple of years ago, when I was considering it!

I started reading one of the books I bought, something light to take my mind off it all, written by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed before. Not this time. The premise is good, the characters engaging, the execution doesn’t live up to it, and the writing is so sloppy I can barely get through it. Big disappointment.

Fortunately, I’m not friends with this person and don’t have to fumble to find something nice to say about the book, because chances are, we’ll never have to have a conversation about it!

The reading certainly made me look at last night’s episode of FRINGE with a different viewpoint. And, much as I enjoyed the scenes between the Walter Bishop character and the character played by Peter Weller, I still can’t get into the show. Part of it is Dunham’s unrelenting dourness. I understand, she’s really busy saving the world and all, and was experimented on as a child, but really, can’t she have a moment or two of pleasure, relaxation, or joy? This is nothing against the actress, she’s very good; I just disagree with the conception of the character. I also disagree with the show’s insistence (at least in the episodes I’ve seen), that everything in an alternate universe/alternate plane/whatever they’re calling it is negative and a threat. You know what? I bet they’re just trying to get through the day as much as we are, and with many of the same problems, corruptions, joys and sorrows. My philosophy differs on such a basic level that I can’t just accept and enter the world presented in the show.

I promised comments on the season finale of HUMAN TARGET, and here they are. First and foremost, I thought it was an excellent episode — the villains actually had personalities and posed a threat — finally! I was worried that the character of Katherine Walker would be a disappointment. We’ve heard so much about her all season. She was played by Amy Acker (whose work I liked a lot in both ANGEL and DOLLHOUSE), so the casting was a relief. And the creators made a smart choice — she wasn’t a Super anything. She was ordinary, and it was her very ordinariness and kindness that was Chance’s tipping point. Fantastic choice, and not one that’s usually made in this kind of show. There wasn’t enough of Jackie Earle Haley in the episode. Good fight scene with Mark Valley, and Haley gave my favorite delivery of any line in any show all season. The simplest line you can imagine: “Dude, it’s me” when Chance wonders how Guerrero found him that told us VOLUMES about their past, their relationship, their future. Perfect example of how the simplest of lines can have the biggest impact with brilliant delivery. The episode really needed to be two hours long, so we could have a bit more of the early Chance/Guerrero years, but if they come back next season, hopefully we’ll see. Something happened between them to make them intrinsically loyal to each other in a way they aren’t to anyone else. It might be better if we never know what that is; it might not measure up. I also loved the fact that Haley had the last line of the piece, about getting Winston back, and it’s the first chance we had to see that Guerrero not only gives a damn about Chance, but he also gives a damn about Winston. I also liked the fact that Katharine did not die in Chance’s arms. I was worried they’d go that route. Not doing so was the right choice, and it also opens up other possibilities.

Problems with the episode: Dog continuity. I’ve had trouble with it all season. They’ve got the dog, and don’t really utilize him properly. They keep sticking him in because they established him in the pilot, and they showed how Chance got him in this episode, but their use and continuity with him is shaky. Another problem: Winston’s phone. We see Chance steal it from his pocket early on to find the text with Katherine’s safe house address — another problem, I don’t believe the cops are that stupid to text Winston with the address — but, a few scenes later, Winston talks to Katherine and Chance on the cell phone. Katherine wouldn’t have answered her phone if she didn’t recognize Winston’s number, so how did Winston get the phone back? Another problem: Baptiste wasn’t hungry enough to prove he’s better than Chance. It was referred to briefly, but there wasn’t enough desperation and resentment there. Another problem: Towards the end, I don’t believe Guerrero wouldn’t take the old man out when he had the gun on him. I believe he wouldn’t shoot Chance earlier, and he went off the grid — that sets up a lot of their relationship. But when the old man shoots the guy who’s about to shoot Chance and Guerrero has the gun on him — I believe he’d have taken the shot (and succeeded) and he and Chance would have figured out where Winston is and how to retrieve him. I understand, in the overall arc, why it couldn’t happen, but it wasn’t logical or true to the characters in the moment.

I’m glad this wasn’t the pilot — it worked well as the season finale. If it is the SERIES finale as well, if the show doesn’t get renewed, at least we have enough information not to feel cheated. I hope it comes back. I’m interested to see where the creators take it in another season –whether I agree with those choices or not! 😉

I do miss being on set sometimes, but I’m where I need to be right now — writing — and, although I feel a little stuck, it’s the pressure I need to get me going in the right direction. Spending time on my own work rather than pouring that energy into other people’s work is where I need to be.

Got to go help my mom on something this morning, and then, it’s a day of writing. Will probably work on the Chet Grey story, make use of the research while it’s still fresh, but the bulk needs to be on the novella. The novella needs to be finished this weekend.

Back to the page. From neuroscience to 1889 in a heartbeat. I love being a writer!

Devon