You think reviewing a book is easier than writing one? Think again.
A favourable review can make an author’s heart sing, and an unfavourable one can send us scurrying into a dark space to wail. It’s a slap in the face, or an opportunity to develop.
As an author of six self-published offerings, and numerous blogs and magazine articles, I have to admit I like reading a good review.
So, here’s my take on what makes a ‘good’ book review:
1. Don’t re-tell the story.
Whether you give 1 star or 5, there is no point in telling your reader the story line. The novelist already did that, and it probably took them 100,000 words to do it. Tell your reader whether the author did it well, not whether you can do it better. (Plus, readers hate spoilers!)
2. Tell the truth.
Any reviewer needs to decide what they want to have a reputation for; an uncritical lover, or a truthful analyst. Simply saying you love, or hate, a book doesn’t tell a potential reader anything they can use to choose what they will buy or read. If you are hoping the author will read your review, think about what lying to them will do. False praise is as harmful to the creative process as unjustifiably harsh criticism.
3. Provide Evidence or examples
A book review should tell your reader why you reacted the way you did. One of the most useful reviews I ever received gave 2 stars. The reviewer said I had broken a cardinal rule in fiction writing – the ‘Show don’t Tell’ rule. They didn’t call it that, but it was clear that was what they meant. I didn’t enjoy this review. It made me feel guilty that I had used my audience as a means to teach me better habits. But it prompted me to do better. It taught me to rely on my quick wit to write snappy dialogue, instead of my philosophy degree to write laborious exposition.
4. Say it nicely
You all know what I mean here. If you think you’ve been nasty, instead of constructive, then you should re-write it. Ask someone else to read it, if you aren’t sure.
5. Don’t use comparisons
The book you are reviewing is just that. Comparing it to some other story as better or worse is meaningless. All opinions are subjective and every book must stand alone and be judged on that basis. Mentioning someone else’s work as a comparison only makes readers wonder if you have an ulterior motive. If you loved or hated some other book, go write a review of it.
A well-constructed critique can turn a hobbyist writer who thought they could get away with an amateur approach into a professional who understands that a great idea deserves a great deal more than just enthusiasm.
If you want to be a credible reviewer, you need a professional approach too.