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Countering the Critics: Simple Advice

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Just before I made this post, I was having an interesting discussion with another independent author. Although I am reluctant to give off his name, I think it’s perfectly OK to share what happened between the both of us. As usual, I did my best to explain to him why I would not give him a positive review. Despite what I wrote, the author replied that he agreed mostly with what I had in mind. However, what became the most striking part of the email were these words: 

I’m mad that there are issues.  Upset at myself.  Upset at Createspace for putting that damn BCF on my file.  Upset at e-books for not being more accessible to word files…and upset at you for being so clumsy and cocky in the way you pointed it out.  What a pain.

Before I make my crucial point, let me mention a couple of things. First, we both knew there were problems the author knew that would detract his book from ever catching the eyes of the reader. The cover was crappy; the format sucked. There is no other way to express this concern.  Secondly, the author failed to grasp the gist of self-publishing altogether. Anyone who decides to go into the field of publishing without going through the traditional route, he or she should be willing to be wearing the hats of all aspects of the publishing trade.

Initially I did not think I would become part of the mix of creating humiliation through my ‘cocky’ ways of point out the obvious. Honestly, I thought he was willing to accept my honest review and leave me with the option of posting it online. In light of what I said about his book, let me point out this: if the presentation of the book is awful, then the chances of reader’s impression of the overall contents of the book don’t look so great either.

 How can you say that? That’s unfair!

Readers, like publishers, editors, and literary agents are on a time budget. They will go through books like sampling a three course meal; essentially, everything has to appeal to taste. Food that has way too much sugar, salt, or vinegar will most likely be discarded while foods that are bland or spicy will make someone think twice before trying it out again. Books are like this, all the time. Sure, books have a ‘subjective taste’ to them i.e. if someone prefers one genre over another. However, let that not be ultimate standard to determine how to write correctly.

Time after time and from having multiple submissions, oftentimes I run into writers who have poorly formatted and designed their books with the expectation that the readers will sympathize with them. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: readers get overtly sarcastic and vicious. Part of the reasons they are not kind is because they expect all books to be in a ‘nearly perfect’ condition. A few grammatical mistakes every couple of pages and word choices are fine, but not when it comes to a point when they are riddled all over the place. This goes without mentioning the aesthetical factors e.g. the covers, page numbers, paragraph formatting etc.

If I think book looks bad, what makes you think anyone else would want to read it?

Parker

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9 Comments

  1. Fred says:

    I think the biggest problem that authors are having with your critiques is your qualifications. If you are offering your opinion, it is one thing. However, you are offering critiques with little more than a 4 year college degree, which is filled with courses to meet the requirements of a BA degree. It is only when you study for a Master’s or Doctorate degree that you profess a major. Yes, you can focus on English and/or Creative Writing in a BA degree, but those courses are just the prerequisites for becoming qualified to enjoy a professional career as someone who has the education to backup claims of the ability to see the flaws or attributes of other author’s work.
    Plain and simple, it takes time in the field to be able to look objectively at the writing and writing styles of authors and to be taken seriously in your opinions. Professionalism and respect take time. When you respond to the criticism of your reviews, you are not being respectful and you are setting yourself up to fail as a legitimate book reviewer.
    When you offer negative comments based on your own biases and not on the work itself, you are creating an atmosphere of dishonesty. Integrity is a very very hard thing to get back once you have lost it.

    So, I guess what I am trying to say is that you should be careful that you do not put your personal feelings into a critique. You should always read an entire book before offering a review. You should learn to identify the voice that an author is trying to project, everyone is not from Connecticut. You should maintain a professionalism when you are criticized for your opinion. Never offer to review a book and then offer your book as a retaliation, that will not go over well with readers or other reviewers. Above all, you should garner some experience before offering your services as someone who is qualified to judge other works in any way except as your own personal opinion, not as a professional critique.

    • haparker321 says:

      I am NOT critiquing with an entirely limited background in the field of English Literature and Creative Writing. Even with attaining a Master’s in English, I do believe one would not get any less annoyed/irritated with the things that I say. As I said in my posts, this does come from other researched data that address the topics of writing in general which are written by professionals who have better degrees. Just because I do not have one currently at this moment does not mean that I would either sway in my opinions with the critiques of other authors or that any of the things I said in the above post are dishonest.

      One does need to read the entire work of a book to have an ‘authentic’ review; usually the author has roughly 2,000 words or less to hook the reader to turn the page. If the storyline, pauses, characters, settings, grammar, etc. constantly get in the way between the first and the last chapter, what makes you think the person should read the rest of the book?

      Most of the ‘retaliation’ I think you are trying to convey here is an old argument from the Kindle Forum which I have cleared up several times. As I said there and I repeat once more, the review I posted on Christopher Northern is a private matter. Oftentimes, I get more comments from different authors who basically object to my opinions simply because they cannot take criticism. In Northern’s case, he went onto another forum to ‘air out the dirty laundry’ because of a review I posted to him. It was then that I decided to take the post I sent him and make the review available for everyone else to see. I hope that makes sense.

      Again, what I said to you is not just a matter of opinion; it speaks from an educated background.

      Parker

      • Fred says:

        It is still my educated opinion that it takes time to build a reputation for giving unbiased and legitimate critique’s of an author’s work.
        In your reviews, I have seen countless times where you have commented on a book that you have not even read. That raises a red flag for me as a reader. You have also commented that you don’t like fiction so why would you take it upon yourself to review fiction?

        It is wonderful that there are so many readers out there who look at things that are opined by blogsters as an attempt to interject their own writing style onto others. You have to be totally unbiased in your reviews and not judge them based on your own style of writing.

        I, for one, read a sample of your book. I didn’t like your writing style, but others might. I would hesitate to write a critique of that book simply because I didn’t like it. I would have to look at the writing style from a professional stand point and see if the book would pass the following:
        Grammar
        Punctuation
        Storyline flow
        Sentence Structure
        Character Development

        All books will not be enjoyed by all people. That is a fact of life. Stephen King flopped when he first introduced “Carrie” to publishers. I think it is safe to say that he persevered and succeeded in his craft.

        I don’t know anything about Christopher North or your argument with him. I have seen many instances where you have put out your elementary critique and then have responded very unprofessionally when you were criticized for it.

        You just might want to look at the criticisms and maybe learn from them so that you will grow to be a respected critic of books.

        This is not meant as an attack on you at all. Just some well garnered insight into the book reviewer world.

  2. haparker321 says:

    “It is still my educated opinion that it takes time to build a reputation for giving unbiased and legitimate critique’s of an author’s work.”

    If you word it that way, I agree and that I try to build up over time. I have had this site up for roughly eight months and the longer I am here online, examining different books. I usually give people an honest review of someone’s work without the bias. It’s more or less a ‘first impression’ within the initial 2,000 words.

    “In your reviews, I have seen countless times where you have commented on a book that you have not even read.”

    Do you mean partially read or never read at all?

    “You have also commented that you don’t like fiction so why would you take it upon yourself to review fiction?”

    What I mean by ‘die hard’ fiction person is that I am not so warped into reading just pure fiction and nothing else. I do not mind reading fiction, I enjoy doing so, but I’m not limited in my reading. I apologize if there is a mishap.

    I attempt to share personal experiences based on what I have gone through in order to relate to the author. That is why I usually comment on what I did on the book. Sometimes authors tend to confuse style and communication as to mean one and the same. This is not the case.

    “I, for one, read a sample of your book. I didn’t like your writing style, but others might.”

    So, where did you read it? Did you get it from authonomy.com? That is probably where you would find it.

    “I don’t know anything about Christopher North or your argument with him. I have seen many instances where you have put out your elementary critique and then have responded very unprofessionally when you were criticized for it.”

    Example, please.

    If you would like, we can carry this through email. My email is writeparkministries@gmail.com

    Parker

    • Fred says:

      I downloaded the sample of your book on Amazon. You can also take a look inside onsite on Amazon.

      You asked for an example of how you respond to criticism:
      What Love Is This by Dave Hunt

      I don’t think you realize it, but your reputation is being bantered all over blogs, discussion boards, etc., and it is not good.
      It is a shame, because Indie Authors are very important in the ereader world. They offer so much entertainment at an affordable price for people who would normally not be able to read as many books.
      They do not deserve having an inexperienced critic give their books poor reviews without the courtesy of reading the entire book. No reputable critic would do that. If you can’t read the entire book, you can just say to the author that you were not able to complete the book as is and therefore, will not be able to render a proper review.

      You don’t appear to be well informed on the formatting requirements for an ereader device, since you use that as one of your low scores. Kindle formatting requires that no page numbers are used. Kindle uses locations, not page numbers. There are certain criteria for the formatting of an ebook that is quite different from that of a published paperback or hardback book. If you are going to critique books, which are to be sold in ebook format, you should become informed on how it is done.

      It is not too late for you to get on the right track and salvage your reputation. The first thing I suggest is that you remove any reviews you have already posted and start out fresh.

      Never should you offer something in exchange for a positive review. That is unethical and against every principle a book critic should have.
      No need to deny that you have done it, I have seen it with my own eyes. Indie Authors talk with one another and if they suspect something is not right, they let each other know. It is a great community of authors and they will defend each other against anything they perceive as unethical or damaging.

      You might also want to change the way you do your write up of your reviews. Giving grades as if you are qualified to tell a writer how to write is disrespectful. You can give a review based on whether or not you like a book based on the reading of that book, but you are not yet qualified to tell a writer how to write. I am afraid if your book went up for a professional critic, you would come away lacking. However, that doesn’t mean that your book shouldn’t have been written, nor does it take away from the hard work that it takes for someone to write a book and offer it up for sale.

      I am not an author, but I do know when something is being done to others that is not right.

      As a Christian, you should remember the rule that we live by:

      Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

      It works in personal and professional relationships.

      Just my opinion.

      • haparker321 says:

        “You asked for an example of how you respond to criticism:
        What Love Is This by Dave Hunt”

        Dave Hunt is a separate topic, but fair enough. What kind of ‘defensiveness’ have I displayed on critiquing his book. As I said on the post and likewise I say here: Hunt is dishonest. His works make fraudulent assertions based on a few quotes that are taken out of context.

        “I don’t think you realize it, but your reputation is being bantered all over blogs, discussion boards, etc., and it is not good.”

        I am quite aware of my reputation on the internet. I think I have done my best to mend relationships with people who do not like what I say. Surprisingly, it turns out that either they misunderstand what I said or wind up liking me personally.

        “It is a shame, because Indie Authors are very important in the e-reader world.”

        To some degree they are.

        “They offer so much entertainment at an affordable price for people who would normally not be able to read as many books.”

        That depends on how they communicate their stories. As I said in multiple posts, the authors are supposed to adhere to the standards readers expect. I can cite numerous examples of authors whose works do not adhere to their standards.

        “They do not deserve having an inexperienced critic give their books poor reviews without the courtesy of reading the entire book.”

        These authors have their chances to impress me within the first 2,000 words. Why should anyone have to put up with crappy writing for the next 78,000 words or 300 pages? As I said beforehand, I do have some practical training in the field of literature. Just because I have not been in the field long enough to apply these principles does not make my views invalid or ‘inexperienced.’

        “No reputable critic would do that.”

        Oh, you mean the editors, literary agents, and readers in general? Could you cite a source?

        “If you can’t read the entire book, you can just say to the author that you were not able to complete the book as is and therefore, will not be able to render a proper review.”

        I could do that, but these reviews are to be taken as ‘first impressions’ from the noticeable mistakes. If you keep repeating the same writing mistake within a published book, then I can safely assume it’s going to be found within the rest of the work.

        “You don’t appear to be well informed on the formatting requirements for an e-reader device, since you use that as one of your low scores.”

        Most of my typical review requests are done via PDF and that’s far different than Kindle. Nevertheless, you have raised a valid point.

        “It is not too late for you to get on the right track and salvage your reputation. The first thing I suggest is that you remove any reviews you have already posted and start out fresh.”

        I have fixed my reputation on several accounts. The positive ones that I typically review are ones that I read entirely, not partially. The negative ones serves as critiques to show my honesty and not remain deceptive to the reader.

        “Never should you offer something in exchange for a positive review.”

        You mean offer help? I do not understand.

        “Indie Authors talk with one another and if they suspect something is not right, they let each other know.”

        The correct term is ‘self-published’ not ‘indie.’ Were that so, the majority of you would personally own your own ISBNs. Out of the multiple comments I have seen through Kindle boards, most of these authors usually are there to air out the dirty laundry because I did not give them a favorable review. This can be attested by authors Christopher Northern and Jonathan DeCouteau. As I said previously, I cleared up the scenarios with them and I think they are more upset because they did not get what the positive reviews wanted.

        “It is a great community of authors and they will defend each other against anything they perceive as unethical or damaging.”

        Or wind up gossiping on stories that either false or misconstrued.

        “You might also want to change the way you do your write up of your reviews. Giving grades as if you are qualified to tell a writer how to write is disrespectful.”

        So what do you want, numbers?

        “You can give a review based on whether or not you like a book based on the reading of that book, but you are not yet qualified to tell a writer how to write.”

        I think possessing a B.A. in English puts me at least five steps ahead than the rest of these ‘indie’ authors who either don’t have this degree or study the craft of writing. If they do not even bother to understand and develop these techniques, then I think I have every right to say something about it, especially since if the ones I review come from authors who only read comic books and have no experience in writing whatsoever. I can document these cases, and believe me, these vindicate my judgments.

        “I am afraid if your book went up for a professional critic, you would come away lacking.”

        I am always open to criticism; in fact, if you would look at my ‘terms and conditions’ page, I offer a 100% refund if the reader finds more than five errors throughout the book and successfully proves it. There are reasons why I put this policy into place is because I want my readers to love my story and not be irritated by what I write.

        “As a Christian, you should remember the rule that we live by:

        Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

        I’m surprised you can remember only one verse in the Bible because there are a lot more principles that Christ commanded e.g., “carry thy cross and follow me.”

        “It works in personal and professional relationships.”

        As previously mentioned, I usually try to mend my relationships. I have done so repeatedly and you can always speak to others with the same information.

        Parker

  3. Fred says:

    “carry thy cross and follow me.”

    As we both know, this means follow Christ, not a critic.

    I do try to make it a practice to take up the cross and follow Christ in all my daily living. Work, home and play. We all fail to live the life of Christians at some time. That is the reason for this season. Christ died so that we can be forgiven for those failings.

    If you would like to communicate further, either on philosophical topics or book critiquing, you can contact me at fjsutton@yahoo.com. I welcome all discourse.

  4. Dean says:

    I realize that this is an older post, but I was going back and looking at the blog to see what credibility (and ability) H.A. Parker has. Since it was noted in the comments here that refunds would be given for more than errors in The Resurrection, I thought I’d share what I found in the Amazon “look inside” option. This is only in the prologue, and it more than warrants the refund.

    1. The fast paced lunch: since “fast paced” is a single adjective to describe the lunch, it should be hyphenated (i.e. The fast-paced lunch…).

    2. Even when talking was set to a minimal: “minimal” is an adjective. Something cannot be set to a minimal. The noun “minimum” should be used instead.

    3. due to take place in a couple of weeks: the “of” is grammatically incorrect. The weeks are not “of” the couple. It should read “…in a couple weeks…”

    4. “Do you know when I can meet her personally?”: starting from (and including) this paragraph, only one paragraph for the remainder of the prologue is indented. Technically, that’s 21 errors, but we’ll just call it one.

    5. on Bancroft’s pace whenhe walked up to him: a space is missing between “when” and “he”.

    6. don’t forget to send the resume: I’d probably forgive this one if you hadn’t used café earlier, but for consistency, résumé should have the accent marks.

    7. Clarkasked: again, a missing space.

    8. medical tests that will be used: you’ve switched tenses; should be “that would be used”.

    9. Bancroft thought of travelling down to the cafeteria to try and locate him, but without success: he didn’t have success in thinking about heading to the cafeteria? If he only thought about it, then he didn’t do it, but the sentence and the following sentence suggests that he did more than think about it.

    10. sent by one Clark’s colleagues: should be “one of Clark’s…”

    11. The full understanding of the resurrection project: you’ve capitalized Resurrection in earlier sentences, so it should be capitalized here as well.

    By your own standards for review, less than your required 2000 words has shown 11 mistakes. I didn’t dive into Chapter One, but (again, by your admission in your reviews) it can be assumed that this is a constant throughout the book, and doesn’t need any further reading to give it a low mark.

    • haparker321 says:

      Dean,

      I think what you have posted here is correct; there are errors in the manuscript. This I do not deny, and the fact that you took out the time to post these errors on my blog is something I highly commend. For errors #5 and #7, from Amazon’s “Look Inside” is for a kindle version; nevertheless, the point is quite legitimate. I will seek to have that corrected.

      As for the rest of the grammatical errors, I guess you have uncovered my weaknesses as a writer; namely, the errors of diction, omission, and redundancy. I believe I have mentioned this under the titled ‘Grammatical Blunders’ where I blatantly mention the following:

      “Diction, order, and missing words are all part of my writing weaknesses, not to mention the occasional subject-verb agreement.”

      The mere fact that you went through the troubles to go through and mention these errors are right in every sense of the term, and like I mention on a few other posts; I am planning on returning to the book to revise according to reader’s standards. Truly, I appreciate this and I am looking forward to more of your findings.

      Sincerely,

      Parker

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