Friday, August 24, 2007

How to Strip-Search a Book

A very flattering article posted about this website by Dave Schleicher has inspired me to explain exactly how the reviews here are created. Although this is Texas, we are not The Bush Administration. We at iUniverse Book Reviews have very few secrets not shared with the authors, readers, and general audience. The few secrets we do retain are mostly related to our awareness of the sensitive egos of authors. There are some things we disclose only in direct e-mails to the authors being reviewed, and there are a few things we keep to ourselves. Descriptions of these few secret elements will be mentioned in this post. Everything else outside these particular, discreet cordialities are being explained in this post. All books accepted for review at iUniverse Book Reviews receive exactly the same treatment. The details are explained here in chronological order.

The Request: When I receive your request for a review, I immediately begin a research effort to determine if I want to accept your book for review. Acceptance is probably a lot easier than you think.

The Research: I look at Amazon and B&N to see what sort of reviews you have already received. I rarely actually read any of these word-for-word because, if I do accept your book for review, I do not wish to risk being influenced by plot details or opinions expressed in those reviews. What I am looking for is the type of reviews you have. I know who the volume and paid reviewers are, and you don't earn diddly-squat for brownie points with me with a five-star review from any of these guys. You are actually the most likely to be accepted by iUniverse Book Reviews if you have no other reviews at all. Of course, the main way to be declined is to write a book about a celebrity or a get-rich-quick scheme. If I cannot find out enough to make a decision by looking at Amazon, B&N, or (obviously) your own website, I search Google for photos of you, details about your work, or even comments by others concerning your work.

The Acceptance: If I accept your book for review, you will be notified by e-mail immediately. I try to notify authors of the progress of their books through the queue, too. You can generally expect an e-mail from me when I accept your book, after you have notified me that the book has been sent, when I receive the book, what the book's timetable looks like, when I have completed the reading of the book, and when all the reviews have been posted.

The Log-in: Every book gets a folder, a Word document, and cover photos from Amazon and/or B&N. I verify the release date, page count, ISBN, and price at Amazon and B&N, as well as from the actual book. So far, I have discovered only one discrepancy, and I notified that author of the problem. The data from the paperback is always used, not that from the hardcover, if one has been published. The page count listed at Amazon nearly always includes the front and back matter, and I post that count on the website review. The page count without the front and back matter is entered into a separate document (to be discussed later in this post).

The Books Reviewed Chart: I keep track of all the activity pertaining to the website in a separate Word document. This data includes the actual, numbered page count mentioned above. It also includes the font size (for general word-count comparisons). The actual error count is added at the completion of the reading, and this allows an Error Quotient comparison with the other books reviewed. Each book's submission information is kept in the proper order on this page, from the date the initial request has been made until all the reviews are complete. If the author has an Authors Den page, it is noted on this chart. Each book is tracked and moved through the chart simply so I can keep things straight and remain fair and impartial to all submissions.

The Reading: Each book is read, cover-to-cover, word-for-word, in the order in which it was received, no matter how bad or how good the book may be. When I go see a movie, I have made all my preparations, and I am in my seat when the first credit rolls. I don't talk through it and I don't get up in the middle for popcorn, either. I'm just anal that way. I think if you really want to experience any piece of art or entertainment, you have to give it your best shot. You have to give it your full attention and try to retrieve the full experience in the manner intended by the creator. I don't leave the theatre until the last credit has rolled, and I don't skim over any pages. I examine the cover carefully and I read every bit of front and back matter.

The Error Count: For many of you, this is the big deal. The gremlins are loose in the theatre! You know that part of the strip-search that you don't like? I have to do it. We all know that this is the Achilles heel of iUniverse, and indeed, all, POD books. If you're going to ask a reader to pay full retail price for your custom-printed, and somewhat overpriced, book, you can at least minimize the typos. Only the errors that I can personally swear in court, that to the best of my ability, were boo-boos created by the author are counted. If there is any doubt as to stylistic choices or other details causing the error, it is not counted. If I stumble through the sentence after reading it a second time, the error gets counted. If the sentence is just a little funky and barely acceptable as correct, it is not counted. If a character is speaking, and that person may not be displaying perfect English, it is not counted. There are three comparative elements to keep in mind concerning the error count. These are the actual error count, the types of errors (as described below), and the Error Quotient, which is the error count divided by the page count without front and back matter. You can do the division in the other direction, too; it doesn't really matter as long as the figures for all books are compared in the same direction.

Error Categories: There are three types of errors, in ascending order of criminality. (a) Punctuation styles that may be repeated many times throughout your book, but clearly are more of a stumble for your readers than they are a poetic license are the most benign type. By the sheer numbers, these are also the most common, since there can be a hundred of exactly the same incorrect punctuation in a single book. (b) As stated elsewhere on this blog, iU authors need to be especially cognizant of misplaced and misused common words. No matter how stupidly unlikely this sounds, Word will not underline this type of boo-boo! Every one of these brings an obvious demerit because they are the direct result of lazy, hurried, or incomplete proofreading on the part of the author. (c) When you misuse words such as lie and lay, led and lead, and a long list of other statements from Hicksville, the demerit is the most severe of all. Whether or not these happen to be the result of sloppy proofreading or not is irrelevant. Every one of these reloads the slap-fighters' bandolier like nothing else!

The Final Analysis: I judge each book on its overall merit. If it contains a hundred errors of the same punctuation incorrectness repeating throughout the book, I keep a record of that number, but the error count is weighed against the other characteristics of the book. If the errors are less in number, but greater in severity, as noted in the descriptions above, the count is recorded, but the smaller number of more critical errors will be weighted accordingly. For many reasons, all actual error counts are kept private. The plot, characters, and writing style are all examined and weighted, too. No book is given a higher or lower rating just because I happen to like, or not like, reading that book's particular genre. I prefer to reveal only the minimal amount of plot details in any review. The focus instead is on whether or not a person who reads this book is likely to enjoy it for its quality or disparage it for its lack of same. Of course there is a lot of simple opinion involved. I'm a critic. What did you expect? I give points for high word and page counts and demerits for short books with low word and page counts. I positively recognize research and originality and negatively make note of ho-hum plots, stilted dialog, boring sentence structure, two-dimensional characters, and generic covers created by the iUniverse staff. Make me like your sleazebucket characters. Send me through an amazing plot maze that somehow makes sense. Show me the magic!

The Reviews: One of our leading claims to fame here at iUniverse Book Reviews is that we write three or four separate, original reviews of each book. The Authors Den review is usually posted first, and it is usually the shortest and simplest of the four reviews. The B&N review is posted next, and this review is usually slightly longer than the Authors Den review. Not appearing for several days due to B&N policy, this review will usually compare the book to known books and/or movies. The Amazon review is usually two or more paragraphs and the emphasis is on selling the book, since we all know that Amazon is the main retailer of iU books by a huge margin. The review put on this site is generally the longest and the most critical. The time I spend thinking about what I want to write usually increases as the book moves through this process.

The Closure: As soon as I have posted the final review, I send an e-mail to the author. A Word document is attached containing all four reviews, so the author can cheat instead of waiting on pokey B&N. Sometimes I feel like commenting on the book personally to the author, but sometimes not. If I do so, it is usually because there is some bit of advice I want to impart privately to the author. The personal service stops there only if you want it to do so. If I think you really have something to offer, I may invite you to participate in the Interview with the Author series. I have continued communications with many authors I have reviewed. A number of authors have asked that I review further books, and I have done so. If you want, I'll be glad to communicate with you by e-mail until the cows come home. That is, afterall, one reason I do this project. I want to get to know iU authors who have gotten so much less attention than they deserve.

4 comments:

ian said...

You know, I've been wondering if iUniverse knows about you and if they'd publish your reviews on their site.

Ian

Amy Lane said...

That is an awful lot of work--I was very impressed before, by your integrity and ideals, and I'm even more impressed now. That's awesome.

(But about that error count? Uhm...I don't ever want to know...)

Tabitha said...

Thank you all for the kind comments. I think the reason iU avoids acknowledging my existence is that they want to sell those ridiculous Kirkus Discoveries reviews for $399! As I mentioned in a recent post, I don't really think my little blog is the real threat to their $399. That honor goes to the free and low-priced, but extravagantly complimentary, McReview sites.

ALH ipinions said...

I second Amy's comment.

And even though this post is informative in some respects, the integrity and thoroughness of your reviews are quite self-evident.

As for acknowledging your existence, iU should be grateful for the association that I suspect most people assume exists between you....