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Real Life Sucks

So, the whole planning a posting schedule idea has run smack dab into “real life”.  If only I had nothing better to do than sit around all day writing blog posts, my life would be complete.  Hopefully things will get back on track by the end of next week.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2013 in Anime

 

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NaNoWriMo!

It’s approaching November now, which means NaNoWriMo is just around the corner.  It’s been awhile since I’ve done it, so I’m really excited!!!  I might actually win this time… maybe.

Here’s me: Atsiko on NaNo

Anybody else planning to do it this year?

 

I haven’t decided on a novel to work on yet, because there are so many options. Decisions are so much trouble.

 

Anyway, good luck to everybody planning to do it.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in atsiko

 

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How to Write a Book Review: Know Your Platform

Last time, I talked about knowing your audience and how that could help you write more successful book reviews.  This time, I’m going to take a look at platform.  Platform is on what basis you are reviewing a book.  It applies to Amazon or Goodreads reviews just as much as to book review blogs.

There are several common platforms for book reviews:

1. I read the book, and I want to share what I thought about it.

2. I am an author and I was asked to blurb/review this book.

3. I review books as a job/hobby (and may receive review copies from publishers).

4. I love this genre of book, so I’m reviewing books in that genre to introduce others to it or encourage them to read more.

5. I review books because of a certain element they have that I want to be more well-known, more popular, such as: environmentalism, racism, PoC characters, cultural appropriation, etc.

There are more, but those are some of the most common.  They can all work for individual reviews as well as series of reviews.  It can be important, especially in review series, to establish your platform explicitly.  This can help readers to decide whether your review will be helpful to them.  You can do this as part of your blogs “about” page, but you can still do it on a review site with a disclaimer or similar at the beginning of the review.

If you plan to depart from your platform for a certain review, it’s also good to explain that at the beginning of the review, as well.

Now, what does knowing your platform do for you?  It depends on what you want out of your blog.

1. It can help keep you consistent so that readers will keep coming beck if they find something they like.

2. It can encourage readers to keep an eye out for your reviews because you’ve established a platform that can appeal to them.

3. It can keep away readers who you are not targeting, and avoid problems of a reader wandering in from the wrong place.

Establishing expectations in your readers and then living up to them is the best way to keep readers happy. And it’s much easier to do when you have a coherent platform ahead of time.

4. Finally, having a platform allows your readers to recommend your reviews or review blog to other people they know who may find it interesting–even if they themselves don’t care for the genre, or subject, or theme.

All of those things are reasons why you should know your platform when you write a review.

Lastly, here are a few things you can mention when writing a review to tell a reader where you’re coming from:

1. Are you an author?

2. Are you an author who writes in the genre you review?

3. Did you receive a copy of the story/book from the publisher?

4. Do you read frequently in this genre, and do you have favorite sub-genres that might bias your opinion of a book?

These can be placed in your bio/about, or in some cases, directly in your review.

I’m sure I’ve missed some details here, so if anyone has any suggestions about how else to capitalize on having a pre-set platform, or disagrees that it is always helpful, I’d love to hear it.

Next time, I’ll give an example of a book review skeleton, and explain why I think each part is important.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2013 in Blogging, Reviews

 

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How to Write a Book Review: Know Your Audience

Last time, I talked about knowing why you want to write book reviews.  This time, I’m going to talk about who you’re writing them for.

All sorts of people read books, and they have all sorts of personal tastes.  Some review styles will work for some people, but none will work for all people.  That said, there are a few general categories of reader you can think about when imagining your target audience:

1. General readers– These are your everyday people who often read best-sellers and critically acclaimed novels, and books in Oprah’s Book Club.  They often won’t know genre tropes and conventions, or specific sub-genres.  Common genre story-lines might not appeal to them.  Or they might find them fascinating and novel.  Each reader will be different.

2. Genre readers– Convincing a reader to read a book in their favorite genre is different than convincing a general reader.  On the one hand, they probably know most of the tropes, conventions, and names for those tropes and conventions.  On the other hand, they’ve been reading in this genre for a long time.  You have to convince them that this book is worth their time: unique, fresh twist; good writing.

3. Non-genre readers– One of the hardest audiences to write for might be those who don’t see the value in whatever type of book you’re reviewing.  They would never read such trash.  It’s all written by hacks, and full of cliches, or its only purposes is for pathetic people to escape their boring, everyday lives.  Or, they may just not enjoy the kinds of stories they think your chosen genre(s) is full of.  Even if they have no conscious prejudice, you still have to find an angle of attack that highlights what they value in a story.  And that’s going to be different for every pair of “opposing” genres you encounter.

4. Librarians, especially if you write CB/MG/YA/NA– Libraries, public and school, order a huge number of books.  They use online reviews to decide which books will bring the most benefit with their limited budget.  There are many professional pipelines for reviews and books being targeted at librarians.  But they do read many independent reviewers, as well.  Especially for school librarians, it can be difficult to figure out what they’re looking for in a book.  Of course they will buy books they themselves enjoy, but they are also looking for books they can recommend to their patrons.  The best of them will know what groups that they serve are under-represented in terms of the books available to them in the library.  They’ll be looking at reading level, profanity, sexual or violent scenes, etc.

5. Writers– As the online community of writers grows, they are becoming something of a target audience in their own right.  In some ways they are like genre writers in that they’ll have a more than passing knowledge of genre conventions.  But many of them also spend a lot of time learning markets, reading for research on top of for fun, and they often have limited time for reading.  So it can be much harder to really sell a book to a writer than to a normal reader.

6. Young readers– Younger readers are increasingly online, and looking at book reviews to find what they want to read.  Especially fans of “children’s book” categories such as Young Adult and Middle Grade.  Depending on what categories and genres you review, you’re going to have different audiences, especially in terms of gender.  And it’s important to know what’s trending in terms of story-line and genre, because trends are big in categories like YA, and a lot of people will go online to find something similar to whatever it is they just enjoyed.

Knowing your audience is going to let you know what formats might be appropriate for your review, what to emphasize, what to focus critique on.

Next time, I’m going to look at why readers are going to trust your reviews.  Basically, what is your platform as a reviewer.  It’s important for a book reviewer to have a platform, although, considering anyone can review something on Amazon, it might not be important in the way you’d think.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in atsiko, Blogging, Reviews

 

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How to Write a Book Review: Know Your Purpose

All pieces of writing have a purpose.  A purpose the author chooses.  But certain genres have a built-in purpose.  For book reviews, the #1 purpose that comes with the territory is helping readers to find books they would enjoy reading.  And that’s because…

Every time someone reads something, they also have a purpose.  And it might differ significantly from the authors.  99.99% of people who read book reviews are doing so because they want to find a book they would enjoy reading.  The reader’s purpose is always going to supersede the writer’s purpose, because once you submit something to the public view, you give up some measure of control over that product.  You can’t make a reader do what you want.  And trying will probably end badly.

So, that’s your #1 purpose.

But of course everyone has their own particular purpose for writing, and there can be a broad array of author purposes:

1. To help readers find books they want to read.  (See above.)  Many readers read a few best-sellers or critically-acclaimed titles a year.  But others read a lot of books, all year long.  And the truth is, especially if you have narrow tastes, it can be hard to find enough books to read.  And if a reader maybe wants to expand their reading pool, it can be hard to figure out which way to go to find books you’ll enjoy.  And that’s where book reviews can come in.  For example, a reader who got back into reading with E.L. James and 50 Shades of Grey might most enjoy various category romances, or they might most enjoy Paranormal Romance, the inspiration for 50 Shades.  And they’re likely to turn to book reviews/reviewers to figure that out.

2. To share their enjoyment of particular books.  A perfectly legitimate reason to review books.  Spreading the love is always a boon to literature.

3. To expose readers to books they feel don’t get enough attention.  For example, books with QUILTBAG protagonists, PoC characters, etc.

4. To encourage readers to read in a certain genre.  For example, there are book reviewers dealing in Urban Fantasy, Steampunk etc.  New genres, or genres on the fringes have great work within them, but it’s common for them to not get a lot of attention because word of mouth hasn’t spread, or whatever.  Or, perhaps there’s a glut of books and it’s hard to decide what’s worth reading.  That can be true for both current readers and prospective ones.

5. To call out problematic things in the story. Including but not limited to racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, cultural appropriation, etc.

All of the above (and some I missed?) are valid reasons to start a review blog/site/column.  And knowing which reason or combination of reasons is why you review books can help you to be more effective in reaching that goal.

But remembering why readers are reading your reviews can help make you more effective, too.  You can benefit from considering your target audience and your likely audience when you write reviews.  Which is what I’ll be discussing next week.

So, what are you trying to achieve by writing a book review?  (Whether it’s just one or a whole review blog?)

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2013 in Blogging, Reviews

 

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How To Write A Book Review: The Spec Fic Way

Really it’s just my way, but the title makes it seem more legitimate.

Although I have not generally written reviews on this blog, as a reader constantly searching for new books to read, I have often contemplated what the perfect review structure for me would be.  And so I have decided to apply some logical processes and the scientific method to create a review format that I think meets all the functional requirements of reviews and also gives me something to do on here because I am out of blogging ideas.  So it begins:

When coming up with a review format, there are a few questions we need to consider:

1. What is the purpose of a book review?

2. Who is going to be reading these book reviews?

3. Why should they care what I have to say?

These are the three general questions that can be applied to all non-fiction, of which book reviews are a subgenre.  The first is a question of purpose, the second of people, and the third of platform.  (Actually, the second is of target audience, but having three “p” words sounds better and is apparently a marketing strategy.)

So, some answers:

1. The purpose of every book review is to help readers find books they will enjoy.  This is the prime directive.  There are a few other options:  To encourage people to read books you want them to read.  To shed some light on little known books.  To spread the word about books that are relevant to a certain political/social justice goal.  To sell an author’s books.  That last answer is not the kind of purpose I will be talking about.  People write reviews to achieve that goal, but that doesn’t make it a legitimate goal of a book review.

2. The people you are trying to reach are going to vary depending on what books you review.  If you’re reviewing books in a certain genre, then your main audience is going to be people who read in that genre.  They could also be general readers, readers that are part of a community that you belong to, or readers with a tendency to avoid reading the kind of book you are reviewing.  Your approach is going to differ depending on which kind of audience you are reaching out to.

3. Your platform is what gives you the authority to review books.  By authority, I don’t mean the right.  Everybody has the right to write book reviews.  I mean it’s what lends weight to your opinions.  Everyone has an opinion, and not all of them are equal.  (In order to avoid the whole philosophical debate, I’ll go into more detail on that in the second part of this discussion.)  Your platform is there to help readers decide whether they think your reviews will be helpful in finding them books they’d like to read.

That’s the overview.  Over the next few days, I’m going to expand on these ideas in individual posts.   The first is scheduled for this Wednesday, and will tackle Question #1 in more detail.  I’ll expand on the various purposes for writing a review, the reasoning behind those purposes, and whether they are good or bad or in the middle.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2013 in atsiko, Reviews

 

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Epistolary Novels and What’s Up with this Blog?!

I haven’t been posting to the Chimney much, recently.  Partly, I haven’t found any topics I found myself passionate enough and knowledgeable enough about to post on.  Partly I’ve just been busy with other things than literature, and I haven’t had the chance to read much lately.

But!  While I still don’t have much time for reading and really thinking about the state of literature, I am going to be posting here more often and more regularly.

What do I mean by that?

Well, literature posts will still be few and far between, but I am going to be posting excerpts from a work in progress for your delectation or frothing ridicule.  Normally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to post work publicly online that one hopes to someday maybe get published.  However, events have conspired to throw me in a new direction in my writing, and that direction meshes wonderfully with the blog format.

I’m talking about epistolary novels, people: my favorite new non-standard format for stories.  I think they are awesome and that we should have more of them.  So I’m going to write one (or a few), and share them with the whole internet in a serial format.  There’s going to be smoke coming out of this chimney again, and hopefully a roaring blaze of a novel to generate it for me.

Once a week–or more often if I feel like it, I am going to post a letter(chapter) from my current WIP, most brilliantly and creatively entitled: “Love Letters”.  It’s a secondary-world,  pseudo-historical, steampunk coming-of-age/YA novel with a complicated political backdrop written entirely as an exchange of letters between two male cousins of no great importance, separated by a war and an imperialist occupation, and containing no particular focus on romance.  First letter will probably be posted sometime before next Sunday.  I’m really curious to see how it pans out.

For research, I pulled together this list of the 25 best modern epistolary novels everyone should read:

1. The White Tiger
2. Love, Rosie/Where Rainbows End
3. Nothing but the Truth
4. So Long a Letter
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
6. House of Leaves
7. Up the Down Staircase
8. Last Days of Summer
9. Almost Like Being in Love
10. Eleven
11. Letters from the Inside
12. Letters of Insurgents
13. Super Sad True Love Story
14. The Key
15. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
16. Upstate
17. The Communist’s Daughter
18. Sorcery and Cecilia
19. The Nobodies Album
20. Which Brings Me To You
21. The Boy Next Door
22. Dear Everybody
23. Freedom and Necessity
24. Purple and Black

25. Voices of a Distant Star*

The last one is technically an animated short film, but it was the only real science fiction example I could find, and is also brilliant, especially for being created independently on a home computer.

Epistolary novels are those told all or in part as a series of documents, most commonly letters but also e-mails, news clippings, internal memos, IMs, social networking posts and message board threads, and many more.  They were most popular in the 1800s and have since died back, but this list tells me they are not dead yet, and I hope they never are.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Love Letters

 

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