A Review of Reviews
Constructing a thoughtful book review can be challenging. Here are five tips to keep in mind for your next review and some ideas to help you get started.
Book reviews are trickier than many realize. Especially as a self-published author, it can take an immense amount of work to garner truly useful, thoughtful, and well crafted reviews. And though nice to read the ones that gush about your novel with gifs and the excitement of characters’ ‘ship names, receiving a thorough and articulate evaluation of your work can be like stumbling upon a unicorn. It is of course generous for readers and especially your personal network to get on platforms where your book is featured and sold to provide a fair rating and supportive note; but it is truly invaluable to have someone construct a post that focuses on the fine points of your story, the pacing and flow of your expertly woven tale, the details that turn a fictional world into a rich, living landscape, and the depth of nuance and emotion of well developed characters. Writing a review takes time and intention, it should not be a knee-jerk, emotive reaction - though sometimes that is part of it. But it needs to be more.
Friends and family tell me all the time that they don’t write reviews because they don’t really know how. So, I thought I’d write a post about what elements could make a review fair and helpful for both authors and fellow readers to engage with. Below are five tips to keep in mind for your next review:
Consider the Platform - Is the platform where you’re posting your review for both authors and readers, or more one audience than the other? How do people interact with the reviews on the platform? These questions are important to keep in mind. You might feel that Amazon could be a better place to post a more straightforward review of a book, whereas Goodreads may be a better outlet for a more fun and embellished review. It depends upon how people (including the author) typically engage with a particular platform.
Go Beyond Your Opinions - If you have strong opinions about elements in a book, great, maybe start your review there - but don’t end there. Giving something negative stars and commenting only with a poop emoji isn’t helpful. Use your preferences as a way to frame your thoughts. Just because you don’t like love triangles doesn’t mean it’s a trash book because it has one or ten of them. Look at this specific story. Was it done well despite it not being your preference? Did it develop in a way you thought was gripping, or portray these lovelorn characters in a way that surprised you or made you want to learn more about them? Give context, provide spoiler-free examples, and get to the heart of what you really did or did not like about something.
Review the Book, Not the Author - A book review should be about the book, not the author, unless they suck (j/k). A review is not the space to lambaste an author - there are other platforms and outlets to advertise your general loathing for someone. Conversely, it is also, unfortunately, not the place for sonnets about how they are good people - though that’s very nice to spread the word about elsewhere. If you love an author, interpret that into what you love about their work. What was new about this novel that you hadn’t noticed in past works? Did they deviate from a previous formula or genre? Do they use certain elements that appeal to you in a way you don’t find in other stories, if so, why? How did that show up for you? If you love their writing style, what were the moments that really moved or impressed you?
No Spoilers, Please! - Authors spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to reveal information through their stories. Do not ruin teasers, plot twists, endings, character reveals, any part of a story that is intentionally hidden as part of the story. Instead, if there is something about the reveal, as in the buildup, development, character inconsistencies, plot holes, etc. talk about it through a structural angle without ruining the experience for other readers. If you absolutely must include a spoiler, just be sure to include the handy spoiler codes that many platforms provide and encourage. So just remember, the most important thing is to [read spoiler] - see how I did that ;)
Review Each Book in a Series Separately - I see this one a lot. There will be one general review for an entire series either listed under the first book or reposted under each book. Each book is a separate piece of work and should be reviewed individually. You could consider whether the plot developed at all leading from one book to the other, did the characters grow or change? You can certainly compare books within the reviews, but try to frame it as to underscore or highlight certain points about the specific book you are reviewing.
Elements to consider including in your next review:
Pacing - especially if there were elements or scenes that really slowed you down.
Flow - was anything choppy or abrupt?
Arc - were you brought along a well developed story that presented at least five developmental elements such as Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and a Resolution?
Development - are they built out enough as to have distinct characteristics and personalities? Who did you love the most and why? Who did you least love and why?
Presentation - were there too many characters? Were their names confusing, for instance all starting with the same letter?
Purpose - do each of the characters serve a purpose?
Structure - is the style easy to read and consistent with other styles in that genre?
Exposition - is there a lot of exposition, how did this impact the pace of the story or your understanding of background information or character intentions, etc?
Dialogue - is this done well and presented in a realistic way for the characters, their backgrounds, and current environments/situations?
Descriptions - is there enough detail to transport you? Are multiple senses activated?
Other tips and thoughts to add? Feel free to post them below.