Book reviews consist of taking your initial feelings about a book you’ve read – be they ‘Wow! Wonderful’ or ‘Hell, total rubbish’ – and writing 500 words of Why the Wow or What the Hell.
I’ve written my fair share of reviews for the newspapers and magazines where I’ve worked and, as a journalism lecturer, I’ve also taught plenty of wannabe journalists how to write reviews.
The world of book reviewing is enormous with the growing use of personal websites, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon – and amateur and semi-professional book bloggers and reviewers are entering in their thousands.
The reviewer-sphere is one that opened up to me this year with the publication of my first novel A Falling Friend with my writing partner Sue Featherstone.
As first-time novelists we appreciate and value the reviews and feedback we’ve had on Amazon, and from book clubs and the various events at which we’ve talked about our writing.
But, while I wouldn’t want to put off anyone wanting to give their opinions about our book or anything else they’ve read, I would like to offer some tips for the aspiring reviewer.
- First, avoid waffling. Focus firmly on the book under review.
- It’s always a good idea to provide story or plot details early – but be careful not to give too much and don’t give away the ending. Summarise; offer a taste of what’s to come. Some reviewers detail the whole story to such an extent that I feel it’s not worth bothering to read the book.
- Provide brief details about the author. Tell us if it’s his or her first book or a follow-up to a surprise bestseller.
- Tell us which genre the book fits into. If it’s a thriller or crime drama, does it thrill or intrigue?
- Avoid generalisations, overblown adverbs, meaningless adjectives and surreal metaphors. Something that’s ‘delicately quiet and full of heightened wonder’ or ‘viscerally violent’ (which I read in two recent reviews) mean something to you but not to your reader. Explain and illustrate your reactions by giving examples – and again, use quotes or descriptions from the book.
- Tell the reader what you liked about the book, but don’t just say, ‘I loved this book,’ without explaining. Offer considered and balanced evidence by describing something that worked to make you like it.
- Avoid going over the top with praise. One review I read recently ends with the words, ‘read this and weep’ but fails to offer reasons why we should a) read the book or b) weep.
- Tell the reader what you disliked – and explain why. One reviewer says she would never post a review of a book she hated. Why not? I know some authors can be sensitive souls, but a thoughtful and honest appraisal can be useful. Don’t be gratuitously cruel and be careful not to libel anyone, but have the courage of your convictions – and explain and justify your censure.
- Watch your grammar and spelling. If you take to the reviewer-sphere to critique someone else’s writing, your own needs to be good.
- Provide information about price and publisher and, sometimes, number of pages.
Remember the aim of a review is to get across what your reader would get if they bought the book – essentially to tell them whether it’s any good or not.