Wednesday, March 6, 2013

HOW TO WRITE A PROPER BOOK REVIEW


The Purpose of a Review: Authors vs. Readers

Reviews can make or break careers and should be taken seriously - after all, it is through word of mouth that a book may become viral. As a reviewer you may not have given thought to the importance, author appreciation, (and sometimes) devastation, born of the time you take to share your thoughts about a book, publicly, for all to see.

The process of writing a proper review is simple and doesn’t have to be time consuming. In fact, it shouldn’t be time consuming.

When the review is positive; it means the world to an author.
When it is negative; (if done properly) it will act as an important learning tool to better our books. Writing is a never ending process of evolution and improvement, for which you can never be done; regardless of how many times you’ve been on the Bestseller’s list

Now, I know your job as a reviewer is technically not about teaching the authors, but a proper review will also allow potential purchasers to make an educated decision as to whether they should spend their money – which is the actual job; and sole purpose, of a review. Just saying you love or hate a book, really tells a potential reader nothing and is an utter waste of your time and theirs. Not to mention, its validity is often deemed suspect.

A Book Review is your opinion as to whether (and why) a book is good or bad...nothing more; nothing less.



Let’s get the DO NOT’s out of the way first…


DO NOT write a book synopsis/summary…

For starters, they take too long to read and buyers want to get in and out of there fast. More importantly, that’s what the book blurb at the top is for. The author’s summary is written to highlight specific plot information without spoilers and should not be revealed out of context without the reader first following the build-up of the story line. Often, novice reviewers think writing a summary of the story is “being thorough”. It’s not. It’s actually ruining the experience for the potential reader and possibly discouraging sales for the author who has put their hard work into developing the plot at a specific pace which cannot be replicated in a summary; however long it may be.


DO NOT mention key plot points…

Say the main premise of a book is an ax murderer who hunts his victims at a camp ground and the hero saves the campers when he finds out the murderer had been abused by councilors of the camp as a child, but the only person who he ever loved was a girl who had been kind to him there, so they contact the girl and she talks the guy into turning himself in. (Pulled that one out of thin air)

You would not want to mention ANY of the specifics above. That is divulging important key plot points, killing the story for readers and taking away the surprise and excitement of the read. 

This is what they mean by spoilers.



Types of reviews…

Now, there are those who prefer to write a short review and those who like to get deeper into it, really detailing their review. Either is fine and can work to convey your opinion. Amazon allows a reviewer to write as few as 25 words to publish their review.

If short is your thing, pick and choose a few of the items from the checklist (below) which left a lasting impression and molded your overall opinion of the book.

If a longer review is your preference, use the following checklist as a guideline to move through the process.



Here is a checklist for those who wish to write a solid professional style review. You can use them all or you can pick and choose from the list and create a review which focuses on what stood out and was important to you.

I will also post examples below each suggestion; note that they answer the questions without giving actual facts and details.



What caught your eye first, the cover or the title? Or, did the book come recommended to you by a friend or a marketing ad?

Example: The cover caught my eye while browsing the author’s blog.

…Or, The book was recommended to me by my Aunt Sally.

(Why is this helpful? Because it allows the reader to get an idea of whether they have similar taste to you or if you just stumbled upon the book.)



Did the opening sentence or paragraph draw you in immediately, or did the book take a while to grab you? (Or did it never really grab you at all?)

Example: The book drew me in from the very first line.

…Or, the book was slow to start, but once it got going, I couldn’t put it down.

…Or, I struggled to get into this book.



Was the overall plot a new twist on an old tale or a truly original idea?

Example: If you enjoyed THE NOTEBOOK, P.S. I LOVE YOU, or THE ENGLISH PATIENT you’ll love this book.

…Or, This book was a new take on OF MICE and MEN.

…Or, I found the plot to be fresh and like nothing I’ve read before.



How was the pace of the story? (Did you feel it was rushed? Slow in parts? Did it flow? Did you find yourself confused by too many or not enough details?)

Example: The author has a tendency to be overly descriptive and wordy, because of this; I had a hard time following this story line.

…Or, the story was well written, fast paced and action packed.

…Or, the story was a little slow at first, but really picked up by the middle.

…Or, there were entirely too many characters for me to keep up with.



Did you enjoy the author’s style?

(You can mention if it was literary or commercial style, if you understand the difference – you shouldn’t guess if you really don’t know.)

Example: The author’s style was conversational and easy.

…Or, the author’s style was a bit heavy for my taste.

…I could easily see this translating to film; it read very much like a movie.



How was the character development? (Did you love the characters? Hate them? Was there too much detail, or not enough? Did they feel real?)

Example: I fell in love with the protagonist.

…Or, the characters felt so believable.

…Or, I found the characters to be very one dimensional and unrealistic.



Did the book contain a twist, a shocker, or did you see it all coming?

Example: This book was full of twists and turns.

…Or, I was disappointed in the end because I had it all figured out by chapter three.



Did you wish the story could go on forever and that it would never end? (Or were you glad it was over? Could you not put the book down?)

Example: I couldn’t put this book down!

…Or, Through the entire last chapter, I only read one paragraph per day because I didn’t want it to end.

…Or, I had a really hard time sticking with this story and getting through to the end.



Are you looking forward to reading more by this author?

Example: I’ll be watching for more books from this author and look forward to reading more of their work.

…Or, I will probably pass on future books by this author.


End with a sum…
Example: I recommend this book.
…Or, I highly recommend this book.
…Or, I do not recommend this book.



Example of both styles of reviewing using examples from above…


Long/Positive:

The cover of this book caught my eye while browsing a recommendation email from Amazon. It took me a few pages to get into the story, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. It had subtle similarities to P.S. I LOVE YOU, but with a unique and original twist. The plot was well written with realistic characters and a shocker that will blow your mind! The author’s style was well paced and not excessively wordy. I enjoyed it so much; I cancelled my weekend plans just to stay home and keep reading. I look forward to reading more of the author’s books and highly recommend this read.


Short/Positive:

I really enjoyed this book. If you like modern day romance in a commercial style, this is the read for you! Kudos to the author for an action packed read you won’t be able to put down. Highly recommended read.


Long/Negative:

I saw someone reading this book on the bus and the title seemed interesting. I found the pacing to be slow and the author had a tendency to dwell on details that had nothing to do with the progression of the story line; making it difficult for me to follow. I found the characters to be a bit one dimensional, but there were a few good twists in the plot. Not the right read for me. If you like good commercial fiction that gets down to the action, I do not recommend this book.


Short/Negative:

This book was not my cup of tea. I found the pace to be too slow and overly descriptive, and the characters lacked realism. Not recommended.


(Note on Negative Reviews: There is nothing vicious here and the reviewer remains professional and is not claiming everyone will agree with their view - proven by their use of terms like “I found that...” or “For me...”. 
The reviewer explains what troubled him without giving away plot points; as in, “overly descriptive for my liking and not enough action” vs. "The main character was an idiot and when he killed the dragon with a pebble, I knew I had wasted my money". 
The examples given above are productive reviews that allow a reader to hear what didn’t work for the reviewer, but decide for themselves. 
It also allows the author of the book to consider if these are issues he/she should work on. 
Reviews are meant to be constructive and objective. Your job is to convey your opinion in a professional manner, not to dismantle the fun of a gradually revealed story line for a potential reader; nor is it to destroy an author's career, nor the author’s passion for writing…that wouldn’t be a review; it would be a personal attack and karma will get you!)


A word about spelling, continuity and grammatical errors:

I have heard both sides to this argument and I want to point out that, these days, I find a peppering of errors in even traditionally published novels, by bestselling authors. It happens. I feel a fair rule of thumb is to ask yourself, do the errors in this book negatively impact your ability to enjoy and get lost in the story? Now, for some people, even the most subtle errors, jerk them out of fantasy-land and disrupt their reading experience. For others, it takes a lot of errors to ruin a great plot. Writing a review should not be about trying to make one’s self appear of superior intelligence to the author. If you feel the errors must be addressed, address them professionally and always keep in mind, when reading Indy books, these authors usually cannot afford a professional edit which can run thousands of dollars. Bestsellers and Traditionally published authors have the luxury of an IN-HOUSE EDITOR through their publisher. 

Someone in publishing once told me (don't know if it's true) James Patterson writes his books so quickly (and with a staff of authors to flesh out his ideas) that his manuscripts lack virtually any proper punctuation - just because they're bestselling authors, doesn't mean they know where those commas go! Great authors are great story tellers, not necessarily English professors. 

For me, noting simple errors in a review is silly. I care far more about a good story than an occasional TO when they meant TOO. If the errors make reading near impossible, well... maybe it's something to mention, but it often comes across very holier-than-thou and causes the reader to disconnect from your review and move on.

For the authors, don’t rush to get your books out there. Take your time editing. Choose five random people to beta-read your book and look for errors. It’s difficult to find our own mistakes because our minds know what we’re meaning to say and make wrongful adjustments as we re-read our own work. Beware of peers who call themselves editors and charge a fee for editing your book. Ask them to edit three to five pages of your book as a sample and have it checked over by someone you trust has a decent grasp of the language, because it will never cease to amaze me, how many people THINK they know how to edit and $450 later, you have a book that is in (possibly) WORSE shape than it was when you handed it over in the first place. Set your WORD program to also check grammar errors as well as spelling, and use it as a guide for fragmented sentences and misplaced commas. We’re all anxious to see our work in print, but glaring errors will cause you negative reviews. Take your time and make sure your book is ready for the masses.


18 comments:

  1. Thank you so much Brooklyn! This is going to help me be a better reviewer.

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  2. So glad it will help, Debby.

    xx,B

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  3. Good article. One thing to mention though - we reviewers write for the benefit of other readers; writer's interests are a distant second here. Unless we talk about the book in some detail, sometimes perhaps farther than the author might feel us comfortable doing, there's a very little point of writing a review. Just my opinion, but I think more than a few TAR will agree.

    Cheers!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for weighing in, and I do agree that a review is there for potential readers and not technically for the authors. I feel giving away plot points or discussing details ruins the anticipation and surprise for the reader as much as it hurts the author by introducing plot points out of context.

      I really appreciate your input as a reviewer...thank you again for stopping by.

      Brooklyn

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    2. Brooklyn, I do appreciate what you are trying to say and believe me, many authors feel the same way. Please consider these points, however:

      1. Potential readers want to know what the book is about. Considering 99% of authors cannot write a good book description if you pay them, readers turn to reviews to get some ideas. A detailed review that mentions some of the happening of the storyline in a context will do the trick.

      2. It's impossible to do a book critique without mentioning specifics. Just not happening.

      The examples you've given will not sell any books. They give an impression that the reviewer has not actually read the book in question - it's all generalities. Such a review will not be read. What even more, such reviews might even be removed by Amazon, because they look awfully close to those paid reviews authors get from Fiverr.

      While I personally strive to write short reviews, no more than 500 words, there are some pretty famous, hard to get reviewers out there who will take a book apart and go into some pretty uncomfortable for an author details. So, why do writers try to get those reviews? Because those do make a potential reader stay on the book's page and will increase a probability of a sale. I would direct you to this profile to get an idea of what I am talking about:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/ABN5K7K1TM1QA

      This is just a friendly advice born out of observation of the marketplace, not a criticism. I hope you'll take it as such.

      Cheers!

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    3. As a reader I look to a blurb and reviews for a book choice. I cringe when too many details are given and feel I would have preferred to find them out myself. I avoid the longer reviews basically for that reason--they will surely tell me something I do NOT want to be told yet. Sure--tell me what the story is about, but don't tell me the story!
      As a writer I can learn from well-written criticism and positive reviews that tell me what they liked.
      As for paid reviews--I wonder sometimes if some of the bad reviews aren't the ones being paid for.

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    4. Hi Penelope,

      Read your "Absorbed." Good stuff.

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  4. Great post Brooklyn.
    I hope this truly gets around because there is such great info here about reviewing--PLUS I like the way you used colors to highlight new points and introduced topics. I learned something new with the colors and will integrate it into my blog. In other words--I'M COPYING.
    The postives/negatives are spot on.
    Amazon gives a list of prohibited practices but you are still kind of lost if you have not done it before--or do not do it often. Your examples make it perfectly clear.
    Thanks!! Good stuff here.
    XO
    Pen

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Pen and, please, copy away! I'm still figuring this blog thing out myself. I'm glad you found the post helpful and easy to follow. There was so much to say; I was afraid it was too "all over the place". How hard would it be for Amazon to have a Review Instructions page? Not hard at all. What can you do?
      Please share the page when you can. Maybe we'll see an improvement in reviews at some point; for both readers and writers alike.
      xo, B

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  5. Interesting, Brooklyn :) I leave reviews of books I like or REALLY hate. I see so many summaries I thought I was remiss not putting any in my review. My attitude always has been there are plently of summaries here you don't need mine!

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  6. Thanks Ann, you're so right! Even if we disregard the authors altogether, a proper review is better for readers as well.
    xx, B

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  7. Hi, Brooklyn. *waves* How have you been? It has indeed been far too long. I hope the new year has been treating you well.
    Thanks for the tips. I think I've been following your advice now, but am not so sure about when I first started offering reviews. Hopefully your post will help many newbies - just like we used to be.
    Take care.

    -Jimmy

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  8. Hi, Jimmy. Your ears must have been ringing! We were just saying we hadn't seen you around lately. I hope this means you've been well and hard at work, taping away at the keys.
    As for the post, thank you so much! Yes, we're all inadvertently guilty when we first start out. More often than not, I believe it is the reviewers enthusiasm and love of a book which births a summary rather than a review...they love the book and want to talk about it. However, it is happening more and more, especially on Indy review blogs (which are frequently shared on Amazon). I recently got lucky when a potential reader confronted me and said, I almost bought your book, until I found out it was about a ghost...I hate ghost stories. Of course, I responded...it isn't about a ghost! She had read a five star blog review (for which I was, of course, grateful) but the reviewer had described the events regarding my protagonist's father (OUT OF CONTEXT) which lead this woman to believe it was a ghost story. Now, that reviewer LOVED my book and certainly wasn't attempting to discourage people from reading it. But how many other readers may have been discouraged that I didn't have the chance to explain this to?
    I believe the reviewers often misunderstand that their familiarity with the books (having read them already) causes them to word plot points in a way that can hurt our sales and also divulge too much and leave a potential reader feeling they already know the story. It simply isn't necessary to summarize a book. Talk about style, talk about, quality, originality, emotions, but don't retell parts of the story out of context.

    Okay, I'm off my soap box. Thank you so much for stopping by; it's always a pleasure to hear from you. Big hugs!

    xx, B

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  9. Great post, Brooklyn. Definitely tweeting and passing it around.

    Your comment: 'If the errors make reading near impossible, well... maybe it's something to mention, but it often comes across very holier-than-thou ...' and in my mind if the reviewer does this and types it with their own typos, then I just have to laugh. Glass houses and all that, lol. If you can't type a descent review with few to no errors yourself, then don't be saying the books has them. Just my opinion.

    Anyway, great job. I think it should help if other readers/reviewers can see this.

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    1. Thanks Jac, and I totally agree. The most vicious and petty reviews are typically the one's written by illiterates! LOL

      Thanks for spreading the word...the more people read it, the better. Hope it helps and allows more readers to enjoy the intended suspense and anticipation which makes for the greatest reading experience and escape from the doldrums of life.

      xx,B

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  10. I will definitely keep these pointers in mind the next time I do a review...

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    1. Hey Beth! Thanks for stopping by. So happy to hear you've found the article helpful. You have such a great blog and your reviews are always entertaining.

      Check it out peeps--> http://bethsreviewsandpromotions.wordpress.com/

      Please share this post when possible and let's help keep the reading experience suspenseful and exciting for all.

      Good to hear from you!
      xx, B

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    2. Hi Oleg, thanks for sharing your opinion. I welcome it, as you are a reviewer.
      Let me begin my response by defending what I said above in the actual post… Reviews are not written for authors, but for readers.
      I mention the authors simply because they become very ruffled by negative reviews and a well written review can be a useful tool for authors to improve by. But, as I’ve mentioned in the above post, reviews are technically for readers to decide whether they should purchase that book.
      While I agree with you that there is a way to offer a more detailed review WITHOUT “peeling the onion” and revealing the exciting twists and details of a book, the honest truth is, there are an awful lot of Indy review blogs that are simply written by impassioned readers (sometimes authors) who have not taken the time to learn the TRUE ART of a review (which when done properly, can convey the same excitement and build up as the book itself, without offering the “punch lines”). To do that properly, you must hone the skill; a select few do.
      The above post was spurred by a READER who expressed to me that she read a review of my book and came out believing it to be a ghost story (which she hates). It wasn’t until I offered her my book blurb, that she decided to read it and now…she’s reading it a second time and blasting it as her favorite book of the past several years. That post above IS about readers…not authors. I think we can both logically agree, no one wants to be told the “fun parts”…they want to enjoy the excitement and twists of the buildup and the gradual reveals and shockers peeled away, layer by layer.
      As for the reviews seeming suspicious. How can that be? If the person is detailing what they loved or hated about the book and the style of the author’s writing…there’s nothing suspect there. What is suspect is when someone bashes a book without giving actualities as to why.
      As for Amazon removing said reviews…I have many just like them and Amazon has yet to remove any of them.
      The post above is a guide for those who wish to learn to write a proper review, NOT A SUMMARY; the definitions are clearly different.
      Lastly, your comment proves what we say about reviewers all the time…they believe there views to be FACT rather than OPINION. Eg., You’ve stated…”The examples you've given will not sell any books.” That’s simply not true. The reader reads the book blurb to find out what a book is about…not a review. A review simply stats a readers opinion…not a summary of the plot.
      You also stated…”99% of authors cannot write a good book description if you pay them”. REALLY? 99%? Then they aren’t authors, they’re simply wannabes who need to put some effort into Writing 101.
      99%...REALLY? Again, opinions are not facts.


      Delete

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