October 20, 2013

Wonder what to say in a book review?

Many readers say they would write book reviews if they knew what to say.  For some it feels like those old book reports we used to have to do for school...in other words, not at all pleasant.  It's actually a lot easier than you might think.  Here are some suggestions:

If you can summarize the storyline or character's issues in a sentence or two, begin with that. There's no need to recount the entire plot; potential readers can look at the product description for that.

Simply say what you liked about the book. Did it make you feel like you were the proverbial fly on the wall observing the action unfold? Did the dialogue ring true? Was the book a true representative of its genre (i.e., romance should have romance, mysteries should have mystery)? Did you simply like the author's style?  Say so.

Please, please, please do not give any spoilers.  Nothing makes me grit my teeth more than reviewers who unwittingly give away plot twists that are supposed to come as surprises to the readers.  I say "unwittingly" because I simply don't believe it is their intent to ruin the reading experience of others; I think it's more of a case of them writing their thoughts without realizing what it would give away.

Now, chances are that you didn't like the book. Some readers choose not to review books they disliked. Others prefer to.  Either is fine, but please remember, you can be critical without being nasty.  Maybe it had too much unnecessary information or meaningless chatter between characters ("filler"), was repetitive, felt bland or flat, was littered with typos or had continuity errors, went into detail about the obvious but glossed over the confusing, had loose threads or story arcs that went nowhere, unlikeable characters, etc. 

You can like a book but still point out some things that bothered you, which will often help the author understand why you liked the book but only gave it a 3, or raved about it but only gave it a 4. 

End your review with whether or not you would recommend the book, and to who ("if you love a good love story," if you like a juicy drama," "if you like a sexy romance," etc.).

That's pretty much it.  Easy as riding a bike, right?  A final word: Your rating should reflect your feelings about the contents of the book only.  It's not fair to take off points because you wanted it to be longer (especially if the book was advertised as a short story or novella), or because you didn't like the cover, or because you had trouble getting a physical book delivered or with the download of an eBook (the latter is often done without reading the book itself).  On the other hand, nor is it fair to give a high rating because the book was delivered promptly or in good condition, was a smooth download, which is also done without reading the book.  I haven't seen any authors complain about this, including those who loudly object to the former set of circumstances, but face it, folks, it's a two-way street.

Happy reviewing!