Thursday, 11 February 2016

Blogging, Beta Reading & Reviewing with GPI


Blogging, Beta Reading and Reviewing ...OH MY...

A week ago I read and reviewed a book that I adored, it was funny and light and sexy, on release day when I posted my review I was disheartened, my review was the only one on Amazon and Goodreads...I wondered, how could that be, this book was everything I wanted, it was my perfect Sunday afternoon read, the cover was visually stunning, the characters well developed, and to top it off this was the author's debut, with such a strong start out of the gate, I couldn't believe there wasn't more reviews out there. After speaking with the author, I decided to reach out to some bloggers I know, offering review copies for honest reviews, several accepted after just seeing the cover, others after reading the blurb, some purely based on my recommendation (that in itself is always lovely) as the days passed, messages started flooding in, with "love love love love. They're killing me with the banter' to "omg thank goodness you posted about this book, it's fantastic and I would of missed it" to "holy f*ck balls this book is amazing" to "just finished... it was great" to my favourite "seriously!!! this is her debut...WTF???"

You're probably wondering why the flash back, but I assure you there's a point here, the overwhelming feedback was how nice it was that bloggers could work together, how the book community can feel so big and scary for newbies, be it authors or bloggers, and sometimes it's nice to be reminded how much support there is out there, which in turn led to the creation of a group on social media, designed to provide support and networking for bloggers, both new and established, where we could discuss the books we love, the challenges we face, could address questions we had, regardless of how silly we might feel asking them.

I initially asked why everyone started blogging, and the overwhelming response was that I wanted to have a forum to put my love of books out there...

"Because I wanted to give a voice to what I thought" - Laura

"I've always read but I needed more. So I started the blog and fell in love with this secret book community that nobody knows exists unless you're part of it." - Vivian

"We were getting a lot of friends asking us for what we were reading and our thoughts on books." - Janeane

We all basically started this journey for the same reason, because we loved reading and we want to talk about it, and yet one of the most common fears expressed in the group has been writing reviews, some struggling with finding words to concisely discuss their feelings and thoughts, while others have noted that writing a positive review feels almost inherent, where as reviewing a book that didn't connect with you left them nervous and frustrated. For me personally, a concise, well written, constructive 1 or 2 star (or in my case lipstick) review is more likely to make me purchase a book than twenty 5 star reviews that only state "I loved this book, it was so hot".

For me a well written review will give me a brief overview of the book, without discussing spoilers or regurgitating the entire story, but most importantly I want to know what the reader felt, what they thought, did they have that ahaaaaaa moment where time ceased to exist, did they want to rage, did they hold their kindle to their chest whilst sobbing desperately, what emotions did this book evoke. Did the reader connect with the characters, and if so why, conversely if not, why, what prevented them from connecting with the characters, with the story, what made it that star review. Clearly, if you follow GPI you already know I like longer reviews, I want depth from the reviews I read, and if the reader couldn't connect, I want them to tell me why without hate or anger thrown as the author on a personal level. Reading is subjective, my best friend and I have agreed on maybe three books, neither of our choices are more valid that the other.

The other topic raised so far has been beta reading, what is it, what the focus is, what authors are looking for, I decided I would go straight to the source for this, and ask a few of the authors I beta read for.

"Honesty, but in a constructive way. Trust, the ability to balance criticism with praise."
- Leisa Rayven.

"Honesty, being thorough, offering suggestions, sharing favourite parts. I'm not interested in editing with betas, more the story."
- Rachel Brookes.

"I look for constructive criticism and also reinforcement of what works. I look for someone I can trust; someone who I know will also be comprehensive with their thoughts on the manuscript, as opposed to two sentences of thoughts. Ideally my beta partners are diverse, helping me achieve a broad range of opinions."
- Lauren McKellar.

"In terms of betas, reviews are the thing I look at first, then I look at whether they just love everything  they read, because that's not helpful...I love to hear about the love, but I also want the hard stuff if there's something that doesn't work."
- Carmen Jenner.

"Honesty, sometimes brutally. I look for someone who isn't afraid to tell me the hard facts. Crap is crap, saying otherwise isn't going to change the fact. Everything is subjective, so I also look for someone with an open mind, not just looking at a picture and seeing it one way."
- Simone Nicole.

The consensus seems to be overall, beta reading is more than just reading a book, it's more than just "oh my godddddd I loved it" or "ummmmm I didn't really like it". It's detailed feedback about the how, the what, the why, it's about all the reasons that you're ready to run off with it and have little book babies, it's the lines of dialogue that struck a chord, the lines you furiously highlighted or screenshot, it's the moments where it just clicked. Conversely beta reading is also the moments where you didn't understand the motivation in the scene, where that sex scene felt a little too much, where that line of dialogue felt strangely out of place, not suiting the character, it's the scenes that pulled you out of your enjoyment of the story, and in some cases it's the reason you never felt like you could connect to the characters or the story. It's less of the I think you should write the story this way, and more this confused me here. First and foremost, it's remembering that a beta reader is different from a proof reader, different from a copy editor, or a structural editor, your role unless discussed with the author is generally the storyline, does it work, do the characters feel real, does their behaviour feel organic, does the pacing work, did anything stand out both good and bad?

Congratulation's for getting to the end of this blog post, it was my hope that it's been informative for other bloggers and authors, and has pulled the curtain away a tad for readers who rarely see behind the scenes. If you are a blogger wanting to connect with GPI's blogger group head to the below link.

BookBloggers United

As always, thanks for reading... if you would like to know which book I was raving about at the beginning, here you go...Crazy, Beautiful by JSH