Wednesday, May 23, 2012

First Time Author Reviews

I've mentioned on here that I'm a member of Amazon Vine, which means I get some free stuff in exchange for reviews. I do mostly books. Go figure :P. And most of those books, I've realized, are first books. I could turn this into a post about marketing and new authors, but I won't. Just saying it does make sense, since it's the first books that need to get "out there." I know this all too well.

Anyway, my latest pick from Amazon Vine is a YA book called Hemlock, by Kathleen Peacock. It's about werewolves, and a girl whose town is being taken over by Trackers--an organized vigilante group of werewolf hunters. For some reason, this book has made me give serious thought to my reviews of these first books. Am I being too harsh with some? If so, why?

You can see some of my negative reviews  for Amazon Vine, first books HERE and HERE and HERE.

I do have positive reviews, of course. Some first books have blown me away. (For example, THIS and THIS and THIS.) But the negative ones are what have made me think. Because as a new author, I wonder if I should be more understanding. That thought has only recently occurred to me in regards to Amazon Vine books. And it's because of Hemlock.

Okay, I know this is feeling wander-y. Bear with me.

As I was reading Hemlock, I noticed some of the same "first time author" issues I've faced. Stating the obvious, over-explaining, focusing on plot to the detriment of characterization. In some ways, those things irritated me. I found myself thinking--and this is where the whole connection thing comes into play--"Why aren't these things being fixed? This book is published by one of the Big Six publishers! They have the big bucks, and hire the best editors!" I realized I was setting the bar higher for first time authors with big presses than first time authors with small presses. Because I'm with small press, and yet my editors have scoured my writing for all these issues! So why are the big press editors not?

I feel like shaking my finger at them. Shame, shame! If we can do it with our little budget, then you surely can!

And yet....I felt a connection to this author because of shared issues. And I actually enjoyed the plot, once things got going. The author reminded me of me, the way she planted clues and revealed things later. Her ideas aren't too far from my own thinking, too--I actually have a short story published that involves a small town with an organized vigilante group of werewolf hunters. I liked that the romance in the book wasn't the main plot line, that it was second to the mystery that evolved. I wanted to root for her, because doing so was like rooting for me.

Honestly, this post isn't meant for anything but me to share this experience. I doubt I'll change the way I review books, whether through Amazon Vine or not. But the idea that ALL first authors have issues to overcome, regardless of who their publishers are, has shifted my view a bit. It's also made me believe even more strongly that I could have found a large press to take me.

What say you? Should first time authors be reviewed differently than veterans?

PS--the cover of the book is gorgeous, isn't it? But it has nothing at all to do with the story. So not getting that trend...


ashley tahg said...

Pray tell, how doth you join Amazon Vine? I MUST know. Please tell. Please please please.

Kessie said...

I've noticed problems in big name books like Fablehaven (which has serious voice problems through all five books).

I don't think they should be reviewed any differently. Reviews are for the reader's benefit, not the writer's. If a book is cringe-worthy, other readers ought to know. If it's great, shout it from the rooftops.

I think you totally could get published by a big press. Maybe once your contract with your current one is up?

Caprice Hokstad said...

It's also made me believe even more strongly that I could have found a large press to take me.

Wait. You didn't TRY the Big Six FIRST???? Really? My very first query was to Tor. DAW wanted a full manuscript. I met the editor from Bantam Spectra. Baen was next. Then Warner Aspect. I mailed everyone pretty much in the order of who I most wanted to be my publisher. Of course, none of them wanted it, but I can't ever convince myself I could have done any better. I know for a fact I couldn't have. They want agented stuff and the agents didn't want me either.

You're young. You really should take a year or two and collect some rejection wallpaper so you never worry about the "I coulda been a contender" regrets.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Ashley, honestly, I got an invitation from them. This is what I just found on their website: "Amazon Vine is an invitation-only program. Vine Voices are selected based on several criteria, but primarily on the helpfulness of their reviews as judged by all other customers and by their demonstrated interest in the types of products that are featured in the program. Customers who consistently write helpful reviews and develop a reputation for expertise in specific product categories are most likely to be invited into the program."

Wish I could be more help!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Kessie, I agree on Fablehaven. I love that series, as do my kids, because the story is so fun and imaginative, but the writing itself...the editor in me cringes.

And, thank you :D. I'm nearly done with a manuscript I hope to shop to agents and bigger presses--one unrelated to the Finding Angel series. Got a lot of editing to go through, first, though.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Oh, Caprice, I have rejection wallpaper! Lots of it! Trust me, I did the agent search first. For a long time. What I'm saying is, I think the *publishers* would have taken me if an agent had had sense enough to. But the gatekeepers said no.

Caprice Hokstad said...

I know it has changed since I did my rejection collection. There were a lot more publishers back then that accepted unagented queries and kept your sample chaps for six months in their slush piles before they may have read on paragraph before sending out that rejection. I also did ALL of my correspondence back then by snail mail because they INSISTED on it, like email was disdianful or something. HA! Now that their slush piles are either stuck with agents or just electrons in their email accounts, they got rid of that nasty physical thing called slush. I tell ya though, all that postage I spent on overweight envelopes and SASE's I wish I could have THAT money back.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Right. These days you have to have an agent for any decent-sized publisher. Small presses are about all you can submit to without one. And once you've made the rounds with agents, there's not much else to do. I even tried some of them multiple times, with different queries and different versions of my manuscript as I edited and improved. Toward the end, I got asked a couple of times for pages. But the whole process was wearing me down.

Then Grace ended up showing real interest, and I knew from working with her on *your* drawing that she and I had synergy. So I know working with her on my book would be a great experience, and it was!

Still, I do want to try and land a big press at some point. Grace is supportive of that. Of course, it looks good for her, too! And if I do land a big press, it will point people to Splashdown as they look for my other books.

Caprice Hokstad said...

I did rounds with publishers and agents and I cannot do it again. "Wearing me down" is an understatement for how I felt. However, you're not as old and curmudgeonly as I am. Plus, YOU have talent, m'dear. You probably WILL land one of the big six one day. And we will all look at you with green eyes and sigh a lot about how we used to know you way back when.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Caprice, you are funny. Curmudgeonly :P. And YOU have talent, too, m'dear. I know this. I've read it :P.

Jeff Chapman said...

When I started reading this post, my first thought was that this sounds like Kat's werewolf story. Maybe she expanded it into a novel and published it under a pen name and this review is a clever publicity stunt. : ) OK, I didn't really think the disingenuous part, but it's a funny idea.

I wonder if the problems that slipped through could be a case of editors not taking this genre very seriously. Maybe they don't think the target audience would notice or care. Or maybe they're just overworked and underpaid. What I really want to know is the history of how this person got published at a big house. I suspect the publisher is trying to cash in on the paranormal werewolf craze (maybe rushed it through the editorial process) and a few years ago, this book would not have been published.

Kat Heckenbach said...

LOL, Jeff! Only you would actually connect those dots right off ;).

I do wonder sometimes if editors at the big houses don't worry about certain things with teen novels. It does make sense, as teens, even the most well-read ones, are teens and have teen brains. So they're going to focus on certain things and not others, and the editors are going to make sure the work *appeals* to them over technical perfection. I actually agree with that to a certain extent. I've found with my editors I'm having to say things like, "A teen would never question that, and fixing it is going to make the thing jump out at them and bug them."

Caprice Hokstad said...

I think I have writing talent. I may be severely deluded and egotistical to say that, but I believe that. I do NOT, however have the talent for finding subjects/stories that people are attracted to. That "appeal" factor you mentioned--you have a really good handle on that and THAT is what will land the Big Six long before my quirky, oddball (but very well written) stories ever will.