Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Review Do's and Don'ts, Back by Popular Demand

I blogged about this last fall, and it's still one of my most popular posts. I thought I'd repeat it today, since I'm swamped at work and have no time to blog. (and yet here I am...)

Let me say up front, though, that leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. It doesn't have to be review site quality. It doesn't have to follow the rules I lay out here (unless you have time and want to.)

You just need to let the author know you liked his or her book. Period. A few short sentences about why you liked it. Did you like the characters? The setting? The plot? The theme? The message? Let the author know what resonated with you. THAT is the most important thing about reviews. Saying to the author adn other readers, "Hey, I read this book a lot and here's why I think you might like it too."

For many people, the idea of writing a book review is a Daunting Task for professionals only, something akin to running a marathon. Or dusting. Other people think writing a review is EXACTLY like writing a book report, and have no qualms about adding spoilers that give away key plot points and basically ruin the story for whoever reads the review. One Blogger friend compared spoilers in reviews to movie trailers that give away all the best scenes.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

So what makes a good review, and how do you write one? Well, there’s no one “right” way to write a review, but there are some general guidelines, as well as a few “Don’t Do It” tips that I’d like to share.

What a Review Should Include: “The 5 Ws”

Reviews don’t have to be long or complicated, but they should give the reader a few basics as to who and what the book is about, and what’s different or unique about this author’s take on the subject. 

  • Who are the main characters? Tell us their names and something relevant or memorable about each – as they are introduced at the beginning of the book, not who they are at the end.
  • Where and When does the book take place? Is it a Regency romance novel, or science fiction set on Planet Xenon in the late 40th century? A cowboy mystery in West Texas at the turn of this century? Give us a few sentences to set the scene.
  • What is the main conflict? Usually the back-of-book blurb summarizes the plot, and it might be acceptable to use the author’s phrasing for the conflict if you agree with it – but don’t just regurgitate. Tell us in your own words.
  • Why? Why did you like (or not like) the book?  Why do we care about these characters and what happens to them? Why should we spend our money – and our time – reading this book instead of another?


* DON’T just repeat the back-of-book blurb and then say, “I liked it.” Boring! We can read the blurb for ourselves. WHY did you like it? WHAT made it interesting? Tell us!

* DON’T make the review solely a critique of the author’s writing style. Yes, style is important and warrants notice, but a review should be about the story and characters too. And, as an addendum to that…

* DON’T make the review a critique of the author as a person. Have you met the author and loved her? Hated him? Have you written a similar book that you think is much better? None of that is relevant to the review of this particular book.

* DON’T give away key plot points. If one of the key characters dies in a battle scene and the hero has to bring her back to life, DON’T tell us about it! Let us get to that scene in our own sweet time. If it’s a romance, we expect the Happily Ever After, but DON’T tell us which guy the heroine chooses – that ruins all the suspense! And as for mysteries – just DON’T. Giving away whodunit is a big no no.

* DON’T be boring. If the review sounds ho hum, how will it compel others to read the book? Again, focus on WHY you liked the story, the characters, the conflict, the writing…

Think of it this way: You’re having coffee with a friend and tell her you just read a great book. She says, “Tell me about it.” What would you say to explain WHY you loved the book?

Once you’ve answered the basic questions, you’re well on your way to writing a great review. Remember, what makes a review “great” is not the heaping of praise on the author, but helping other readers decide if they’ll enjoy the book.

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