Tag Archives: Minnesota mysteries

Writing Book Reviews: Purpose and Tips by Christine Husom

There are two basic purposes for writing book reviews: helping potential readers decide whether they’ll read a particular one, and letting authors know what’s good, or not, about their book. It’s an evaluation of the book from the reviewer’s perspective.

Book reviews should be helpful to both reader and author alike, written as objectively as possible. A good rule of thumb is to highlight what the author did well employing the basic elements of storytelling—genre, plot, characters, dialogue, pace, conflict, climax—and to offer suggestions of ways to improve the story, or the writing itself, if need be.

One thing to watch for is if you can’t write a review of the book itself—genre aside,—don’t. You may enjoy books from a genre, or sub-genre, and then read one in a genre you find you don’t like. It’s not good practice to write a review criticizing the genre itself. Most people who read your review are partial to those books.  If you read thrillers, historical romance may not be your cup of tea. If you favor traditional mysteries, horror may be too graphic for you. An evaluation of a book is meant to be just that.

Another thing to be careful of is viciously slamming a book or author. A review that reads like a personal attack is not regarded as valid, and will be dismissed as such. It makes readers wonder what vendetta the reviewer has against the author. This is a mildly-written example: “I am glad that this book only cost me a penny. Maybe I’ll donate it to my library…just so I don’t have to look at it anymore.” Or the person who left a 1-star rating on a book then wrote, “This is a book I did not order and have not read. I have no idea how I can review a book I don’t have.” What purpose did she have for rating the book, and posting her comment?

On the other hand, constructive criticism is valuable to both authors and readers. If there are a number of grammatical mistakes or typos, and that is noted in reviews, it alerts the author he needs a better editor, and perhaps a team of proofreaders. An author should know if reviewers think the characters need to be better developed, or if the ending seems to come out of nowhere, or if the pacing was too slow, or too fast. The following review gives the author something to ponder: “The author writes a thriller that is hard to put down, but her sentence structure needs improvement.” It’s not written as an attack. Instead, it is constructive criticism.

If you don’t like a book, but want to write a review on it, you can be thoughtful and honest without being cruel. Think of it as a personal critique to the author. Be respectful, and leave out any personal put-downs. When you evaluate a book and post it on sites, your review is out there for the world to see. People, in general, appreciate honesty served with a measure of decorum.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.

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In Person Marketing by Christine Husom

As publishers and writers, we understand that if readers don’t know who we are, or what books we have on the market, we won’t sell many. Publishers have a number of advertising methods: memberships in writers’ groups, information tables at conventions and book fairs, advance reader copies (ARCs) sent to reviewers, email notifications to subscribers, author spotlights on websites, blogs, tweets, Snapchat, and the like.

Many authors employ most of those methods, too. Online marketing is important, but I’d like to talk about something that’s up close and personal, namely on-site, or in-person, marketing. People (and potential readers) genuinely seem to enjoy meeting authors in the flesh. When I’m at events with my books, lots of people look at me and say, “You’re the author?” I’ve even had a number tell me, “I’ve never met a real author before.” Meeting readers face to face sets you apart from those who strictly market via the Internet.

Joining the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime is one of the best things I’ve done as a writer. In addition to the valued friendships and great support I’ve gotten, we do a large number of events each year, including author panels at libraries and other venues, book fairs, and we get invitations to speak individually to a variety of groups. The networking is amazing. In 2016, I was the featured reader at one of our meetings, on five mystery author panels in Minnesota and Wisconsin, part of a holiday literary sale, at the SinC table at the MN State Fair and the Twin Cities Book Festival, and was one of the authors at a St. Paul bookstore for afternoon of readings and discussion.

Over the years, I’ve developed good relationships with bookstore owners and librarians. They’ve graciously hosted me at book signings and speaking events. I did eight this year. I’ve met people at book fairs, art and craft fairs, or other places, who have invited me to be the guest author their book clubs. I was at four this year. And presented writing techniques classes, and talked about my writing, to students in three schools. I was on the local radio station, and my articles announcing a new book release were published in area newspapers—because they want to support a local author.

Another valuable marketing tool is attending writers’ conventions. Readers, librarians, bookstore owners, publishers, editors, and others attend as well. This year I went to three mystery/crime conventions. They were Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, and a “Pitch Your Project” in Hollywood, organized by the National Sisters in Crime. I’ve been on well-attended author panels at conventions the last few years. They’re fun, and it’s a wonderful way to connect with other authors and new readers. The downside is they aren’t cheap and it’s a time commitment.  I spent twelve days, including travel, attending this year.

I am not a naturally out-going person, but I want to get my books in the hands of as many readers as possible, and I’ve learned people are more apt to buy books from a less-than-famous author they meet in person. I decided to go to more art and craft fairs in 2016, and registered for six. Two were far enough away to necessitate staying overnight. I sold a lot of books, added more names to my email list, and got new readers in different parts of the state. I’m looking forward to checking out new places next year. I already have ten events scheduled, including two mystery conventions.

In-person marketing involves a great deal of planning and preparation, especially if you are the presenter at an event. It can be physically demanding, but it’s also very rewarding. It is one piece of a complex marketing puzzle, and I’d encourage you to check out opportunities in your area. Visit libraries and bookstores, or send them letters with information about yourself and your books. Groups are always looking for speakers, and writers are a great choice. I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone many times, but the more personal marketing I do, the easier it is.

I’d love to hear your marketing stories.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mysteries for Indigo Sea Press

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