WRITING A WORTHY REVIEW by Regan Walker

Regan's pic for Boroughs

We are all readers. Hopefully we are also reviewers of the books we read. With the hope of helping you write meaningful reviews, I’ve jotted down some notes on how I do my reviews. I have over 500 reviews of mostly historical romance novels on Amazon with a 91% “helpful” rating. And I have a blog dedicated to helping other readers find the keepers, so I’ve thought some about this topic.

Reviewers have many styles, but to my thinking they generally fall into three categories:

1. Just my opinion: These are short and often sweet reviews that say very little except that they liked the book. They tell you nothing about the story. They are often be written by friends of the author and they are frequently 5 stars ratings. I do not find them helpful.

2. The Barracuda: These are written by those having an axe to grind, something that sets them off. Typically, these folks give one and two star ratings and rant about that one thing that has upset them. In reviews of bodice ripper romances, you can find them ranting about rape or forced seduction, typically inherent in the subgenre. To me these are really unfair reviews and they only detract from what might otherwise be a 5 star novel.

3. FOT (Fair, objective and thorough): These give you a bit of the story and setting, what the author did right/wrong, what the reviewer liked and whether they would recommend the book. The ratings generally range from 3 to 5 stars.

To write a fair, objective and thorough review, I recommend you include as many of the following as you feel appropriate:

1. Your familiarity with the author’s work. Have your read other books by this author? Are you a fan of this author’s work? Is this the first of hers you’ve read? This tells the readers what you know of this author’s work and gives your review credibility.

2. The setting. Tell the readers where you place this book in history and geography. For example, in my review I might say “Set in 12th century Scotland…” or something like that. You’d be surprised how many blurbs do not do this. While perhaps this is more important for a historical, it is also important for a contemporary. You might say the book is set in “modern day London,” or “on a desert isle.” If it’s fantasy, or time travel, let the reader know as the blurbs can leave them wondering.

3. A bit about the plot. You want to let the readers know enough of the story to be interested; yet you don’t want to give away the surprises or the ending. It is in this section I might tell the reader “This is a story of second chances,” or I might say, “The hero is a man wounded both in battle and in his heart….” I try to give more than the bare facts so the reader has a clue about this book. I have had some authors tell me I summarize their story better than they could. If that is so, it’s because I carefully take notes and ask myself, “What is this book about, really?”

4. What the author did right. There is always something good to say. Perhaps it’s very well written, or the characters are well developed, or the novel is obviously well researched, or the dialog natural. To have a balanced review you need to have something positive; and be specific.

5. What you didn’t like or think other readers might not like. Be honest and tell the readers what bothered you (if anything). For me, it is typically contrived conflict, improbable plot elements, major historical inaccuracies or the characters acting against their type. I recall one book that I rated 5 stars, but found completely improbable the rape of the heroine by the noble born hero who had been a British naval officer and a gentleman. She was an innocent 18 year old he’d just rescued from a shipwreck. If the author had made the hero a cad, or a pirate without scruples, I could have seen it perhaps, but not as the man she’d cast him.

6. Your lasting impressions. When you finished the book, were you wishing there was more? Did the story make you cry? Laugh? Want to read it again? Or, did you find it entertaining but not something you’d put on your keeper shelf? Say so. These impressions help other readers and give your review added dimension. My favorite comments in the reviews of my first novel were “…a definite must read,” (14 reviews); and “…I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Regan Walker’s next book…” (11 reviews). Amazon has a tool that picks these repeated phrases out and presents them to the readers looking at the reviews. I like that.

7. Whether you intend to read other books by the author. State your intention if you have one. I might, for example, say I liked this so well I’ve already bought the next in the series. You might also recommend another one by this author that you particularly liked. That, too, helps readers.

8. Why you gave the rating you did. For example, I might rate a book 4 stars because while I considered the writing 5 stars, it was a 3 star story. Generally, a 5-star rating is excellent, and if I add that it’s a “keeper,” I view it as better than 5 stars. I will not be giving that book away (if it’s a paperback). Four stars is “good”; and 3 stars is average, at least to me. I only put books on my Regan’s Romance Reviews blog and on my 10 “best lists” if I’ve rated them 4 or 5 stars. I also make use of the ½ star to add to a review…and might say “4 and ½ stars” before the rest of my title for the review if I feel that is justified.

9. Say something meaningful in the review’s title. You have lots of choices here but make it helpful. One of the earliest reviews for my first novel was titled “History and A Love to Remember.” You might choose titles like these: “Couldn’t put it down!” “Wonderful Scottish Historical,” or “ Absorbing Civil War Story, Wonderful Characters” or “My Favorite Vampire!” Whatever you choose, say something that would be meaningful to another reader.

For more examples of my reviews, take a look at my blog (http://reganromancereview.blogspot.com). And remember, the important thing is to write the review and post it on as many Internet bookstores as you frequent. The author will appreciate it!

ReganWalker_AgainstTheWind_logo

Blurb for Against the Wind:
 A night in London’s most exclusive bordello. Agent of the Crown Sir Martin Powell would not normally indulge, but the end of his time spying against Napoleon deserves a victory celebration. Yet, such pleasure will not come cheap. The auburn-haired courtesan he calls “Kitten” is in truth Katherine, Lady Egerton, a dowager baroness and the daughter of an earl as elusive as she is alluring. She flees a fate worse than death. But Martin has known darkness, too, and he alone can touch her heart–as she has touched his. To the English Midlands they will steal, into the rising winds of revolution.
Available now!
 
Regan’s bio: As a child Regan Walker loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors thought her suited to the profession of law, and Regan realized it would be better to be a hammer than a nail. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool.

Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.
Find Regan on her websiteblogTwitterFacebook and Goodreads.

LOGLINES AND TAGLINES ARE DIFFERENT And You Need Both For Your Novel by R. Ann Siracusa

“Cannot. Stress. This. Enough. Every week I see scores of pitches – sent to my inbox, my ears or via script listing sites – and every week I see Loglines and Taglines being mixed up. PLEASE STOP.”
May 11, 2010, Lucy V. Hay (script editor and novelist)

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE

So here I was, cruising along, a relative newbie as a published author, following the lead of others who were more seasoned in the business than I will ever be. And since many of these authors seemed to use the terms logline and tagline interchangeably, I labored under the delusion that these were just different terms for essentially the same thing.

Wrong! 

Since a lot of attention focuses on these two similar but different tools of the trade, research was in order. I found plenty of blogs and articles that confuse the two, or describe the difference but use examples for one term that are clearly samples of the other term. A few pointed out the difference.

Both terms have their roots in the film and TV industries, but the concepts transfer equally well to novels. And since authors should have both for their books, they should know the difference.

THE TAGLINE

First, taglines, tag lines, or tags are American terms, so if you are in the UK, you know them as end lines or straplines. In Italy, they are called pay offs; in Belgium, baselines; in France, signatures.

In the film industry, a tagline is a piece of marketing copy designed to go on posters to sell the film, or in a writer’s case, to sell the book.

Author Stacey Nash describes a tagline for books as “a one-sentence summary of your story. Its goal is to intrigue and make the person that you are delivering it to want to read the story. The most important thing about the tagline is that it needs to be high concept. It should sum up the entire plot in one quick compelling sentence.”

The samples of taglines (all for movies) used by Lucy V. Hay, which she found in a Google search, are:

● “He lived the American Dream…With a vengeance.” (Scarface)

● “An epic of miniature proportions” (A Bug’s Life)

● “EARTH—take a good look. Today could be your last.” (Independence Day)

● “The Toys are back in town.” (Toy Story 2)

● “Whoever wins…We lose.” (Alien Vs Predator)

The longest is ten words. We’re talking short and high concept.

Whatever art form they’re selling (movies, TV shows, music, books), taglines are one sentence (or maybe two) that describes the product. That sentence utilizes puns, clever wording, and images that the average person already knows about, at least superficially, to intrigue the individual into wanting to see the film, hear the music, or read the book.

For me, the key is using imagery most people know and understand to convey an expectation of what the book is about.

Some blogs call a tagline an elevator pitch. I guess that depends on how many floors you’re going to travel. I’d say it’s a one-story elevator pitch. Whatever you call it, it’s the Big Hook. The Attention Grabber.

And your book needs one.

THE LOGLINE

The Origin of the Term

The origin of the logline (or log line) is not the movie industry tie. Actually, according to Stanley D. Williams, it is a nautical term.

Log lines were thin ropes with knots tied in them and wound on a spool. Mariners unreeled these ropes behind them to measure their speed– in Knots–by counting how many evenly spaced knots passed through their hands as the sand in the hour-glass drained from the top to the bottom. The log line was a necessity which helped them navigate the journey and not get lost, since it would show how far the ship had gone in a certain direction and when to turn to find their destination. It was a navigation tool.

I’m not sure how the use of the nautical term got transferred to the movie industry, but according to Wikipedia, the logline came into use when the old movie studios had script vaults. In those vaults, they stored screenplays, apparently one on top of the other, in stacks. Readers supposedly “wrote a concise one line summary of what the script was about either one the cover of the script, on the spine of the script, or both.” This allowed people to read the loglines without actually unstacking the scripts. I suppose, in a sense, this was also a navigation tool.

What is a Logline?

The logline, while short, is longer than the tagline and presents a basic description of your plot in about twenty-five to thirty words. It should contain all the necessary elements for telling a good story.

That’s right. And it’s tough to condense 90,000 words into twenty-five. It’s a two-story elevator pitch or a thirty-second time bite in real time.

And you need one of these for your novel, as well.

Let’s go back to the Wikipedia version. So, how did these readers consolidate a script (or a book) into this short description. A number of different authors and screenwriters have identified what needs to be in a logline.

Stanley D. Williams (story consultant, screenwriter and director) believes a good logline is a single sentence which includes five elements.

The subject of the sentence will describe (1) an imperfect but passionate and active PROTAGONIST. The verb will depict (2) the BATTLE. And the direct object will describe (3) an insurmountable ANTAGONIST who tries to stop the protagonist from reaching (4) a physical GOAL on account of (5) the STAKES, if the goal is not reached.

Christopher Lockhart (screenplay writer and film producer) writes “A logline conveys the dramatic story of a screenplay in the most abbreviated manner possible…A logline must present:

● Who the story is about (protagonist)
● What he/she strives for (goal)
● What stands in his way (antagonistic force).”

Author Stacey Nash sees the logline as three sentences in which you sum up the plot of your story answering these basic questions:

● Who is your main character?
● What does he/she want? What is his/her goal?
● Why does he/she want this (motivation)?
● What are the obstacles in his/her way?
● What makes the story unique?

Screenwriter Erik Bork defines the requirements as:

● A very quick sense of who the main character is
● The catalyst that sets the story in motion (the big Uh-Oh)
● The nature of the challenge the characters now face, and it must be a huge difficulty.

Cindy Carroll (screenwriter and author) recommends using one of these structures to answer the address the elements of the logline.

● To stop A, character B must do C, but D happens.

● When A happens, character B must take some action (C), but D happens.

● Character B does something, then when A happens they must do C, but D happens.

 

She gives the example of one of her own loglines, which is twenty-three words.

“When an informant turns up dead, a by-the-book undercover cop models men’s underwear to uncover the killer and stop a DVD pirating ring.”

Author Kimberly Killion’s pitch format also works as a way to structure a logline by filling in capitalized words.

“TITLE is a GENRE about ADJECTIVE/DESCRIPTION OF MAIN CHARACTER, who wants to DEFAULT ACTION. But when CALL TO ACTION, he must STORY GOAL, which seems impossible because CENTRAL CONFLICT.”

Of course, we can see the common thread. They’re not easy to write because every word has to count and give pertinent information to the reader or listener.

Rules of Thumb

● Be succinct without being sparse. The trick is to create a logline that is pithy but has substance. It must be clear that the antagonistic force is an obstacle to the major goal. It must imply that something is at stake; it must suggest that something can be lost.

● Don’t use the main character’s name.

● Use a descriptive adjective to give the main character depth in a word or two. Instead of describing the main character as “a detective” use “a cynical fifty-year-old detective” or “a young, enthusiastic detective.” Using “an ex-superhero” tells a lot more than “a superhero.” “An alcoholic ex-superhero” conveys even more to the reader (or listener).

● Make the genre clear in the text. If your novel is a romance, you need a hero and heroine in the logline. Whether science fiction, comedy, or mystery, the logline should tell the reader what the genre is.

● Present a succinct description of the protagonist’s main goal and place it as close to the beginning as possible.

● Make your protagonist pro-active. Show the action of the story. Even if the protagonist is reactive, that’s not the same as passive.

● Include the stakes or a ticking time-bomb. Urgency. Show that something can be lost. I like the example used by Erik Bork in his article.

To save his reputation, a secretly gay fraternity boy must sleep with fifteen women by the end-of-semester party.

● Include the set up, particularly science fiction or paranormal where the rules are different. More Erik Bork examples:

In a world where all children are grown in vats…

Driven to a mental breakdown by an accident at work, an aquarium manager…

Don’t reveal the twist or surprise at the end. The logline (and the book) should work by itself without the “bonus” surprise at the end.

● Make every word count.

● Sell it, don’t tell it.

One final suggestion from a number of screenwriters and authors: Write your Log Line before you write your novel, or at least at the beginning. James Burbridge writes that the bad news is that if you can’t make the logline work, it’s probably because the story doesn’t work.

Okay, Now I Get It!

When things were getting pretty fuzzy and definitions overlapping and contradictory, this example brought clarity to me.

This is from the Press Kit for Close Quarters.

● Tagline
A film about sex, betrayal, friendship, jealousy, love, hate, death, and coffee.

● Logline
Forced to work an extra shift, two young baristas must come to terms with their own relationship while being bombarded by the very different issues of their diverse customers. (29 words)

● Short Synopsis
BARRY and ABBY are two baristas in a Chicago coffeehouse. Barry is passionately and blindly in love with Abby. She knows this all too well, but is hardly ready to move into any kind of formal relationship with him. This does not stop Barry, though, who has decided that the best way to win her over is to propose to her in front of the largest group possible. This evening will be his opportunity. It is Abby’s birthday and her friends are planning a surprise birthday party for her. Barry is planning an even bigger surprise.

How about this one for the movie Jaws?

Tagline
Don’t go in the water.

Logline
A sheriff struggles to protect his beach community after a grisly shark attack, but greed rules the Chamber of Commerce. (21 words)

Another good example is the movie Alien. This comes up often as an example.

Tagline
In space, no one can hear you scream.

Logline
After responding to a distress signal, a space crew is forced to confront a deadly alien who stows aboard their ship, leaving one member to fend for herself. (28 words)

Just For Fun

So, authors, write your taglines and loglines, and if you run out of ideas or just want some fun, go to Brian Stoke’s Random Logline Generator. This link is for the Zombie edition of the generator:
http://www.lifeformz.com/cgi-bin/idea/idea.fcgi

Another random generator is: http://www.screenwritersutopia.com/modules.php?name=Logline

Have fun.

Resources
http://www.dailywritingtips.com/whats-your-novels-log-line/http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/writing-good-log-lines.html
http://www.ehow.com/how_8663965_write-taglines.html
http://www.bang2write.com/2010/05/loglines-are-not-taglines.html
http://www.staceynash.com/2012/08/24/taglines-hooklines-loglines/
http://theloglineblog.blogspot.com/p/how-to-do-log-line.html
http://www.kimberlykillion.com/writers.asp
http://www.closequartersmovie.com/cms/uploads/press-kit.pdfhttp://www.flyingwrestler.com/2013/02/loglines-dont-tease/http://www.raindance.org/10-tips-for-writing-loglines/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Log_line
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_line
http://www.lifeformz.com/logline.html
http://carissa-taylor.blogspot.com/2013/02/pitch-factory-twitter-pitch-logline.html