Monday, June 8, 2015

How I Write Book Reviews

Writing a book review sounds simple, right? You read a book, then you write about whether you enjoyed it or not and what you did or didn’t enjoy about it.
Not for me.
I have a terrible memory. I can finish a book and not remember what I loved about it or if anything bothered me. So my solution is to take notes. Either on paper or by making notes and highlights on my Kindle. Either way is fine since I can go back to either of them and type up those notes when I’m finished the book. It’s usually in the typing up of the notes, in sequence, that I remember other things I might have liked or disliked about the book.
The note taking is the vital part. Without those notes, I can’t remember anything else. So I start with them and if anything else crops up I add that too. I also have some general key notes that I like to answer for every book. These are things that all readers want to know, and some are just some things that might encourage readers to give the book a try.
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1. Book – Everyone wants to know what it’s called, so they can find it and look it up.
2. Author – This might not matter to some people, but to others it can be a deal breaker. If it’s an author they love and follow, this part alone might encourage them to read the book.
3. Star rating – I always rate out of 5 stars. Generally, if I like a book and have less than three issues with it then I’ll give it a 4-5 star rating. If I don’t like the book, or if it’s littered with errors/mistakes/plot gaps or things I dislike, then I’ll give it anywhere from 1-3 stars. If the story is done badly (lots of mistakes, doesn’t make sense) but has potential, I will add one star to the rating to show it’s potential and I will mention that I’ve done this in the review. I think if a story can be excellent, but isn’t, then it’s not as bad as a truly bad story will be.
4. Plot – I always think the believability of a plot is vital. I don’t care what genre, what characters or what world it’s in, as long as I can believe that it’s possible, because the story makes me believe it, then the story has done its job. If I find a world of vampires, space aliens or zombies really ridiculous, I’m not enjoying the story or getting drawn in it. Believability is the difference between a pass and a fail grade, for me.
5. Characters – I always think the characters make the story. Bad characters can ruin a good story, and good characters can bolster a bad story.
6. Movie Potential – This is for my kicks only, really. I like to evaluate the story on the basis of whether I would willing go watch it at the movies, or on the TV. This is also graded on the 5 star rating system as above.
7. Ease of reading – This is important. I read a kids book recently that was full of ridiculous words, long complicated, drawn out sentences and 1800’s speak. The book was aimed at 13-15 year olds and it was absolutely not suitable for such an age group.
8. Cover – This is very important to me. I know a lot of people say that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but everyone does. It’s what they see in the shop or on Amazon, that makes them open up the book to read the blurb. If they don’t like the cover, then they might not read the blurb or the book. This however, is not graded, but just a tick or a cross, as it either works or it doesn’t.
9. Suitable Title – The same as above. A good/intriguing title can carry a bad cover, and vice versa.
10. Would I read it again – I find this really important. If I am willing to read a book a second time, then it must be really good. If the story is predictable, but good, then I’m not likely to read it again.

Everyone is different, so it takes different things to make someone read a book. Some readers don’t like erotica, some don’t like Christian books, some don’t like swearing or ‘taboo’ subjects. It’s always important to note these, but a lot of readers won’t decide what they are or aren’t willing to read until they’ve read the book. Sometimes an author can do something so well and so creatively that it doesn’t matter if the reader wouldn’t normally read that genre or the part of the storyline.
Every book, every reader and every author is unique. Not everyone in the world can like the same book. Or the same author. Not every reader will agree and that’s the best thing about reviews. You can read a review that slates the book, gives it 1 star and talks about everything that person thinks is wrong with the story, but if those things appeal to you, then that bad review might make you read the book, to judge for yourself, and then you might give it a 4 or 5 star review.
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Let me apologise now. This will be a mini rant/lecture. But it is also vital.
The most important thing about a review is that you’re honest. Don’t be personal about the author, it’s rude. If you don’t like their writing style, then fine, say that. But if you don’t like the author, keep it to yourself. There is NO reason to slam an author or the book just because you feel like it. A review should be real, honest and about a book you have read.
If you haven’t read the book DON’T REVIEW IT! If you didn’t understand something, say so. There is nothing more frustrating than reading a review of a book you’ve loved and hearing someone slam it or the author in ways that you realise have nothing to do with the story or the book. For a start, most internet sites will remove such reviews entirely, because they break the code of good ethics. Remember that authors are people too and they will see your review at some point. Don’t set out to hurt them, degrade them, make them cry, or slam their reputation just because you think they’re distant from your review and will never see it. A lot of us do and it can affect our self-confidence and sometimes even stop a writer from publishing another story.
When you write a review, please consider how you would feel if you were the author. You don’t have to like every book, you don’t have to give 5 stars to everything you read, but be considerate, be kind and remember that your review will live on for years and years and years on the internet. Thousands of people have the potential to see it. Never give your favourite author a rave review just because they’re your favourite author, especially if you haven’t read the book. At the same time, don’t review a book you haven’t or will never read, just because you don’t like the blurb/cover/title/author/concept.
The key to a good review is this – DON’T REVIEW UNLESS YOU READ. Be honest. Be kind. Don’t be personal. Don’t be rude. Don’t lie. Don’t be afraid of criticism.
My reviews stick to this code. Some are scathing, some are raving. Either way they are honest interpretations of what I’ve felt and seen and read in these books. They are entirely my opinion alone, they are my review as a reader, not an author. I never slam a book, whether it is in my genre or not, just because I’m an author in a competitive market. As an author, or reader, you must never do that either.

~ Elaine White

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