A Good “Bad Review”

It’s an inevitable part of being an author: people will ask you to review their work. I volunteer for it, and sometimes am solicited to do so. You might be too.

And this can’t go without saying: not everything you read will necessarily be good. If you’re an author, I can also tell you that not everyone will like what you have written. But you knew all of that.

There is a certain protocol that I follow for giving reviews, which is pretty dependent on whether or not the book is good.

If the book is good: I not only put up the review on Amazon, but sometimes on my own blog, and nearly always on Goodreads. I love, love, love Goodreads; it’s an excellent reading and reviewing community, and the book discussions get quite interesting. A good review on Goodreads is – at least to me – worth a lot more than a good review elsewhere, and it is also much more personal. A self-published author is, very likely, a Goodreads author, and so are many trad-pubs as well, so you can be sure that the reviews go appreciated.

If the book is not good: I finish reading it, ask myself why I didn’t like it, and then give my opinion to the author privately. When I do so, I make sure to outline concise reasons for why I did not like the book. If the plot is poorly paced, I say so. If facts don’t pass muster – which I do check – I point it out. I rarely put up a bad review on Amazon, because of how it affects the book rank, but I will put one up on Goodreads. If it’s bad enough that I don’t finish it, I simply put it away, delete it out of my Kindle, and let the author know I couldn’t finish.

My tests for a good book are simple:

1. Is the plot believable, written concisely, and paced well?

2. Are the characters believable, and can I relate to their thoughts, even if they’re nothing like me?

3. Is the writing good, thorough, and grammatically correct?

That is all. But once in a while, I still have to give a bad review or two. It happens, because let’s face it: while there are a lot of good books out there, there’s also a lot of not-so-good books out there. While some people fervently want to and believe they can write, they had not been taught to, or the story that they want to tell is just not thought through, or planned properly. Other people just plain lack the talent to write.

One thing to note, though: I don’t make it personal, nor do I take it personally.If I have to point things out to an author whose book didn’t strike me as good, I do it with as much understanding for their style and structure as I can. And since I read quite a good bit, I can wrap my mind around a lot. If I thoroughly dislike a book, I just do not finish it. It’s rare that this happens, but in those cases, I generally don’t bother with leaving any sort of feedback unless asked.

Now, I have three books out. So far, I did get a lot of good feedback on all three, and my first being the first, and definitely not being the best of them (yes, I admit it freely), gets the most feedback. So far, I got a couple of negative reviews, mostly in private, and I will now bring you a little lesson:

How to Write a Good Bad Review.

Ignore the oxymoron in the middle. :) Just work with me here for a second.

Suppose you read a book. Suppose it didn’t resonate with you for whatever reason. You feel that you have to leave some feedback. What do you do?

1. State your reasons clearly, eloquently, and neutrally. If you did not like the pacing of the story, didn’t like the characters, thought it is entirely too much like something else by another author, say it as clearly as you can. “The pacing was not good”, “I couldn’t relate to the characters” – whatever the reasons are, state them as clearly as you know how.Whatever you do, do not say, “I don’t like it, it needs work” and don’t say why. It will do you no favors, and makes your review look petulant. The whole “it’s stupid because I say so” doesn’t work past a certain age.

2. Do not insult. I cannot say this enough. Do not insult the author. They had poured their time, blood, sweat, tears, and effort into making this book work. Be respectful of that. If you can’t do it, don’t review. Period.

3. Before you click “post”, put yourself into the author’s shoes. Not due to the whole “how would they feel?” bit, but because the author is the person who knows the story best. Before you click “post” on your review, ask yourself if you, even though you did not like it, understand what the author had set up to do in this book. Do you get the story? Yes? Are you sure you got it? Not sure. If you’re not sure, hold that negative review, and don’t toss the book. Some time later, when you’re bored and you can’t find anything to read, you may well look at this book in a different light.

4. The plot stays the way it is, and the reviews won’t change that. Believe you me, if there is more than one negative review, the author knows the issues of the book already, but the plot is the one part of the book that is effectively a sacred cow: no matter how bad the conventions, how flat the characters and the writing, the plot stays. You can say, “I like and this is why”, or conversely “I don’t like it and this is why”, but you cannot tell the author what to do to make the story better – the “better” in here is subjective. The author has a plan for the story, and has followed it in order to execute it. You are not the author. Your review does not, under any circumstances, obligate the author to change an already published work. If the work is unpublished, however, and the author is asking you specifically to review the book and point out what to change in the overall plot, then that is another ball game.

Remember this: your review is your review. It is your opinion. It is not fact. It will be interpreted as the reflection of what one person feels, and no more and no less.

Going back to Book 1 of my series for a second, I mentioned that it is not my best. Yes, it has issues. It’s flawed, far from perfect, and I had actually briefly pulled it off the market to revise the grammar and conventions. But under no circumstances did I change the plot. Nonetheless, I have received more than one negative review, and some were great bad reviews, but others made me laugh and shake my head.

One of the best bad reviews I got is that my plot was good, but the entire thing seemed so choppy that it made the book hard to follow. In part, this was intentional; I was setting up the seeds to wrap up in later books (which actually also made writing the follow-up sequels that much easier). In another part, it was also a flaw; would someone actually be curious enough to look at the other books? That was the dilemma. In the conventions edit, I did look through it, keeping my follow-ups in mind, but decided to leave most of the book as it was. Moreover, the plot was already cemented by the other books, so that changing the first book was no longer an option.

In the laugh-and-shake-head department, someone had read Book 1 and then, in an attempt to “constructively criticize” (a choice of words that I honestly detest, because if it’s constructive, it’s hardly a criticism), has emailed me to with a whole bunch of questions about Book 1 that were rife with assumptions that did not at all apply. Those assumptions, mind, could’ve been easily dispelled if the person had actually read the book and tried to follow the characters’ line of thinking or maybe, you know, just for a giggle, read Book 2, which answered a lot of the assumptions about the personalities. As a final note of that correspondence, I got a suggestion to rewrite the book, which had elicited a raised eyebrow and a, “how about no?” This person was firmly aware that I have written a series, and had not even thought to maybe, just maybe, skim through the free sampler. Moreover, let’s be logical: there is no force in the world that would make any author pull a published work from the market that has been there for the past three years for a revision just because one person couldn’t be bothered to do a little more thinking and a little less assuming.

Another great negative review I got was that the writing was exquisite, but the plot is so confusing that it’s going to take some serious work to get through the series. Yes, I am aware, but you know what – it’s something I encountered while writing the books as well. And one of the reviewers who had identified my book as “very much a first book” had continued to ask me for spoilers (which aren’t given).

You might ask yourself, why am I even talking about my bad reviews? For one, because I can – hey, that’s the best reason there is. For two, because if a book gets consistently great reviews, it makes some people ask the question, “What will I dislike about the book?” and this in turns starts them out looking for flaws, which is never a good way to read a book. And for three, in the self-publishing world, reading and reviewing self-pub books goes hand in hand. I’m not afraid to admit that my work isn’t perfect, because it is the truth. Moreover, every author knows that there’s Room For Improvement. Let them actually see how the work affects someone, not hear what that person feels that they have to fix.

One thing above all: good or bad, if you’re reading a book, you’re in the perfect climate right now to make sure that your voice is heard. Amazon and Goodreads have excellent platforms for feedback, and since most authors have gone online, it is a great way to let them know your thoughts – whatever they may be.



It’s up!!!!

Special thanks to Lynn Olson for hosting some of my musical writing on her website!!!

Click here to check out my selection of random songs and how they relate to me, my writing, and what I do.

Addendum: there is a slight technical difficulty going on at Lynn’s. Link will be updated shortly.

Addendum #2: …and we’re back!

In other news, NaNo is well underway. I still have very little idea as to what I’m doing exactly, but the more I write, the more this entire thing is coming together. I’ve known my characters for years, and I’m now very well-acquainted with their ways of thinking. This is what drives my story; if it’s about how people relate to one another, it would only be useful to know them.

So yes. The plot is still very, very undefined and raw, and I do expect to hit the 2,000 word mark at one point today.


Chasing Music: 4 Shows in the City

My oh my oh my – did the season get hot or what?

I don’t mean the weather.

Whenever the Spirit Cruises start up in NY, I have to remind myself – often! – that there are other places to be and that was proved correct in abundance. Since Wednesday, I’ve been running all over the city, seeing this, that and then some and the adventure proved to me that, nevermind the naysayers, jazz is alive and well in NYC. And it’s making a comeback, if I’m suddenly finding myself running around like a maniac.

Marion Meadows & the Spirit Cruises.

My liking for Marion’s shows started with the All Star Cruise 2009 (damn, do I miss Haven Entertainment…) and he proved that yes, it is possible to kick up a groove on the soprano sax and keep the audience engaged. As I put it before, Southwestern flair. The CDs are great, but they don’t do his showmanship justice.

Now, what you may not know about Marion is that he’s also a gifted graphic designer. His website is his own handiwork.  As a graphic designer in my own right, I was impressed with some of his other work, and had the chance to use one in the making of a liner-note booklet for a mutual friend of ours. The booklet came out phenomenal, and I am sure that M. has plenty of other things that would look phenomenal in print.

However, I don’t write about graphic design (often!) – this is about the man with the soprano sax, who more than delivered on that Southwestern flair. He kept the energy going solid, even though his guitarist missed the boat (ahem!), and showed off many of the audience favorites, including Dressed to Chill from the album of the same name. The only pity is that the time run of the show was not as long as normal, on the account that it was a double header.

I, erm, neglected to mention Alex Bugnon as the second part of that show, didn’t I.

Where Marion turns up the funk and keeps it steady, Alex can mellow like a master. I have a special spot in my heart for piano-driven jazz, and Going Home – his latest album release – has already wormed its way into my head as a clear favorite. 107 in the Shade sounds even better live than it does on the album. The only complaint I have about that entire night is the timing: 45-minute segments are nowhere near enough to showcase these two talents and do them justice.

Jeff Lorber Fusion at Iridium

Recharged by no more than 4 hours of sleep from last night’s show, I was joined by The Lovely Nikki at the Iridium for Jeff Lorber Fusion.

The one thing I have to say about Jeff Lorber is that his style really is quintessential fusion, and infectious at that. I listen to him and I definitely detect the elements of what’s now known as straight-ahead, and he has a real gift for flow and intricacy. Now Is The Time is his latest and is good on the ear: well-composed, well-put together. I’ve seen him once before at SOB’s, with Randy Brecker and Eric Marienthal, an amazing show if there ever was one. So I knew what to expect going in.

The Iridium is an excellent venue, much better managed in space than the Blue Note, though the two are of roughly the same square footage.

Unfortunately, I have to say that while Jeff is a great talent, and The Lovely Nikki enjoyed his show by quite a bit, this show was not quite as good as it could’ve been. Perhaps it was the fact that I saw Marion play the night before, but the sax player sitting in with Jeff that night did not leave me with a good impression at all (you will have to forgive me, for I do not at all recall his name). The soprano sax handling was less than stellar, but it was when he picked up the tenor sax that I noticed it the most. He faltered on keeping the tone steady; I heard several distinct, and unplanned, drops in the octave. Jeff himself, however, was in top form, and so were his bassist and drummer, which made up for any shortfalls elsewhere.

Bobby Caldwell, the Blue Note, and the Tornado.

If you stuck with this blog for some time, then you know what complaint I have with the Blue Note aside from the price: the space management. Cramped, highly. Extremely. But it’s a great venue because the lineup is top of the line.

Aaahhh, Bobby Caldwell. In the event you wondered who wrote some of those old-time classic songs, then your answer is probably a weedy, redheaded blue-eyed gentleman with the mic in his hand. If you heard What You Won’t Do For Love – thank Bobby, for he wrote it. And while I’m no R&B fan, old-school 70s-era music is still a soft spot.

So of course, I had stageside seats at the Note, which meant that when Bobby’s hand was raised mid-song, I had to tilt back a little, else he may’ve thwacked me on the forehead.

Considering that it was humid as all unloving hell, Bobby too had a few things to say on it, such as the fact that he may’ve been developing some new growth because of the moisture! The audience cracked up, with some of us calling out in the classic words of Matthew Perry… “That’s too much information!”

It was also a reunion with someone I know and enjoy from Berks Jazz Fest: Andrew Neu, who showed off his alto & tenor sax skills, as well as assist Bobby on both keys and vocals.

Now, the tornado part of this segment? Apparently, for the first time in a long time, NYC was subject to a tornado watch. I had no less than 4 people, all from across the country, text me to ask what the hell was up in my corner of the world, because on their TV stations, they heard nothing but “NYC has a tornado warning.” And that was right as Bobby launched into Janet. Aaahhh, 70s classics and a storm!

Bob Baldwin & Bossa Nova

Literally, as the case may be.

I met Bob Baldwin twice. The first time was with my friend Linda at a show in Trumpets Jazz Club. The second time was aboard Marion’s ship, where he came aboard for the second sailing and did some talking/networking with both Alex Bugnon and M. I chatted him up on the ship, and then came to Joe’s Pub on Saturday night for his show with Ragan Whiteside, Gabriela Anders and Chieli Minucci.

I will say this about Joe’s Pub: for a small venue, it does a good job, and the acoustics are beautiful. The fire alarm going off mid-show – not so much.

Of all the shows of the week, this one easily gets the crown for Best Show. It was an eclectic mix of cover songs courtesy of Bob’s collection, some Special EFX classics courtesy of Chieli, and some amazing bossa nova from Gabriela. It certainly reaffirmed my love for the classics; hearing The Girl from Ipanema like this was certainly an experience. Ragan Whiteside on the flute was a perfect addition; she knows how to keep energy and pace with the instrument’s unique accent. It’s not something you hear in jazz often, a good flute, but Ms. Whiteside is worth hearing indeed.

Next, it will be Pieces of a Dream…and planning to see Boney James in PA in August with Rosa and other PA friends.


ABNA reviews

Apparently, Round 2 of ABNA also garners reviews. And for the record, I don’t mind negatives – I know the flaws within Book 1; the cold open/CSI-style approach is very difficult to translate into written word and even more difficult in sci-fi. So I expected to not make it into the next round.

Cut for the reviews and my opinion.

Continue reading “ABNA reviews”

In news and various things…less than two weeks until the third-rounders of ABNA are announced. Pins and needles? Yes. A lot. I’m calm with the exception of the fact that my heart rate is somewhere between marathon runner and jet engine.

In addition, I’ve finally started taking some time out to just sit down and read a book and I’ve been nose-deep into fellow ABNA/NaNoWriMo author Jessica Nesland’s The Untold, a story about an accident victim who tries to rediscover his past and discovers more than what he bargained for. The review of that will be posted as soon as my work-life calms down a little bit – racing against a deadline here – and I get myself into the pace needed to put this up and get it running.

Proof of Book 2 is going to be in my hands Monday. By the end of the month, I’ll be able to make any last-second changes and push it through to release. Of course, Kindle edition will be available, likely a lot faster than the paper version (now that I know how to work the digi-platform at Amazon).

And why do I have a feeling that Berks Jazz Fest will double as my own personal book release party? I think so!

It’ll be fantastic if I go on to round 3 of ABNA. If I do, I can guarantee you guys, you’ll hear the exclamation of joy halfway ’round the world. Still, I won’t speculate. It will be what it will be and if I won’t make it, I will cheer on anyone I know off NaNo forums who does.