Welcome to a Prodigious Book REVIEWER
By Jeff Salter
This is the week for guests at 4F1H, so I thought I’d turn the tables and invite a reviewer to sit down for an interview. Lots of people will occasionally review a story they’ve read, but Kathy Heare Watts has tackled book reviewing as though it’s a mission! One thing (besides sales) that all authors want and need is intelligent reviews — and Kathy does a wonderful job with hers.
I don’t recall exactly where or when I first encountered Kathy, but it may have been at the Clean Reads event she mentions below. In any case, she’s reviewed two of my titles (so far) and I’m eager to get her informed opinions about several others.
I have been married for 39 years to the love of my life, Steve. We are blessed with 3 children and 10 grandchildren. I was an Army brat so I lived everywhere. We currently live in Sevierville TN which is at the Foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. This is truly God’s country. Besides reading I enjoy cooking and spending time with family.
JLS: I’m guessing you got an early start reading. How young were you? Any particular circumstances which gravitated you toward books?
KHW: I really don’t know at what age I started, but my parents always had storybooks in the home and reading was always encouraged. I think Charlotte’s Web was my all time favorite childhood book and I also loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I do remember Mom taking us girls to the library to check out books. My mother has a saying, “Readers are leaders.”
JLS: What made you realize you also would enjoy reviewing the books you read? When did you start writing reviews?
KHW: I was invited to a Clean Reads book event on Facebook in March of 2014 and met so many new authors, and I won lots of books and was asked if I would be interested in becoming an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) reader and reviewer. It took off like a wild fire. I also joined several new author groups and reading groups after that event. This year will be the third year that I will read and judge books for “Reader Choice Awards.”
JLS: What genres do you review? Any non-fiction? Anything off-limits?
KHW: I am a bit eclectic in my reading and go from squeaky clean to very adult type books. I do read some non-fiction, or books that take a historical event and the author uses literary creativity to makes a story. I do not read horror and not a big fan of paranormal.
JLS: What type books are your favorites to read and review?
KHW: It would be historical books at the top of my list. I love Westerns, Victorian, Regency, and my very favorite is mail-order bride stories. I have a total fascination with them.
JLS: Did you – or do you – have any places besides Amazon, B&N, Goodreads where you post your reviews?
KHW: I do, I also will leave reviews at Cross Reads if they have a strong Christian element and at Smashwords if I have been given a code to purchase books for a read/review. I post all reviews at Goodreads, Amazon and many at B&N.
JLS: If someone wanted to scan a list of the books you’ve reviewed, where would they go and how could they search that list?
KHW: I am under Kathy Heare Watts at Goodreads and Cross Reads, Redrabbitt at both Amazon and B&N.
JLS: Presumably you’ve encountered books you didn’t like at some point in the reading. What happens in those circumstances?
KHW: Sadly, yes I have. If it is a book I am reading as an ARC, I will contact the author and politely let them know that the book just doesn’t work for me and it would be best for them if I did not continue and leave a review. Most are very understanding. Let’s be honest, not every book appeals to everyone. I will not write a review for a book I do not finish. That is unfair to the author and when I see others that do that, it upsets me.
JLS: Give us an example of the worst reactions you’ve received to one of your reviews.
KHW: I don’t think I have a good example. I did read one story and really did not like the lead female character and could only give the story a 3 star review. The author wrote a note and thanked me for reading the story and said she was sorry I did not like it. I have read other books by this author and enjoyed them.
JLS: Give us an example of the best reactions you’ve received to one of your reviews.
KHW: I do have a review that 18 people “liked” as being helpful and another review with 14 likes on it. It was for a new author, and I have now read 4 books in her series. She told me my encouragement made a difference in her continuing to write this mail-order bride series. I have had several authors who sent me a message and said from my review that “I understood the book as they had intended.”
JLS: Over the 22 months you’ve been reviewing in this manner, does any particular book stand out as really excellent / impressive?
KHW: When you read as many books, as quickly as I do, that is a really hard question. I have read several historical based books that I found fascinating. One was A Long Trail Rolling (The Long Trails Book 1) by Lizzi Tremayne. This story covers the Pony Express and the author did a wonderful job in describing the sights and details of the job and route, but this story was much more than just the Pony Express, it was a mystery, suspense with family secrets.
JLS: Does any particular review stand out as really excellent / impressive? [No need to be modest].
KHW: Well, let me share my review for the above mentioned book:
This book is a fascinating tale that encompasses so many historical events and actual people entwined with a beautiful story that is woven into its pages of family, secrets, adventure, mystery, suspense and love. The route along the Pony Express and the sights and smells are so vividly described, as a reader, you can envision and feel as if you are along on this journey as a voyeur. This story crosses the ocean into Poland and Russia and the uprising and threats that follow to America for the Lekarski family, especially Aleksandra. My heart breaks for her, from finding and burying her father, Krzystoff, to running for her own life dodging raiding Indians, riding the Pony Express in disguise as Aleks, dodging a threat from Russia, to finding love. Three men want her, the Indian, Dancing Wolf, from childhood that loves her turns her away because of the impending war between Indians and settlers, Xavier Argeuello is battling his memories of family and betrayal and Vladimir Chabardine is after the family secret. The plot is captivating and the dialogue is heartwarming. I was so engrossed into this story, which kept the pages turning until the wee hours of the morning.
JLS: Who is the most famous author, whose book(s) you’ve reviewed?
KHW: LOL, I have no clue. Since I have really only started writing reviews since 2014, I think most of the authors are not your more famously known people, but more newer or Indie authors. I haven’t read books from authors like Anne Rice, Sandra Brown, or Debbie MacComber, etc., in several years.
JLS: How do you feel when an author adds an excerpt from your review to later editions of their title? (whether on the cover, or inside the book… or in their promo material)
KHW: Oh my, I feel honored. I have had several send me a message or email asking me if I would be okay with them doing that and I have always agreed, and also for my review or partial quotes in their newsletters.
JLS: I’ve noticed you have goals and keep good records. Which year has been your highest for books read and reviewed? Which year was your lowest? Any special circumstances which contributed to either?
KHW: Well, I only really started keeping track around April 2014 using Goodreads. I read 422 books that year. For 2015 I read and reviewed 840 books. Even saying it is still amazing to me.
JLS: Do you have any grand totals – all titles for which you’ve posted reviews – to reveal, as of the end of 2015?
KHW: 1325 books according to Goodreads. That is more than 2 books a day. I actually read word for word and from the beginning to the end of each book. I received an email towards the end of the year from Goodreads that showed my average book was over 150 pages and the longest was a box set that was over 1000 pages. I learned last year that Goodreads also has rankings for reader/reviewers and I made it my goal to be in the top 100. I am ranked #40 in the US and #66 on the Global list. I am tooting my own horn, but I am so proud of that accomplishment.
JLS: Any particular perks to being a fully invested reviewer?
KHW: Definitely, I feed my passion for reading, I am provided with books by authors and publishers, I expand my mind, and I meet so many wonderful authors in the process.
JLS: Any particular downsides?
KHW: Not enough hours in the day for all the books that people want me to read. Believe it or not, I have to turn down so many authors. I have offers from Goodreads authors, ones I have as friends on Facebook and now Linked In. Saying “no” is sometimes difficult. I have to place my regular authors and publishers first and then if a new author has a book that really grabs my interest, I will agree to read and review for them.
JLS: How can published authors get your attention for a possible reading and review?
KHW: I guess most of them would be someone I have encountered in a reading group on Facebook or Goodreads. I am in several private “read to review” groups on Facebook. Many times it is through another author I have read for and they will recommend me or ask me if I would be willing to help an author friend out.
JLS: Anything in particular you’d like to say to published authors about the reviewing process?
KHW: I admire the creative minds of authors and just want to say thank you for taking me on a journey with your books. For new authors, it is critical to have positive reviews. Be careful of some of the sites that offer your books to “anyone” for a read/review. I have seen several very negative reviews because people will agree to review a book and it is a genre that they normally would not read. Find other authors that write a similar genre and see if they have reader/reviewers that would be willing to read and write a review for you. I have helped out several authors through another author friend.
For anyone who reads and has never thought about writing a review, let me offer a little advice and encouragement. You don’t need to look at it like a book review you wrote in school or retelling of the story. Instead, how did the story make you feel? Maybe something about a character or two, their interaction or chemistry is always a plus. You never want to give away a plot, especially in a mystery. Maybe tell how you couldn’t put the book down. Just say that you look forward to the next book in the series or another work by that author. Think of 1 to 5 the same as grades, 1=F and 5=A.
I will be the first to say that I have had to honestly ponder the book before writing a review. This is the beginning of one such review:
“I have such mixed emotions with this story. I can’t say there is a single character in the story that I liked. I got angry with so many of them. I guess it brought out so many emotions, yet I could not relate to a single person. Having said that, maybe in reality that is ‘a good thing,’ the author took me outside of my ‘comfort zone’ and made me react to what is different for me.” The review continued into more on the book and characters and I did give this story a 4-star review.
Jeff, I have a webpage that is available by a group of authors that is templates or guidelines to use towards writing reviews. It is something I use regularly and it made writing reviews easier.
Links to Kathy’s reviewing website:
Excerpts from Kathy’s reviews of my stories:
When you see these samples of Kathy’s work, you’ll understand why I’m so impressed by her reviews.
5-star review of my novella, One Simple Favor:
This story kept me captivated, with lots of interesting and colorful characters, witty dialogue and laughing out loud moments. * * * This story will keep the reader enthralled and entertained with all the twist and turns during their adventure. Oh, and don’t forget the psychic Daisy-Dawg!
5-star review of my novel, The Ghostess & MISTER Muir:
This clean story kept me captivated with its delightful characters, old southern charm, mystery and suspense and the twist and turns in the plot. * * * The characters are charming, the dialogue is entertaining and the outcome gives the reader not only the HEA ending but pleasant surprises as we journey along the way. What a fun and heartwarming story * * *
Any questions for Kathy?
[JLS # 262]