Saturday Series: On Reviews # 7 Writing the review – common pitfalls
Last week we discussed deciding on your important concerns when writing a review: what things do you consistently look for when you read someone else’s review? What is important to you in a review? Think about that list, and decide what your KEY points are when you recommend a book to someone else.
It’s actually easy: every review should sound like you are telling your best friend to buy the book. You need to know what you want to mention, and what you shouldn’t do. And to appear professional, you should avoid a few key things.
Simple spelling and grammar errors instantly discount the value of your review to the casual reader. These are easily sorted by running your post through a spell and grammar check, or taking advantage of the plug-ins available for your blog that also check spelling and grammar.
Book Reports: you are no longer in grade 5, don’t make your review one that is “first they did this and it was fun, and then they met the dog”. Nothing is more frustrating than a recap of the story. The blurb should already provide the reader with an idea of the story.
Foul Language, repeated use of gif files to make a point, lots of exclamations better suited to a 14 year old. None of these say professional – sure, they can be fun and if you have a blog readership that likes that – go for it. But clean it up for your reviews to sale sites.
Spoilers: sometimes you can’t avoid them, or so I am told. I think it becomes more of a challenge when you are reading a book further in a series, stuff just slips out. A little effort and learning to avoid spoiling a book in your review is something everyone can appreciate.
Generalist words: everyone, typical, authors that, characters who: anything that is NOT specific to the book or author. Be specific, if the story has no unique content from others in the genre, say that you were hoping for a unique twist, or say the story arc was predictable and offered no surprises. That is specific TO the title you are reviewing, and not so general as to feel like you copied the review from someone else.
Specific instances of really clever or really not so clever construction are important: editing and proofreading should be a mandatory before a book is released. It doesn’t always happen, or things are missed. Mention editing and spelling errors, but be sure to mention if they were distracting and stopped your flow, or were a great distraction. Characters: if they feel like a cardboard cutout, or something was missing, try to see if you can explain what didn’t work for you: but be sure to mention the things that DO work.
I have a simple rule when I write my reviews: I try to find something positive in the story to offset any of the negative points. For example: “a unique story arc with plenty of twists kept me moving forward with the story, although the frequent overuse of tell rather than show did slow the pacing significantly.” See? Praise the story idea, but give the author something to work on in future books.
Factual errors should always be addressed: authors who choose to write in an earlier time frame should be aware of language use of the time, what technology was available, and what societal norms were for people of the day. Gay in 1800 has a different meaning to gay in 2010. Mixing technology is always a no-no unless you are working in fantasy or Steampunk, and the rules for Steampunk are well-established and defined.
Most of all – I try to stay positive about every book I read. I truly do want each book to be the best book I’ve read all year, to engage and delight. I wouldn’t have chosen it to read if I didn’t. So – saying “I hated it” is not helpful, but using phrases more in the vein of “I hoped for more ____ from the blurb” or I wish that a beta reader had helped to solidify the plot, or editing would turn this from readable to good, good to great.
Additionally, thinking about people you know who read, and what they enjoy, putting a tag line on the review stating that “readers who enjoy _____ would like this book”, is always a nice bonus.
Next week: the final wrappings on your review – the disclaimer. The rules, the how, the why and what should you mention.