Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reviews - To Tell the Truth, Or Not

So one thing I am certainly slacking on is reviews of the publications I read.  I had told myself at the beginning of the year that I wanted to post more reviews.  I enjoy reviewing poetry and stories, I want to give a boost to the publications I read, and I like learning more about authors in the field.

BUT, and here is the but - what happens when something you read is perhaps not terribly impressive, or even (gasp) maybe something you don't actually like at all? 

I've often held back from reviewing material because I can't give it an honest two thumbs up.  Being a very modestly published writer and poet myself, I am sensitive to the fact that not everything I've written is composed of gorgeous and stunning prose with fascinating characters and a plot no one's ever conceived before.  I understand that it can be rough getting any exposure at all for one's writing, and then getting a ho-hum or even negative review would be disheartening.  Still, I would vastly prefer being reviewed in a constructive fashion that would allow me to improve, rather than to receive no notice at all.

But what has ended up happening is this sort of double standard - if I know someone is a well established, best-seller-type author, I write reviews that offer a 'What I Liked' and 'What I Didn't Like' sort of thing.  For authors that (seem to me to be) newer or are looking for exposure - I don't tend to write anything because I don't want to be dishonest or discouraging.  (After all, there are few pieces that are so universally fabulous that a review will be utterly positive.)

Wait.  Did you catch that?  So I am not writing about the people and publications that need it the most.  This conundrum needs a solution.  I'd like to spend more time on lesser known authors and smaller publications than anything else, but that's not what I'm doing.  Mostly out of fear.  I don't want to discourage or upset another writer, and I don't want to damage the reputation of a publication.  And I don't really know where I'm being a bit overly sensitive, and where I'm being really just the right amount of sensitive.

So what to do?  Well, research, naturally, being the geek that I am.  I just read a pile of posts on how to do online reviews of fiction, poetry, etc.  Many point out that one shouldn't be 'cruel' and that all criticism should be 'positive' - which is obvious enough.  But no one addresses the issue of how to write up honest reviews of newer writers and smaller pubs that actually help to boost those people, rather than bring them down.   (Maybe this means I should figure how how, and then write that post, hmmm?)

Oh, and by honest review I mean the bad with the good.  I could just write reviews about 'What I Liked' and leave the rest out.  But then someone might read an issue based on my review, not like the issue, and think my reviews are pretty useless.  Which they would be.

So what is your opinion, and your experience, with writing and receiving honest reviews?  Would you prefer an honest review of your work to no review at all?  How do you like to see critical comments framed?  Do you have a set of guidelines you follow when doing reviews, a creed, a statement of intent or some such?

Send some thoughts my way.  This is your chance to chime in - since I'll probably plow ahead with reviews to the best of my ability, and your stuff might be in there, ya know ...

Image Credit - photoxpress.com

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Vonnie Winslow Crist and When Opportunity Knocks

Vonnie Winslow Crist
I've been neglecting the blog in a most woeful fashion.  Didn't even get that last poetry post up.  But to make up for it, I've some tidbits of wisdom from speculative fiction writer and poet Vonnie Winslow Crist

Vonnie was the guest speaker at my local writers club meeting this last Thursday, and entertained us all for an hour with anecdotes from her career and practical insight into writing and publishing.  Her works include:  Essential Fables and River of Stars, both poetry collections from Lite Circle Books, fantasy novel The Enchanted Skean - Book 1 of the Chronicles of Lifthrasir from Mockingbird Lane Press, as well as The Greener Forest and Owl Light, collections of short stories and more from Cold Moon Press.  She has also edited much, volunteered much, and produced many columns and articles.  Her talk was titled "Be Ready When Opportunity Knocks and How to Find Those Hidden Opportunities."

Her first piece of advice is to always be writing.  She underscores the fact that you can't respond to any publishing opportunity unless you have appropriate work ready to go.  Keeping a backlog of poems, stories, and manuscripts means you have something in your pocket when you see a notice, hear a rumor, or find a great contest - and the deadline is coming up fast - like tomorrow.  Don't stop writing as you wait to see if your entry wins or if your submission is accepted.  Write something new while you wait.

Along with 'always be writing' is keep improving.  Vonnie points out that every piece of writing we do, no matter how brief, helps us improve our craft.  She emphasizes the importance of finding a critique group, and making sure it is one where all the members have the same level of writing expertise.  Read articles, magazines and books about the craft.  For fiction writers she recommends The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.  You might want to take workshops, courses, or even go back to school (as she did) and earn an advanced degree in writing!

Vonnie suggests we be creative about finding publication "homes" for our work.  She reads the bios of other writers to see where they've been published, and checks out directory style websites appropriate for our genre (I happen to use ralan.com and duotrope.com)  Don't neglect local outlets such as newsletters and bulletins, and keep an eye open for anthologies in your genre.  You can't underestimate the library, either.  Use your community (below) as a source of information on unique places to publish.

She emphasizes the importance of staying connected with the community.  This includes other writers, editors, and publishers.  Staying connected can mean:  attending writers' conferences, joining societies, attending conventions, volunteering to edit pieces or write articles, helping out with local meetings, etc.  Some of these opportunities will cost money and others will be free labor at first, but all can have payoffs down the line.

Vonnie points out that one opportunity can lead to another, so leverage opportunities.  For example, she won a poetry chapbook contest, and used that as the means to get a publisher interested in a full sized book of poetry.

Finally, she says, "When you see an opening, jump!  You can't fear rejection - say 'Yes' then work hard."

Actually, she said a great deal more, but you'll have to be lucky enough to catch her in person for the whole talk, and to enjoy her entertaining style.

Image Credit:  Vonnie Winslow Crist from her website.