The Saturday Series On Reviews #1: with guest post from Barbara Silkstone
Today starts a new series (that I already have several weeks blocked out). I hope to talk to you: the reader, the author and the reviewer – really anyone who uses, requests, writes or even happens upon reviews in their life with books.
My vision? To offer a series of posts that will cover all sorts of topics:
What is a review
What purpose do they serve
Who can write a review – what do you need to know
How to determine the best books for you to review, and identifying your own personal prejudices when reading
Formulating a review, how to get the important bits in and what parts to ignore
Positivism and the importance of being honest
How to constructively criticize including examples
How to request a review of your own work
How to find a reviewer that speaks to your needs when buying a book
It’s really all that simple, and since there are so many different elements and parts, it will be an ongoing series that will have lots of info – and be kept organized on a page under REVIEWS in the menu. There will also be information from authors, their feelings about reviews, what is good / bad / indifferent – and their process when the seek reviewers for their books.
And please – feel free to comment and ask questions – I’ll answer questions each week! And now for the First Post
What is a Book Review?
A book review is, quite simply, a form of literary criticism that evaluates the work on three main points: content, style and merit. The review can be primarily an opinion piece, a less personalized summary review or a more technical and scholarly review. At no point should a book review delve into personal attack of the author, or fail to mention a personal dislike when that dislike is reflected in the overall rating.
Opinion pieces will comprise the majority of reviews that you, the reader and purchaser of books will encounter. While an opinion piece SHOULD contain information about grammatical elements, construct and originality of theme and story arc, book reviewers are individuals and each will have their own level of comfort and familiarity with those elements.
Summary reviews are, in my opinion, the cheater’s way out. A summary or teaser for the story should be provided in the book blurb: the recounting of the plot points is unnecessary for most situations. Summary reviews will, all too often, read more like a grade 5 book report than a review, and tell the reader nothing about the quality of the writing or why they should read the story.
Scholarly reviews are university grade evaluations of a book: often discussing metaphor and analogy, the use of different techniques and punctuation to put a feel or point across. These are less often encountered in the world of popular fiction, although composing and writing a scholarly review is often great practice for book reviewers looking to provide that little extra complexity in their review. Additionally, the experience gained from having written a scholarly review or literary critique will give the reviewer a great foundation when looking for examples and elements that will encourage others to purchase the book.
What can a review do for an author or reader?
Depending on the site and the context, reviews can mean the difference between an author having opportunities for promotion, inclusion on lists, and even an increase in sales. Everyone likes being noticed and told they have done a good job: reviews are one way that you, the reader, can thank the author for their work and effort. BUT, while an author should never write for a review anyone who is reviewing should also never write a review for benefit from the author. Honest, thoughtful and well-thought out reviews are the goal, and reviewers should really be writing with the goal to encourage the right reader for the book to buy and read the book they have reviewed.
It sounds really simple, and essentially it is. You read the book – the whole book, you decide what you like and didn’t, you think of who you know would like it, or think about other books that you have read that gave you the same feeling – and you write your review as if you are writing to that audience. You include things that are important to you: grammar, characters, love story, sex, world building, adventure – and you tell everyone what made this book work or not in those elements.
Now, while I won’t claim to be able to write a final review in 5 or 10 minutes, I can jot down notes as if I were telling a friend to read the book – and then edit and polish it later. That’s how I write all of my reviews, adjusted for the audience, the genre and the book itself – and that’s how you can write a review!
Reviews take five minutes to write but can affect the entire life of a book. They are the fuel that stokes the engine. Without reviews even the very best book can slip down the slippery slope and disappear.
You will be surprised how good you feel when you write an encouraging review after reading a book… cover to cover. If you decide the book is not for you because of writing style or genre, then be kind enough to not spoil the fun for other readers who may enjoy it.
New releases are like new born babies. They need support before they can stand on their legs and run. An author may have given months if not years to birthing that book. It can take a few cruel words to kill that baby.
I follow Thumper’s rule: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
~Barbara Silkstone, author of the Wendy Darlin Comedic Mystery Series
Next week – Elements of reviews: who can review, what do you need to know, choosing your genre.