Today starts a monthly feature here at my blog called Three By Three, where I solicit three tips from three pros on some particular aspect of writing and publishing. We’re fortunate enough today to have three people who do reviewing on a regular basis, if not for a living. Their sites are visited by thousands of people every month. People read their reviews and recommendations on books and buy based upon these. This happens because people respect their opinions. They give honest, tactful reviews even when they dislike a book. They give reasons A, B, and C to either read or not read a particular book. These are the sort of people you want reviews from, because there are readers out there who listen to what they have to say. So, I believe what they have to say about reviewing is important. They do it right. If you post reviews or want to review books you read, I think you will do yourself a favor by heeding their tip on reviewing. In no particular order, here’s some advice from each.
1. Note the quotes. Some reviewers take notes and write in the margin; I’m more of a “fold the paper down on the page I need” person. But a good review, to my mind, uses the author’s own words to illustrate the point the piece needs to make, and that can’t happen without finding a few quotes. Caveat: this only applies to reviews longer than about 500 words or so, and especially longer essays. Shorter pieces, I don’t bother as much with quotes unless some clearly jump out at me.
2. Keep an open mind. Yes, there are books that might not be to your taste (I’m more of a hardboiled/noir fan than a cozy reader, for example.) But every once in a while a book comes along that upends your assumptions and those are good – it keeps the reading channels open and receptive to new possibilities.
3. Be tough, but be fair. It’s easy to resort to snarky rants in a book review, or worse, condescend to the reader. But far more helpful is for a reviewer to explain why a book didn’t work – because what doesn’t appeal to the reviewer may be the exact thing that pique’s a reader’s interest. And when it comes to a debut novel, unless there’s a good reason to pan it – marketing interest, celebrity, etc – I tend to err on the side of favoring good books I love rather than mediocre books I don’t care all that much about.
From Jane Litte, who reviews at: http://dearauthor.com
I try to include in a review what I want to know as a reader. When I read a review, I want to know a little about the plot beyond what the blurb tells me. I want to know how well done the character arc is and how believable the world building is. If there is something shocking in the book, I want to know that as well. I don’t need to know what is shocking but that I should be prepared for a surprise. I also want to know if there are some recognizable tropes or triggers. I want to know what the best thing is about the book and what the worst thing is about the book. All of these things help me to make the decision whether this book is worth spending my time and money. Not everyone agrees that these things should be included in a review, but these are the things that I look for and when I craft a review, I am writing it with those loose guidelines in mind. In shorthand, write the review that you want to read.
1. Sometimes, you LOVE a book, and sometimes you want to throw it at a hard surface. That’s not so difficult to describe. But other times, you’re trying to articulate a feeling like “meh,” and those can be the most critical and difficult reviews to write. But they are the ones that make you a better reviewer.
2. Every now and again, give yourself the opportunity to read a book with no intention of reviewing it. You need to remember to read for enjoyment, without critical note taking going on in your brain.
3. I cannot say this enough: you are entitled to your opinion of a book. It’s your opinion. You are not wrong. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you you are wrong, or that you’re mean. Whether you bought the book, or were given a copy of review, your opinion is your opinion, and you are not wrong for having one.
Hopefully, if you like to review or plan on reviewing books on your own blog or someone else’s, you will take the advice here to heart and apply it. As an author, reviews are important to me. I like to hear people’s opinions on my work, and yes, even when they don’t like my work. What and how people take my stories makes me think how I am impacting the reader. While one, individual opinion certainly won’t make me alter anything in my writing, if 9 out of 10 reviews are saying the same sort of thing, it might make me consider what I’m doing, good or bad, and make alterations in the future. Because I don’t just write for myself. I write because I want and like other people to read my stories and hopefully be entertained.
Remember, you can post reviews in the comments at my 11/15 post for a chance to get signed cover flats or an early copy of my debut, Deadworld. You can post them here as well. This will run the rest of the month, and I will be doing a monthly review post for new releases each month where you can post your opinions on what’s new in UF/PNR. Those of you who post reviews each month will get a chance to win. So, don’t be shy! If you’ve read a UF/PNR book released in the past two months, let’s here what you have to say!