Posts Tagged Book Reviews

Book Reviews in Magazines

There’s always something new to learn about the book promotion business.

Over the last bank holiday I went away for the weekend and picked up a lovely free glossy magazine in one of the cafes. It had lots of interesting pieces about the surrounding area, a page of readers’ poems and a book review page. On the review page was an interview with a local author who suggested that writers struggling to get traditionally published could, instead, make their work available on Kindle.

I saw this as an opportunity to contact the editor, agree with the local author’s advice, suggest that the aspiring writers in the magazine’s readership might be interested in Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners and ask if it could be included on the magazine’s book review page.

The editor replied and agreed that my book would be of interest to the readers … and that the cost of inclusion on the review page would be £100.

I was quite taken aback, not having realised that there was a charge to appear on magazine book review pages. But on reflection, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. A magazine book review is like an advert and we expect to pay for advertising. It’s common knowledge that publishers pay for display space in the major book shop chains – so they probably don’t mind paying for magazine review space.

I politely replied to the editor, confessed my ignorance and didn’t go ahead with the review because I wasn’t sure it would generate enough sales to pay for itself. The editor did explain that since it was a free publication they were reliant on generating income where they could – which I could understand.

Am I the only one that didn’t realise this was how things worked?



The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’m currently reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

It’s set just after the end of WWII and the book comprises a series of letters to and from Juliet Ashton. She is an English writer looking for her next ‘big idea’. By chance she hears about the existence of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and decides to include it in an extended feature article for The Times. The various members of the society write to Juliet telling her how it was founded accidentally to escape the wrath of the Germans, they also write about the hardships of life under German occupation and about other things in their lives. Juliet also corresponds with her editor, her best friend and the rich Markham Reynolds, who appears to be trying to woo her. There may be more, but I’m only part way through the book so I’ll let you discover that for yourselves.

So far, I’ve found the book charming and easy to read – and it’s teaching me a lot about history.

But, as a writer, what interests me most is the story of its author, Mary Ann Shaffer. Mary Ann was an American born in 1934. In 1980 she visited Guernsey and left with a fascination with the history of Channel Isles during WWII. She was a ‘hobby’ writer, always working on something but never completing anything to her satisfaction, however around twenty years after her visit to Guernsey, and encouraged by her writing group, she started work on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The completed book was snapped up by a publisher just before Mary Ann’s health began to fail. When the book’s editor requested some changes, Mary Ann wasn’t well enough to do them and so her niece, Annie Barrows (also a writer), stepped in to complete the book. Mary Ann died in early 2008, knowing that her only novel was to be published in thirteen countries but she was never able to enjoy its international success.

What’s the moral of this story? Get writing before it’s too late! Like all writers, I’m guilty of procrastination but the more birthdays I chalk up, the more aware I become of how little time we have. So I’m going to try to take Mary Ann’s story to heart – if I ever produce a best-seller (extremely faint chance, I know) then I want to be around and healthy enough to enjoy it!

And, if you need still more inspiration before facing that blank document, A Writer on Writing – Advice to Make You a Success, is only 99p until Monday 11th May 2015.

A Writer On Writing


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It’s the taking part that counts

‘It’s the taking part that counts’ is a phrase often bandied about to make people feel better if they don’t win or get placed in a competition. Mostly it just washes over us and we’re still fed up that we didn’t get a prize. Perhaps we even think about throwing in the towel and not bothering to enter any more competitions. Last week I had an experience that made me truly agree that it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

My Speakers’ Club asked me to represent them in a Speech Evaluation Contest against two other clubs. This involves giving a four minute speech on the strengths and weaknesses of a ‘target’ speech which all three competitors have just watched. I was a bit reluctant since I’ve only been in the club eighteen months but decided to have a go anyway. My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say or I would dry up or I would speak in a muddled, incoherent way.

On the night, I discovered that one of my competitors runs a public speaking coaching business and the other had been education director of his club for fifteen years. This gave plenty of opportunity for making a fool of myself! Needless to say I came third (i.e. last!) in the competition BUT I was surprised to feel good in the face of defeat. There were lots of positives from the evening: I’d spoken to a larger audience than usual, I’d taken part in a speaking competition for the first time, I lasted the full four minutes, I’d been a ‘team player’ by agreeing to take part and my fellow Club members told me I hadn’t disgraced myself or let down the Club. I came away on a high!

So, what’s all this got to do with writing? It’s to urge you to enter writing competitions even if you think you don’t stand a chance of winning. You will learn and gain experience from each competition entry, it might be writing to a tight deadline, trying to write to a different word count than usual or experimenting with a new genre. Don’t worry about winning, concentrate on the challenge of producing the best work you can.

And to get you started, have a go at one (or more!) of these:

Erewash Writers’ Group New Writers’ Competition –   3,000 word short story. There is a £40 first prize and a FREE basic critique. Closes 26th March 2015.

Nuneaton Writers’ Circle Flash Fiction Competition – free entry. Prize is 1 year’s free membership of Nuneaton Writers’ Circle. Closes 27th March 2015.

Alfie Dog Review Competition –  download a story from Alfie Dog during March 2015 and write a  short review. First prize £100.

Enjoy the taking part!

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Write a Review and Win a Book Journal

Karen’s Story, the second in the Museum of Fractured Lives series is available free from all Amazon sites until Wednesday 16th October.Book Journal

Karen’s Story is contemporary women’s fiction (although some men may enjoy it too). It is the tale of a single woman’s quest to find a man to father her baby. She tempts a work colleague to commit adultery. But he has a secret and their affair has devastating consequences. At approximately 8,500 words the book can be described as a long short story or a ‘flash’ novella.

To celebrate I am running a competition to win a Book Journal (pictured). It is full of pages on which to keep a record of all the books you’ve read – great if, like me, you tend to forget what you’ve read or which author you particularly enjoyed. There’s also a section to keep a list of ‘Books to Read’ – useful if an interesting book is mentioned on the radio or TV or a friend recommends a novel they like.

All you have to do to enter is:

  1. Download a free copy of Karen’s Story – The Museum of Fractured Lives to your Kindle, tablet or PC. If you use the link is here or search for ASIN: B00F3FMHSK.
  2. Write an HONEST review on Amazon.
  3. Email me at and let me know which review is yours.

All the emails will go into a ‘hat’ and I will draw one at random after the closing date, which is midnight Saturday 26th October 2013.

If you would like more than one entry into the draw, simply leave another review for any of my other books (you may have them sitting unread on your Kindle after previous free promotions, or you can buy them) and send me another email.

I have thought about the ethics of this competition i.e. people gaining entry to a prize draw in return for writing a review. I have decided it is acceptable (and hope you do too) because:

  • there is no guaranteed prize
  • winning is not dependent on the content of the review or the star rating
  • the practice is well-established, for example Story Cartel offer prizes of Amazon vouchers, Kindles and books to readers leaving reviews (scroll down the page on this Story Cartel link to see the details).

I hope you enjoy Karen’s Story!

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Giving-up on a Book

I feel guilty this week because I gave up on a book half-way through.

It’s something I never used to do but as I get older I am gradually doing it more often. And every time I do it I feel bad. I don’t know why I feel bad – it’s not as if the author is breathing down my neck checking that I read every word or that I’m going to be tested on it at a later date.

Maybe it’s because I’m acknowledging that my choice of book was not up to scratch or because I’ve wasted my time getting as far as I did with the book – when I could’ve been reading something better.

I won’t name this book but the jacket is covered with glowing review excerpts from all the major newspapers. So I feel that I should have enjoyed it. Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

I’ve just had a look at the book’s Amazon reviews, they are all 4 or 5 star except one. That single 2 star review makes me feel better – so at least I’m not alone in being unable to appreciate this book which the Guardian tells me is ‘a real page-turner’ and the Literary Review says is an ‘impressive piece of storytelling’.

How do you deal with books that don’t live up to expectations?

Finally, here are a couple of quotes that I’ve come across. Take them as a confidence booster. Forget all those ‘I’m not good enough’ voices in your head and just sit down and write!

To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong. Joseph Chilton Pearce.

I am the MASTER of my FATE. I am the CAPTAIN of my SOUL. William Ernest Henley.

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Amazon Reviews – Is This Ethical?

I’ve gone on before about how important Amazon reviews are to authors. They help to ‘sell’ the book to potential readers and they may also help to push a book up the Amazon rankings and make it more visible to the buying public.

But getting reviews is a battle. It just doesn’t occur to many of us to bother writing one – even if we’ve really enjoyed the book. And to be honest, until I got into Kindle publishing it wouldn’t have occurred to me either.

Bearing all this in mind you’ll understand why an email I received this week got my immediate interest. The sender was suggesting that we do a ‘review swap’ and they included a link to their book on Amazon. I assumed that we would each read and then independently review the other’s book. That seemed acceptable – like ‘proper’ publishers sending out review copies in the hope of getting a positive response.

But further correspondence with the other author made it clear that I’d got it wrong. The idea was that we each write the other’s review ‘to speed the process up’ – meaning that I write a review of my own book for my contact to post under their name and vice versa.

I had a look at this person’s book on Amazon – they had many more reviews than me and their book appeared to be doing much better than mine. It seemed this author knew the secret of garnering reviews and thus growing sales!

I was sorely tempted to go ahead with the swap – perhaps lots of people are operating and making money like this? Why should I miss out?

But then I thought how would I feel if anyone discovered that I had written some of my own reviews?
I would be ashamed and unable to look them in the eye.

So I didn’t go ahead with the swap.

What would you have done?



Reviewing ‘Indie’ E-books and Goodreads

Since starting my own adventures in e-publishing I’ve started reading more self-published e-books. I’ve been doing this for two reasons:

  • I want to see what types of thing people are publishing
  • I want to support other writers in the same way that I’ve been supported

Taking the second point – the best way to support self-published authors is to give them a review. It doesn’t have to be a full-on 5 star rave about the book – just a few words to show that the book has been read and enjoyed (if you have enjoyed it, obviously).

A while ago I read and reviewed something which I enjoyed. The book had held my attention from beginning to end and I looked forward to picking up again each night (I generally only read at bedtime). There were some formatting errors in the text but they didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the narrative. So, when I left my review I didn’t mention these errors, I concentrated on the book’s literary content.

Now a comment has been added to my review, indicating that I should have pointed out the formatting problems and downgraded my star rating accordingly.

My first reaction to this was anger that someone had dared to criticise my opinion and I had to restrain myself from commenting back and thus getting into a public argument.

Now that I’ve had chance to calm down and think about it, I realise that I was probably wrong not to mention the formatting issues. However, my review was the first one for that book and I didn’t want to give it the kiss of death – but I did want to leave a comment to say that I’d enjoyed it.

What would you have done?

I’ve recently tried another book and found it contains several punctuation mistakes. So, I’m not going to leave a review at all, regardless of the quality of the story, because I don’t want to get a reputation for dishonest reviews.

I’ve learned a lesson from all this – ‘Look Inside’ or download a sample of the book before buying to ensure that formatting, punctuation etc. is up to scratch.

Talking of books and reviews, My two short story anthologies and I are now enrolled in Goodreads. You can see us here.

Any tips on getting the most out of Goodreads, either as an author or a reader, would be gratefully received.

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Genre Jumping

I’ve been getting out of my literary rut recently – by trying Sci-Fi.

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I am attempting to enter each of the Monthly Writers’ News competitions. The September brief was for a science fiction story so, although I’m not exactly sure what constitutes sci-fi, I had a go. Creating a whole new futuristic world seemed too much like hard work, so I set the story in the present day with ordinary characters but included a new piece of technology which did a little more than it said in the instruction book. The result caused my main character a problem and so the story developed. This may or may not be classed as science fiction – but at least I had a go!

By coincidence, I also received a science fiction book to review from Waterstone’s this month – Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton. It was billed as a futuristic crime story and I love crime so that was why I entered my name in the prize draw for a chance to review the book. But I got more than I bargained for – it is a HUGE tome, 1087 pages long. It involves a murder, clones, space travel and hi-tech police procedures but at the end of the day it’s still the characters that drive the story. I liked Detective Sidney Hurst, who is the main policeman and there’s another intriguing personality in Angela Tramelo. She only ages 1 year for every 10 years of her age and was locked away 20 years earlier for a similar crime. But she has always protested her innocence and swears that the original killing was an alien attack…

This venture into Sci-Fi was accidental and it hasn’t converted me to the genre but it has taught me a few things:

  • It’s refreshing to try something different
  • The elements that make up a good story are the same, whatever the genre. The setting/time-period/pre-occupations of the characters may differ but if you make the reader care about the protagonists then it is a good tale
  • Moving out of one’s comfort zone (in real life as well as writing) may not be appealing but once you’ve done it, it creates a feeling of confidence in your own abilities.

Finally, if you are a Waterstone’s loyalty card holder and want the chance to review books, click here to see what’s on offer.

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Book Reviews

Read any good books lately? As writers we should all be bookworms too and what better way to practise concise writing than with a book review?

A book review requires the ability to:

  • Summarise a plot (without giving away the ending!)
  • Pass an opinion on various aspects of the book – it’s construction, characterisation, use of language etc.
  • Share any emotional impact that it had on you – did it make you laugh, cry etc.

Writing book reviews won’t make you rich but it might earn you a free copy of a book and get your name out there.

Book reviewing opportunities:

  • Waterstones – if you’ve got a Waterstones card (i.e. a free loyalty card – no need to buy anything) then you can enter regular draws for pre-publication copies of new books to review. There are usually 25 copies of each title to give away and I’ve been successful in the draws several times. If you receive a book then you just post a short review on the Waterstones website (and it doesn’t have to be good). Details of the books currently on offer are here.
  • Take A Break’s Fiction Feast – each issue carries a 70 word ‘My Favourite Book’ from a reader. £20 is paid for each one used.
  • The Saturday Guardian are asking ‘What have you enjoyed reading in the past 12 months?’ Email them no more than 150 words to to arrive no later than Sunday 11 December and preferably write about a recent title. A selection of the reviews received will be published – no payment but the kudos of appearing in a broadsheet newspaper.
  • Your own blog/Facebook/Twitter etc. – in these days of zero publicity budgets, authors need all the help they can get so if you’ve enjoyed a book, pass the word on! (and someone might do the same for you one day)