by Helen Hollick
There have been a few queries recently on Facebook about the behind-the-scenes organisation of how reviews of historical fiction come about. What other sites do is up to them, but here on #DDRevs we try our best to be fair and professional to all authors who write this particular genre and send their novels to us for a possible review.
I founded Discovering Diamonds in January 2017, so here at a couple of months over a year old we are becoming noticed, and even popular. This is probably because we passionately support indie writers – be they self-published, small independent or ‘indie’ as in publishing via an assisted company. We do, also, review traditional mainstream published historical fiction and hope to expand with these in the near future. For us, a good book is a good book, no matter how it is published, so we do not include any publishing details. After all, how many readers go by the publisher’s logo on the spine?
I say ‘our’ and ‘we’. Discovering Diamonds is very much a team effort. We have some dedicated admin assistants and excellent reviewers – although we always want additional people on board! (A not-so-subtle hint!)
So how does it all work from first enquiry to posting a review?
Your enquiry, usually via this site (the submission form is on the left-hand sidebar) is answered as soon as possible giving our Submission Guidelines. We prefer mobi or e-pub e-file versions as we do not have any funding to pay for forwarding hardcopies of novels via Royal Mail, nor do I want to pass on individual reviewer’s personal addresses be they email or home addresses. The majority of authors are polite, even if disappointed because their book has not been selected for review, but alas there are a few unpleasant people out there. I have in the past been hassled by rude and even threatening emails sent by obnoxious authors. It astonishes me that such authors believe they will receive a re-written more favourable review through being rude and aggressive. Sorry, it’s the opposite, such behaviour results in the delete button being pressed and the block facility deployed.
Our submissions editor, Nicky, checks the e-files for correct formatting and adds the file to our To Be Reviewed folder on Dropbox, and the details are added to the latest To Be Reviewed list. Once a month, at least, this updated list is sent to the review team for them to select their next book or two. The list consists of title, author, whether it is an e-pub or mobi file and the ‘blurb’ description taken from Amazon. In other words, our reviewers see exactly what any reader looking on Amazon or spotting a book on a bookstore shelf will see. Reviewers are not encouraged to take a peek at any current Amazon comments, however.
So what do we look for when selecting a book to have a review posted? Formatting for e-books must be professionally done, no huge spaces with page numbers floating in mid-air for instance. For paperbacks and hardbacks, when we do receive them, the text must be in a clear font at a reasonable size and fully justified – not left-hand set. Your book must look as professionally produced as any traditionally published novel – you are selling a product, after all, the buyer expects to receive value for money. A few typos or obviously missed bloopers we will overlook, but page after page of typos or inconsistent continuity is a no-no (blue eyes, fair hair for a character at the start, brown eyes dark hair by the end, or even names changing halfway through – Alice to Alys, as example, or Jon to John.) Novels which read more like a history lecture rather than a novel do not make for good entertainment (and after all, that is what fiction is meant to be – good entertainment!) Too many incorrect known facts will not give a good impression, although minor things will be overlooked if the rest of the story is well-written and an absorbing tale.
‘Show’ what happens, rather than ‘tell’ creates better reading, and that all-important ‘page-turner’ criteria is the clincher for a good novel. We do not reject books with unattractive cover designs, although this may be commented on. We do, often, include some constructive criticism – maybe suggesting some scenes could be longer/shorter, background characters better developed, or maybe an extra edit would have benefited the overall reading experience. We are not a critique service, though. Bottom line? We are looking for good books which give a good, entertaining all-round read. Some novels are better than others, some reviewers are more lenient than others – but that is the nature of reviewing. What we do not do is publish poor reviews, although the occasional three star for a badly written traditionally published novel has slipped in…
Once read, if the novel is selected a review is forwarded to me and I collate everything, adding an image of the cover and Amazon links. The reviewer, unless they want to keep the book on their device, will then delete the file. We do not pass files on. Hardcopies of books once reviewed are donated to a charity/thrift shop or local library.
Annie Whitehead kindly edits any bloopers, and then I schedule the book – at the moment books are being scheduled for April, so we work well ahead of ourselves. Having said that, it can take up to several months for your book to be read and reviewed. Our list is long, and our volunteer reviewers busy people.
Authors are notified if their book has been selected to be reviewed, with their name added to our Find A Book By Author page, and the title added to the Find A Book By Subject page, along with the scheduled date for ‘going live’.
Impressions of each book is obviously down to individual reviewers, although occasionally a book is returned as ‘not quite my cup of tea’, in which case it gets re-added to the To Be Read list.
We do not rate by ‘stars’ (although these have to be added when I place a brief comment for reviewed books on Amazon and Goodreads – yes I do that as well, as receiving a ‘This book was reviewed by Discovering Diamonds’ is usually appreciated by authors – and thank you to those who email to say thank you!) The ‘best of the best’ receive our highest rank A Discovered Diamond, whilst the majority receive a ‘Reviewed by Discovering Diamonds’.
Authors are welcome to use the logos as they wish, along with any quotes from their review. (But please mention Discovering Diamonds)
We also work alongside IndieBRAG and Chill With A Book, adding their logos if awarded to various books – although it is up to the author to inform me of their received honour as I cannot keep an eye on everything!
My aim is to hope that Discovering Diamonds becomes a respected and sought-after review site. I do not intend to ‘run’ it forever, but to get it off the ground, maybe for a couple of years, I would then like to stay on as patron or president or something, but leave the general running and decisions to other enthusiasts who want to promote good, quality, historical fiction. So volunteers step this way…