Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On Writing Book Reviews

Image Credit: Self-Conscious Posturing
Book reviews--at least the good ones--are like the holy grail to writers. Nothing makes a person take a chance and spend their hard-earned money on an unknown book or author like a bunch of recommendations from others who have read it before them. Unfortunately, on the flip side, few things tank a book faster than a negative review. And, thanks to the immortal internets, a bad review can haunt you for the rest of your life.

I'm not telling you anything new--chances are, if you're a writer, you get it already. Reviews are coveted and feared, all at the same time, with the power to make or break our careers. So what makes a writer want to wield that power over others? And how can they do it responsibly? I don't claim to be an expert on the topic, but I can share my own perspective. I've covered a few main points below, but feel free to add your own input or questions in the comments!

Image Credit: Awesome People Reading
Why Should Authors Write Reviews?
Whether you choose to review other authors or not is totally a personal decision. The biggest reason I chose to review is that it is so stinking hard to get reviews for your books, that I figured I could maybe get good karma by reviewing books for other writers. Here's some more reasons I do it:
  • Reviews make for good blog content.
  • Hopefully they up your blog traffic, if only through the author's friends and family visits.
  • It's a chance to make friends, network and build relationships with other authors.
  • Um, hello? FREE READS! 
How Do You Write a Book Review?
This one's a little tricky to answer. In short? Simply tell an imaginary reader what you like and don't like about the book. But you have to remember, if you're an author, too, or ever plan to be one, saying what you don't like about a book could carry some consequences. I'll cover that in the next section. 

If you do more than one review every blue moon, and make them a regular feature on your blog, I'd recommend setting up a template first. (Sorry, is my inner administrative assistant showing?) Here's the template I use:
Blog Post Title (Book Review: Name of Book by Author Soandso)
Intro (short paragraph, just a few sentences)
Book
Author 
Publisher 
Genre
Rating (I use hearts, like a 5-star rating system)
Photo of the Book Cover
About the Book (back cover copy)
My Thoughts (the actual meat of the review, the part I copy and share on Goodreads, Amazon, etc.)
About the Author (taken from author's website or author section of book)
Connect with Author (Website, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook links)
Buy the Book (buy links)
Disclaimer (I just say, "The book was free, but this is a fair and impartial review," or something like that.) 
Having a template makes it easy for me to plug in the info from each book, making them consistent and instantly recognizable as a review for anyone that might be reading. 

Image Credit: Violet Fenn
Should You Review Bad Books? 
This is actually a pretty hot topic when it comes to writers giving other writers reviews. Some of us don't like to hurt people's feelings (see this post for my reasons). Others say you're not doing readers any favors by glossing over a book that's the literary equivalent of discount dog food, and by not verbally tearing said books into tiny, mocking pieces, you're compromising your own integrity as a reviewer.

But what about the potentially fragile and sensitive writer you're slamming? "If they can't take the heat, they should get their sorry asses out of the frying pan," reply the hardcore critics everywhere dismissively. And, really, the hardcore critics make a good point. Readers do deserve honest reviews. And writers should be able to take criticism. But darn it, I just don't want to be mean. Not to mention, the author I slam today might be in a position to lambaste me tomorrow.

If you're reviewing books on your blog, you're totally within your rights to specify what kind of books you read. And you're also free to give your opinion, of course. My only advice would be to give potential reviewees a head's up on what to submit and what to expect. For example, on my Reviews page, I invite anyone to submit a book for review, with the caveats that 1.) I'm not going to review anything I would give less than three out of five stars to, and 2.) I don't like books where the MC's cheat or die.

I recommend reading more about reviewing bad books at Kristen Lamb's post Should Authors Write Bad Book Reviews. She makes some great points, and the folks chiming in in the comments section do, too, both for and against bad reviews.

Personally, I like reviewing. I enjoy getting the word out there on books I love and, since I'm 'po, I love getting free books to read. I don't take reviewing lightly, though: I can't, when something I say could potentially sway a writer's career for good or for for ill. Search engines, in particular, seem to have reaaaally long memories.

If you're a writer or blogger writing reviews, do you have pointers? If you don't, do you have any questions not covered here? Dying to review Lucky in Love? Leave me a comment! [