There IS a Wrong Way to Write a Book Review!

What not to do when writing a book review – and what to do instead.

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This week I read a blog post that asserted there is no right or wrong way to write a book review. The writer made some good points, particularly about reviews needing to be individual and personal responses to a book, but I disagree with the basic premise of the article.

I am writing this post from the perspective of a reader, not an author, and I realise that some people won’t agree with me, so let me explain my reasons.

A book review should never recount the story of the book. It shouldn’t give spoilers. Yet time after time, I see reviews that do exactly that. My issue is that if I already know what is going to happen, I feel as though I no longer need to read the book. The joy of the journey has been neutralised. That review has effectively cost the author a sale. 

In all honesty, I hate blurbs that do this, too. As a reader, that’s one of the quickest turnoffs when I’m looking at a book. 

Don’t give me a summary. Give me teasers, give me feelings, give me thoughts and observations. Pique my interest. Make me want to read it for myself, instead of making me feel as though I already have. 

A good review doesn’t have to be long or complicated.  It does needs to be at least 20 words in length, which gives you room to say whether you enjoyed the book and why. One or two sentences will do the trick.  There is no obligation to write any more than that if you don’t want to. 

  • If you do want to write more, you can consider including the following ideas: 
  • Why you liked or disliked it. Remember that others may like what you disliked, and vice versa, so try to be kind. 
  • What important ideas the story made you think about – love, anger, justice, revenge, pain, fear, overcoming… anything that is relevant to you is a valid point for comment.
  • What the characters are like as people, and what we learn from them Did the writer’s style impress you in any particular way?
  • Was it easy to read and understand, or did you have to really work at it?
  • Who else might like to read it? Think about interests, age group, and genres here. 

This will help you to write a review that is interesting in itself, and which will encourage the right readers to choose that particular book. In that way, you’ll help both the author and prospective readers at the same time. 

What A ‘Critical Review’ Really Means.

How to respond to a review that you see as less than ideal.

Ignorance is, for some people, bliss.

However, when that translates into comments in their book reviews, it can also be rather revealing.

I’m not talking about the nasty trolls who leave one-star ratings with hateful comments that demonstrate no evidence of even having read your book. Those are in a class all of their own, and way beyond anything I could logically explain.

I’m talking about the reviewers who buy and read a book, then leave a review that leaves you with more questions than answers.

Consider these examples. In the interests of brevity, I have paraphrased them.

 

Facepalm 1

What they wrote: “A mix of Romeo and Juliet with Rapunzel… too much like spoiled five-year-olds instead of sixteen-year-olds. Sex on the first day? 2 stars.”
What I thought:
Have you even read Romeo and Juliet? Or watched the movie? Those were Shakespeare’s ideas, not mine.
Oh well. Some people don’t like his writing, either. I’m in good company.

 

facepalm-6.png


What they wrote:
“I didn’t expect a horror story.”
What I thought:
But it clearly says it’s a horror story! Did you read the product description? Did you check the categories in which it’s listed? Obviously not.
Wait.
Does that mean you “one-clicked” me? Awesome!

 

Facepalm 4

What they wrote: “I don’t read poetry. I don’t like it and I don’t understand it. So I didn’t really understand this book of poetry. But it was OK I guess.”
What I thought:
If you don’t read poetry… and you don’t like poetry… why would you buy a book of poetry?
Wait.
You “one-clicked” me, didn’t you? Alright!

 

Freakin’ A! I have two fans who buy my books, even though they don’t like what I write. Brilliant. Now I just need about a million more and I’ll be set.

To be honest, I actually very rarely read my reviews. Those are there for the benefit of other customers who need to know if they want to read my books (they do) and if they’ll enjoy them (they will).

Oh No Raccoon 2014-09-12 18.07.36

I certainly don’t respond to them. That’s like hanging a target on your own back, and can cause far more heartbreak for an author than any review ever might have done.

Of course, the stores like us to get reviews, too. Amazon say it’s to inform other customers, but every Indie author I know thinks it’s so that they have something to feed their algorithm monster in the basement, and so they have something to take away from us when it appears we’re doing a little too well. Thankfully, other stores let us keep the reviews we get.

I don’t worry about the occasional baffling review. Reviewers are so rare that I’m reluctant to complain. Besides, it balances all those lovely shiny five star ones and makes everything look much more realistic. I don’t think any writer can reasonably hope for their work to be loved by everyone.

If your reviews are consistently negative, it’s fair to assume you probably have some work to do. The best way to avoid that happening is to ensure your book is properly proof-read, edited, and has been given a thorough working over by beta readers. You’re not doing yourself any favours by skipping those things. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth doing it properly.

Squirrel 2014-08-14 21.04.23

A critical review here and there doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, nor that your book is terrible. It just means that your book, like any other author’s book, isn’t to everyone’s taste. And that’s perfectly okay.

The best response is to ask yourself if there’s anything useful you can take from it, make a note, and walk away.