Writing Book Reviews
A question I get asked often is “other than buying more books, how do I support your (or another author’s) work?” And the answer is: Write Book Reviews.
WHY WRITE REVIEWS?
Word of mouth promotion is amazingly important. I can buy as many ads and flashy graphics as I want (and can afford), but a cogent review of one of my books is worth a hundred of these. (And costs nothing more than a few minutes.) If you like an author’s work and want to see more of it, the most effective thing you can do to guarantee that happens (other than buy 100,000 copies of that author’s book) is to write a stellar, honest, heart-felt review.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The assumption here is that you’re writing to support an author. If you want to write a review that dismisses an author, warns readers away from their books (as though that’s your job), or expresses how you feel insulted by a book, this is not a guide for you. You might want to re-examine your priorities and not waste any more time on a book that has rubbed you so wrong.
HOW DO I WRITE A REVIEW?
A review is just a piece of text, from a single sentence to several paragraphs. There are a number of points it should hit (I’ll get into it below), but there are three concepts to keep in mind:
1) INTEGRITY: Reviews that baldly praise a novel as “the best thing EVAR!” without giving any reason are just as bad as reviews that dismiss a novel as “crap,” etc. without any more explanation. The review needs to represent how you really feel, and it needs to be supported by what you say about the book.
If you thought it was a good book, tell us why. Do you like the characters, the story, the concepts? What do you want to see next? What you want is for people to read your review “I can tell this person was really pleased by the book, so maybe I would be too” and/or go “ah, that’s something that sounds like something I’d like.”
Have integrity: be HONEST and FAIR in your review.
2) PERSPECTIVE: Not everyone is going to like every book, but if you’re writing a review, then obviously you respect that author and want to see his/her work continue. Do not make the mistake of thinking that your reaction to a particular book (positive or negative) is the objectively accurate one or that it will be shared by everyone.
It’s ok to give a positive review to a book you didn’t particularly enjoy, if the writing style is good or you think others would enjoy it. That’s the purpose in writing a review: to tell others that they should read it. If there is a ratings system (like a number of stars) attached, do NOT give the book a low rating just because you didn’t find it personally to your taste. Give it the rating you feel is fair to the author and the work.
Also, if you really didn’t like a book, question why you’re bothering to review it at all. Not everyone is going to like every book. Do not get it in your head that it’s your duty to “warn people away” from a book you didn’t happen to like. I have read equal numbers of reviews from readers who consider my novel “Depths of Madness” to be their favorite Forgotten Realms novel (which is pretty high praise, considering the 250+ FR novels) and many who are disgusted with it and can’t imagine anyone liking it.
Maintain the perspective that not everyone has the same perspective you do.
3) POSITIVITY: Regardless of how you feel about a novel or what you say about it, be positive. The internet is already full up of negativity. If you really loved a novel, say so, and say why. If you liked aspects of the novel but disliked others, present those latter aspects as “areas of growth.” Remember, you’re posting a review to express your enthusiasm for a novel or for an author’s work. Don’t get wrapped up in negativity–it’ll come off as off-putting and not accomplish your goal.
Ultimately, stay positive.
PARTS OF A REVIEW
Your review should cover the following basic areas:
1) Identification: This is 1-2 sentences about the title, the author, the series, and maybe the main characters (if they are from another book).
2) Synopsis: Basically, tell the basic story in 2-3 sentences. It may be like a movie trailer (“In a world . . .”) or it may be just a basic “These heroes have to deal with this plot to do this” or something like that. Avoid spoilers, as most of the people who read the review won’t have read the novel. The idea here is to give people a basic sense of what they can expect from the story.
3) Highlights: Tell us (in a sentence or a paragraph each) your favorite things about the novel. Three (3) is a good number of things to list, but you can list as many as 10-12 or even more. Tell us what about the thing made you like it, for instance, “I love Erevis Cale because of his moral ambiguity–it keeps you guessing.” Do not just say “I love XXXXX” and leave it at that, unless you’re going to make a cute reference like: “Fox-at-Twilight. You’ll see what I mean.”
4) Areas of Growth: No book is perfect, and all books can grow. This is where you talk about the areas you think could have used more development, should have been downplayed more, or you could have taken or left altogether. Restrict this to three (3) items or so, lest you run the risk of sounding too negative. (Remember, if you’re listing dozens of negatives, you should reconsider posting the review in the first place.) This is also a chance to talk about the path forward for the story, or what you think would help make a character you liked even more awesome.
5) Summary Statement: This is your last impression, and is your chance to sum up the experience, compare the work to other works, or just tell us how you feel about the book. If you’re really passionate about it, let it out here.
Best of luck!