Tag Archives: reviews


Getting your work read is always a tough gig. You can promote and spam to your heart’s content … and when the first review comes in, it’s a two-star because of glaring errors in your story, lots of passive writing, and you even change point of view halfway through the tale.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had some beta readers who could catch those issues before you sent your work off to the slushpile known as Kindle Desktop Publishing?

Many of the folks reading this already have a network of folks who can read their stories to spot problems from a reader’s perspective. That’s not saying you should replace an editor with your beta readers — both are recommended for everything you publish.

For authors who live in the middle of nowhere, are nocturnal, or are too busy with their home life and/or a supporting job, there is a solution.

Over twenty years ago, former Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) vice-president Dr. Andrew Burt used his savvy tech skills to come up with an online solution to pair beta readers with authors. The website is called Critters.org, and it’s available at no cost. Anyone can join, and the coin of the realm is reviews.

For authors, one has to review other stories in order to get their work on the review schedule. By agreeing to critique at least one item a week, you earn the opportunity to get your work in front of the membership. Folks who are Active (professional) members of SFWA or the Horror Writers Association (HWA) only have to do one per month to maintain their status and to get their work scheduled, since they’re normally at a higher level of expertise than the average novice or semi-pro author. Professionals also get additional bonuses, such as head-of-line priveleges for manuscript reviews.

I’ve used Critters off and on over the years. When I was in a critique group in Denver, I focused on those stories. Now that I’m living by myself in a very rural area of the midwest, I’m reactivation my professional Critters membership. That’s another nice thing about membership — if you’re going to be busy for a time, just letting them know will keep your account in good order. When you’re ready to re-start, another email gets the flow going.

Authors have the option of sending out short stories and/or novels. One can request dedicated novel reviewers, and you can work directly with them. Otherwise, the maximum one can send in is 20,000 words per critique request.

Normally, this is how it works in a typical week:

  1. Critters receive an email, usually on a Wednesday, listing the manuscripts available for critiquing.
  2. The reviewer (you) selects one or more manuscripts on a private webpage.
  3. The reviewer reads the story carefully and writes up a critique of the manuscript.
  4. The critique is uploaded back to the group via email or via a webpage.
  5. The critiques are assembled and sent to the manuscript author and all of the folks who critiqued the manuscript.

When you’re submitting a manuscript to be critiqued, your work goes into a queue. Critiquers who go above and beyond the minimum and professionals get opportunities to get bumped to the front of the queue. When your manuscript is up, it’s sent out to the reviewers as noted previously. After the reviews are received and collated, you get to read them.

Remember, these are, for the most part, reviews from authors and/or readers letting you know how they felt about your work. Some folks will click, some will not. The site rules require everyone to be polite and professional. Even if someone hated your short story about sentient mushrooms taking over a brick, they will only focus on your story, so no troll-inspired “What, were you stoned or dropped on your head as a kid?” remarks. They will say why it did or didn’t work for them.

Don’t expect an inbox full of glowing reviews, however. I’ve found the reviewers on average to be quite astute, and they root out plot issues that are invisible to your critical eye with remarkable precision. The average review is around 800 words, and I’ve had around six to ten good reviews per story. Some things will be repeated — which is important for you to see, since if a large portion of your audience has an issue with something, you might want to focus on clearing that up. Each reviewer will spot unique issues, which you can either ignore or correct.

The group is self-policing, and the Critter Captain, Dr. Burt, is always available if you have any issues or concerns.

Two questions I see brought up are:

  • Is a story considered published if I run it through Critters.org?
    No. The manuscripts are in a private workshop designed to improve the story. It’s not available to the general public.
  • Won’t someone steal my work?
    No, especially since a lot of authors will see that you’ve sent in the story well before it appeared elsewhere. No author wants to be caught plagiarizing stories, especially a group that has a large amount of fellow authors and SFWA/HWA professionals. Nothing is guaranteed, but I haven’t heard of a story getting stolen through Critters in all the years I’ve known about the workshop.

Some additional benefits include getting some recognition when your work gets published (on the page and on the newsletter), and a listing of folks who are interested in forming a local critique group, broken down by states.

For many folks, Critters.org is an opportunity to get their work looked at by someone who isn’t a relative or a friend. It’s a way to get an honest critique in return for yours.

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® finalist; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

You Are Not Alone: One-Star Reviews for Everyone!

When a writer friend or fellow Fictorian tells me they just got a one-star review on Goodreads or Amazon, my teeth clinch and I wince. Getting a one-star review isn’t quite like being hit in the stomach with a baseball bat, but more so pounded in the chest with a meat tenderizer.

There is one glimmer of respite: you’re not alone in that ridiculous one-star review that didn’t even get the name of your characters right. You’re not the only one who asked yourself if the reviewer actually saw the words on the page, because it says right there on page 13 that Mary’s mother was an ex-CIA agent bomb specialist, hinting that she could have prior knowledge of how to deactivate bombs. Just saying. It’s on page 13. Not even 20 pages into the book. But, you know, maybe the reviewer couldn’t see words.

Even veteran writers get one-star reviews that are ridiculous or extremely rude, or both (it’s like a crap sandwich).

WARNING: Language. These authors use language.

And more:

WARNING: Language. These authors use more language.

But Children’s books. Those are safe, right?

And if you think there are still some sacred texts free from scathing reviews, I’d urge you to look up reviews for The Holy Bible. “Badly edited, poor continuity and internal consistency. Authors seem to change between books. Plot is cliched and thin, with virtually no character development save for Judas Iscariot,” says one reviewer. While some of these reviews are clearly written in jest, just remember, no work is safe from other people’s opinions.

But you as the author can past these scathing reviews by reminding yourself that you aren’t alone. Rant to your friends if you must, but keep it private. Don’t add any fuel to the fire. Your friends and other writers can help you through some of the personal attacks, and help bolster you up against the attacks on your book. Remember, what you see online are opinions. Everyone’s got them, and they don’t really matter. But your happiness DOES matter. Protect it, and keep close friends nearby who also want you to be happy.


Don’t forget to enter to win one of the prizes we’ve got up-for-grabs this week. Click here for rules and giveaway details.

The Importance of Reviews

Guest Post by Petra Klarbrunn


“Please, sir, I want some more,” said little Oliver Twist.

It’s one of the best-known lines from Charles Dicken’s novel partly because it was shocking to the other characters. Nobody does that…nobody asks for something from Mr. Bumble.

Unfortunately, that thinking has spilled over to how authors something think. Honest, it’s perfectly fine if you ask for something from your readers, understanding that what you end up with might not be what you expected.

Books with lots of reviews act as a psychological influence on your potential readers. While they might be skeptical about 100 perfect 5-star reviews, it still makes them wonder what all of the fuss is about. If so many people loved a particular book, it must be good. Right?

Therefore, you should consider asking your readers to post an honest review. Here are a couple of suggestions for doing so.

  1. Ask for an honest review, not a 5-star review.
    Demanding a top review score is not only pretentious, but it’s rather gauche. What you’re looking for is someone’s opinion, no matter what rating they assign. If they absolutely hated your book, that’s fine. Having a low-rated review gives the rest of the reviews a bit more authority and makes it appear as though the rest of the reviews are a tad more trustworthy. Asking your readers to post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, etc. is perfectly acceptable behavior.
  1. At the end of your books, place a standardized blurb asking for a review.
    The reader just finished reading your book, so there’s no time like the present to ask for an honest review. E-books should have a link to places the reader can post reviews. You can combine the links to a single page on your blog for print books. In fact, you can add in some bonus material for folks who want to visit your website, such as signing up for your newsletter or posting additional story material that didn’t make it into the final published work.
  1. Give suggestions for reviews.
    Some folks are hesitant to post reviews because they don’t know what to say. Give them some leading questions to assist them. How did the book make them feel as they were reading it? Did the characters seem “real”, and were you concerned for the protagonist? If there was something they didn’t like, ask them to be specific. Ask them not to include spoilers, particularly the ending twist.
  1. Explain why you are asking for honest reviews.
    Most readers do not know how important reviews are for authors. Explain to them that it helps your novel ranking, it helps to sell more books (so you can continue writing), and it assists with the search engine ranking when browsing.

So, how does getting reviews help you get discovered? Glad you asked.

Books that have higher review rankings are rated higher with Amazon’s sooper-secret algorithms. The current estimates are that if a book has over 26 reviews, and those reviews are above 4.0 on average, you have a far better chance of getting your book in front of browsing readers. If your book is highly rated, you can easily get your book into some of the promotional websites such as BookBub.com.

Books with excellent reviews can provide you with blurbs for marketing and, if the reviewer is well-respected, allow you to update your cover with the quote. Having a blurb from Stephen King helped Jack Ketchum become a household name in the horror field. Getting a blurb from someone like George R. R. Martin would certainly help your fantasy novel take off. Review quotes can be gold for your marketing efforts.

Above all, don’t be a pushy author. Ask politely once. If your best friend doesn’t want to leave a review, respect that decision. If Mom says she’s too busy to review your latest erotica story, that’s certainly her prerogative. Hopefully, you’ll have enough readers who, on reading your request and why it’s important to you as an author, will post something after they’ve read your work.