Tuesday, November 22, 2016

EDITORIAL: Book Reviews Matter


Frequently in the book community I see authors reminding readers the importance of leaving reviews as well as readers lamenting how to write one.  So in the interest of both parties I’ve decided to create this post to:

A) Help readers become better reviewers.
B) Help authors get more reviews. 

Hopefully, it’s a win-win situation.

💕Note: I’ve tailored this post to be applicable to romance publications.💕  So if writing a review for a different genre, obviously some aspects won't not apply.

 First, let’s address one very important issue when it comes to book reviewing.  Honesty.  If a review, whether a glowing 5 star or a scathing 1 star, isn’t honest and unbiased, then it has no place in the book community. Not only that, but it compromises the whole purpose of the review system. And I'm going to take that sentiment a step further. Withholding reviews that do not meet a certain star level also negates the integrity of the review system. I know some readers feel bad about leaving a negative review or adopt the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything" philosophy, but before you go that route strongly consider how it can be misleading to both other readers and the author who wrote the book. 5 stars lose their luster when handed out too easily. There's nothing wrong with a low star review when written in an honest, constructive criticism manner. Not everyone likes the same things. Just choose your wording carefully. 

 This brings me to a second point. It's also important to remember that book reviews are designed to serve two purposes.

1. To help other readers choose books.
2. To provide valuable feedback to the author.

A truly helpful review will and should do both.  After all, simply and only stating “It was AMAZING!” or on the flip side, “This books sucks!” really tells no one anything about why the book was good or bad.  Was it the writing? The characterization? The plot? A helpful review won't leave either other readers or the author scratching their heads trying to figure out the reason for the rating or simply discrediting the review altogether. 

So where to start when writing a review…

& If you have the time, it’s best form to start with a brief explanation of the premise of the book. Not only can this be helpful if the book description or blurb is a bit vague but it can also help illustrate that you possess a basic understanding of the book’s purpose.  To be clear though, this is NOT retelling the whole plot. And if 90% of your review is a summation of the book description, then you aren’t writing a book review but writing a book report.  

& Once you’ve  helped establish what your interpretation of the underlying foundation of the story is in a few simple sentences, it’s time to move on to what you perceive to be the book’s strengths and weaknesses.  If it’s a 5 star, it’s probably all strengths. If it’s a 1 star, it’s probably all weaknesses. And all the stars in the middle are a variation of both.   

Things to consider and include when reviewing romance titles: (You don’t have to include them all in every review, but these are valid points to take into account.)
C or D
  • Are the main characters sufficiently developed?  Did they meet your expectations as the hero and the heroine of the story?
  • Is the romance sufficiently developed? Did the author aptly convey a sense of chemistry between the characters? Did you understand and/or relate with the reasons why they fell in love?
  • Is the story well written?  Overall, is it grammatically correct?
  • Did the plot flow well? Did it make sense? Were there any continuity errors or factual mistakes in the storytelling?  Did you ever feel the need to skim? Was the story so engrossing you couldn't put it down?
  • Are there significant themes to the story and if so, did the author handle them well?

Other helpful aspects to consider including in your review that may be critical to other readers in deciding if this story is for them:

Romantic Angle:  Is this a second change romance? Opposites attract? Friends-to-lovers?  Does the romance develop quickly (insta love or insta lust) or is it a slow burn? 💑

Romantic Content:  (I'm  being PC with this heading. Let's face it, if you're reading a contemporary romance then you probably should comment on the steam factor.)  As far as the sex scenes go, is it dirty and erotic? Or is it a clean romance?  Maybe it's somewhere in between, but do your best to rate the smut level. 💏

Tone/Mood:  Is this story dark? Is it angsty? Is it light-hearted? Does it have humor? Is it suspenseful?  This might also be where the phrases "I laughed my ass off" or "I had a big ugly cry" could be used. 😉

Narration: Is the story written in the first person, and if so is it the heroine’s POV? The hero’s?  Dual POV?  Or is it told from a third person narrator?

Length: Was it too short? Too long?  Is it a novella or a full length novel?

Publication Information: Is this story part of a series? Can it be read as a stand-alone? Or is it part of a serial that must be read in order?

Genre/Subgenre:  Is this a billionaire romance? Step-sibling? Sports? College?  Rockstar? Mafia? Or perhaps most importantly, is the category listed on the retailers website or Goodreads an accurate description of the story?   For example, if there was a lot of drama and little romance, then perhaps the book would be more acutely labeled General Fiction or Fiction-Drama than romance. Helping identify the type of story that’s portrayed can go a long way in steering other readers in the right direction.  Audience is key!

Recommendation:  As you bring your review to a close, you may choose to comment on your recommendations for the book at hand. Is it for everyone who enjoys romance or readers that prefer a specific brand? Are there triggers that could be a turn-off or offensive to other readers? It doesn’t have to bother you yourself in order for you to mention it out of courtesy for others who might. If you truly feel it's could be construed as a spoiler, simply tag it appropriately

 Don't get overwhelmed. Just consider the above mentioned literary aspects and comment on the ones that speak to you most in your review.  The more reviews you write, the easier it will become.

 Always keep in mind that a review is subjective, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. For readers, that means that not everyone is going to agree on the same book. So be respectful of other but don’t be afraid to leave your own review if it differs from your reading friends. For authors, that means the opportunity to use reader feedback to be a better writer—by both focusing on your strengths and improving your weaknesses.  And no matter which category you fall in, reader or writer, it’s always important for everyone to keep things courteous and professional.

As far as major no-no's in the book community go…

N:Readers—Don’t attack other posted reviews. And be careful to not take things out of context. Book discussion is all part of reading, but keep it friendly and polite so it stays fun. If you have been the victim of bullying, don't let it stop you from writing reviews. Use the proper channels to report the offender to the administrators of the site you are using. 


N:Authors—Publicly complaining about negative reviews is very unprofessional, and while it might garner you some drama, it will just as likely turn off not only new readers but existing fans.  Social media is not the place for venting. If you feel a review was truly unfair or has no merit, confide in a trusted personal friend or spouse to let off some steam. 

—Also, requesting that readers and reviewers withhold reviews under a certain star rating is not only unethical, it also constitutes a form of censorship and infringes on free speech. So don't even entertain the idea, yet alone make it a condition of reviewing. 

*Policy note from the blog: This blog does not support authors who behave badly. Review and promotion will not be provided to any author caught publicly posting in an inappropriate manner or requesting readers withhold less than stellar reviews. 


O One last thing I’d like to address because I occasionally see some confusion on this. There is a difference (albeit in some instances slight) between writing a review and providing an endorsement in the publishing world.  Reviews should represent unbiased opinions provided without compensation or rating/reviewing conditions and can be written by anyone from a general reader to someone in the book or publishing field. As discussed above, a review may contain praise; it may contain criticism; and will quite possibly be a mix of both.  An endorsement, on the other hand, is all praise or support for a publication generally written by either an expert in the field, a celebrity, or someone with an affiliation to the author.  It is a marketing tool used to provide accreditation to the publication. Compensation (in various forms) may likely be involved.  Endorsements are subject to FTC regulations.  See HERE and HERE.   Of most relevance to those reading this post, it’s important to keep in mind that if you’ve been offered any kind of compensation (not simply limited to monetary) or if you are somehow affiliated with the author then transparency regarding such relationships and transactions is necessary.


I hope this post has been helpful!  Happy writing, reading, and reviewing everyone!!!


8 Additional Recommended Reading:

Want a simpler overview of a book review?  Check out How to write English's section on what to include in a book review: HERE

Want a more in depth look at writing a book review with examples? The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill has a excellent section on their website: HERE

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