6 Suggestions for Better Book Reviews


Grains of salt

Grains of salt (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

Most authors learn pretty quickly to take reviews of their books with a grain of salt. And most authors can tell which reviews are serious and genuine and which ones are fluff (and I would imagine most readers can too). Personally, I enjoy reading reviews of my books, both the positive and negative, but there are some (both positive and negative) that just cause me to roll my eyes.

Reviews are powerful things, though, that carry the weight to sway a potential reader to either go ahead and make the purchase or not to and to give the author useful information that she can use to improve her writing. Therefore, when writing a review, care should be taken to do it properly and in the right spirit.

Here are 6 suggestions, in my estimation as an author, for writing fair, accurate reviews that will help a reader decide whether the book is right for him or her and will help the author become a better writer.

  • First and foremost, actually read the book you’re reviewing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a review of one of my books and scratched my head, wondering if the reviewer even read it. It was so full of erroneous information.
  • Be honest but be fair. As I’ve stated at other times, flattery does no one any good, but harsh criticism doesn’t either. If you enjoyed the book, say so, if you hated it, say so, but be tactful about it. And be polite. My wife and I are currently watching back episodes of BBC’s Lark Rise to Candleford about two towns in late 19th-century England. I’m always amazed at how politely the folks then could disagree and even insult each other. Somewhere along the line we’ve lost that art. A book review is a good place to find it again. Know that others will be reading your review and that it is a reflection of you.
  • Save the vitriol. There is no place for hatred in a book review if it is to be taken seriously. If, of course, you have no intention of being taken seriously, well, that’s another matter. A review is not the place to level insults, to mock, to embarrass, or to tear down. If you truly feel the need to confront an author, take the time to track down a personal email and do it in private. Be careful not to the let the anonymity of the internet empower you into doing something brash and harmful.
  • Remember that writing is an art and the interpretation of it is therefore subjective. What you hate, another may love. Your review is your opinion. Keep that in mind and remember your place in all of this.
  • A review is not the place to show off your intricate knowledge of English grammar. Authors make mistakes, editors sometimes miss those mistakes. It happens. Avoid nitpicking in your review. I’m sorry, but I doubt many readers really care if the author has a tendency to leave participles dangling. Realize that there is a difference between a critique and a review. If you’re a professional and you’ve been asked to provide a professional critique, that’s another story and a different topic entirely.
  • Lastly, keep the review to the story itself. There’s no need to mention that the shipping and handling was too expensive or the shipping delayed or that the book came damaged in the mail. None of that is the author’s fault. And unless the editing is especially atrocious or the cover especially amateur there is no need to mention those things either. For the most part, both are out of the author’s control.

The bottom line here is to be honest, be fair, be civil, and give other readers and the author something useful to read.

Do you have an other suggestions for what makes a good book review? Things you like to see in a review? Things you think have no place in a review?

(If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to join me on my other blog as well: www.michaelkingbooks.wordpress.com).

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About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on June 13, 2012, in Book Reviews, Writing craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. These are great tips! I try to stick to rules similar to this when I write reviews, it’s a tricky art to master!

  2. Good points. I may have to go back and review the last awful (totally awful) book I read and see if my review was gracious. It will certainly be a struggle because the book was truely BAD. Something I dislike in a review is a description of the plot (when the plot is already described on the site). I consider it a waste of my time. I’m looking for a critique of the book, not what the book is about.

    • I agree, Doris, I don’t care for a story synopsis either, but it’s what most book review sites want their reviewers to do.

    • I think there’s a balance on the summaries. They are helpful in that all the information is contained in one location. However, the summaries can go to far and be more of a book report of the book. When I started reviewing I didn’t do summaries and they’re actually my least favorite part to write of a review. But over time I’ve realized the do make the review flow smoother and give a point of reference for those reading the review.

      • Great points, Melissa. And coming from an experienced reviewer like you, that’s good enough for me :) I agree, though, balance is everything.

  3. Those are great suggestions! One thing I don’t understand is why some people would say things like, “This book is stupid and if you like it you must be stupid too.” I mean… really? Judgmental much? To each their own, and nobody has the right to judge other people for what they read.

  4. great blog post, good advice. Thanks for sharing it. I have wondered on occasion what an author likes in a book review, so now I know :-).

  5. I love this post Mike. Authors frequently ask for reviews, but when I started reviewing, I had no idea what was helpful. These are good guidelines and a great reminder to those of us that have been doing it a while. My early mistake was not keeping to the story. My first reviews are more about me than the book.

    Negative reviews are so difficult to write. Since I request most of my books, I only have to write maybe 5 or so a year. It’s even worse when I’ve talked to an author and have gotten to know them a little or have been a long time supporter. I feel like such a traitor. I’ve been very surprised at the positive responses we’ve received from negative reviews. Authors (and publishers) tend to be accepting and forgiving of well written, tactful, critical reviews.

    It helps when writing a negative review to remember that the author does not have to write something I personally enjoy. Especially in the realm of Christian fiction, when the spiritual themes are a major part of the story and an author should follow God’s leading on what to write. The themes and story might not appeal or reach me personally, but they’re exactly what someone else needs. Also, this is just common sense, but there’s a real person behind the story and they have feelings. Just because we’re wring our reviews out on a computer doesn’t make our words have any less impact than saying them to their face.

    For the authors out there, I LOVE getting feedback on my reviews. It helps me to know what is helpful and what is waste of space. It’s also good to know what words are ‘offensive’ or if what I’ve written is too harsh (I will and have modified my reviews based on author feedback). With the written word it’s sometimes hard to get the right emotion and can easily be misunderstood. So authors can help us reviewers by letting us know how we can improve. :-)

    Anyway, I could go on for awhile, but need to stop. Great post!

    • Yes, Melissa, I think you’ll find that most authors are gracious and understanding when a negative review is written properly. I know I’ve learned from thoughtful, tactful, negative reviews. And I think you’re right on when reminding reviewers that there’s a real person on the other end of that review. Authors have feelings too :)

  6. Excellent tips! I do a lot of book reviews and often have to remember these things. Especially with a book I didn’t care for, I always try to remember this is someone’s baby in a sense. I may not care for it, but it might be just what someone else is looking for. So I try to be honest, make sure to state exactly what I didn’t care for(as there are others who might want to know what I didn’t like), and let it go. Thanks again and keep up the good writing!

  7. Great pointers Mike! I love writing reviews even though I may not be that great at it, I will definitely apply what I learned here. Thanks and God bless

    Btw I need to order Frantic from you soon, you will probably be getting a FB message soon ;)

  8. Great tips, Michael. I must confess, I was guilty of breaching one of the tips, where I was very critical of this author, even though I loved his book. I was very critical of his poetic licence of what I considered a major biblical doctrine. The author took it badly, I apologised and explained where I was coming from. We are now friends, respect each other and email each other and leave notes on http://www.shelfari.com and http://www.goodreads.com. I learnt my lesson the hard way and now have adopted what you have mentioned here.

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