March 28, 2011

New "Fresh Meat" at H&H, and the Art of the Review

Fresh Meat: Rhyannon Byrd's Rush of Darkness

My newest blogging at Heroes and Heartbreakers just went online (5:00 p.m. eastern time). My sub-title for the piece is Dysfunction junction...come on, gimme a little smile. Drop by and give it a read, then post a comment over there.

I thought I'd share with you why I don't seem to be blogging much these days. It's simple. I'm spending all my time reading and writing, either reviews for PW, or pieces for H&H. I've got another spec piece in draft status, with another just written yet not submitted, and in the last week, in addition to reading and writing about Byrd's book, I read and reviewed two books for the magazine (not including the review I turned in this morning). Never has it felt so good to be under such a time crunch, although having to write ten drafts (yes, you heard right, ten drafts) between last evening and my eleven o'clock deadline this morning for my most recent PW review was not exactly a barrel full of monkeys.

Why were ten drafts necessary for this particular review? Well, the book was nearly 500 pages long and had four sub-plots, three of which melded together. It's part of a long-running series that I've not read in its entirety, with a tremendous number of fans who are as unhappy with review errors as I am. If the facts in a review aren't right, the entire thing—analysis and all—lacks credibility. Because these are short reviews, there's no margin whatsoever for error, and with a book readers are ready to devour, the pressure is more keen than usual.

I write for two PW editors; my mass market editor requires reviews to be no more than 170 words, including page cites. My fiction editor allots up to 300 words (with page cites). This was a review for my mass market editor and the first draft was too long by half. By the time I'd cut it down enough, I'd not only gone through nine more drafts, I'd very nearly rewritten the entire review several times.

For me, the hardest part of self-editing to meet a word count is giving up ownership of my writing. In this review, for instance, I'd written a particularly brilliant sentence fragment. It lasted from draft five through draft nine. Ultimately I cut it because the sentence directly following it subsumed my point. I should have been able to let it go a couple of drafts sooner, but it took further editing to determine how I could cut the fragment and replace it with an entire sentence. Other writers, who are more skilled than I am, no doubt find this easier to do, but even after sixteen years of reviewing, I struggle.

I've got six books to review for PW between now and early May, and I've committed to writing at least two more Fresh Meat pieces for H&H. In addition to the spec pieces I've submitted or finished writing, I plan to write more. And, I'd like to fit in a little reading simply for the pleasure of reading. Not that I'm complaining; I'm glad to be busy and hope everything I write that's published pleases readers and my editors. While you can't update me on my success at PW (I can tell you that I had one review among the 86 published today, but can't be more specific than that), I hope you'll give me feedback on my H&H articles.


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