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Interview with Lea Schizas of Muse Book Reviews

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A resident of Montreal, award-winning multi-genre author and editor Lea Schizas describes herself as a late bloomer who “finally woke up after a 23-year self-induced coma taking care of the family, and rediscovered my passion for writing.” She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of two Writer’s Digest 101 Top Writing Sites of 2005 & 2006 and recipients of the Preditors and Editors Most Useful Writing Sites Award: Apollo’s Lyre and The MuseItUp Club. She's also the founder of The Muse Online Writers ConferenceThe Muse Marquee, and co-founder of Coffee Cramp eZine. Her published works include Toggle Rich Editor (BETA)>The Rock of Realm, Doorman's CreekAleatory's Junction, and The Muse on Writing. Because of her supportive, helpful sites and groups for writers, Lea is effectionately referred to as 'Mother Hen'. Her book review site, Muse Book Reviews, caters to authors of most genres.

Thanks for being here today, Lea. How long have you been reviewing? Please tell us about your book review site. How and when did it get started?

The Muse Book Reviews came about a year after I opened the doors to the MuseItUp Club, in 2004. I wanted to branch out in different areas within the writing world to help members and offering reviews was the first on my list.

What makes The Muse Book Reviews stand out among so many other online review sites?

Good question. We take all genres, whether you are self-published or with a small to large publishing house. Most of my reviewers accept ebooks/PDFs or a print book. I would say the unique aspect of the Muse Book Reviews is the fact we help authors by promoting them in all of the sites/newsletters/blogs affiliated with the MuseItUp Club. There are some very low costs with some of the promo, like five dollars for a whole month’s visibility on any of the sites, along with a mention in some of the newsletters. As a writer, I know how much it costs to keep a book alive so we’re not out to make holes in a writer’s pocket but to offer as many areas of promotion as possible.

What is the most challenging aspect of running a review site?

In all honesty, the challenging part is making authors understand that when they submit their books to a review site, we are there for our readers and not necessarily there for the authors. This may sound harsh but bear with me. As a reviewer, we need to inform the reader on what the book is about, the good and what we felt might be lacking in the book. We never bash, that’s not our intent. A reader seeks out review sites to get an impression on a book, to spend their hard-earned money or not. At times, there are some reviews that are not favorable and this is the part that is always distressing.

How many books do you review a month?

We’re not a big review site but I believe I can safely say we review anywhere between 10 to 20 books a month.

How many staff reviewers do you have?

There are seven reviewers currently.

Are you currently recruiting more reviewers? If so, what are your guidelines?

Yes, reviewers are always welcome. Guidelines to be one of our reviewers is simple:

Send me a sample review of a book. Once I review it I send the reviewer a template how I like the set up of a review done to place in the site. The next step would be for the reviewer to send me a bio, website link if any, what genres they are willing to review, and whether they accept ebooks, print copies, or both formats. Anyone interested can email me at: museitupeditor@yahoo.ca with Reviewer Request on the subject heading.

How should an author contact you about a review request? Do you review e-books as well?

On the website, our guidelines clearly mention to look over our Reviewer Contact page, find a reviewer who is suitable for the book’s genre, and to email the reviewer directly.
The reviewers preferences, whether ebook or print are mentioned.

How do you select the books you review? How do you determine which reviews to post on your site?

As I wrote above, we accept all genres except for pornographic stuff. We review anything from picture books to erotica. After all, we are a review site catering to all readers.

Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites? What is your policy when it comes to negative reviews?

Unfortunately, I do believe that many ‘writer friends’ who are reviewers do help fellow writers. I find this does nothing to help the writer if the book truly is not up to par. The reviewer risks the chance of ruining their good name if it gets out after several readers purchase the book based on that reviewer’s recommendation.

As for negative reviews, we have four ratings:
1 rose = average
2 roses= good
3 roses- great read

4 roses= highly recommended

As you can see we don’t have 0 roses for bomb. We’re not there to bash. The lowest rating is one rose. In all these years I’ve only had one author who requested a review not be posted. We post all of our reviews. When a writer sends us a book, they understand a review will be posted. This year, to be honest, one of the reviewers contacted the publisher, told them she was not able to write a review based on several reasons, one being she found the book read more like a draft than a published book. That review was never written.

There was a lot of controversy last year between print publication reviewers and online bloggers. In your opinion, what defines a ‘legitimate’ reviewer?

What defines a ‘legitimate’ reviewer? One who is honest about their reviews based on an objective evaluation on the book itself and not what the reviewer might have liked the book to have contained. We judge a book based on consistency, plot, characterization…basically what you would judge when doing a critique. A few typos here and there is not going to make us write a bad review. However, change your character’s name a few chapters down, then go back again further in the book, and we’ll mention that. Headhop from one character to another, we’ll mention the difficulty in connecting with any one character because of that. These are all elementary details a writer should know before they get published. However, give us a good plot, memorable characters and situations, and we’ll praise that.

What is your stand on paid reviews?

I am against them. I understand some sites will review your book quicker for a fee. If the fee includes other areas, like an interview, a possible chat with the author, spotlight the author…then I’d say you are buying a promotional package. But to pay for one review – no. As a writer, I would feel the readers would think I paid to get a good review and I know that is not the case. When paying for a review you are not guaranteed how the review will go.

Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books they review? What about Advance Review Copies (ARCs)?

Most online reviewers are not paid. What they do get is the free book to review. Once it comes in their possession, the book belongs to them. I personally have never sold a review book. I’ve made baskets and donated them to the retirement homes, yes.

I’ve reviewed arcs, pre-edited arcs, and I will never do that again. When the arc is riddled with mistakes, switches from third person POV to first person POV…how can you critique this? How do I know what the final book will be like? What I did in these cases, and I’m talking big traditional houses here, is I gave my impression on the storyline only but made sure to mention I read a pre-edited arc. I couldn’t write about the characters since the characters needed fleshing out.

What are the most common mistakes amateur reviewers make?

That’s an easy one and I’ve had to edit their reviews in the past. They tell you the whole story, revealing the outcome. A big no no. If the reader knows what’s going to happen you’ve just spoiled it for them.

You need to give the essence of the book first. Then your impressions, followed with who would enjoy the book.

With so many major newspapers getting rid of their book review sections, how do you see the future of online review sites?

Forget about the newspapers getting rid of their book review sections. What is flooding the market now, and more and more review sites are going to be inundated with review requests, is the fact more and more writers are going the self-published route, along with several new smaller presses coming to the surface.

Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?

Always. Mind you, when I say always I’m not referring to gearing the review to suit the author. Oh no. What I mean is that we will not sarcastically bash a writer’s work. We will offer the good qualities in the book before we dig into what we felt were missing elements that took away from the read.

Have you received aggressive responses from authors or publishers because of a negative review? If yes, how do you handle it?

No, like I wrote earlier on there was one author who requested we not post the review because it pointed out the various parts in the book the reviewer felt fell short to classify it the genre the writer stated it was.

What does your site offer readers?

We host interviews with authors, chats to meet some of the authors, and we also have the Bragging Rites yahoo group where we invite our readers to join us and read upcoming new releases, read excerpts and meet some of the authors online.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a reviewer?

Knowing with each review, if the writer knows how to properly read a review, I am helping them hone their future work.

Is there anything else you would like to say about you or The Muse Book Reviews?

I’d like to add that reviewing books is truly an honor for us because we have someone’s baby in our hands. Believe it or not, we try to find good qualities first over the bad ones in any book and not out to ‘get a writer’. We have been lucky and blessed to have had writers with quality books, some 1 rose rated and others 4 roses rated. Most of our authors have emailed us to thank us for our honesty and they now, after reflecting on what we wrote, can see how to improve that area in their writing in their upcoming books. This is the best flattery anyone can give us and we’ll continue offering our honest reviews.

Thank you, Lea!

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.
  • Margay

    Thank you, Lea, for giving such a great interview. Lots of good info here!

  • http://zooprisepartyfiestazoorpresa.blogspot.com Joy Delgado

    Mayra, thank you. Lea, thank you. I like your rose rating system and the fact that you look at every book as the authors baby, even if it isn’t the best book in town, it’s still somebody’s baby.

    Joy

  • http://beverlystowemcclure.wordpress.com Beverly McClure

    Thank you, Lea, for letting us know what to expect in a review from the Muse Book Reviews.

    Thank you, Mayra, for an interesting interview. I’m learning so much about how to review and how reviewers feel about our books.

    Beverly

  • http://afallon.bravehost.com/ A. F. Stewart

    A fascinating interview. The Muse Book Reviews sounds like a great site.

  • http://www.leaschizas.com Lea Schizas

    Way late and I apologize but have had internet problems for almost the entire month of June.

    Mayra, I had a great time answering your questions and actually they re-connected me with why I started the Muse Book Reviews.

    I’d also like to thank your readers for leaving their comments and look forward in the near future reviewing their books.

    Lea Schizas

  • http://www.donnamcdine.com Donna McDine

    Mayra and Lea…wonderful interview. And I’m proud to say that I’m associated with Muse Book Reviews. Keep up the great work ladies!

    Warm regards,
    Donna