Monday, 4 July 2016

The Review Revue by Nola Passmore



A revue is a form of theatre that consists of songs, dances, and funny sketches.  Oh wait!  Wrong kind of revue.  I was thinking of book reviews.  But in deference to its theatrical homophone, here are some short sketches that outline what you need to know in order to write book reviews.

Reasons for Writing Reviews


  • They help authors - Good, honest reviews help to create a positive vibe around a book which in turn can increase sales.  Once there is a critical mass of reviews (e.g. over 25), Amazon will also start recommending the book to readers who’ve made similar purchases. Writing a review is one of the best ways you can support authors and publishers.


  • They help readers - Constructive reviews can help readers decide on their next purchase or library loan.  Is it the type of book you’d enjoy?  Is it well-written?  Is there anything you’d like to be warned about (e.g. swearing, graphic sex or violence)? Is it a light read or something that will stay with you long after the last page?  Reviews can help answer all of those questions and more.


  • They help the reviewer - If you regularly write reviews, you’ll sharpen your analytical skills.  What was it about this book that compelled you to keep turning pages well into the night?  Why did that story drag in the middle?  What made that particular passage sing?  As you answer these questions about the books you read, you can learn valuable lessons to apply in your own writing.



Guidelines for Writing Reviews


  • Be Honest - This might sound like a no-brainer, but it can be tricky, especially if you have reservations about the book and/or know the author.  However, the desire to support authors doesn’t mean you write a glowing review when there are a number of problems with the book.  Your integrity is at stake.  Readers expect you to give an honest evaluation so they can make an informed choice about whether or not to read the book.  An author worth their weight in fresh metaphors will also appreciate constructive feedback that can help them grow as a writer.


  • Be Specific - Don’t just say it was a fantastic book and everyone should run out and buy it.  For the feedback to be constructive, you need to identify the elements that worked well.  By the same token, be specific about what you didn’t like and why.  Perhaps you couldn’t relate to one of the characters because they were too perfect.  Maybe there were too many long descriptive passages that slowed the pace.  Specific details add credibility to your review.


  • Be Polite - Don’t feel as if you have to point out every flaw.  The aim is to help readers and authors, not to tear people down with your biting observations.  Imagine the author is your mother and think about how you’d like reviewers to address the problems in her book. 


  • Don’t Give Spoilers - “This book has a fantastic twist.  I had no idea the sassy hairdresser would turn out to be the killer!”  EEK!  You’ve just ruined the book for me. If you want to discuss your feelings about the ending, save it for your book club.  There might be more leeway in this when reviewing nonfiction books, such as self-help books and how-to books.  Afterall, it’s hardly a spoiler to know that the croquembouche recipe appears in the desserts section.


  • Follow Policies and Give Disclaimers - Before posting a review on a particular website, be sure to check their guidelines.  You should always disclose whether you have been given a free copy of the book for the purposes of review. Amazon also has strict policies about who can and can’t review a book.  For example, authors, family members, close friends or those with some involvement in the book (e.g. publishers, editors) are not allowed to post reviews. Sites like Goodreads are more flexible.  However, you should still give a disclaimer if you have any conflicts of interest.


Suggested Format for Reviews


There is no right or wrong way to write a review.  However, I’ve found the following format helpful:

  • Briefly say what the book’s about.  As an optional extra, you could also note any key themes.
  • Use the sandwich method to say what you liked and didn’t like about the book.  That is, start with something positive, then mention any problems or flaws, then finish with a positive.
  • Give a recommendation (optional).  For example, what type of readers would like this book?
  • Give any disclaimers where relevant (e.g. if you received a free copy or if you had any involvement with the book).


For an example of that format, you might like to read my review of Twice Stolen by Susanne Timpani.  It’s a bit longer than I would usually write, as I got carried away with the indigenous themes.  However, it gives you an idea of the different elements to include.




Where to Post Reviews


There are hundreds of potential outlets, but here are some of the major ones.

GoodreadsGoodreads is a great place to start if you’re a novice reviewer, as their policies are a bit more flexible than Amazon.  You can read their guidelines here.

Amazon – Be sure to put your review on the American and Australian sites as reviews don’t automatically cross over.  You can read their guidelines here.

Koorong Koorong is an Australian Christian bookseller.  Reviews are restricted to 250 words, but you can earn $10 gift vouchers for every four reviews they publish on their site.  Click on the relevant book on their website and a link will come up that allows you to post a review. You can read their guidelines here.

Books in StockBooks in Stock is an Australian company that offers a wide range of books, including Christian and family-friendly titles.  Click on the relevant book, and a link will come up to add a review.

More Information


To learn more about writing reviews, pop along to Iola Goulton’s workshop at the Omega Writers Conference in Sydney in October.  Iola has posted hundreds of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so she’ll have a wealth of experience to share.

Do you have some other sites to add to this list?  What do you look for in a review?  I’d love to hear your comments.


Nola Passmore’s poetry, devotions, inspirational articles, true stories and short fiction have appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies in Australia and overseas.  Although she’s a former academic with qualifications in creative writing, psychology, and Christian ministry; she’s found that you can never underestimate the power of friends, critique partners and mentors in the writing journey.  She’s a founding member of Quirky Quills and co-leads the Toowoomba chapter of Omega Writers. She and her husband Tim have a freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  

14 comments:

  1. A really helpful summary on the whole matter of reviews, Nola--thank you. I admit I am not a great review writer and the part that bothers me the most is how to be honest about a book, if there are things I feel need to be improved in it. People seem to notice the negative comments much more readily than they do the positive ones, so I am concerned that any little negative thing I might say will outweigh the positives, both for the author and for the potential reader.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jo - Thanks for that. I can really relate to your point about not wanting to say something negative. That's why I like the sandwich method. If you're constructive and also pop the negative bit in between two positive bits, it can still come across as encouraging. I was chatting to Anne Hamilton about this once and she also challenged me to think of it in a different way. If a review is all positive, especially if it's really glowing, some people might doubt the authenticity of the review. Perhaps it was written by their mother or best friend. But if there are one or two problems/flaws/reservations, it can give more credibility to the review as a whole. For me, it's harder if I already know the person from the various Christian networks. If I really didn't like one of their books, I don't put up a review. Thanks for your comments.

      Delete
  2. Excellent summary, Nola. I'm a reviewer too. I find it interesting that the majority of books I read I thoroughly enjoy. The reading experience is such an individual thing that often the areas that I might struggle with in a book may reflect my own 'bent' and therefore, we need to be a little careful how we position those in our review. It's good when we get used to a particular reviewer so we learn to appreciate the points they typically zero-in on in their reviews.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ian. And that's a good point about the reading experience being an individual thing and that some things we struggle with might not be our 'bent'. In my reviews, I try to make a distinction between general problems with the book (e.g. plot holes, character development, writing) versus my preferences. For example, if I thought it was well-written, but the story or genre just wasn't my cup of tea, I'll say something to that effect. It may be another reader's 'cup of tea'. Thanks for your comment.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for your post Nola. I agree, reviews are vital to the author and helpful to the reader. Good advice to be specific but I also think that they don't have to be long or, as you point out, totally positive to be helpful to the author. While I usually choice a book to read on other factors (its cover, blurb, recommendations etc), I often skim reviews before I read a book to get a general impression of a book (for instance if it has a slew of low ratings, I might be more hesitant to read it) & often look for the mid-range ratings (two & three stars) rather than the five star glowing ones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jenny. You've made some good points. Before purchasing a book, I do usually have a quick look at Goodreads and Amazon to see what people are saying. I usually look at a couple of the positive ones and a couple of the negative ones to get an idea. I usually choose it based on whether it seems to be 'my sort of story', even if some of the reviews were less than favourable, but I usually avoid it if a number of reviewers are saying it's badly written. Thanks for your comments :)

      Delete
  4. Good work Nola. Thanks for the encouragement and the tips.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Meredith. Need to encouragement myself to make more progress on my to-read pile and get some more reviews out there too :)

      Delete
  5. Great post, Nola. And thanks for including my book in the photo!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Andrea. I was wondering if you'd notice the pic :) It's a great cover.

      Delete
  6. Andrea Grigg and Adele Jones side-by-side with Geraldine Brooks - pretty cool.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Especially the way Geraldine's looking up to them :)

      Delete
  7. Great post, Nola. I think you've covered the bones of reviewing well!

    My main problem with writing reviews is reviewing books I love - it's so much easier to write a comprehensive review when I had issues with the book than if it was something I loved. But those are the books I most enjoy reading (obviously!), and it's always good to see a new book from a favourite author newly available as a review copy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree Iola. But it's nice to be able to honestly say a book is fantastic. Definitely the most fun to read. There have been times when I've paused in the middle of a review trying to think what the flaws were. But then if I have to think that hard, they're probably not worth mentioning :) Thanks for your comment.

      Delete