It’s happened to every reader. You have the weekend off. Rain is pouring down. The coffee pot is sputtering, and those tantalizing smells seduce you to crawl under a blanket and pick out your next great read. So, you hop online, go to your favorite bookstore and start scanning those covers. One calls out to you, so you click, excited to see what it’s about. The blurb looks exciting, you’re ready to buy, but you decide to glance at all those reviews just a short scroll away. Five stars. Not bad! You read a few sentences in and… gasp! They just revealed the plot twist! Ruined the ending! Stole the joy you would have gotten from uncovering it yourself. The horror! Now that the plot is revealed before you even opened the first page, you back out and buy another book.
As a reader, I’m infuriated when someone’s spoiler review appears without warning. As a writer, I’m sad for the author who will no longer get the sale of that book from me, and perhaps more books if I enjoyed it and sought out the rest. All because a reviewer didn’t realize they had broken proper book reviewing etiquette.
Last night I was on a message forum where a well-known author came on and she was devastated a reviewer put the who-dun-it in the first review of her new release. Ouch. Not only is that devastating for an author who worked hard to craft a story and unveil information to you piece by piece, it’s sad for the readers who will no longer get to enjoy the surprise that one reviewer got to experience. On that post, author after author, and reader after reader came forward with similar sob stories. And as a reader who won’t read a book that’s been spoiled, I felt awful knowing authors will inevitably lose sales because of it. And the saddest part? Most of these were five-star, raving reviews. Reviewers who enjoyed the book and wanted to support the author by taking the time to write a review had accidentally cost them sales and caused them heartache as well as ruined the experience for those who would read it after them. It was then I realized, maybe people just don’t understand book review etiquette. Maybe we just need to spread the word! So, after polling authors and readers, we have compiled the list of things you should and shouldn’t do when you review your next read.
1) Review that book
This is a post about etiquette, yes. But it’s important to remind people just how much your reviews help support authors. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We want your opinion and your feedback. Your reviews boost book sales and help rank. If you enjoyed a book, give the author the biggest gift you can… your review. But when you do, just be mindful of other eager readers who want to enjoy the surprises.
2) A Book Review is not A Book Report
No one is quite sure how this came to be, but when writing a review, people don’t want a play-by-play of the book. They want to know your overall thoughts on story, craft, and characters. Let them learn the play-by-play as it’s intended… by reading it. A review that reads like Cliff’s Notes is most definitely laced with spoilers and the bottom line is no reader wants to know that stuff before they read a book. Do you?
I’m going to put two reviews below as an example.
When a handsome swordsman comes to Camelot, he discovers the one thing he can’t battle away… his feelings for the beautiful Guinevere. Their growing passion for one another could destroy them both, and they must each choose between their loyalty to their King or loyalty to their hearts. But when Arthur’s old enemy returns with a vengeance, it’s up to Lancelot to put aside his feelings and fight beside his king to defend not only Queen Guinevere, but all of Camelot.
Wow! This book has all the feels. It’s a gripping historical romance novel filled with action, adventure, and romance. The writing is beautiful. I practically felt like I was back in Camelot. The characters were wonderfully crafted, and I rooted for them every step of the way. The pacing was perfect, and I had trouble putting it down. I loved this book and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to get on an emotional roller coaster and never get off!
This book starts in Camelot and Guinevere is betrothed to the King. She really seems to love him, but then she meets Lancelot, his newest knight. After she’s kidnapped by King Arthur’s enemy, Arthur sends Lancelot to find her and they end up succumbing to their love. She cheats on her husband with Lancelot and when he finds out he’s devastated. Eventually she chooses her husband over Lancelot and he’s banished, but when Arthur dies at the end she gets to be with Lancelot after all. It was a great story and I highly recommend it.
Can you see the difference? One reads like a book report while the other tells us nothing to spoil the story but tells us how the reader FELT about the book. And that’s the most important part! Did you like the story? Too fast? Too slow? Could you identify with the characters? These are all very safe things to address, and they are actually helpful to potential readers. But let’s leave those book reports back in High School.
3) If it’s not in the blurb, don’t put it in the review
This is the safest way to make sure you don’t ruin a book for anyone else. Blurbs are carefully crafted to give away just enough info to make a book enticing, but not too much to take away the fun of discovery a reader gets to enjoy when they read a new book. When writing a review, I’m careful to never disclose anything specific the blurb hasn’t already told us. I don’t add in plot twists, endings, who-dun-it’s, or anything you wouldn’t have gotten from the blurb.
In the two reviews above, you’ll see in the first one no spoilers were leaked but you still got an idea of my feelings on the book, as well as an idea of what it’s about. It’s action, adventure and romance. Emotional. Hard to put down. In the second one, I told you exactly what happens! As a new reader, when you open that book you already know many of the major conflicts AND you even know how it ends. As a reader, if I read that first review, I would put that book in my cart. If I read the second review, I would shout curses at that reviewer for ruining a book it sounds like I would have loved. I would back out without buying it and go find another book. So, when you review, if it’s not in the blurb, find a way to get your point across without revealing any additional information.
4) Write the review you would want to read
Having a hard time coming up with a review that isn’t a book report? Try to think about what you wish you would have known before you started it. Without giving away too much, try to help the next readers decide if this is the right book for them. Do you hate cliffhangers, and it ended in one? Tell us that! Don’t tell us what the cliffhanger was but tell us you were disappointed it requires you to purchase book two in order to get the ending. Do you love sex scenes and this writer did a fantastic job? That’s a great thing to add and can help readers decide if they want a book with steamy sex scenes or not. Was it too violent for you? Say that. Readers who like violence in books will purchase it, and it will steer away those who don’t have a taste for it. These are all things that can help you write a book review that actually helps guide buyers and doesn’t ruin the book for the people who read it.
5) Use Spoiler Alerts
If you decide you absolutely must write a review that includes info not already in the blurb, please PLEASE write in all caps at the very top of your review *SPOILER ALERT!* This gives any readers who like to be surprised plenty of warning to flip past your review and not have a book experience ruined.
That’s it! Those are the five simple rules to writing a review that will have both authors and readers singing your praises instead of cursing your screen name. Your reviews are SO IMPORTANT and we want to encourage you to come forward with how you felt about our books. But just be mindful when doing so and let the readers who come after you share in all the joy of discovering a story the way an author intended. Let them share in your surprise.
by: Katherine Hastings
Katherine Hastings loves love. It’s why she writes romance novels. Getting lost writing a romantic adventure is one of her favorite pastimes. When she’s not on an adventure with her characters, she can be found at her home in Wisconsin snuggling her husband, two Boston Terriers, and the world’s naughtiest cat. Two things make Katherine want to leave her happy home these days… going for rides on her dressage pony or floating at the beach in her big inflatable raft. Writing her novels while floating in the lake is one of her ultimate pleasures… that and Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, of course.
We all talk about book clubs as if they are one of the arteries of writers. And guess what? They are! Without book clubs, there’d be fewer forums (in person or online) to create a reading environment. Without book clubs, there would be less people reading in general. Without book clubs, there’d be no homegrown, grassroots way to get a following.
This was the second year I attended the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Nacogdoches, Texas hosted by creator and founder Kathy Murphy, the ultimate book club queen and founder of the PQs.
Because most of us who belong to WisRWA live north of the Mason-Dixon line, this club and the Girlfriend Weekend event is not well-known (yet!). The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys is the biggest book club in the world, citing over 750 chapters internationally, and thousands of members.
As an author, attending the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend is outrageously awesome. Hundreds of readers pile into a big ballroom, and they actively want to hear about your book, your process, the backstory and what makes you and your book tick. The best part? It didn’t end after my speech and panels. You interact constantly with dedicated readers all weekend long, and several end up on my Christmas card list.
While we Wisconsinites tend to be a little more reserved, the ladies in the south are fabulous at getting dressed up for any occasion. Each night of the event had a themed party, and the costumes were bigger and better as the weekend went on. The extra cherry on top turned out to be the personal relationships I made with fellow authors. I personally was in awe of most of them, and they were so welcoming, warm, and kind both during and after the event. Authors from around the nation and the globe attend, spending time with one another and readers alike, with fantastic keynote speakers from bestselling and local, small or first-time authors. Kathy Murphy, while selective of her reading list, is wonderful about supporting authors from the first book to their 30th, and celebrates them all the way. It is eye-opening and touching and overwhelming.
I walked away this year with more contacts, a renewed respect for what goes into coordinating a big book club bash, and rejuvenated from seeing wonderful author friends once more. Plus, seeing readers from other years, connecting with new ones, other first time authors, and wonderful established ones.
So, what’s the moral of this blog post? Book clubs rock. They’re meant to connect readers with words, and the words are yours. Make them count, connect with people through them, and create relationships. It’s a serious and real way to touch the people holding your books, to let them get a peek into who you are, why you write, and how you write. Let your inner passion for your work shine and blast onto them. Let them feel that glow, and they’ll likely fall a little more in love with your book because of it. And if that gives joy, that’s all the better.
The Pulpwood Queen Girlfriend Weekend event is always in January, so check your calendars for 2019 and consider a road trip to East Texas. If you want to read more about Kathy Murphy and the Pulpwood Queens Book Club, here are three links: the first one is titled “Three Questions with the Founder of the World’s Largest Book Club,”, and the second (and most recent) one is a feature article from the November 29, 2017, issue of Parade Magazine. For general information, check out www.beautyandthebook.com.
P.S. 2019’s theme is How the West Was Won. Imagine the costumes….
by Sara Dahmen
Sara Dahmen is the award-winning author of Widow 1881, a metalsmith, American cookware designer and manufacturer, and a mom. You can reach her @saradahmenbooks or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WisRWA is teaming up with Renaissance Theaterworks in Milwaukee to host a mini book fair on October 28th in and around the performances of Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of Sex with Strangers.
From Renaissance Theaterworks website: “When frustrated forty-ish novelist, Olivia, meets fast-talking, twenty-something, blogger and memoirist, Ethan – known more for his sexual prowess than his prose – she worries that she will become just another chapter in his little black book. Their funny and passionate union blurs the lines between rewrites, romance and royalties – proving you can’t judge a book by its author. Sex with Strangers was one of America’s top ten most produced plays from 2014-2016. In addition to playwrighting, Laura Eason is also a producer/writer for the Emmy Award-winning Netflix series House of Cards.”
Eight WisRWA authors will take part in the signing, and we’ll have other WisRWA members on hand to answer any questions about WisRWA that we can. The authors participating are:
Starting tomorrow, each week, we will feature a Q&A with one of the authors.
Sex with Strangers runs October 20-November 12, 2017 but WisRWA will only be there on October 28th. Come support local theater and local authors! For more information, visit Renaissance Theaterworks.
Hope to see you there!
Three WisRWA authors, Beth James, Amy Sandas, and Tina Susedik, presented a panel on romance writing recently, at the MacMillan Library’s Fine Arts Center in Wisconsin Rapids. The panel was moderated by Eric Norton, who is both the customer service manager for the library, and an editor for Publisher’s Weekly. Tina Susedik shared her thoughts on the evening.
The evening was cold and windy, and so the attendance was lower than we’d expected. But that turned out to make for a more intimate, comfortable event. Instead of sitting at the table set up for us on the stage in the theater, we sat on the edge of the stage, making us eye level with the attendees. We were able to showcase our books as we talked and after the presentation.
The audience had many questions for us and everyone participated. Rather than a typical Q&A or lecture, the evening was more free-wheeling discussion, with the audience and authors all asking questions of each. Audience members included fans, aspiring romance authors, and even one an avid reader who had never previously read any romance. Lori Oestreich, another WisRWA member, also came to support us. It was great to see her smiling face.
We talked about the publishing world – both self and traditional. Our panel had experience in both worlds, and could offer insights into both. Other topics included creating characters, plotting vs. pantsing, what makes a romance, the part setting plays in stories, why we write romance, and how we edit our stories, and people’s impressions of the romance writing world. We talked and answered questions for an hour and a half.
A question from the reader who had never read a romance cut to the heart of the genre. She asked, “If all romances have to have a happy ending, and you know that, then why read a romance?” Amy Sandas’s response was perfect. She pointed out that it’s not unlike reading suspense or mystery novels. We know that the bad guy is going to caught in the end, yet we still read them. What’s important to the reader is the way the story is written and the journey to the end. That’s what makes the experience of reading the novel so satisfying.
Afterward, the conversation continued. A number of people attending were interested to learn more about WisRWA and RWA. And they were glad to have a chance to talk with experienced authors about their own ventures into romance writing. This is one of the best parts about being an author, and we were glad they braved the weather to come out to talk with us.
by WisRWA Member Tina Susedik
As a child, Tina always had stories floating around in her head, but had no idea those stories could be put down in book form. One day her brother (yes, her brother) introduced her to Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower. Tina’s first romance, Riding for Love, was released in the spring of 2013. Visit Tina at www.tinasusedik.wordpress.com
I think we can all agree that doing the proper research makes or breaks a book. Glaringly obvious mentions of places, events or details that haven’t happened yet are akin to all of us Wisconsinites watching Titanic and realizing that Jack Dawson could not have been ice fishing on Lake Wissota in Chippawa Falls in 1912…as there wasn’t a lake yet.
Alright, maybe I’m one of the few that is obsessed with accuracy in any movie I watch, but you get my gist. Research can not only authenticate your world building, but it can imbue your characters with truth, and a genuine placement in their surroundings. Even if you only mention something in passing, it adds a rounded, 3-dimensional depth to protagonists and antagonists alike.
If, say, your novel is set in the Civil War, even if your characters aren’t fighting in battles or even on the same continent, they’d likely hear about it in the news, or people would discuss it in passing, much like we do about major political or social news today. (If I had a quarter for every time my husband came home with a tidbit of celebrity gossip I hadn’t had a chance to hear because…babies…I’d be so rich!) Using research to allow characters to notice details, such as the pattern on the spongeware china, or the particular cut of a bodice, tells your reader that not only are they learning something, but that you did your homework.
I don’t suggest we all dive in as deeply as, say, Jean Auel did. But we can all probably create just one more small layer of richness to our novels. Those handfuls of tiny additions can really add up to one accurate story whether it is the ins and outs of a wedding planner’s job, a more involved description of a hunk’s financial schemes and clients, or the daily lifestyle of an obscure tribe in Antarctica. (I don’t think there are any…but then again, I haven’t done any research.)
So where do we get that research? Certainly the first thing that pops up in Google searches these days is some sort of Wikipedia link to potentially faulty information. But the internet is still one heck of an amazing tool with which we can supplement our information, check our facts, and hone our craft from the comfort of our laptops and pajamas.
With some time, you don’t even need to head to the library, though I’m a full-fledged believer in checking out at least one or two original volumes that might help you with some in-depth research on your most detailed subject. The internet can be completely used for research as long as you do a handful of things:
Beyond the internet hunting, however, discovering information for your book can also be a lot more interesting and interactive. Want to know exactly how to write the language of Pocahontas’ tribe? Reach out to the nation itself and ask for help. Care to get a taste for life in Revolutionary times? Go to a local reenactment (or better yet, ask if you can join in for a weekend in costume). I know Molly Maka has spoken to that notion and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Or at the very least, reach out to a few of the groups on Facebook and inquire about your needs – many old-timers will be more than loquacious enough for you.
Do your characters have a specific trade or job? Run in circles you don’t touch? Reach out via Facebook, LinkedIn, or even through your own network to get some good insight. We are authors, but we are also observers and questioners – we wonder, wait, watch and then write.
Remember when you do reach out to be:
This is not to add to the never-ending list of requirements aspiring or published authors have already. I’m merely hoping that this is just a nudge to remind you of easy and relatively painless and quick ways to incorporate accurate details in your novels and manuscripts to add flavor, desire and depth.
by Sara Dahmen
Sara Dahmen is the award-winning author of Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper, a metalsmith, American cookware designer and manufacturer, and a mom. You can reach her @saradahmenbooks or at email@example.com. Her next novel, a romantic drama, Wine & Children, is due out by November 2016.
By Tina Susedik
Most people, writers anyway, have heard of the terms plotter and pantser. It’s a question we are asked many times – are you a plotter or pantser? It’s a personal preference with one not being better than the other.
Heavy plotters, those that map out each chapter, each scene and character to the point where the book is nearly finished when they are done plotting. I once knew someone who plotted her books in so much detail, she was able to write her chapters in random order. I simply couldn’t understand how she did it.
I rather wish I was one of those writers, or at least a bit of a plotter, but I’m not. I’m a pantser. After coming up with an idea, and fleshing out my characters, I start writing, letting the story flow as my characters learn about each other. I tried plotting once, but I became frustrated when my characters decided not to do what I kept explaining I’d plotted for them. Darn characters won. Maybe I have to go back and re-write more than a plotter would have to, but I’m a much happier author.
The reason I’m blogging about this topic is because of the fall workshop the Chippewa Falls Area is hosting on October 8th in Eau Claire. Candace Havens is our speaker. The morning session is titled: “The Book Map: Plotting Your High Concept Ideas.” I’m anxious to see if she can teach me to be more of a plotter.
Beth James and I had the pleasure of meeting Candace at The Romantic Times Convention in Las Vegas last month. She is a delight and is looking forward to coming to Eau Claire and meeting everyone. After visiting with her, both Beth and I don’t know when she has time to sleep. Candace is one busy woman. An amazing fact: At the time we met with her, she had 7,800 emails to go through from all the jobs and projects she’s involved in. I feel overwhelmed when I have 200!
I hope to see all of you in Eau Claire on October 8th – or 7th if you come the night before for the pizza party and book signing. Maybe we can have a panster/plotter discussion over a few drinks.
Tina has been a member of WisRWA since 1994 and started the Chippewa Falls Area twenty years ago in October. She is a multi-publisher author, a member of PAN, and has served on the WisRWA board as Area Contact and newsletter editor.
Written by: Valerie Clarizio
I had the privilege to attend an awesome event at the Fox Cities Book Festival, and lucky for me, the author speaking was one of our very own WisRWA members. Not only did Gini Athey, author of The Shops on Wolf Creek Square series, take us on an imagination tour of the square, she also provided tips and tricks to writing a series. Her presentation captivated the twenty -five or so members in attendance, and she added a little humor for some laughs as well. After listening to Gini’s presentation, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only author who hears voices and forgets that my characters are not actual living beings. LOL
Of course, I couldn’t leave without buying a copy of the first book in the series, Quilts Galore, and as soon as I’m done writing this post I’m going to crack it open and make the journey to The Shops on Wolf Creek Square!
WisRWA is pleased to announce the finalists for the 25th Annual Fabulous Five Contest.
Congratulations to all! The finalists are listed in Alphabetical order, and *** indicates a member of WisRWA. Winners will be announced on June 1, 2016.
Fabulous Five Coordinator
2016 FAB FIVE FINALISTS
Mary Carson – Lord Sebastian’s Honor
Jeanine Englert – Love’s Whisper
Karen Miller *** – Saving Columbine Ranch
Linda Olson *** – An Improper Pursuit
Jane Yunker *** – Mary Bishop
Debbie Archer – Written in Stone
Sandi Hoard – A Tarnished Rose
Jackie Layton – Sealed by Love
Rhonda Herren Starnes – If Walls Could Talk
Preslaysa Williams – Coming Home to Love
Brenda Davis *** – Nothing Secret
Lisa Fenley – Rewritten
Lisa Knight – Praetorian Rising
Karen Miller *** – Always Faithful
Cheryl Pitones – Chambered
Susan McCotter – Shimmer
Curtis Ochocki – Out of the Fire
Nicolette Pierce *** – Pocketful of Diamonds
Roi Solberg – The Caretaker
Stephanie Taylor – Shutter
Tanya Agler – Shell of a Chance
Sharina Harris – Fool for You
Melissa Judd – A Venture of the Heart
Stacey Kuhnz – Contained
Kate MacEachern *** – Her Christmas Kisses
Kate Dunn – Time and Again
Stacey Kuhnz – Distraction
Vicky Norton – Breathe
Kellye Nye – Timeless
Becke Turner – Murphy’s Secret
Joyce Hunt – At a Late Date
Brenda Linskey – Confluence
Suanne Schafer – A Different Kind of Fire
Maggie Smith – Where I Belong
Jessie B. Starr – So This is Love
Young Adult/New Adult
Jennifer Dyer – Blue Serenity
Jennifer Dyer – The Donor
Tif Johnson – Camille & Drew
Kimberly Nix – Base Hit
Susan Pochapsky – The Scarlet Mantle
A TIME TO CELEBRATE A WRITER’S BEST FRIEND
By: Virginia McCullough
Back in the 1970s, I worked as an assistant librarian at the Rockland Public Library, in Rockland, Maine. For one week in April, we wore special buttons at work. My favorite was, “Librarians are Novel Lovers.” We wore those buttons during National Library Week, and now the annual celebration of libraries has rolled around again, April 10-16. (April 12 specifically celebrates library workers. My three-year + stint as a library worker coincided with developing my nonfiction writing career, focused at the time on writing articles about women’s issues, family, and children’s lit.)
National Library Week is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and celebrates all libraries—public, school, academic, and special focus—and those who work in them. Each year, the week has a theme; the 2016 theme is transformation—meaning the power to transform lives in a digital age.
The day I got my first library card is one of my most wonderful childhood memories. We had to be able to write our names on the apricot-peach colored index card, and I remember forming each letter as I printed my name on the signature line. In return I got my very own library card, which meant I enjoyed the same status in that precious building as my parents and older sister. The building itself was memorable—the children’s room had famous murals painted by an artist hired in the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in the 1930s. (Chicago has numerous murals painted in public buildings during that era. I was an adult before I realized how unique they are.) That library also housed the largest collection of Braille books in the city.
My mother was a professional librarian in two different textbook publishing companies, but my small-town library didn’t have money to hire a head librarian with a master’s degree. Still, back in the pre-digital age, she and the four assistant librarians did everything. I was put in charge of inter-library loans and something called “readers’ advisory,” which meant I helped patrons choose books and loaded up bags of books for shut-ins or those living in retirement facilities. (Yes, we delivered books!) We all helped with reference questions, which is how I met many other writers in the area. This library was also a jewel of stone and brick, a Carnegie endowment building and prominent in town.
In 1975, the Maine Library Association’s featured conference speaker was Stephen King. He wasn’t yet as famous as he is today, but King was still an impressive “get” by the meeting planners. He spoke at length about finding solace from problems at home by spending many of his after-school hours at a public library and reading everything he could get his hands on—great preparation for a writing career. He’s not the only person I’ve heard say something similar, including many other writers.
I’m glad we continue to celebrate the value of today’s libraries and those who work in them. I know we have a few such people among our WisRWA membership. I also am grateful for the many changes we’ve seen in libraries over the last couple of decades. Print books, e-books, audio-books, music, movies, and interlibrary loan—and all free.
Years ago, some predicted the demise of libraries, or at least a trend toward irrelevancy. But those predictions were so wrong. Sure, libraries have kept up with the technology of our era, but we still see little kids arriving with their parents for story hour and haul stacks of picture books to the checkout counter—or the checkout computer.
Libraries thrive because they’ve grown and changed with the times. The library in Rockland eventually raised money for a new addition to keep up with the growing population, and my childhood library in Chicago was moved to a beautiful new and bigger facility down the block. Fortunately, the old landmark space became the new home of the famous Old Town School of Folk Music, with all its murals preserved for future generations.
Today’s librarians continue to do what they’ve always done: they serve current readers and create new ones. That’s why I will always think of them a writer’s best friend.