After Realm Makers 2015, I rolled up my sleeves and decided it was time to give my blog a late summer cleaning. This meant going through pages and pages of old blog posts, and like going through old clothes, deciding which ones needed to be pitched, and which ones could be patched up and reused.
Many of the posts I kept were book reviews.
Book reviews are a top currency in the online marketplace. A pile of positive reviews can push an author to high recognition, whereas a slew of negative ones can send them to the bottom (or if the book is ‘so bad it’s good’, can give the author a different kind of publicity).
Reviewing books regularly can be a great networking tool, and foster a fun, interactive community among readers. Book reviewing is something that a lot of people do when they first embark into blogging. Considering that I started out exclusively as a book reviewer as well, I’m happy to pass along five book review tips I’ve learned over six years of trial and error.
1.) Make It Distinctive
Coming back to my favorite word, worldview, go deep and think about why you read books. Some people are all about the characterization, while others focus on the pacing, whereas others really want the humor. Some people notice every detail of grammar and sentence structure, whereas others only care if the main character succeeds in their mission.
Now, think about why you’re going to review books. What’s going to be your niche? Will you do an itemized list of different sections? Write an analytical review that aims to help parents make wise choices about their child’s reading material? Do action-oriented reviews that zero in on plot? Maybe compare books to movies?
However you choose to approach it, remember that the more distinctive your voice, the more you’ll be offering other readers a fresh take on the book, and giving the author an extra insight into how others read their work.
2.) Make It Short Chunks
This is a preference more than a rule. There are many reviewers who choose to write reviews with 7-8 sentence paragraphs. If that’s really what you feel called to do, then far be it for me to stop you. My first few reviews went in this direction.
That being said, people process information on a screen differently. We’ve become a nation of skimmers, glancing down through a lot of content to find anything that catches our attention, before moving on. Shorter paragraph chunks tend to suit this style of reading, and therefore, writing your review in short chunks could lead to greater readership.
3.) Make It a Sandwich
The “sandwich” method of giving criticism refers to making a positive comment, then a negative comment, then a positive comment. While it’s debatable whether this is the most effective method in verbal conversation, it still holds water in online reviews.
Honesty is important in reviews (even if the author is a friend or family member). That being said, try not to open a review or end a review on a negative comment. When people read, especially as skimmers, they tend to remember the first and last comments (plus any distinctive anecdotes). That means that even if you only had a few minor quibbles about a book, placing those quibbles at the end of your review will make them more memorable than the many positives in the middle.
But what if you can’t think of enough positives? Take a step back and think about whether it was the writing quality itself or simply your preferences. A book that you found too slow someone else might enjoy for its lyrical pacing. If this is the case, admit that the book wasn’t for you and why.
If you are certain that the book is outright awful and worth zero stars? Post what you choose, but keep in mind again that negatives stick more than positives. In some cases, it might be better to abstain from reviewing. There are plenty of anonymous reviewers who sling mud at books. Take the high road and give grace (and if you received a free review copy, perhaps send a polite email to the author/publisher explaining why you chose not to review the book).
4.) Make It Personal
Use anecdotes. They make your review memorable, and paint word pictures that will reach other readers far more than just saying “this book was excellent.” For instance, I read one book on my phone that was so well-paced, I couldn’t stop, even though my battery was dying! I only read faster and faster, hoping to outrun the power meter. Including personal stories like this only enhance your review.
5.) Make it Connected
A picture is worth a thousand words. If you’re reviewing on your blog, include a picture of the book cover, and link the book cover to an online store. Also, include a brief summary. I usually just copy and paste the Amazon.com summaries (along with a link attribution).
When you mention the author’s name, link their name to their website. An additional option is to include the author’s bio and a headshot.
Post your review to different websites online, such as Goodreads, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble. I’d recommend doing a little adaptation and editing, as a review suited to a blog might not read as well in a different setting. Also, link your review to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share any tips or ideas on book reviews in the comments. Also, if you know someone who writes great reviews, share the link! I love new connections.