Often we buy books in order to get lost in a fictional world the author creates. We follow along as characters grow, fall in love, get hurt, and sometimes die. We crave the adventure, the romance, the heroes, and sometimes the villains. But time and time again, we covet the next book on our never ending list of books to-read.
“A novel is an act of the imagination. To read it as anything but is a failure of the contract we enter when we engage in a fictional world.“- Natalie Bakopoulos (The Millions: Particular ways of being wrong)
And this world that we so eagerly engage in is the same world we blog about and write endless reviews about. But not only that, we also spend hours navigating countless reviews of others before a.) deciding if a book is worthy of your time or b.) comparing our impression of the book with others.
When reading a book review, I think it is important to keep in mind that what you read is one person’s highly subjective reading experience. Whether that was a good experience or not, the reviewer is setting the stage for how others perceive this book. And often they do a good job. But sometimes you come across a review and all you can do is shake your head over the cruelty or inadequate job that was done.
“The reviewer should ask: how is this done, what has been attempted, has it been delivered with freshness or skill or compelling insight? A lazy review is cruel, and a cruel review is lazy; both stem from a lack of imagination and empathy. Like cruelty itself.” – Bakopoulos
One of the hardest things about blogging is taking our experience with a particular book and trying to apply it to a broad audience of readers. A lot of times, our perceptions of the world we live in- our experiences, emotions, and ideas- are what drive our reviews. And although writing a review like this is perfectly fine, it’s easy to forget the purpose of the review and instead get lost in our emotions or give away too much detail.
For example, are you reviewing the book you read or the book you wish the author had written? There needs to be a fine balance with the information provided within your reviews.
Earlier this week, I asked two questions:
1- What it is you look for or want to see when reading a book review?
2- What do you HATE seeing in a book review?
Below is a composite of the results I received, along with advice I found while searching the web.
- Establishing the story with your audience in mind: Keep in mind that your audience has not yet read this story and more than likely, they don’t want you giving away too much. So make sure you introduce characters and principals carefully and deliberately.
- Spoilers: Most everyone I talked to (passionately) stated how they hate getting into a review only to find out it contains spoilers. Do us all a favor and identify if your review contains spoilers. Or don’t put them in your review at all. From what I have read, minor spoilers are acceptable. Just don’t give away the major plot or the entire book.
“I never read reviews with spoiler in them (at least when there is a warning) I mean, a review is supposed to be something that gets me to read the book so I can find the spoiler on my OWN.” – ravenandbeez
“Enough detail to entice, but nor enough to spoil.” – Betty
- Is the book worthy of my time: A lot of people want to know this answer before spending the big bucks and buying a book. I know I do! It might be a good idea to make sure your review includes an answer to this question along with why you feel this way. And trust me, the why is very important. Maybe this book is best suited for people who like specific genres or people in a certain age group- whatever the case is, say it!
“…the main thing I look for is does the reviewer think the book is worth reading and if so why.” – TheTattooedBookGeek
“I want to know specifics. I want to know why the reviewer didn’t like the author’s writing or whatever. I know that sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint, but I’d like to know whether or not that writing style would be something I’d enjoy or hate.” – jessreadingnook
- Find your voice: Writing a review with your audience in mind is difficult but can become easier when you provide them with key elements they are looking for. See below for examples. But with that said, I don’t feel like your entire review should be tailored to your readers. Your voice and opinions matter! I feel there needs to be a mix between writing for your audience and writing for yourself. If you only incorporate what your audience wants, I have a feeling blogging/writing reviews will become dull and boring.
“I find that I write for myself, so my reviews are mostly a collection of my thoughts catered towards me and people who have already read the book. Obviously that’s not what a review is about- a review is for people who are looking to see if they should read said book.” – ravenandbeez
“I do think however that a review should be personal to whoever is writing it and as bloggers/reviewers we all have are own unique style which is what makes each blog are own.” – TheTattooedBookGeek
- Impersonal, Feelings and Whatnots: I know I have already touched upon putting your personal feelings/take on the book you read in your review. With the amount of response I got on this topic, i.e. feelings, I thought it was worthy of mentioning again. When you are writing your review, people want both a summery of what you read (without spoilers) and they want to know how you felt about the book. In other words, don’t make this impersonal. Connect with your readers by diving into the emotions around the book. No one wants to read a review that is bland or lacks emotion. If you hate the book, lets feel the hate. If you love the book, I should be able to feel that through your words. So in other words, don’t just stick with the facts. A lot of what I read and people who commented stated they want to feel the emotions behind your words. They come to your reviews to connect. Give them something to connect with!
“I like it when the reviewer types down his / her personal feelings into the blog! Thats the main reason I read a review ; to know what you felt about it” – piezoradeon
“I hate it when reviews are bland. I want reviewers to state their facts strongly and give strong reasons for it.” – ravenandbeez
- Structure: Some of the responses I received are looking for some type of structure to your review. Most people want specific elements from a review. They look for your thoughts on the plot, characters, writing style, and your overall opinion. Others want your review first and the book information last, i.e. page number, author, published date. Maybe you keep your review to a couple paragraphs, each being a category (character, writing style..) or maybe you mix it up and each book is slightly different. Either way, I don’t think there is a right answer here as long as you touch some of these points in your review.
“I prefer reviews to have some sort of structure…but I also want to be able to find that information easily.” – jessreadingnook
“Sometimes people just give up pretty good books just by looking at the size of it…so the probability of reading a book increases when details are given in the last!” – piezoradeon
If you struggle with any of the above things, don’t worry because you aren’t alone! No one is perfect and everyone slips up every now and then. It’s easy to get caught up in your reviews. But here are some ideas that might help:
- Take notes while you read. This helps you not only jot down the emotions you feel at the time, it also helps to write your review later. Some reviewers will take mental notes and some will just jot down the events not their emotions. That way they get to look at the ‘big picture’. I think with this, you just need to find what works best for you and stick with it.
- Edit your review! Take a step back and read your review as though you have never read the book before. And ask yourself, did you give enough detail but not too much to be considered a spoiler? Re-reading your review before you publish it also helps to make sure everything makes sense and there is a balance between emotions and facts. Some reviewers stated how when they write their reviews, they write down whatever “stream of thought” they have and then piece it all together in the end. I myself do this. After a review, I will have random sentences/paragraphs throughout my notes that I have to later piece together or delete.
- If you are struggling to connect with your readers, pull things from your own life. For example: the book I am currently reading, the lead character kept hidden the fact she had a child with the lead male character. This outraged me because as a mother, I know how much development and growth happens within the first year of a child’s life. And I would hate to have missed any of it but that is what happened to one of the characters in the book. There is a 99% chance there will be a paragraph in my review about this book describing this exact situation and how I felt.
- Give yourself time to write the review. Sometimes writing a review immediately after you’re done reading is ideal while others it’s best to let it sit and simmer. My advice is don’t feel rushed. If you don’t get the review out until tomorrow, so be it. More people will not only read your review but come back looking for more, when they are concise and provide a good argument for the book.
- If you are struggling making or cataloging your feelings, step back and ask yourself Why or What. Why did/didn’t I like this book? What made me feel this way?
Please keep in ming these are just suggestions and by no means is this the only way you should write reviews. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have. Thank you to everyone who participated in the conversation during Part One of this segment. I look forward to doing this again!!