Writing Book Reviews

by Stephanie Nickel , CES Editor, Writer, Coach, and Critique Specialist

Book reviewWhether you include book reviews on your blog or simply leave comments on sites such as Goodreads and Amazon, here are a few pointers about writing reviews that I hope will encourage the author and inform potential readers. The following ideas are directed mostly at fiction, but they can be applied to nonfiction as well.

Examine your motivation.

First, decide whether you’re writing a review primarily to help the author promote sales (the more authors I get to know personally, the more this becomes a reality for me) or if your aim is to inform readers why they should or shouldn’t read a particular book.

Put the positives up front.

No matter how you feel about a book, if at all possible, seek to write something positive before you go on to share what you see as the inadequacies of the work. (If the majority of my comments would be negative, I choose not to review the book in question.)

Be honest about the negatives.

Including positives is important, but you aren’t doing readers—or your reputation as a reviewer—any favors if you aren’t honest about a book’s shortcomings. Granted, your opinions may be 99 percent subjective, but that’s fine. That’s what people expect from reviews.

Be genuine. Even if the author is a personal friend, a review is not the same as back cover copy. It’s important to truly mean what you say in your reviews.

Be specific and qualify your statements. Some people care deeply about things like typos and grammatical errors. Others wouldn’t notice them even if they were pointed out. Some readers care more about the characters, others about the storyline. Instead of saying, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read,” say something like, “The story has a lot of potential, but I was distracted by the number of spelling mistakes throughout.”

Never, never, never include spoilers. If you wouldn’t want to know a specific detail before reading the book, don’t include it in your review. (If you’re one of those rare people who reads the last page first to see if you deem the book worth your time, don’t forget . . . most of the population does not read that way.)

So, how can you review a book without including at least one or two spoilers?

Be creative. I recently compared the second book in The Port Aster series with The Empire Strikes Back. I stated that the first book was a stand-alone, similar to Star Wars: A New Hope. However, the second left enough unanswered questions that there must, must, must be a third. (The author, Sandra Orchard, is working on it now. Whew!)

One final note . . .

Be prepared. Some reviews will virtually write themselves while others will take more work. I encourage you to have fun with the process. Written reviews are an extension of word-of-mouth, the means many people use to choose what to read next. There are those who now call reviewers “influencers.” Seek to wield your power wisely.


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3 Challenges of the Christian Book Lover

challenge team

This post first appeared on Janet Sketchley’s blog, Tenacity, on September 30, 2016.

Giving a Kind Critique

Have you ever been asked to critique someone’s writing or been approached to be a beta reader? (A beta reader is given an author’s unpublished manuscript for review.)

Anyone who writes knows how hard it is to allow others not only to read the words they’ve spent hours—sometimes even months or years—grueling over but also to ask readers for feedback, both what they liked and what they didn’t.

As believers, we want to be kind and encouraging. We want to build up rather than tear down. These are godly responses, but we must also seek to be honest.

How can you and I express our opinion in a way that is both honest and encouraging?

Here are three suggestions:

Before you start to read, ask what the writer is looking for in particular. Don’t give them a list of grammatical errors if they primarily want to know if the characters are believable and the storyline plausible for example.

Remember to list what you liked as well as what you didn’t. Some people use the 2-1 rule: list two positives for every negative. Others simply list the things they enjoyed first and then those they feel could be improved.

Even if you’re an editor, a critique is not the same as an edit. Try to approach the work as a typical reader rather than a professional, although there will, of course, be an overlap. It’s hard to switch off the editor brain even when reading for pleasure.

Leaving a Realistic Review

If we’ve been asked to leave a review—or simply if we choose to do so, it can be challenging if we didn’t particularly like the book.

We may not want to hurt the author’s feelings—or their sales—especially if we know them personally.

While we want to be kind to the author, we must also keep in mind those who may choose to read a book based upon our review.

Here are three suggestions:

Deliberately look for something positive to include in your review, especially if you can’t honestly give it four or five stars. Point out what you enjoyed—or what other readers might enjoy—before listing those things you didn’t like.

It’s best to leave a brief review. Even so, take the time to craft it well and read it over a few times before posting.

And when it comes to reviewing books by authors you know, you may not want agree to do so if you think your review may affect their sales and / or your relationship with them.

Selfless Self-Promotion

Whether we write, edit or proofread, we may have to promote our work. As Christians, we may find this difficult to do. After all, humility is a godly trait. However, humility doesn’t mean denying the gifts and abilities the Lord has enabled us to develop.

I once heard of an author who said if he didn’t believe his book would be valuable to his reader and worth their financial investment, he had no business writing it. What a great perspective!

The same is true of any creative or professional endeavour we are involved in. And if it has value to others, it makes sense to make them aware of it.

How can we do so without coercing others or allowing pride to motivate us?

Here are three suggestions:

Truly consider how others will benefit. Keep them in mind when developing a marketing strategy and promoting your product or service.

Be generous. Many creatives, even those who aren’t believers, give away bonus material that is of significant value. They may offer their first book free. They may record podcasts or webinars that are more than simply promotional tools. Follow their example and seek to bless your readers or clients.

Although this may sound overly “spiritual,” believers ought to pray about this, as they should about all areas of life. God will show you how to engage in selfless self-promotion if you ask.

Will you accept these challenges? What could you add to these lists?

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor