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Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is now an interactive online experience

ImageJulia Cameron and her marvelous book, The Artist’s Way, completely changed the way I approached writing, inspiration and creativity. I can honestly say that this book changed my life. It has also changed the lives of millions of artists and creative people worldwide. If you’re already familiar with Cameron’s work, you know I’m not exaggerating. If you’re new to her work, I urge you to discover it. It’s never too late!

Now, Julia’s 12-week program is available online:

Through interactive tools, you’ll be able to:

  • UNBLOCK yourself with powerful Artist’s Way exercises
  • TRACE your creative process in your own personal Artist’s Way Creativity Notebook
  • RECEIVE Daily Inspirations, Affirmations, and Artist’s Date ideas from Julia

The kit includes a contract, the artist’s date, artist’s date exercises, creativity pages and creativity notes.

For those of you on the go, there’s an app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

You can learn more about this exciting program at My Artist’s Way Toolkit.

The Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing

  1. Thou shall have no other gods before the reader. The review is not about the author, nor the publisher, and especially, not about you, the reviewer. Reviews are all about the reader. Don’t try to impress with pompous words in an attempt to glorify yourself or appear scholarly. Give readers simplicity and clarity. They’ll appreciate it. If they want verbose and fancy, they can read Shakespeare. 
  1. Thou shall not lie. Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you’re doing nothing but selling copy. When you give facile praise or sugar-coat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony. 
  1. Thou shall try not to offend the author. Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There’s no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible novel!” say, “This book didn’t work for me for the following reasons…” 
  1. Thou shall not eat the evaluation. Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and leave out the evaluation. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, “I really liked this book” is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying. 
  1. Thou shall not reveal spoilers. Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader’s reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author. 
  1. Thou shall honor grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Don’t be one of those reviewers who are more in love with the idea of seeing their name online than making sure their reviews are well-written and thorough. Your reviews may hang around on the internet for years to come and will reflect on your level as a writer. Run a spell check, edit, revise, and polish your review, as if you were posting a short story. Get a good book on grammar, and punctuation, take an online course or listen regularly to podcasts such as The Grammar Girl. 
  1. Thou shall honor deadlines. If you join a review site where the turnaround for reviews is 3 weeks, then you should respect that agreement. If you promise the author to have the review ready in two months, you should honor this too. Be honest and straight forward from the beginning. If you’re so busy your turnaround is six months, make sure to let the person know. If for any reasons you cannot meet the deadline, contact the person and let him know. It’s your responsibility to maintain a do-able schedule. 
  1. Thou shall not be prejudiced against thy neighbor. Don’t assume that a self-published or small press book is poorly written. Give it a fair chance and let it speak for itself. Likewise, never assume a book published by a major NY house has to be good. You’d be surprised by the high quality of some small press books by unknown authors, as opposed to those written by big name authors whose titles are often in the bestseller lists. In general, most subsidy books are mediocre, but there are always exceptions. If you’ve had bad experiences with subsidy books, then don’t request them nor accept them for review. If you decide to review one, though, don’t be biased and give it a fair chance. 
  1. Thou shall not become an RC addict. RC stands for Review Copy. Requesting RCs can get out of control. In fact, it can become addictive. You should be realistic about how many books you can review. If you don’t, pretty soon you’ll be drowning in more RCs than you can handle. When this happens, reading and reviewing can change from a fun, pleasurable experience into a stressful one. If you’re feeling frazzled because you have a tower of books waiting to be reviewed, learn to say NO when someone approaches you for a review and stop requesting RCs for a while. Unless you’re being paid as a staff reviewer for a newspaper or magazine, reviewing shouldn’t get in the way of your daily life. 
  1. Thou shall honor thy commitment. Remember that any books you’ve agreed to review beforehand are being sent to you in exchange for a review. If your policy is not to review every book you receive, state it clearly on your blog or site so the author or publisher will know what to expect. If you have agreed to review a book, but have a valid reason for not reviewing it, let the review site editor, author, publisher, or publicist know.  

Holiday Blog Tour… Christmas story: “Deja Vu”

Dear Readers,

It’s an honor to participate in the Holiday Blog Tour 2011 with my fellow writers! I have a Christmas ghost story for you today, title “Deja Vu.” I hope you’ll enjoy it! You’ll find the English and Spanish versions below, so take your pick. Leave a comment for a chance to win a $15 Book Depository certificate. To see the full list of participating blogs, please visit Writing to Insanity. Tomorrow the stop will be at Avocado Chowder.

I’ll announce the winner on the last day of the tour, December 24th! Be sure to leave a contact addy in your comment.

Enjoy the story and Happy Holidays!

Déjà Vu
By Mayra Calvani

Standing on the sidewalk of the Boulevard del Valle, Amanda looked towards the sea. The splash of the waves against the rocks below resonated in the air. She could taste the salty tang sharply on her tongue, feel the cool breeze tousling her hair. She hugged her arms to stop the goose bumps.
Tonight Old San Juan vibrated with a magical quality. Twinkling multi-colored lights and shimmering garlands adorned shop windows and balconies. Christmas trees glowed from inside the flats that lined the street.
Amanda admired the sea a little longer; it was late and she had to go home. She and her husband were giving a party. They always did on Christmas Eve. She was stalling and she knew it, though she didn’t know exactly why.
Abruptly someone bumped into her. She turned to see a little boy running down the street. She froze for a second before realizing what had happened—he had stolen her handbag.
“Hey!” she said, running after him. “Come back here!”
A sensation of unreality grabbed her. She saw the little boy running in slow motion, his dark curls floating behind him as if there were no gravity. An intense feeling of déjà vu shook her to the core. She had to catch up with him. She had to stop him!
“Stop!” she shouted, breathless.
Everything happened in a matter of seconds. The boy glanced behind his shoulder just as he tried to cross the street. A fast approaching car was coming in his direction. Amanda reached for the boy’s shirt and pulled him harshly to the sidewalk and away from the street. The boy struggled against her, but she held on, a wave of relief flooding through her.
“Stop that. The policeman will see us,” Amanda said, her eyes on the strolling officer across the street. Oddly, he looked bored, as if he had not noticed anything unusual.
The boy relaxed under her grip and for the first time she had a chance to look into his face. He had shoulder-length curly hair and large brown eyes surrounded by thick lashes. Under the streetlight his chestnut curls glowed. He couldn’t have been older than eight. In spite of his arrogant attitude, he reminded her of a cherub.
“What do you think you were doing? Trying to get yourself killed? That car almost ran into you!” she said.
“Are you going to have me arrested?” he said, lifting his chin.
Amanda glanced at the officer, who was now far away. She sighed. “Are you going to give me back my bag?”
Looking oddly calm, he gave her the bag.
“Thank you,” Amanda said drily.
“Can you let me go now?”
Amanda realized she was still holding on to him. Confusion and fear filled her being. She didn’t want to let go.
“I’m not going away,” the boy said enigmatically.
Their eyes locked momentarily.
“Oh… all right…” She let go. “What’s your name?”
“Alfonsito.”
“Why did you try to steal my bag?”
His small, thin shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Why do poor kids steal rich people’s bags?”
She decided to ignore his wisecrack. “You should go home. It’s late. Your parents must be worried.”
“Nah, they never worry.”
They began to walk side by side.
“Let me bring you home.”
“I don’t want to go home. There’s always too much fighting in there.”
“It’s Christmas Eve. I bet your mom is preparing a nice meal.”
“I don’t want to go home,” he said coldly, stopping her in her tracks.
Amanda looked at him. She was not ready to say goodbye. “Well, do you want to come to my house? We can have something to eat together.”
“Do you live in a mansion?”
“You could say that.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“I have a dog,” Amanda said.
His expression brightened. “What’s his name?”
“Noah. Well?”
Alfonsito seemed thoughtful as he stuffed his hands inside his pockets and resumed his walk. “I’d like to meet Noah.”

***

At Amanda’s home the party was at full swing. Guests in sophisticated attire were gathered around the pool with drinks and cigarettes in their hands. Some couples danced. Others ate by a long buffet table. Aguinaldos poured out of hidden speakers.
Amanda led Alfonsito to the back of the garden and towards the back door of the kitchen.
“Do you know all these people?” he asked.
“Yes and no.” She halted momentarily to look at the guests. “My husband is an important man. These are mostly his co-workers.” Her voice had turned sad, bitter. “ I’ve always been sort of a hermit.”
“What’s that?”
“I like being alone.”
“Oh.”
“My husband is a very important man.”
“So you said.”
They looked to the kitchen as a large blond dog stormed out the door and dashed into their direction.
“Noah!” Amanda said, smiling for the first time that night. “Come here, boy! Let me introduce you to someone.”
She bent over to stroke him and scratch him behind the ears. Alfonsito laughed as he joined in the petting. Noah whimpered as if he couldn’t have enough of Amanda’s affection.
“Let’s go inside,” Amanda said.
She led him to a table at the far end of the kitchen, while the servants continued their duties on the other side of the room. After bringing an assortment of food and pastries to the table, Amanda sat across from Alfonsito. Noah lay at her feet, his tail still swaging from contentment.
“Go ahead, eat,” she said.
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
“I’ll just have a drink,” she said, lifting a glass of wine as if in toast.
Watching her drinking, his expression turned sad. “Do you have any kids?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’ve always wanted kids, but I can’t have any.”
“Oh…” He began to eat. “Hmm… I had forgotten what this tasted like.”
“Guineitos en escabeche is one of my favorites, too. Doesn’t your mom make it?”
“Not lately.”
After Alfonsito finished eating, Amanda said, “I probably should bring you back now. It’s late. Your mom must be worried.”
Amanda leaned over to stroke Noah, who had started whimpering again as if sensing her parting.

***

Amanda and Alfonsito stood by the door of the small house which was his home.
Alfonsito looked somber. Amanda was about to knock when he stopped her and said, “Don’t. Let’s just go in.”
Inside the small living room there was no Christmas tree; no lights or garlands or poinsettias.
A woman sat alone in the dark, her back to them. She had something in her hands.
Alfonsito took Amanda’s hand and together they approached the woman until they stood over her shoulder.
“Don’t cry, Mami,” he whispered.
“What’s that in her hands?” Amanda asked.
Then she saw it. It was a photo of Alfonsito.
Amanda turned to him, the floor shifting under her feet, the room swirling around her. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“I died one year ago,” he said.
Amanda took a step back. “No…”
She moved away from the crying woman and away from Alfonsito. His big eyes shimmered with emotion as he extended a hand towards Amanda.
“Come. I’ll show you,” he said.
“You can’t be dead. You’re here, with me, talking to me. You just played with my dog, ate at my kitchen. You can’t be…”
“Come.”

***

In the late hour the Old San Juan cemetery was cold and windy and Amanda could hear the waves crashing against the rocks below.
“Where are you taking me?” she said.
Now it was his turn to hold on to her. “You have to know, Amanda. You have to let go.”
She shook her head, tears flowing down her cheeks. “You’re going to show me your grave, is that it?”
His small hand pressed tighter around hers, his nails digging into her.
“There,” he said, pushing her in front of a tombstone.
She read her name engraved on the stone and covered her face with her hands, while all her life, all the memories rushed through her mind until that last very moment. “No! No! No!”
“Think about it. Why is it that no one can see or hear us—no one except Noah? How do you think we moved from here to your house without a car?”
“No!”
“You have to let go,” he said.
“No!” She fell to her knees, wallowing in the knowledge, guilt and pain.
“You’ll be here forever without freedom or peace until you forgive yourself. Look at me, Amanda.”
Her sobs weakened as she looked up at him.
“It was not your fault that I tried to steal your handbag. You had to run after me. It was not your fault that I got ran over by that car. You’ve punished yourself enough, drowning in alcohol and pills. Why did you take so many pills that night?”
“It was an accident…”
“I know.”
“I never meant to kill myself!”
“I know.” Then he said, “I forgive you, Amanda. This is why I’ve come here. Tonight.”
They were quiet for a long time. Amanda stood up and looked around her. Would she smell the sea again? Play with Noah? She felt scared and lost.
“What now? Where do I go?”
Alfonsito took her by the hand. “Let me show you the way.”

The End

©2007, 2008. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

SPANISH VERSION:

Déjà Vu
Por: Mayra Calvani

Amanda miró hacia el mar desde la acera del Boulevard del Valle. El estruendo de las olas contra las rocas resonaba en el aire. Sintió el gusto del salitre en la lengua y cómo la brisa fresca le alborotaba el pelo. Cruzó los brazos, tratando de darse calor.
Esta noche, el Viejo San Juan vibraba con una cualidad mágica. Los balcones y las vitrinas de las tiendas estaban adornadas con guirlandas de parpadeantes luces de colores. Por las ventanas de los apartamientos que daban a la calle se veían los árboles de Navidad encendidos.
Amanda se quedó mirando el mar durante un rato más. Era tarde ya y tenía que regresar a casa, a la fiesta que ella y su marido ofrecían, como todos los días de Nochebuena. Se estaba atrasando y lo sabía, aunque no podía precisar porqué.
Fue entonces que alguien chocó contra ella. Se dio vuelta para ver a un muchachito que corría calle abajo. Se congeló por un momento, antes de darse cuenta de lo que había sucedido – ¡le había robado la cartera!
“¡Oye!” le gritó, mientras le corría detrás. “¡Vuelve acá!”
Tuvo la sensación de algo irreal. Vio, como en cámara lenta, que el niño corría, con sus rizos oscuros flotando detrás, como si no hubiera gravedad. Una extraña noción de “deja vu” le sacudió las entrañas. Tenía que alcanzarlo. Tenía que detenerlo.
“¡Para!” le gritó, ya sin aliento.
Todo sucedió en cuestión de segundos. El muchachito miró hacia atrás, hacia ella, justo cuando empezó a cruzar la calle. Un auto se aproximaba hacia él a toda velocidad. Amanda lo agarró por la camisa y le dio un halón que lo devolvió a la acera y lo alejó de la calle. El muchacho trató de zafarse, pero ella lo tenía bien agarrado. Una sensación de alivio la invadió toda.
“¡Deja de luchar! El policía se va a dar cuenta,” dijo Amanda, mirando al oficial que caminaba por el otro lado de la calle: parecía aburrido, como si no hubiera notado que pasaba algo raro.
El muchacho dejó de forcejear y por primera vez ella lo miró a la cara. Tenía el pelo rizo y largo hasta los hombros. Sus ojos, grandes y castaños, la miraban desde debajo de unas pestañas muy largas. La luz de los faroles de la calle le sacaban un brillo rojizo a sus rizos. No podía tener más de ocho años. A pesar de su actitud arrogante, le recordaba las pinturas de los querubínes.
“¿Qué estabas haciendo? ¿Querías que te aplastara ese carro? ¡Por poco te arrolla!”, le dijo.
“¿Vas a hacer que me denuncien?” le preguntó él, con un gesto de desafío en la cara.
Amanda miró al policía, que ya estaba lejos. Suspiró: “¿Me vas a devolver mi cartera?”
Con una tranquilidad algo extraña, el muchacho le tendió la cartera.
“Gracias,” le dijo Amanda, secamente.
“¿Puedes soltarme ahora?”
Amanda se dio cuenta de que aún lo tenía agarrado por la camisa. Sintió una mezcla de confusión y temor. No quería dejarlo ir.
“No voy a salir corriendo,” le dijo el muchacho, enigmáticamente.
Los ojos de ambos se encontraron.
“Bueno,… está bien …”, dijo ella y lo soltó. “¿Cómo te llamas?”
“Alfonsito.”
“¿Porqué trataste de robarme la cartera?”
El muchacho alzó los hombros pequeños y huesudos. “¿Porqué es que los niños pobres les roban las carteras a la gente rica?”
Ella decidió ignorar la respuesta arrogante. “Debes regresar a tu casa. Es tarde”, le dijo. “Tus padres deben estar preocupados.”
“No, ellos nunca se preocupan.”
Empezaron a caminar uno al lado del otro.
“Deja que te lleve a tu casa.”
“No quiero ir a casa. Siempre hay pelea allí.”
“Es Nochebuena. Seguro que tu mamá está preparando una cena especial.”
“No quiero ir a casa,” repitió él, y su frialdad la dejó, a su vez, fría.
Amanda lo miró. No quería despedirse todavía. “¿Quieres ir a mi casa entonces? Podemos comernos algo juntos.”
“¿Vives en una mansión?”
“Sí, es una especie de mansión.”
“No tengo hambre.”
“Tengo un perro,” le dijo Amanda en tono tentador.
La expresión del muchacho cambió. “¿Cómo se llama?”
“Noé.¿Vienes?”
Alfonsito se quedó pensativo. Metió las manos en los bolsillos y siguió caminando. “Me gustaría conocer a Noé.”

***

Cuando llegaron a casa de Amanda, la fiesta estaba en su apogeo. Los invitados, muy bien vestidos, conversaban –con tragos y cigarrillos en las manos- alrededor de la piscina. Algunas parejas bailaban. Otros hacían fila ante la larga mesa del bufé. Por los altoparlantes escondidos salía la música de aguinaldos navideños.
Amanda llevó a Alfonsito hacia el patio trasero, donde estaba la entrada de la cocina.
“¿Conoces a toda esta gente?” le preguntó él.
“Sí y no,” le contestó ella mientras se detenía a mirar a los invitados. “Mi marido es un hombre importante. Casi toda esta gente trabaja con él.” Su voz se ensombreció y adquirió un tono amargo. “Yo siempre he sido una especie de ermitaña”
“¿Qué es eso?”
“Me gusta estar sola.”
“Oh.”
“Mi marido es un hombre muy importante.”
“Ya lo dijiste.”
Cuando estaban llegando a la cocina se abrió la puerta y un enorme perro de pelo castaño claro salió corriendo hacia ellos.
“¡Noé!” lo llamó Amanda, y sonrió por primera vez esa noche. “¡Ven acá! Quiero presentarte a alguien.”
Se bajó para acariciarlo y le rascó la cabeza tras las orejas. Alfonsito reía y lo acariciaba también. Noé daba grititos, como si estuviera ansioso de que siguieran mostrándole tanto afecto.
“Vamos a entrar,” dijo Amanda.
Llevó a Alfonsito a una mesa que estaba en un rincón de la cocina. Los sirvientes siguieron en sus tareas del otro lado. Amanda buscó una bandeja de pastelitos y dulces y se la trajo al muchacho. Se sentó frente a él y a sus pies se tiró Noé, moviendo el rabo a todo lo que da.
“Anda, come,” le dijo ella.
“Y tú, ¿no vas a comer?”
“Me voy a tomar un trago,” contestó, mientras levantaba una copa de vino como si fuera a brindar.
Él la miró con cierta tristeza. “¿Tienes niños?” le preguntó.
Ella dijo que no con la cabeza. “Siempre he querido tener hijos, pero no puedo tenerlos.”
“Oh…”
Cuando Alfonsito terminó de comer, Amanda le dijo, “Ahora te voy a llevar a tu casa. Se ha hecho tarde. Tu mamá debe estar preocupada.”
Amanda se bajó a acariciar a Noé, que empezó a llorar como si se diera cuenta de que ella se iría.

***

Amanda y Alfonsito se detuvieron ante la puerta de la casita donde vivía él.
Alfonsito estaba serio. Amanda iba a tocar la puerta cuando él la detuvo y le dijo: “No toques. Entremos.”
La salita era pequeña. No había adornos navideños: ni árbol, ni luces, ni guirnaldas ni pascuas.
Una mujer estaba sentada en la oscuridad, dándoles la espalda. Tenía algo en las manos.
Alfonsito le cogió la mano a Amanda y juntos se aproximaron a la mujer hasta que pudieron mirar sobre su hombro.
Alfonsito suspiró. “No llores, Mami,” le dijo bajito.
“¿Qué tiene entre las manos?” preguntó Amanda.
Y entonces vio. Era una foto de Alfonsito.
Se viró hacia él. Le pareció que el piso se estremecía bajo sus pies, que la habitación daba vueltas en torno a su cabeza. Abrió la boca pero no le salieron las palabras.
“Yo morí hace un año,” dijo él.
Amanda dio un paso atrás. “No…”
Se alejó de la mujer que lloraba y de Alfonsito. Los ojos grandes del muchacho brillaron de emoción mientras le tendía a Amanda una mano.
“Ven. Te llevaré,” le dijo.
“No puedes estar muerto. Estás aquí, conmigo, hablándome. Acabas de jugar con mi perro, de comer en mi cocina. No puedes estar …”
“Ven.”

***

A esa hora de la noche en el cementerio del Viejo San Juan hacía frío y soplaba el viento. Amanda oía cómo las olas chocaban contra las rocas.
“¿Adónde me llevas?” le preguntó ella.
Ahora le tocaba a él sujetarla con fuerza.
“Tienes que saber, Amanda. Tienes que dejarte ir.”
Ella negó con la cabeza. Las lágrimas le corrían por las mejillas. “Me vas a llevar a tu tumba, ¿no es eso?”
Su manita apretó la de Amanda; las uñas del muchacho se le metían en la carne.
“Allí,” le dijo, empujándola hacia una lápida.
Ella leyó su propio nombre grabado en la piedra y se cubrió el rostro con las manos. Toda su vida, todos sus recuerdos le pasaron por la mente, incluso los de aquel último momento. “¡No! ¡No! ¡No!”
“Piénsalo”, le dijo él. “¿Porqué es que nadie nos puede ver u oir—nadie con excepción de Noé? ¿Cómo piensas que nos movimos de aquí a tu casa sin un auto?”
“¡No!”
“Tienes que dejarte ir,” le dijo él.
“¡No!” Ella cayó arrodillada. La sobrecogían los recuerdos, la culpa, el dolor.
“Te quedarás aquí para siempre sin libertad y sin paz hasta que te perdones a ti misma. Mírame, Amanda.”
Los sollozos de ella disminuyeron cuando lo miró.
“No fue culpa tuya que yo tratara de robarte la cartera. Tenías que correrme detrás. No fue culpa tuya que me arrollara aquel carro. Te has castigado bastante, ahogándote en alcohol y píldoras. ¿Porqué tomaste tantas píldoras esa noche?”
“Fue un accidente…”
“Lo sé.”
“¡Nunca quise matarme!”
“Lo sé.” Entonces él le dijo, “Yo te perdono, Amanda. Por eso he venido aquí esta noche.”
Permanecieron callados durante un tiempo. Amanda se puso de pie y miró a su alrededor. ¿Volvería a oler el mar? ¿A jugar con Noé? Se sentía asustada y perdida.
“Y ahora, ¿qué? ¿Adónde voy?”
Alfonsito la tomó de la mano. “Yo te enseño el camino.”

***This version appeared in Revista Domingo, El Nuevo Dia newspaper, December 2007.
©2007, 2008, 2011. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

Types of Reviewers

You can be a reviewer without having to become a ‘professional’ reviewer. Although the terms are bit slippery at times, a professional reviewer, for the most part, is a reviewer who is regularly paid for her work. Examples: reviewers who belong to the staff of newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times. There are also professional reviewers who do regular freelance work for journals, magazines and online sites. But these are usually freelance writers who not only write reviews but also articles, opinion pieces, interviews and other things. As I mentioned before, making money as a reviewer is a tough job.

Then you have the serious reviewers who don’t get paid but are fully committed to their craft and who have been reviewing for a long time. These reviewers may review for established publications, such as Library Journal; online publications such as Salon; review sites such as The Compulsive Reader; or may even have their own book review blogs. Sometimes these reviewers call themselves ‘professional’ reviewers. I’m not here to say whether or not they are–as I said, the lines are often fuzzy! The ‘professional’ reviewers I put in the first category are often elitist and don’t like putting themselves in the same group as the non-paid reviewers. For this reason, they’re viewed as snobs by many. In fact, these ‘professional’ reviewers often refer to ‘serious’ reviewers as amateurs, but I don’t really agree with this statement.

Then you have the ‘amateur’ or ‘reader’ reviewers and these can range from the terrific to the very bad. These reviewers will review once in a while, often posting their opinions on Amazon, their own blogs (which is why they’re often called ‘blogger’ reviews) and online book clubs. Depending on their skill and commitment, they may write reviews ranging from the long and thoughtful to the short and fluffy. These reviewers may graduate to become the ‘serious’ reviewers.

At the very bottom of the pile you have those people who don’t really write full reviews but who will write a short opinion or endorsement on sites like Amazon. Sometimes what they write is a couple of sentences. Their views are placed under ‘customer’ reviews’ along with all the other reviews. But these aren’t really reviews. That’s the thing with Amazon. All the reviews/opinions are grouped together under one category.

Before there were mostly professional reviewers, but the internet changed all that with the emergence of online book retailers, blogs and review sites. This is definitely the age of reviewers!

My Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing

1. Thou shall have no other gods before the reader. The review is not about the author, nor the publisher, and especially, not about you, the reviewer. Reviews are all about the reader. Don’t try to impress with pompous words in an attempt to glorify yourself or appear scholarly. Give readers simplicity and clarity. They’ll appreciate it. If they want verbose and fancy, they can read Shakespeare.

2. Thou shall not lie. Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you’re doing nothing but selling copy. When you give facile praise or sugar-coat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony. Furthermore, if you give facile praise to a poorly written book, you are perpetuating a bad writer’s career, lowering the chances that a good writer may be published instead.

3. Thou shall not offend the author. Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There’s no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible novel!” say, “This book didn’t work for me for the following reasons…”

4. Thou shall not eat the evaluation. Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and leave out the evaluation. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, “I really liked this book” is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying.

5. Thou shall not reveal spoilers. Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader’s reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author.

6. Thou shall honor grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Don’t be one of those reviewers who are more in love with the idea of seeing their name online than making sure their reviews are well-written and thorough. Your reviews may hang around on the internet for years to come and will reflect on your level as a writer. Run a spell check, edit, revise, and polish your review, as if you were posting a short story. Get a good book on grammar, and punctuation, take an online course or listen regularly to podcasts such as The Grammar Girl.

7. Thou shall honor deadlines. If you join a review site where the turnaround for reviews is 3 weeks, then you should respect that agreement. If you promise the author to have the review ready in two months, you should honor this too. Be honest and straight forward from the beginning. If you’re so busy your turnaround is six months, make sure to let the person know. If for any reasons you cannot meet the deadline, contact the person and let him know. It’s your responsibility to maintain a do-able schedule.

8. Thou shall not be prejudiced against thy neighbor. Don’t assume that a self-published or small press book is poorly written. Give it a fair chance and let it speak for itself. Likewise, never assume a book published by a major NY house has to be good. You’d be surprised by the high quality of some small press books by unknown authors, as opposed to those written by big name authors whose titles are often in the bestseller lists. In general, most subsidy books are mediocre, but there are always exceptions. If you’ve had bad experiences with subsidy books, then don’t request them nor accept them for review. If you decide to review one, though, don’t be biased and give it a fair chance.

9. Thou shall not become an RC addict. RC stands for Review Copy. Requesting RCs can get out of control. In fact, it can become addictive. You should be realistic about how many books you can review. If you don’t, pretty soon you’ll be drowning in more RCs than you can handle. When this happens, reading and reviewing can change from a fun, pleasurable experience into a stressful one. If you’re feeling frazzled because you have a tower of books waiting to be reviewed, learn to say NO when someone approaches you for a review and stop requesting RCs for a while. Unless you’re being paid as a staff reviewer for a newspaper or magazine, reviewing shouldn’t get in the way of your daily life.

10. Thou shall not steal. Remember that the books you request are being sent to you in exchange for a review. Requesting review copies and not writing the reviews is in one word: stealing. You’d be surprised at the number of “reviewers” who, after having requested several books, suddenly “disappear.” These people are not legitimate; they’re crooks, plain and simple. If you have a valid reason for not reviewing a book, let the review site editor, author, publisher, or publicist know. The same goes for piracy. “Reviewers” who request ebooks and later offer them as downloads from their sites are thieves. Integrity is part of the code of honor of a legitimate reviewer.