Snapshots: What Are You Reading?

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By Beaver Keeping a reading journal can be very satisfying. Not only do you get a feeling of accomplishment each time you add a new entry, but you’re creating a guide you can refer to whenever you need a reminder … Continue reading

What Do You Recommend?

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Recommend on social media at least one thing you’ve read this year. If you don’t use social media, recommend in person. Independent authors are particularly grateful for recommendations.
  2. Create some recommendation business cards and leave them with your favorite works in the bookstore. You can print them at home. They could be as simple as the word “recommended” with a thumbs-up or a shelf card that lists why you recommend the book. Don’t put stickers on or in the books.
  3. Ask for recommendations at a used book store and/or independent bookstore. If you’re lucky, your local chain bookstore will have fellow book lovers who are well-versed enough to recommend as well.
  4. Recommend a book to a friend on Goodreads.
  5. While you’re there, write a recommendation of a book. If you’re stuck for one, think of a book you discovered on your own and write the review as though you’re speaking to your younger self.

How to Write a Book Review (and How to Request One)

Absolute Blank

By Shelley Carpenter (Harpspeed)

Mindset:

I think one of the important components in writing a book review is mindset. One needs to be open minded to reading books that they may not typically read. Professional editors and writers may have the option of choosing the books they review with the added perk of a salary. At Toasted Cheese and many other literary journals the editors and writers review books for the joy of it and to support fellow writers. It is a labor of love.

Revving Up before Reading:

Another practice I follow is to learn about the author before reading his/her book. I visit blogs, social media, and websites. Knowing something about the author makes the reading a more personal experience and may help later when it is time to write the review and the short biography that follows. I also look in the Toasted Cheese archives to see if there are submissions and links to other writing. It is like taking a test drive before driving cross-country.

Mindfulness:

The task also requires mindfulness. Before I open a book that is slotted for review, I always ask: What makes this a good book? This is a great question particularly if one is reviewing a book that is outside of their writing or reading genre(s). Giving myself an assigned question truly helps to focus on the task. Within the context of the question there are three sub-parts that I consider: What is this book about? This relates to genre, character and plot, the general information that most reviews contain. What do I notice within the text? This refers to style, language, theme, vocabulary, etc. a.k.a. the writer’s toolbox. Lastly, what do I notice beyond the story? Does it relate to the real world in any way? Are there comparisons or contrasts that can be drawn?

Another name for this practice is active reading. Meanwhile, I’m annotating the copy—I’m circling, underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margins. I also attach sticky notes on the pages that answer my question(s). By the time I finish reading, there are usually a dozen or more colored notes sticking out of the copy.

I take my time with every book and collection of poetry and stories and when I’ve finished reading and annotating, I let the words simmer in my mind for days before my fingers touch the keyboard. This is how I begin.

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr (CC-by)

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Tips for Writing a Review for Toasted Cheese:

  • Keep in mind Candle-Ends is our way of connecting the TC community with the literary journal. We’re looking for positive/neutral reviews that support the writers in our community.
  • We’re ok with fluffy, but not with false praise. Be honest, but kind.
  • We know one of the reasons writers hesitate to write reviews is they’re unsure how to handle reviewing a book they didn’t love unequivocally. Here are some suggestions:
    • Describe the book. For a novel, tell readers about the key characters, the gist of the plot, the setting. For short stories or poetry, give readers an overview of the types of stories or poems they can anticipate. Write about the overall theme of the book. Describe the writer’s style.
    • Let the book speak for itself. Include representative quotes in your review so readers can see what to expect and judge for themselves.
    • Highlight the the book’s strengths.
    • Sandwich criticism between praise. If there is a weakness you think is important to mention, put it in the middle. Start with a positive and end with a positive.
  • A brief mention of why you personally related to the book is fine, but don’t digress too much. Keep the focus on the content of the book.
  • Provide a brief biography of the author as well as links to their website and/or social media accounts.
  • Please mention if you have a personal connection to the author.

Tips for Requesting a Review from Toasted Cheese:

  • Requests for reviews should be sent to our reviews editor at reviews@toasted-cheese.com
  • Be sure to mention the author’s connection to Toasted Cheese (please note: we only review books by writers with a pre-existing connection to TC).
  • Author or publisher must be able to provide a digital and/or print copy of the book to the reviewer.
  • Indicate your willingness to write a review. Not only is it good karma to reciprocate, but requesting authors who write a review will be moved to the front of the queue.

Being a Part of a Writing Community

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

When we started Toasted Cheese, the critique forums were very popular. This was in large part because the editors put a lot of their own time into giving feedback. Our hope was that by leading by example, by showing writers how to give good feedback, they would eventually take over from us and become self-sufficient. Ultimately, our goal was for us to be dispensable at the forums. One day, we thought, our members won’t need us anymore because they’ll be able to rely on each other.

That’s not what happened. Instead, as the editors became busier, and weren’t able to spend as much time giving feedback, writers continued to post work and request feedback, but few gave it in return (those who did: we appreciate you so much!). The less feedback that was given, the fewer new requests that were made, until posting at the critique forums slowed to a trickle and died off.

We loved giving feedback—that’s how this whole thing started—but no one can give and give and give indefinitely without being refueled. Eventually, you burn out. Other things, things that do reward you for doing them, take priority. If you want someone to keep giving, you can’t just take take take, you have to give back.

I know some writers are reluctant to comment on others’ work because they don’t think they’re qualified. But if you write yourself, if you read, then yes, you’re qualified! It may take some time to figure out how to articulate your thoughts, but just like writing fiction or whatever your genre of choice is, the only way to get there is by practicing. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

Others shy away from critiquing or reviewing because they don’t want to “waste” their limited writing time commenting on others’ work. But I will let you in on a writing secret: giving feedback is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. When you read your own work, you are blind to many of its flaws. When you read others’ work, those same flaws jump out at you. Feedback, critiques, reviews—all of these will give you insights that you can put into practice in your own writing. The time you spend on them will never be wasted.

Our reviews editor, Shelley, receives many review requests from writers with no connection to Toasted Cheese. An existing connection with TC is a stipulation because Candle-Ends is about supporting our writing community. You have to put something into it before you can get something back. If you’d like us to review your work, there are many ways you can establish a connection with TC—one of those, of course, is by writing a review of another writer’s work.

Candle-Ends: 2013 Recap

Toasted Cheese publishes reviews of books by writers who are a part of the TC community (e.g. published in TC, written for Absolute Blank, interviewed at Absolute Blank, forum members). To request or submit a review, contact our reviews editor at reviews[at]toasted-cheese.com.

Books reviewed in 2013: