Of course, everybody knows how to write a book review. We all wrote them in grade school. All those summer reading reports due at the opening of school. The formal review styles we were taught in English classes. No wonder we pause when asked to write one. Who’s got the time?
Times have changed. Book reviews have taken on a new life, a new purpose. Now, we are all professional reviewers like those in the Sunday newspapers (except we don’t get paid). We have a similar impact. We can pan or promote, our words mean something.
Today there are three interested parties who will read a review: (1)the distributor and/or publisher, (2)the author, (3) and readers. Each has a singular objective. The distributor/publisher wants to sell books and determine how to tier them for marketing. The author wants to sell books, and maybe gain some meaningful critique. The reader wants to know if the book will hold her/his interest, whether to invest time in it (so many books, so little time).
Unlike days of yore when we detailed the plot so the teacher would know we actually read the book, interested parties today do not want that. No one wants to read spoilers. Authors and distributors like spoilers even less; they don’t sell books. Hint at the plot, yes––describe it, no.
Most on-line reviews today come in two parts; the review and the rating. One should complement the other. Nothing is more frustrating to an author than to read a complimentary review accompanied by a 2 rating. Most analytic engines will file that under pan, not promote, regardless of praise.
To digress for a moment, speaking of ratings, anyone who rates a book should know what the numbers really mean. It’s simple: a four or five rating means you like the book; anything less means you do not. There is no middle ground in book ratings. Think about it––the people who go to the trouble to write reviews either love the book, or hate it. People are not motivated to write a review when feeling ambivalent. Come to think of it, rating systems should probably have only two stars; 2 stars for “love it” or 1 star for “hate it”. The absence of a rating speaks for itself.
While I’m at it, on my soapbox, I wonder why anyone who does not write a review should rate the book. Again, if the reader loves or hates the book, she/he should give a reason. It should be shared, so everyone will understand, maybe even learn from it.
Okay, back to writing a review. I’ve just finished a book, and I love it. I’m ready to rate it a five, and write my review. Where to begin?
I feel the purpose of fiction is to deliver the reader from real life to a different world for a period of time. Did the book accomplish that? Remember, it did or it didn’t––no middle ground. Write it down.
Now I ask if the book accomplished my purpose for reading it? This is a complex question, because my goal for a book may well differ from time to time. Do I crave excitement? Want adventure? Want to be soothed and calmed? Simply want to escape? I think about what I wanted from that book, and decide whether it provided it. Write it down.
When a reviewer wades into a discussion of the author’s skill, things can get sticky right away. Should the average reader pass judgement on an author’s voice, writing style, craft? I say no, not unless you’re certain you’ll never meet him at a bar. However, as a reader I’m certainly qualified to talk about the way an author’s writing effected me. How many times did you stop to reread a sentence to understand its meaning? How often did you become annoyed by point-of-view changes mid-chapter? How many times did typos, word use, too many adverbs, too much dialogue, or too much narrative bring you up short, take you out of the story? Write it down. On the other hand, if there were a million typos but the story was so compelling you didn’t even notice––write that down, too. The author did his job.
We’re almost done. I now have three meaningful sentences in my review. This is the time for a personal viewpoint, your emotional reaction to the book, or simply what you liked best. What was it? The protagonist? The fight scene? The dachshund named Hot Dog? Write it down. But write just one thing. Don’t clutter your review at this late date.
There, that’s it. It might look like this:
Gone With The Wind transported me into pre-civil war Georgia as if I had flown there by time machine. I wanted romance and adventure; the book left me breathless (pant, pant). The story was so compelling I forgot the author was involved at all. I particularly loved the scene where Scarlett and Brett met for the first time.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One departing thought: write the review as soon as you can after finishing the book. Memory makes it tougher later.