Reviewing for Non-Dummies
Reviewing for Non-Dummies
Many readers avoid reviewing the books they read, and this is detrimental to authors. In this article, I’m going to explain, in optimistic and layman’s terms, the fundamentals of why it is important to review books, and the easy ways to accomplish this.
First, we can all appreciate to varying degree why authors, such as myself, need reviews. Not everyone understands the actual reasons, though. You may be surprised at what you will learn.
I can only speak for myself when I say that I do not want reviews merely to feed my ego. If I only wrote to boost my ego, I would have stopped writing many books ago. You will find that this is the rule and not the exception there of. If authors don’t write and seek reviews for a pat on the back, why do they need them?
There is a very simple, and brutally honest answer to the question: Credibility. The modern age has not only brought a platform from which to publish, but also fierce competition. We live in a world where even the loudest voice is often not heard clearly enough.
We can write, and write some more, and publish until we are old and tired and yet, we may never be noticed. Without being discovered, even brilliant prose gathers a dismal layer of stifling dust. When a considerate reader decides to leave a review for a dusty book, it jiggles things up, and the dust is shaken off. That person could be you. Suddenly the colours of the cover seem brighter, newer, and fresher. All this can happen because one kind person took a few minutes to say, “Hey, I like this book!”
Your few minutes on that particular day could spur an author to write the next book. If might even pull him or her back from the edge of despair or even suicide. Yes, your few minutes could make, or break a human being’s spirit. The reader has that power. Some people use this ‘super power’ to encourage, and others get high on it, developing what I call “Review Rage”.
The choice is ultimately yours. If you want authors to continue writing, tell them to keep doing so by writing a review and rating the books you read. Most readers still think that they are not making a difference, but as an author, I am telling you that you do. You, my dear reader, hold my prose peddling future in your hands. I am at your mercy. I hope that you love my books, but if you don’t, please be gentle. These anonymous people that write books have feelings. iWriters are human too.
People often tell me that they do not review because they “don’t know how to write”. Well, if you did know how to ‘write’, then you would be on this side of the fence with the rest of us authors, hawking our poetic wares. Who else is more qualified to review books than those who have no vested interest either way? Yours is the honest opinion that writers covet, and that other buyers respect.
I could tell you that all of my books are absolutely, and irrefutably brilliant, and not to be missed, but it is Jo Soap that reviews the material who tells the truth, good or bad. Don’t listen to us, the authors, listen to those that actually bought and reviewed it.
Oh, wait! There are no reviews on this book. Oh, well … off to find a book that must be better because it has reviews by the dozen.
Now do you understand why we need your review? All right, enough of the promotional babble. How do you write a review? How long should it be? What should I say? All of this is not my place to say. I can only tell you what we would like from you, the wonderful reviewer with minutes to spare. Your few minutes are like gold ingots to us mere mortal scribblers, and we are eternally grateful.
The length does not matter. We have all seen those long, dull, synopses that are not reviews and yet are stuck in regardless. Who reads them all the way to the end? I certainly don’t because I do not want an abridged version of the book. I want a review! Some folks go on to write tomes about how the book should have been written. Again, I am not looking for lessons in writing. I want your review of the book, not grammar.
While on the subject of grammar, there is no perfect book so don’t add to the vitriol that afflicts those with “Review Rage”. Every publication contains some errors or could be improved upon. Deal with it and move on. Mocking the author by publicly commenting on the ‘endless’ errors only shows how small-minded the reviewer is. Rather, contact the author privately to let him or her know where these errors are in the book. As a self-published author, I am so thankful when someone points out any errors so that I can fix them and avoid public embarrassment.
If you would not tear apart another person in real life, why would you do it from the relative anonymity of the online community? Highly negative reviews are usually written by cowards who would never repeat any of it in person. Your word is your worth, and never forget that because one day you will be challenged to stand by what you have said. Will you?
Reviews can be really simple. They do not need to be lengthy or in-depth to be effective. It is not how much you write but rather what is written. Consider a one line review such as this:
“I loved this book because the characters were real and I felt that I could relate to them.”
This is resonance, and it tells us why you loved it in one sentence. This says more about the book than an entire thesis written about it. Short and sweet.
Let me give you some modest tips for writing quick reviews. If you have a fear of writing badly: there is a painless solution. Open up your favourite writing program (OpenOffice is free) and type your review in there. Run a spell check. ‘LanguageTool’ will even check your grammar. Now copy and paste your review to the book’s page. With the primary fear of looking illiterate out of the way, what excuse is there next?
“I am not a writer, I dunno what to say in my review.” If I wanted well-written reviews, filled with rhythm and rhyme, I’d write them myself. Would you believe that a reader wrote a review like that? No, of course not, and neither would anyone else. Readers are not idiots and it looks as fake as it is. The content of your review is an easy task to handle. No one wants to read blah blah blah. They want to know how they are going to feel and what they are going to experience through reading the book you have reviewed.
So how did you feel? Was it horrifying? Was it a feel-good novel? Did you yawn all the way through? Why? Was the book too long or too short? Was there too much or too little character development? I don’t want to read an entire page dedicated to describing a waiter that has one line in the book. That is too much development for an ‘extra’.
Additionally, I don’t want to continually read about the main character’s ‘blonde’ hair. You’ve told us: I get it! She has blonde hair. Whether she is pushing it back from her face, or flicking it over the shoulder, it remains blonde until she colours it. This is bad writing and I might be tempted to mention this in my review, but in a gentle way.
It is perfectly acceptable to hate the characters, and this could actually mean that the author is brilliant. I wrote an entirely despicable character who served as a reverend. He was my scapegoat. He bears the weight of all that was wrong with humanity. You are supposed to loathe him. The average person will not relate to him, and thank heavens for that too. What riles me about some reviews that I’ve read is that they don’t like the characters. Perhaps the author has not done a very good job, but if that is not the case, why slam the book because of it?
As reviewers we need to be careful not to confuse fact with preference. The fact that I love red, low-slung sports cars, and you prefer sensible family vehicles, doesn’t make either of us right, or wrong. I don’t like books that promote or glorify war, but there are many good books written in the genre. To get around this quagmire, don’t review books that are on subjects that bore you, written in genres that you don’t enjoy, or in a style that is not to your taste. The problem is solved.
When should you write a negative review? My belief is that you should only write negatively about a book when there is legitimate reason to do so. I’ll give you some valid reasons to guide you along. If the author has misled you into buying a book that you didn’t want, then by all means, teach them a lesson. We, as readers, need to stop this appalling trend. As an author, I am thoroughly embarrassed by this issue. Be polite, and explain your grievance. No one appreciates mud-slinging, but we do like to be informed to proceed with caution.
I have no quarrel with serialised books when it is clearly advertised as such. Any author who writes a book without an ending, and does not inform the buyer, is guilty of fraud. In this case, I encourage everyone to warn potential buyers until the writer learns to respect the reader. However, if the book is clearly indicated to be part of a series, why are you giving a bad review? It is not anyone’s fault but your own that you didn’t read the packaging.
Certain genres require specific events or endings. Romance is one of them. If everyone dies at the end of the story, it is not romance — it is a tragedy. You are quite right in being angry. Tell the author that it is not ‘okay’. You wanted a nice happy ending and you ended up being depressed. I always say that I have enough of that in real life: I don’t want to pay to read about it.
On a last note, why are people including spoilers in their reviews? If you do this, you are, deliberately diminishing the author’s earnings, and spoiling everyone’s reading pleasure. “Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free.” Just don’t do it unless you have good reason to do so.
Go forth and review! I look forward to your short, yet insightful reviews. You loved this article because ….
Additional note: I’ve noticed a trend for some people to start off their reviews by stating that they got the book for free to do a review. I want to ask you why you feel the need to include that at all. Does it affect your ability to review the book? If it does, perhaps you shouldn’t review it after all. The only thing you achieve by mentioning this is diminishing your credibility as a reviewer. How much you paid for your book is immaterial to how much you enjoyed it. You may as well declare that you have been bribed by the author to say ‘nice’ things about the book. Please think about what you are doing by starting with this sort of disclaimer.