The Art of Writing Reviews
Why write a review?
The first answer is that authors love reviews, most of a little more than we should. Good or bad, they show that someone read our book and cared enough to write down their thoughts.
The second answer is that it will make you a better writer for your own books. Reviewing requires you think critically about what you read. More than whether or not you liked it, but why. Answering that why will help you spot issues in your stories. Also learning what makes you like or dislike a book will help you write a book you like.
So here’s an article I wrote for a review blog:
I’m Alex McGilvery and I used to be a book reviewer. Celticfrogreviews has reviews of hundreds of books of many genres. Sadly, I’ve had to give it up after three decades, mostly because the reading and writing cut into my own work as author and editor.
This is my process for writing a book review. There are probably as many ways to write reviews as there are reviewers. The blogs (aside from mine) I wrote for liked between 250 and 350 words, but you don’t have to worry too much about length as long as the information is there.
First and most importantly, be honest. If you don’t like a book, say that, but to be useful to the reader you need to say why you didn’t like it. Was it the characters? The plot? The way the book was written? You should answer the same questions if you do like the book. This could be a one sentence starter to the review to grab the reader’s interest.
The actual review for me starts with a brief summary of the plot of the first part of the book. Spoilers are bad for the author and the reader. Unless Joe dies in the first quarter of the book, don’t talk about how Joe’s death ruined the book for you. If the book is part of a series and Joe was a major character in earlier books, you might want to think about mentioning it at all. The purpose of the summary is not to give detailed information about the book in any case. It does a couple of things. It lets the person reading your review know you read the book, and it shows your take on the early going of the plot. Some people just quote the back matter, but I like using my own words.
Once you’ve got that snippet of where the book is going, I suggest you talk about the writing. Were the characters strong and believable? Was the plot a tired old trope, or something more interesting? Did the author’s writing style/voice enhance or get in the way of the story? This is a paragraph, not a detailed analysis of the book. I give just enough to support the conclusion I made at the beginning of the review. If you want to gush a bit about the book, here’s the place.
Now, I close off the review with my
recommendation. Who will like this book? Even if I didn’t enjoy it, is there a
group which might? I didn’t give stars on my blog, but I did on Amazon. It’s
important to pay attention to what the stars mean. 5 stars is an extraordinary
book. One which stands well above the crowd. 4 stars is an excellent book. 3 is
good, 2 is not so good, 1 is a disaster.
In my opinion there is too much fuss made about having high reviews, 4 or 5 stars. If the average number of stars given to books generally is higher than 4, the meaning and purpose of the stars is destroyed. As a statistics professor said to me once, you can’t have more than half the population being above average. So when you give out the stars, refer back to the first bit of advice. Be honest.
One last point, giving an honest low star review is not a catastrophe for the author. All books have poor reviews, because not every book will appeal to every person. If I’ve done my work as an author properly, there will be people who don’t like my book. This is a good thing. Those low reviews give credibility to the high reviews.
There you have it. Feel free to find your own style and voice in reviews, but most importantly, have fun.