Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Basics of A Good Book Review

I started writing reviews in 2008 and I’ve noticed how much their popularity has grown. Sites like Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, CBD and Borders provide readers with opportunities to share their opinions of books. And people are definitely taking advantage of it. Some sites even offer special statuses for those who have reviewed often. Publishing houses are getting in on the act by starting book review programs (Thomas Nelson and Bethany House).

Reviews can be a powerful tool in promoting a book. They’re the equivalent of electronic word of the month (which still seems to be the most reliable way of creating a buzz for a book.) Many authors and publishing companies solicit reviews because positive ones can increase sales. The goal of a review is to give more information about a book so that others can decide whether to buy the book or not.

Writing book reviews can be a tricky undertaking. I have heard writers lament when they receive negative reviews but the problem is, not all reviewers are created equal. There are lots of people reviewing books, but unfortunately, some of these reviews are riddled with problems. Here are some of the problems I’ve found in some of the reviews I’ve read.

-No supporting evidence: These reviews simply state that the reviewer doesn’t like the book but doesn’t give any concrete reason why. Often reviewers say that the book was heartwarming but they don’t share what warmed their heart. I’ve read lots of reviews that deemed a book good, but that was all that was said.

Reviews have to provide supporting details (remember your English teacher stressing the importance of details?). Remember, giving details doesn’t mean spoiling the plot. If you are going to share an important detail in your review, be sure to include a “spoiler alert” warning before you do.

-Pigeon-hole observation: The reviewer gets so caught up on one aspect of the book and doesn’t consider the book as a whole. I once read a review for a book about child abuse. The review didn’t mention much about the book or the author’s technique on writing the book. Instead, it ranted on and on about the injustice of child abuse.

Good novels are made up of several parts: plot, characterization, setting, conflict, tension and writing techniques. Several of these things should be covered in your review. Writing a pigeon-holed perspective doesn’t help anyone reading it, unless he or she hates child abuse as much as you do.

-The book is not the problem: I’ve read review where reviewers have given bad ratings because the book covers a topic that they don’t like, which has nothing to do with the author. If you don’t have a problem with the topic, you wouldn’t know if the book was good or not.

A review is not a place to share your problems about the ills of society. It’s also not a place to bash the author for writing about a particular subject (I find this a lot in Christian fiction. Some reviewers have accused writers of not being Christian for the subject matter of their books). Remember, the focus of a book review is the book.

-If you don’t have anything good to say…: Yes, this saying has been drilled into our heads as children but it doesn’t work for reviews. Reviews have to share both the good and the bad. It maybe difficult to write a negative review, but it doesn’t mean it has to be mean-spirited. There is a way to be truthful in a bad review but doing it in loving way.

If you didn’t like something about a book, explain why. It’s okay. It’s understood that this is your opinion and your honest opinion is the best thing you can write. And remember, not everyone will like every book. What you dislike about a book may not be meaningful to someone else.

The point of writing a review is to help others decide if the book is a worthy purchase. Understanding what constitutes a good review is crucial to being a helpful reviewer. You are the most valuable part of your review. You are the expert on you. People who read reviews are looking to hear the opinions of others. They read to hear what you think.

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