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!

Published in: on April 3, 2017 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Mon. Feb. 24, 2014: A Writing and Researching Weekend

Monday, February 24, 2014
Waning Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Sunny and cold

Good news! My western novella, ELUSIVE PRAYERS, has been accepted by Amber Quill Press. This is a tie-in novella to my previous WIDOW’S CHAMBER serial. It had been accepted by the WC publisher, who went out of business on release day. I’ve rewritten it substantially in the interim, and it will now come out in late July. Re-working it, I liked the characters, situation, and depth of research, so I’m excited.

I have four releases coming out between the end of March and the end of July. So I’m pretty excited. It means I’ll be gearing up for some serious PR soon — watch out! 😉

Busy weekend. Friday was frustrating, but I got through it. Saturday, I worked on the novel I’m going to write in tandem with a friend who’s also working on a novel. We’re brainstorming and exchanging chapters, which is fun. I’ve read her outline and the first three chapters; she’s now got my initial fragment, my character notes, and the ideas for some major turning point scenes that I have to flesh out into my Writer’s Rough. In two weeks, I’m going to give her the first chapter. That’s longer than I usually take to write a chapter (I usually have to cough up one or nearly one a day), but this is a different kind of book and is not on a contract schedule.

I also wound up my course work for the Environmental Law and Policy Class. Got 100% on my final quiz, and 100% on my research exercise. I love, love, loved this class, and definitely want to get more involved in this type of work. It also made me understand some of the policies in place at the National Marine Life Center more completely.

I did some reading over the weekend. My next two books for review arrived, and I’m excited to dig into them. I started a couple of novels from the library, was frustrated with them, returned them. I read one novel I really enjoyed, THE TWISTED THREAD, by Charlotte Bacon. I wanted to shoot her an email to let her know how much I enjoyed it, but couldn’t find contact information online, and realized how spoiled we’ve all become at being able to locate anyone we want instantly! Good for her for not playing the always-available game!

Did a lot of research for the Sparkle & Tarnish series on Victorian dining. Since food plays a big part in the books, I want to make sure I get it right. I found THE SECRET GARDEN COOKBOOK filled with lovely historical tidbits, and I’m reading FANNIE’S LAST SUPPER, about a chef researching and recreating a meal from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cookbook.

The current Garrett POV chapter I’m working on in TRUE HOME is set in Boston in 1886, so I’ve also been doing extensive research on geography, et al, of the time in order to properly write the chapter. Now, I have to cross-check some information, because I’d like to use some food info that is in books about Boston at the time, only I want to use them in NY chapters, but have to find out if similar places were in existence in NY at the time.

I see a trip to the Massachusetts Historical Society in the not-so-distant future for a day’s research.

Saturday night, I stayed up way too late watching NOW YOU SEE ME. The movie got lukewarm reviews, so I wasn’t expecting much, and I was pleasantly surprised. I liked it a lot. I figured out the big twist, but then, that’s what I do. I understand structure, and that choice made the most sense within the structure and the clues dropped in. I watched it again on Sunday, to pick up some details I’d missed.

Sunday, I researched, wrote, and scheduled articles for the wine blog all the way into mid-March. Took a break for more research, and then spent the afternoon at the Osterville Library, at a talk by author Paul Kemprecos, who writes a detective series set in this area, and also wrote several books with Clive Cussler. A colleague from the Writers Center was there, and they had a nice spread of wine, cheese, etc. It was a fun, lively afternoon.

Watched the closing ceremonies of the Olympics — pretty, but I didn’t have the context for much of the symbolism. Although I appreciated the tribute to writers, the performance didn’t make much sense, and where were the women writers?

This will be a very stressful week for me, not to mention that I have to finish the revisions of the play.

Got an intriguing job offer that I need to investigate more closely. I think it would be fascinating, if we can work out the time/money part of it.

The expected overnight storm missed us, and now they’ve downgraded Wednesday’s storm from a foot of snow to only four inches. Phew!

Back to the page.

Devon

Fri. Feb. 21, 2014: Trying to Stay Steady

Friday, February 21, 2014
Waning Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Rainy and cold

Ran some errands in the morning, got back before snow. Pitched for some jobs — there are two that I really want. I can only accept one of them, so we’ll see which one comes through. Whichever one comes through will be the “right” one.

Was unhappy with my writing.

Finished a book for review; wrote and polished the review. Sent it off this morning, along with the invoice.

I have a post up on Adventures in Vineland, if you’re interested.

Worked with students, and have to adjust some upcoming exercises.

Need to dig down into some writing today, and write, flat out, all weekend.

That’s pretty much it. We keep getting hit with storm after storm after storm, as everyone is, and trying to make the best of it.

Have a great weekend!

Devon

Published in: on February 21, 2014 at 8:56 am  Comments (2)  
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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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Tues. Feb. 11, 2014: Example of a Positive Workday

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Sunny and cold

Yesterday was a very good workday. I worked on the novella in draft, I finished an editing pass on the other novella (and will do one more, layering in more sensory detail). My publisher and I agreed on the title for the sci-fi horror western. I worked on the play.

I also landed two new clients on two short projects. One is completely turned around (and paid). The other, I did my first pass and sent it back to the client for response, and it will go back and forth over the next couple of days (deposit paid). Both clients were a pleasure to deal with and had high quality work. Helped make the workday joyful.

Finished one of the books sent for review. The first half was great and it took a turn about midway through that was disappointing. Will write and send the review later today.

Started reading a book just because I want to, and I really like it. If I continue to like it, I will mention it as “Recommended Reading”.

I started on the week’s work for the Environmental Law and Policy class. Love it. We’re getting assigned a research project, which I’m eager to start.

Watched the Olympics, of course. Speed skating and skiing events.

My knee is healing nicely; my back is slower. But it’s healing, and yesterday’s snowfall wasn’t much, so the shoveling didn’t kill me. But we’re supposed to get slammed again all day Thursday. The very thought of it just makes me tired.

Devon

Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 8:48 am  Comments Off on Tues. Feb. 11, 2014: Example of a Positive Workday  
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Tues. Jan. 7, 2014: Working and Offers

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Sunny and c-c-cold

I’ve got an essay on choosing the first and last books of the year over on A Biblio Paradise. Check it out!

Yesterday, I worked flat out. I caught up on admin, pitched for some jobs, worked with students, wrote a book review, polished a feature article pitch and queried it, did some background for the new play, and for a feature article. Also mailed a package, did a library run, got in some cat food, and baked a cake for the neighbor who dug me out in the snowstorm last week.

This morning, I found an interesting offer in my inbox, and have started negotiations. If we can work out a few details, I’ll have some good news soon. If not, I’ll be disappointed, but move on.

I need to work on the airship steampunk story today, and get going on the revisions for the half hour teleplay, work with students, etc.

Hopefully, I won’t have to go out — it’s bitterly cold, and I’d rather stay safe inside.

Devon

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 8:33 am  Comments Off on Tues. Jan. 7, 2014: Working and Offers  
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Thurs. June 13, 2013: Good Workday and Eager for Conference

Thursday, June 13, 2013
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Sunny and cool

I was productive yesterday. Got out my review (last for this editor, whaaa — but I’m excited for his new opportunities). Wrote a press release and a blurb for the previous day’s committee meeting, per what I promised and am waiting for feedback. Worked with private students and the Supporting Characters students. Wrote an article. Roughed out a second article. Did some research on Venetian painting (I could have spent all day on that — delightful). Realized I had to return books, so I pulled one of them (that I can’t renew any more) and took the notes I needed before making the trip.

You know you spend a lot of time in local libraries when the librarian greets you by name as you walk in and brings over the next stack of books put aside! Cape Cod has some of the best libraries and best librarians ever. I am truly blessed.

Watched lectures for both my Climate Literacy class and the Archaeology class. Interesting how some of the issues intersect.

Worked up general notes for a new series and started outlining the opening of the first book. This is in an historical context, which means I get to do a whole lot of fun things with it!

Prepped for the conference I’m attending today and tomorrow. It’s about Cape Cod’s changing coast — feeds directly into the climate literacy class, and I expect that information here and from my friend at NMLC will give me the background I need for my first climate literacy paper.

I’m going to try to work with some students now, before I leave for the conference (yes, it’s just after 6 AM — the beauty of an online course).

I’m in my Annabel Aidan persona over on the Writers Vineyard, talking about trusting your creative subconscious here.

Looking forward to the day — in spite of the nor’easter heading our way!

Devon

Wed. Jan. 23, 2013: Difference Between “Aspiring” & “Professional” — Getting It DONE!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Sunny and c-c-c-old!

Yesterday wound up being a pretty decent writing day, thank goodness!

I’m still struggling with the play — it feels like I’m trying too hard. Probably because I am. I need to step back and let it be what it is, and trust that then I can tweak it where it needs to go.

Also got a review out to an editor, and an additional assignment from him. He always tosses me a good extra assignment when he can.

Got a terrific, personal letter from an editor at a major publication into which I’ve tried to break in for awhile. She loved the writing on the current piece, and, although she ultimately rejected it more for genre elements than anything else, wants to see the next one. So now I have to WRITE the next one with an eye to that particular pub! 😉 I’ve submitted there for several years — this is the first non-form letter I’ve gotten, so I’m in the right direction.

To answer a question about my definition of a creative energy vampire — it’s someone who intentionally creates conflict in order to siphon off creative energy for his/her own project/life by draining someone else’s energy, creating and maintaining a constant atmosphere of tension. I’d cut off most of them from my life, but every once in awhile, someone circles around, or slides in and then attaches like a leech and has to be removed.

Got some great work done on the Dickensian steampunk. Read over notes from a project I’d spun out for a bit, then decided to put aside in favor of another one, and now this one wants attention. There’s potential there, but I don’t see how it can be slotted in right now. Talked about two projects with my agent; tweaked the sample chapters on one and sent it out to her. She’s taking around one of the projects already, and we’ll decide the best route for the other. I’m also working on a third for her (non-fiction), but I need to have the manuscript complete before I can write the proposal in this particular case, so again, it has to be worked around the stuff that’s immediately paying the bills.

I need to do some more work on the piece that needs to release in Imbolc. Which is next week. The plot is shaping up nicely, but the tone is still a bit off.

After being ready to shriek with frustration at several aspiring writers who are whining about “not having time” to do an outline for a book (some whining that two weeks isn’t enough, others that a month isn’t enough), look at this example: A writer whose work I like and respect A LOT finished copy edits on his latest book and sent them off on Sunday night. Yesterday morning, when we all got on line to yap, he started the outline for his next book. By the end of the day, he was done (and celebrating with a nice, 15-year-old whiskey). This morning, he opens a new file and starts the damn book. THAT is a committed, professional writer.

Waiting to find out if there’s a meeting today to look at the venue for the play. In the meantime, I need to get back to the play itself.

You can still enter to win the giveaway of Cynthia Woolf’s book on A BIBLIO PARADISE here.

Devon

Only three more days until the Special Editing offer expires — get your first 30 pages (in Standard Manuscript Format only) line edited for only $75. Expires on January 25. Information here.

Published in: on January 23, 2013 at 8:38 am  Comments (5)  
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