Saturday, March 22, 2008

Interview: Kwips and Kritiques Reviews

Sometimes we like to go beyond writers to bring you something different. This week the Diaries are pleased to take a bold step toward bringing you closer to our world and help one of our favorite review sites celebrate their second birthday. March 17th marked the anniversary of CK2S Kwips and Kritiques opening their hearts to authors and readers alike. We at The Morgan Diaries are only too happy help them usher in the terrible twos by welcoming Kelley Hartsell to our offices.

TMD: Hello Kelley and thank you for stopping by. No, Jmo, we can’t have the birthday cake yet. Remember we agreed she has to answer our questions first otherwise she might run off.

KH/CK2: Cake? Did someone mention birthday cake? *looking around the room*

TMD: Kelley could you please tell our readers how Kwips and Kritiques came about?

KH/CK2: Would you like the short version or the long version? Or better yet, I’ll tell you the short version and give your readers the link to the full story if they are interested in the long version.

I started reviewing back in 2001 and when I first started I really loved it. But as the website where I was grew larger and larger and I took on more responsibility, I discovered I didn’t enjoy the process so much anymore. I was getting burned out. So I had thought about giving up reviewing for a while. I missed a lot of the excitement though I did not miss all the extras that meant more and more time and more stress. So I spoke to a few friends who were also growing tired of some of the same things. We decided to start a new website, keeping it simplified and without all the extra features. Once we went back to the basics and were able to remove a lot of the additional pressure, we found a new love for reviewing once more. And that in a nutshell, is how we came to be.

The long version can be found here:

TMD: We know people think there’s a lot of work involved in writing a book, but we doubt people realize how much work goes into running a monthly review site. Could you tell us what all goes into the daunting task of going from book to review?

KH/CK2: Wow. Let’s see, what does go into it all? I do know if I didn’t love the job I’d be miserable since I spend almost as much time every week on website work as I do in the “real” full time job. There is the almost daily coordination between publishers/authors/publicists on books they’d like reviewed. Then there is the tracking necessary to know what we’ve done and haven’t done and to make the books available to whichever reviewer wants to read them. Of course I have to have plenty of hard drive space for all the eBooks and plenty of shelf space for all the print books that come in (especially since EVERY print publisher out there seems to love trade paperbacks these days and they take up a lot of room). We have to make sure the books get from the publisher or whoever requested the review to us and in turn to the reviewer. There always seems to be one or two that just won’t open for some reason. Then once the book gets to the reviewer, we have to make sure they read it in a timely manner and get the review submitted.

I really hate having to play mean books when the books seem to vanish once they make it to the reviewers. After the review is submitted comes the editing, formatting, saving to a file until it’s time to load to the website. We have to track pretty well to make sure something doesn’t slip through the cracks after it’s been turned in. Many man hours go into the development of the 80+ new pages we have to load every month. After the reviews are loaded to the website, the work doesn’t stop. Then comes the job of making sure all of the authors who are reviewed get notified (and often times tracking down e-mails can be a nightmare!). We always find a few errors after the site update goes live and we have to go back in and correct the mistakes.

I’d say on average for the typical review page, it takes 15-30 minutes to put it all together depending on how much additional info needs to be tracked down. Interview pages take longer since we have all the links to hunt down links for folks to be able to buy the books we’re talking about and to hunt down the reviews of those same books we may have loaded in the past. I usually start working on my portion of the site update (we have three of us who act as webmasters) about a week prior to the update, sooner if I know the “real” job has some major stuff coming up that means working OT or traveling.

TMD: What do you think is the hardest part of the process? Getting quality books? Or finding a dependable staff of reviewers?

KH/CK2: I think both are about the same. With the huge number of publishers out there, print and electronic, there is definitely no limit to the available number of books in a wide variety of genres. Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of books available, for every good book, there is a dud or two as well. So it’s a given that we will end up with several not so good books in the mix. That means we try to be careful what books we as reviewers request. We decided in the beginning we would never force anyone to review a book they didn’t want to so every single book we review is on a voluntary basis.

I would say finding dependable reviewers is difficult too though. Everyone loves the idea of getting free books but when they find out they have to work to keep getting them, lots of times they head for the hills. I can’t count the number of books we’ve “lost” when reviewers have up and left before submitting the reviews. We had to implement a screening process to weed out the folks who weren’t really interested in reviewing. So far though, since we initiated that, we’ve been a little more successful and getting and keeping good reviewers.

TMD: Talking about reviewers. In your opinion what makes a good reviewer?

KH/CK2: This one is easy. LOL Someone who loves to read and share their opinions, can always be counted on to submit reviews in a timely manner and meet our requirements for format and content (and even better when they don’t require a lot of editing to be ready to post!). Someone who is willing to step out of their comfort zone and try something new, always willing to go the extra mile when necessary. They know how to keep it professional when they end up getting a dud they have to review. And of course, they are more than willing to read eBooks since probably at 90% of the review requests we get weekly are only available in eBook format.

TMD: And even more to the point, why do you review and what do you want readers to get from your reviews/insights? And how do you handle those books you just don’t like? ‘Cuz face it, not every book published is a winner, sad to say. Then again, those are the books that often get writers to sit down and attempt to create something better. Okay, now we’re rambling.

KH/CK2: I review because I love to read and love to share my opinions about what I read just as much. Of course, all the free books certainly doesn’t hurt… When we write reviews at CK2S, we have a 50/50 rule, meaning at least 50% of the review has to be critique and not summary. So I hope that we give a short and sweet run down on what the book is about without giving too much away. For crit, we always strive to be professional and only provide constructive criticism. If we adored a book, you can rest assured the whole world will know WHY we loved it. They won’t just get a lot of “oh my god that book was so awesome!” We’re gonna tell them why it was so awesome. And we will tell every single person we come in contact with when we loved a book.

When we don’t like a book, same rules apply. We try to point out why the book didn’t work for us and what we felt were the flaws where the book could’ve been made better. Of course, no one wants to be told the book bites which is why we try to be so careful how we express the reasons. Even so, no matter how constructive we are, some authors are going to be furious and I will admit I’ve lost more than one author friend over this in my years as a reviewer. But I won’t stop letting people know when something isn’t up to par.

I don’t agree at all with the policy so many websites out there have where they will ONLY post positive reviews. We don’t think it gives a fair impression of what’s available if we only talk about the good stuff. Besides, we want the author to know why we didn’t necessarily care for the book in a good way so they can take our comments back to the drawing board when it comes time to write the next book. If no one ever says when something isn’t stellar, how does the author know what needs improved?

Now I’m the one who is rambling. Can you tell I feel strongly about that? LOL

So I guess in short, I hope that when people visit our site they will come to associate quality constructive reviews with our name, whether the review be positive or negative. We want to be known for our honesty and our support of the publishing world.

TMD: Okay, Morgan O. I’ll ask her. Along the same lines, what makes a good book? And what qualities turns a book into a 5 Klover Recommended Read?

KH/CK2: Actually our recommended reads don’t necessarily have to be a 5 Klover rated review. We have one criteria for selecting a recommended read. It has to touch the reviewer deeply in the heart. The book may not be perfect but it can still have a powerful impression on the emotions. And that’s what we base a recommended read on. Whatever book really got to the heart of the reviewer. Some months someone may not have read a book like that, so they don’t pick a recommended read.

A great book has a good balance of everything – strong plot with believable conflict, characters that grab us and don’t let go, whether they be “good” or “bad” guys. Characters acting in accordance with their personality. Don’t make some macho guy suddenly go all wimpy or have some virginal young miss suddenly turn into a sexpot without the proper development heading that direction. We want to feel what’s happening and see lots of emotion. Everything needs to be tied together nicely by the end of the story. While it may not be the responsibility of the author, we want to see good editing. Nothing yanks me out of a story faster than some glaring error that should have been caught long before the publication of the book. While it’s a given there will be the occasional mistake in the book, when there is a lot of poor writing or bad editing, no matter how strong the plot and characters are, the book is going to be ruined.

The most important thing for me as a reader and reviewer is that when I read a book, I want to be swept away into another time or place for a while and when I turn the final page, I want to do so with a little disappointment that the story had to end.

TMD: Reviewers and writers have a lot in common. We both started out as avid readers. Will you tell us what was the first romance novel you read that made you say, Wow!

KH/CK2: I know my first romance novels were the classic Gothic authors – Victoria Holt, Phyllis A Whitney and the like. What was my very first romance novel I can’t recall anymore. But I still remember the first one that made me think “this is an awesome genre.” That book was A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux. I LOVED that book. And when it was re-released a few years ago in an updated version, I had to have it. And I read both versions back to back to find the differences. That still to this day remains my all time favorite romance novel. And Jude Deveraux became a beloved author of mine as a result of that book.

TMD: With two years under Kwips’ belt how much do you think the romance industry has changed since you opened the review site? And where do you see the industry going?

KH/CK2: I’ve seen various trends in plots and types of story come and go. Several publishers that we always respected and enjoyed working with have gone out of business. More new publishers seem to arise monthly. I’ve come to be able to gauge how long a publisher will be around based on the books we review and the attitudes of the authors when we do or don’t review their books. I’ve noticed that while urban fantasy has been around a while, the genre has just exploded over the past two or three years. GLBT erotica is hugely popular right now and 5 years ago you barely saw any of it. I’ve also noticed that while erotica has been popular for several years now and seems to be growing in the amount of titles released each month, it’s followed closely by inspirational romance. It amazes me that two complete opposite ends of the spectrum seem to be rising in popularity at the same time.

TMD: Okay, it’s that time again. Yes, Kelley you should be afraid. If you found yourself suddenly thrown into a romance novel and could pick what kind… Would your bodice be ripped or would you run with the children of the night?

No, Jmo, we’ll have the cake after her bodice is ripped, uh, I mean she answers the question.

KH/CK2: There’s that mention of cake again and I still haven’t gotten any… Would I be a bodice ripper or a child of the night? Definitely a child of the night. I’ve never been a fan of the “bodice ripper” type stories and actually just recently did a blog on that very topic (hopefully this link will work: ), wondering why it was such a fascinating concept to most people. I’d much rather have a sexy shape shifter, vampire, sorcerer or the like. And I’ve always loved wolves so I’d love the opportunity to experience the life of one, first hand, even if it was only some of the time.

TMD: Kelley thanks for joining us today. Before you leave please let our readers know where they can find out more about Kwips and Kritiques and is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know about before we cut the cake. Oh, be sure to include urls and the like.

KH/CK2: Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of The Morgan Diaries! And thanks so very much for being such a strong supporter of our little home on the web, ever since we opened our cyber doors! I feel all special that someone wanted to interview ME. CK2S Kwips and Kritiques can be found at We just posted our monthly update this week and we have a brand new contest running all month long to celebrate our birthday. And a little bird told me that the Morgans were kind enough to donate a few books to the prize stash. For folks interested in the contest, the details can be found at
And if any of your readers are interested in reviewing, we are looking for some folks! How to apply is posted on our home page.

And of course I have to give a shout out to the incredible team or reviewers on the site. CK2S would be absolutely nothing without all the help and support everyone provides every single day. So thanks to Anne, Cindy, Crystal, Debbie, Jennifer, Marilyn, Merry, Sandi, Terri, and Tina for all the hard work you all put in every month to make our site such a great place to be! I can honestly say I’d be totally and completely lost without every single one of you!

TMD: Kelley, we wanted to get you something special for Kwips 2nd birthday, but Morgan O. refuses to come off the Nathan Kamp autographed thongs. Now sure but I think she’s wearing them now. So instead, we’re going to wish you many years of happy reviewing and this piece of virtual birthday cake, made with Jmo’s own two hands. JMO! Stop licking the icing off the top. Well, I guess you don’t get the cake either. Sorry, but we do have a chimp who refuses to leave you can have. And no we don’t validate parking.

KH/CK2: Geez, you get me all excited thinking I’m finally going to get some of that cake y’all keep talking about only to find out I can’t have any after all. What’s up with that? I have always thought it would be fun to have a pet monkey though… I wonder how my cats would feel about that?

Thanks again to TMD for inviting me to talk about CK2S Kwips and Kritiques and for helping us celebrate two years in the biz. Here’s to hoping we have many more years to come!

1 comment:

Savannah Chase said...

what a wonderful interview, I loved reading it.....congrats