This post follows on from the Blowing My Own Trumpet post that went live during the party we had for our first year,
When the blog was launched a year ago, we had no idea it was going to be as successful as it has been. What I mean is, we thought we would be looking at the odd review here and there and that it would be just an extended arm of the Facebook page. The Review has now become an ever-evolving enterprise, forever learning, changing and forever challenging ourselves to become more innovative. You can see this in how the quality of our reviews have improved over time. The look of our posts have changed; every book we review is now 'showcased' and in this we hope that we will have left an indelible mark in people's minds. We want our authors to benefit in some way from our reviews - we may not greatly increase their sales, but if one person in moved enough by our presentation to buy or download a copy, then for us that is something wonderful. For me, the best part about doing this is the joy of helping an author - especially Indie authors who don't have the marketing resources available to them.
One of our principles in working on the blog is that we never ever give bad reviews. That's not our aim. That's not to say that we are economical about our feelings for the book, or that we will give a glowing review to a book that is really substandard, badly written and full of grammatical errors. As time passed, we realised that we needed to find a process that meant that every book we review meets our standard. We decided that to safeguard the reputation of The Review as being an excellent resource for finding good quality books, we would change our reviewing process. We employed the principle that we will only review books that pass a strict previewing process as we describe on our Submission page. When someone submits their email to us, we preview the book first, usually by downloading a sample so there is no cost to the author or the previewer, and the reader will decide whether or not it meets our criteria for a review. If it doesn't, we will email the author with a brief explanation and if they so desire, advice on how to change what needs to be changed to meet the standard our readers demand. We know that authors would rather not have a bad review so this is how we work. We still hold to the principle that a review is primarily to help readers find a good read. We do not wish to present a book as good if it is not, thus cheating the reader. Nobody gains by this.
So with this all in mind, we needed to find people who were able to work within a framework based solely on these three things:
1) That we do not read a book that does not fire our imagination or is not to our taste. We recognise that everyone's likes are different.We return it to the list and allow someone else to read it.
2) If the book we are reading is full of errors and badly written, we stop reading and report back to the author. Sometimes substandard books that have been previewed do sometimes slip through the net.
3) Our focus is not to give readers a synopsis in our reviews; the main objective is to draw potential readers by describing what the book means to us. We do not like spoilers. We don't want to give away too much of the story, so we do our best to 'sell' the book by showing our audience how the book makes us feel. We show them the pieces of the book that touch us, how and why they move us.
For example, as Lisl does here in her review of Forty Years in a Day.
“My father simply replied, ‘Clare, every day you’re alive is a beautiful day.’
Throughout his life, the phrase ‘it’s a beautiful day’ had become his mantra. I had always thought of it as cordial chitchat used to fill the uncomfortable gaps of silence in conversations, but only now did I comprehend the depth of his penetrating words.”
From the popularity of the launch, it was obvious we were not going to be happy with just one review a month. We hit the ground running and soon we were posting at least four times a week. I was doing regular posts on Paula's People which I called my own slot after my blog Paula Peruses. I would invite authors to an interview, or they could do a guest spot, like when Patricia Bracewell Told the Tale of a Murdered King. It was nice to sit back and let the guest do all the work! I also enjoyed interviewing authors like Bernard Cornwell who really got a grilling from all of us! He was such a nice person to interview and I could tell that he enjoyed answering our questions as much as we enjoyed asking them. Occasionally, I love reviewing books and I think my best one was of Carol McGrath's The Handfasted Wife, which I did for our launch.
These days we are a little more relaxed about what and how many posts we have a week - after all we all have our own projects to work on and need time for that too in our busy worlds.
Some of the books we have reviewed
Who are the Review Team?The Review team is split into two departments: the Admins and the Reviewers.
The Admins are a core group of people with various roles and responsibilities who look after the different departments that help to make The Review run smoothly.
The Reviewers are a great bunch of guys and gals who read the books we add to our reading list from our submissions. It includes some of the Admins also. Our reviewers have really taken well to producing great reviews for us and we are so proud of the good work they do. To read about them all, click here .
The Admins are a team with individual skills and come from a variety of interesting literary experiences. Most of us are writers of one sort or another with our own blogs or novels, and all are all historical fiction nuts. That doesn't mean that The Review is a historical fiction group. Far from it; it is just how it is. We do our best to draw other genres to the group - the only genre we don't do is erotica. Its not that we don't think it has its place in literature; it's just not our thing. It's important to us that we are open to a whole heap of genres; in my opinion it broadens the mind and enhances reading experiences and I am a great believer that diversity enriches our lives.
We have seen, as mentioned before, admins come and go - people live very busy lives and can't always commit the dedication needed to run a group like this. But we have managed to build a great team now and everyone has their part to play in keeping the group going. Aside from The Review, most of us are in work to pay the bills.
Who are the Admins?Lisl is my anchorlady; she helps me coordinate the blog posts. She gathers all the info needed to make the blog run smoothly. Her editing skills are second to none and without her knowledge and her sense of humour I'd be a snivelling wreck. She gets into the blog and looks out for any changes or edits that need to be made and schedules the posts for us. She also has her own slot on the blog called Lisl's Bits and Bobs.
Louise Rule, now she is just fantastic. Her organisation skills make her the best person to coordinate and manage the review team. She organises the books we review for our fabulous review team and is so supportive of everyone. If I need her to do anything for me she is there in a flash. She has also done loads of fabulous interviews for us, asking interesting questions that provoke wonderful answers from our guests.
Rob Bayliss is always ready to help and is a very committed member of the team. He is an all rounder really, ready to engage the members in some interesting and fun discussions, previews the submissions and also reads and reviews them. He has his own little occasional slot where he tells us tales of Old Somerset.
Stuart Laing is our banner man: he creates our flags and cover images for whenever we need them. He also posts reviews on the blog and has produced a series of history posts about Edinburgh for us. He is a wonderfully supportive colleague to work with and is always ready with a fantastic banner for our events, etc.
Jayne Smith keeps her beady eye in the Facebook group which is essential, because we have strict guidelines on what can and can't be posted. Some people ignore these rules and treat the group like an advertising billboard without any interaction or giving anything back to the group, which is not what we're about. Jayne is also great with people and loves to talk. She comes up with great ideas for discussions and really keeps the group going. She is a very valued member of the group.
So what now for The Review?We have now started branching out into marketing by hosting events for book launches or just plain old get-your-book-out-there events. We have held three so far, the most recent being for Wendy J. Dunn's book launch for her young adult novel Light in the Labyrinth. We are also looking at devising a new award for Indie authors similar to B.R.A.G. and other groups but with a different process.
Later at some stage, we would like to branch into marketing with some packages that will be at competitive prices. We aim to keep prices low because we know how difficult it is out there once you've done all the hard work of producing your book and then having to sell it.
We also have our own projects that we are working on and fitting all this in can be very demanding but we are dedicated to keeping The Review running while we can and hope that we will get onto bigger and better things as times go by.
Here is what one of our authors sent us when we reviewed his book earlier this year:
The review you provided some months back, for my novella, Troll, was presented in the most engaging, professional way I could ever imagine. The comments were insightful and it was clear that the reivewer gave some real thought to the process. Thanks... again and again.
We hope to continue providing great reviews for the foreseeable future. Keep watching this space.
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