Quick SummaryAccepting review requests: NO. I have stopped doing reviews by request, because I find I very seldom enjoy the books. I now only review books I choose for myself.
Exception: If it's on my To-Read list at Goodreads, I'll review it.
Very particular about what I like and don't like: YES
Indie books: YES
Trad-pub books: YES
Print books: NO
Fantasy and science fiction: YES, but see below for much more detail
Romance: subplot YES, main plot NO
Erotica, paranormal romance: NO
Horror, dark, postapocalyptic, dystopian, conspiracy-theory, cynical, depressing: NO
Consists primarily of tired tropes laid end to end: NO
At least one person has advised you to get it edited and you haven't: NO
Your book, even though it's in one of the NO categories: NO
The BasicsI review books by both indie and traditionally-published authors. As you'll see if you browse the reviews here, I'm a ruthlessly honest reviewer with a background as a professional editor. If something in a book doesn't work for me, I will try to explain why in my review. I won't just trash the book or exercise my creativity insulting the author. That helps nobody.
I don't accept any other consideration apart from a free electronic copy of the book for review. I buy many of the indie books I review, in fact. I get most of the trad-published ones from the library, since traditional publishers usually overprice their ebooks (and sometimes don't even make ebook editions available in my region). I also get some from Netgalley.
Where I PostI post reviews of all books I read to Goodreads, and most of them to this blog (using automatic posting from my Goodreads account).
If I stop reading at around the point that the Amazon sample finishes, I may mark the book on Goodreads as "decided-against" and make a little note to myself that says what it was about the book I didn't like, but I won't give a star rating. If I get through a substantial amount of the book but don't finish, I will mark it as "partly-read" and give a star rating and a review, including why I stopped.
I don't post reviews to Amazon that are less than three stars any more (I used to, but it seems rude to stand in a shop telling people not to buy the goods).
I also curate a list of Indie Books Worth Reading, which are the ones I give four or five stars to. When I add a book to that list, it goes out to a (currently small) number of subscribers.
What I LikeAlthough I don't do reviews by request, here are some things that may get your book on my radar and make me choose to read it. Note that some of these points are advice about good writing in general, others are about writing that's to my personal taste.
- Learn to use the tools of your craft. You wouldn't attempt to become a digital artist without understanding Photoshop layers. Don't attempt to become an author without understanding apostrophes and commas. I can forgive occasional mistakes, but not persistent ignorance. (I've also created a blog to help you.)
- Don't write in an "elevated" or highly formal style. Some people like this, but I find it distances me from the characters, and very few people have the vocabulary to pull it off successfully.
- Write in one of the genres I read (listed below).
- Don't just stamp it out of the genre mould. If you're indie publishing, you get to try things that mainstream publishing would be scared of, like originality. Take advantage.
- Open with a strong hook that makes me care what happens next - not an infodump.
- Make your main character a likeable person with a clear goal. Show me the character taking action to reach that goal and making at least some progress within the first third of the book.
- Don't, however, make them a spoiled protagonist who gets everything handed to them. Make them work for it.
- I give extra points for genuinely strong, intelligent female characters - and deduct them for stereotypical airheads, damsels in distress, damsels in self-generated distress, whiny princesses, gender-flipped men who solve all problems with violence but look good doing it, chainmail bikinis used non-ironically, steampunk heroines with their underwear on the outside, and Women In Refrigerators.
- Do not linger lovingly on scenes of torture or abuse. Do not be relentlessly cynical or accept that the darkness will win or is just part of how things are. Show me good characters fighting the darkness and winning.
- When your book is finished, hire a professional editor. If that's absolutely out of the question, find someone with equivalent knowledge who will go over your book and find the places where you haven't written clearly, haven't used English correctly, or have missed words out of sentences (surprisingly common).
- Read your book upside down and/or backwards to make sure that all the words you think are in there are actually in there. That's a serious suggestion. I caught a lot of errors that way when I was an editor. You can do it with a Kindle.
- Check all the words you've used to make sure they mean what you think they mean. I have an unusually large vocabulary, and I will call you out on this. You can do that with a Kindle too.
Genres I Read
- Secondary-world fantasy. NOT epic fantasy, at least not in the sense of a huge sprawling story, unless you're Brandon Sanderson, which I assume you're not.
In particular, I don't read epic fantasy with one of the same three plots that have been recycled ad nauseum since the 1980s. For reference, the three plots are: questing all over the map with assorted companions for powerups to use in the boss fight at the end; the Chosen One versus the Dark Lord; and the person of low status discovering their (possibly forbidden) power and opposing the cruel Empire.
I particularly love wizards, though.
- Historical fantasy. I'll want to see some awareness that cultural conditions and attitudes were very different from our own even in the relatively recent past.
- Contemporary (urban) fantasy. I much prefer shapeshifters or Fae to vampires, and I'm not a fan of paranormal romance.
I don't see nearly enough good indie urban fantasy in the style of Jim Butcher, C.E. Murphy, Rachel Caine or Patricia Briggs; if you can write like them you have an easy sell with me.
- Alternate history and/or time travel. See note re historical fantasy. I'll want to see evidence of research, too.
- Steampunk, by which I do not mean "just hotglue brass gears to a top hat and put it on Indiana Jones, job done". The plot should make some kind of sense and the characters should be more than tropes.
- Superheroes. Not dark and gritty. Frankly, that hasn't been edgy for a while, plus it's not to my taste.
- Space opera. Not "hard" science fiction in which the characters are there primarily to appreciate the setting and give each other idiot lectures about the science, so everyone can see how clever you are. I expect a plot.
I used to enjoy military SF, but I've gone off it. Think later Vorkosigan Saga rather than earlier.
I especially don't want to see another military SF novel where we're colonizing the galaxy and fighting the brutal, incomprehensible alien Other. Murray Leinster got beyond that one in 1959. Catch up.
- Humour, if combined with one of the other genres above. Humour is a funny thing, and you should be aware that my sense of humour is more British than American. If you make me laugh, it will probably boost your rating by one star, but if you send me something and tell me it's funny and I don't agree, your book will need to have something else going for it. (I don't find a bunch of genre cliches combined with silly names to be funny.)
- Mystery, if combined with one of the other genres above. Police procedural, PI, cosy, it's all good, but not, of course, dark and gritty.
- Heists, if combined with one of the other genres above. I love a good rogue.
- Thriller, if combined with one of the other genres above.
Mashups of these genres are absolutely fine.
I don't mind if there's a romance subplot, but I have very little patience with silly romance ("Oh, his muscles are so... firm! But no! I must not think of such things. I'm not attracted to him! He's a cad!" [swoons]). I'm OK with an occasional sex scene if it's contextual and tasteful, but if a large part of the action consists of friction between lubricated surfaces of various kinds it's probably not for me. (I'll state that more simply: No erotica.)
Unless the blurb puts me off immediately (with editing errors or tired genre cliches), I will usually read the Amazon sample first.