6 Ways to Decipher Book Cover Reviews


Book jackets can tell you more than just what the words of the reviews write. Here’s how:

  1. The Source – My eye wanders to the source before I read the content of the quote. It is instinct to read the who before bothering with the what. It is human nature. Human nature and that we don’t trust just anyone. The source is the credibility. A quote that reads, Best book ever written in the entire universe!  – says Anonymous. That’s a glowing review by no one who matters. Anonymous is that cousin of lies when it comes to trusting a book review.
  2. Look at the Length of the Review – A lone word, Riveting or Amazing or Funny, has power. By writing less it says more than a full sentence ever could. Or that is what the publisher would like you to think. A lone word review was not printed as a lone word. It was plucked from a complete review. From that lengthy release one word was valued about the others like the prettiest fish in an aquarium and held up for the world to see, leaving the little accent fish and clogged filter in the background. So be wary of the one word review.
  3. Paid or Unpaid – Unbeknownst to many readers it can cost money to get a book reviewed. While bloggers (for the most part) do not charge but, some of the big reviewers do. The Kirkis Review currently costs $425 for a standard review. $575 if you want it sooner. This doesn’t mean Kirkis Review panders to clients, always writing a great review. Their critics are good at what they do and many books end up with mediocre reviews, largely because there are a lot of mediocre books available. Meanwhile authors who give glowing reviews may be doing so, in part, because they expect the favor returned, or they belong to the same publisher and the boost is likely to help the hand that feeds them. Just a nugget to keep in the back of the mind.
  4. A Book Compared to Other Books – We have all seen the reviews . . . reminiscent of Game of Thrones or Top Gun meets Sherlock Holmes in this exciting thriller. This is the critics way of saying it falls in line with the genre in a way that will probably boost the book’s sales but the book is not as good as the books it is being compared too. I have yet to see a review that says This is like that other book, but better.
  5. Awards – A writing prize can mean a lot about quality but it does not mean you will like the book. Prizes are often given out for something new and different. A voice not often heard or a style. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka won the Pen Faulkner Award when it came out. The novel is well done and uses a collective voice of Japanese women brought to America which is rarely seen in books. It brings something to new, a first, to the world of literature as a whole but it won’t be starting any trends in collective voice fiction. American readers want to know more about characters, the people and this book glassed over the depth of the individual in the ways many bestsellers dig into the personal history of main characters.
  6. Bestseller Stickers – A bestseller label is something I usually avoid. Depending on your reading preferences this can be a sale point or a warning label. A book’s popularity can tell you a couple things. First, this book is not going to be complex reading. The books that reach the most hands are books that use short, simple sentence structure and have literal phrasings that allow anyone to absorb them without too much difficulty. Second, these books are probably genre fiction. This is does not hold universally, but romances and thrillers make up a large section of the most sold and devoured books. Formulaic stories that appear in a series will hit the charts. Think Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, Jim Butcher, Clive Cussler. They have an audience and they know the routine. One book does not differ significantly from the next so readers know what sort of beach time page turning to expect. If you are skeptical, search a list of best sellers right now. These books sell well now but will not stand the test of time. That is what a bestseller sticker can tell you.

So what to look for in finding a gripping read, full sentences by credible sources. You want some vacation reading look for short reviews by bestsellers. If it is a specific genre, like glittery teenage vampire novels, use authors to pick other authors and key in on their reviews. Let the reviewers form be your guide.


Magic Street – A Short Book Review


Orson Scott Card’s  Magic Street can best be explained by the acknowledgements. The book is well written but while reading it, one wonders who it is written for and why it is written by Card. It was not until I was done with the book that I understood the white author was attempting to expand the canon of literature featuring black lead characters.

A noble ambition. However there is no getting around it, this book is not about being black, it is about faeries.

Specifically the faeries from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When I started the book my disbelief was suspended. The fantasy elements had a hold of me and I was compelled to read on.

The characters were colored, colorful and likable. The dialogue felt authentic; although I admit limited experience with black culture. The upscale black neighborhood, Baldwin Hills, seemed real, is real, and well described as a tiny world of its own, like so many microcosms of LA. Bizarre things began to happen in this community and the story was interesting. The excitement was building up fast in the first quarter of this book.

Then the faeries came.

Card built this urban fantasy mixing folklore elements across cultures, across centuries, in a novel with almost all black characters for a story that is not about race but a magical parallel universe that secretly holds the power to end both.

The short answer is: the faeries did it. I will not include real spoilers here with the how and the when and the why but the fact is it the last three quarters should have been two quarters. Things were often repeated between scenes so that an event would happen and then a character would have to relay that event to the other characters. Card did this for most scenes where all characters were not included.

Aside from not giving the reader enough credit and explaining the happenings in more detail than necessary Card did indeed achieve his goal. There is another fantasy novel out there among the popular fiction paperback with likable black characters. Will it stand the test of time, like some of him more popular books. No. But it is out there and that is something.


3 Tips for First Draft Writing

There are lots of tips and guidelines floating around the internet when it comes to writing. Many so well known the only reason they exist is to truly bash the idea into the community consciousness or to give an author another reason to procrastinate on their own writing.

The list I am providing here are lesser known concepts that should help the new writer propel themselves through a first draft so they can make their work more appealing to their readers.


1. Never declare one of your characters witty in narrative.

This is for critics and readers to decide. If a character is indeed witty it will be evident in their dialogue. To describe a character is witty sets a high precedent for the first draft. For if you write that he is witty and then the character never exchanges a brilliant repartee with another character you have told the readers a falsehood. The completion of a first draft is a difficult enough without the pressure of making sure your characters live up their own brilliance.

If you finish your first draft and one of your characters sufficiently demonstrates how clever he or she can be then you may note their wit in your description. Although this is still not necessary because readers recognize wit when they see it. If you desperately want to write it then make sure they deserve it.

Other characteristics can make a liar of a writer but wit tends to be the worst offender.

2. Use Brackets

Not all scenes are equally easy to write. A love scene may come naturally to you. With a little caffeine you may crank out the whole thing out in under an hour. Congratulations. Later on you may have a fight scene, a historical event, a scientific anomaly, a confrontation with four or five important characters involved. If a scene is complicated by any of these circumstances it will need revision in later drafts.

It is easy to spend a day in research or to take hours to polish logistics of a multi-faceted encounter. It is also easy to loose yourself in too much of it.

Do not let the hardest scenes stop the momentum of your first draft. Write what you can and mark it for heavy editing. Nearly every writing software has a find function. This is a valuable tool. Use it. Outline and bracket what you know you need to change and move on.

3. Beat Writer’s Block by Reading

A blank screen may trigger weakness in your bowels if you stare for too long. You may know what you have to write, an outline may tell you piece for piece what you have to do, yet there will be times when it is impossible to write.

You could push through. Write something terrible. It works for some. Even if you make something hit the page you may keep none of it. Do not keep what is not worth keeping. Instead ask yourself this: Why are you a writer?

The answer is because you like to read. If that is not your answer then have bigger problems than writer’s block. As a writer you must like to read and reading, even if a book is terrible, inspires us to write. Ideas come from other ideas, words encourage the flow of more words and if you miss a little writing time because you have your nose in a book it is not lost time. It is hope and it will help you in the long run.



The Easiest Way to Self Edit

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It only takes one step. It can be a long step if your piece is extensive and you will need a quiet place to do it but you can make your writing better and it will not cost you anything but some time. You’ve invested a fair bit of time to complete a piece of writing already take this extra step to polish it before you show it off. It could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection with a publisher.

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