Monday, August 01, 2011

Book Review Dos and Don'ts

There is something disheartening about reviews. Either a whole bunch of negative people review a book, most of whom have no sense of spelling, grammar, or punctuation, let alone story, plot, characterization, or few people write a review. They might email and tell the author the enjoyed the book and try to engage the author in a long, drawn out email conversation, which isn't productive and often means time lost writing, or they come up to an author at a con or book signing and gush about a book, never having taken the time to go online and review the book.

In this cyber age, it is important to put the remarks in writing -- and not just the negative remarks since that seems to be most of the kinds of reviews made. So many people with so many grudges. You can tell the author how much you liked a book, or books, but put it in writing. Amazon has the most visible and oft used review system of all the bookstores, but take the time to cut and paste your comments into B&N, Goodreads, or your favorite indie bookstore, like Powell's, all of which have good review forums.

One thing the online review process has created is a forum for the discontented and disgruntled to write their opinions and be heard. It's best if authors don't check the websites very often. It can be deflating, disheartening, and downright down casting if you've a thin skin or are new to the game. It seems people like to trash an author's work, but there are plenty of reviewers (and I use the term loosely) who have not a clue how to write or score a review, so I'll offer a couple of points.

First, if you liked the book but it had a few errors in formatting (check for an updated copy if it's a free review copy) and the story didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, and was well written, the least score should be 3 stars. Giving a writing 2 stars and saying how much you enjoyed the book is like sending mixed signals on a first date. Good thing the author can't drop a roofie in your drink and have their wicked way with you.

Secondly, if you loved the book and there were no errors or formatting problems, and the story was well written overall, give it 5 stars. The more errors or the more problems you had with the story, down grade by 1-star increments.

Two-star reviews are for those books that had merit but were not particularly well written, had too many formatting or spelling/grammar/punctuation errors and didn't come up to the mark.

One-star reviews are reserved for utter crap, including that the author couldn't write his or her way out of a paperback with a hole it and a sharp knife to hand.

Above all, be fair. Be honest. And don't take out your bad day on the author. It's not their fault.

If the book didn't end the way you wanted it to, don't take that out on the author either. It is the author's view and not yours. If you want a different ending, write one, but don't penalize the author by exercising your fits of pique with a low review when otherwise the book was good, or even excellent.

Reviewing is an art form that professionals learn how to do through years of experience and background in writing critiques. Reviewing in the cyberworld is somewhat different and mostly akin to a group of people talking about a book in a book club or among a group of friends. Keep that in mind. Very few reviewers are professionals on Amazon, but a few pros do slip through from time to time. Learn to write a substantive critique and keep it clean.

It's a tough world out there and Amazon reviews are the currency favored by the market right now. If you need help writing a review, ask someone with some experience, or write it the way you would tell it to a friend. Use a voice recorder if it helps.

Review books, preferably on days you're not having a major case of PMS, haven't fought with your boyfriend/girlfriend/boss/mother/father/siblings, got up on the right side of the bed, and didn't have car trouble or a bad hair day. Reviews are about the book, not your personal perils and petulance.

You can say whatever you like but do it with some class. It makes a difference.

1 comment:

Helen Ginger said...

I'm not a professional reviewer. I know that. I do, however, review books on my blog. When I do, I then put the review on Amazon, B&N, and GoodReads. (Now that I know about Powell's, I'll put it there.) I don't review books I don't like. (Guess that's the amateur in me.) If I don't like a book, I don't finish it. I move on to one that appeals more to me. That doesn't mean I give every book I read 5 stars, though.