One think I encourage my students to do is become a book reviewer. It not only helps you figure out what makes a story work (or not work), but it also lets you see who’s publishing what and where your story might fit into the current market.
Today’s guest blogger has some great tips on how not to review a book…
This post assumes that you are one of the precious few who write – or plan to write – reviews of the books you’ve read. I love you already!
A book is not just about the plot and the syntax and the characters, it is also the toil and sweat and blood of the author, so it’s always a great idea to let the author know what you like about their story. And also what you don’t like, but be aware that nobody writes a horrible story on purpose, so be gentle.
I’m not going to talk about what to put in a book review – there are tons of posts about that – but I will tell you about the things you should avoid at all costs:
- Don’t read a genre you hate, even if your favorite niece recommends the book – and, if you do pick up the book, and are able to make your way to the end of it, don’t review it. Unless – surprise, surprise – you love the story despite the genre!
- Don’t review from memory. Make little notes as you read – about the good things and the bad things, and why you liked or didn’t like the characters or the dialogue or the plot, so that your review isn’t generic and bland. If you are a tiny bit specific, the author can learn about what works and what doesn’t work for her readers. Her next book could hit the spot if she paid attention to what you noticed.
- Don’t give the plot away. Please don’t.
I read a great piece of advice from Debbie Haupt over at Romance University – don’t reveal details of anything that happens after the first one-third of the book. It is perfectly all right to hint that there are unexpected twists, or a surprising ending, but don’t bring up specifics: if a key character dies, or the heroine gets pregnant, or a missing sister turns up out of the blue, bear in mind that other readers won’t want to know it beforehand. Best not to spoil the suspense for them.
- Don’t be too verbose. Although you are the best judge of how much you want to say about a book that you liked (or didn’t like), a lot can be said in just a few words. Succinct reviews are harder to write but are easier for another potential reader to assimilate, especially when all she wants to quickly know is if she should pick up the book or leave it where it is.
- Don’t make the review about the author. Don’t bash the author if you didn’t like the book. Avoid cussing, avoid sarcasm. As I mentioned before, the author probably did not write a horrid book on purpose, so don’t even bash the book – even if it was a complete waste of your time. Find something nice to say. Read some of the other reviews of the book – maybe you’ll discover why others like it (if they do). If nobody likes it, let it go. Don’t add to the cacophony. Put it down to experience!
- If you have to give your review a title (as, for example, on Amazon), don’t just copy-paste a few words from the review into the title. Make the title descriptive and unique to the book. This means that, instead of titling your review ‘This book is just…’, call it ‘An exciting adventure into outer-space’, or ‘A romance that will gladden your heart.’
- If you can’t get started on a review, try this little trick suggested by Luisa Plaja on BookTrust: Don’t direct your review to the author of the book – pretend, instead, that you’re talking to another person who has asked you why you think she should read this particular book.
- Finally, don’t be ungracious, or as John Updike exhorts: Better to praise and share than blame and ban.
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