Wednesday, May 3, 2017

So you think you want to write reviews

Writing reviews is hard y'all! I can't even tell you the number of times my bud Bambi writes and tells me she needs to write a review and has nothing to say or that she simply just doesn't want to Write. Another. Review. When you read a lot of books and you write reviews, there's a lot of reviews to write.

When I first decided the start the blog, the idea of writing reviews was what scared me the most. Second was making sure I had enough content to keep the blog going but that's another post for another day.

Prior to the bloggity, I never wrote reviews. I might have written the odd short one on Amazon if the mood took me or if the book moved me in a significant way, but I never thought about the book from a review perspective when I wrote. I only gave a star rating for the books I'd read. It felt like too much of a commitment to actually write down what I felt or perhaps it was sheer laziness on my part.

Handwriting
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My first reviews were short, stuttering attempts at articulating what I felt about the book I had read. I had not developed a style or a rhythm to my reviews. If you go back to my first reviews on the bloggity, you'll see what I mean.

Did I mention writing reviews is hard?

How did I learn to write reviews, then? Because writing reviews is a learning process. And how did I manage to develop my own style?

Firstly, I started with googling (good ol' Google, what would we do without you?) "how to write reviews". There were a bunch of blog posts out in the interwebs talking about it. Some more useful than others. I read a bunch of them and managed to distill a lot of the information into a few pertinent questions I felt I wanted to answer in my reviews. Mind you, these days I seldom refer to them and I don't often follow them, but at the start, it was very helpful.

Question mark
Photo credit: Leo Reynolds via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

These are the questions I had written down which I thought I wanted to answer when writing a review.

  • Was it a good book?
  • Would you recommend it?
  • What did you like about it?
  • What did you dislike?
  • Tell us whatever you thought.

To me, a review is a conversation between you and the person reading your review. You are telling him or her what you think and in the process answering some questions she might have about the book you'd read.

Over time, I developed a certain style of my own (or at least I like to think I have a style!) and a lot of my reviews follow the format although content changes from review to review and book to book.

These days, I often start with an overview paragraph which highlights a specific thought about the book itself with some punchy keywords describing the book. For example, in a recent review of the book Trapped by Alison Aimes, I started with:

Wow! What an adrenalin filled space adventure Alison Aimes has written in Trapped.

Trapped is exactly the kind of story I love. It's sci-fi and romantic suspense rolled into one, with lots of action and adventure, an alpha male hero and a kickass heroine.

This basically summarizes the book for me and gives me a direction I want to go in. It also gives you a view of my feelings for the book.

Following that, if there is some overarching them or point I'd like to talk about, I cover that in the next paragraph. This is interchangeable with the next two paragraphs which would focus on how I felt about the hero and the heroine. Each main character gets their own paragraph while I try to articulate how their personalities and temperaments affected me as I was reading.

After talking about the main theme and the hero and heroine, I move on to other points within the story which may have jumped out at me. This could be about the antagonist or perhaps in some instances things which may not have worked for me in the book.

You can read some fairly typical reviews I've written here, here and here.

Rock Wedding by Nalini Singh
Trapped by Alison Aimes
Healing Danger by Maddie West

The review for Rock Wedding gives you a feel for a review I had written where the book was stunningly written. Of course, this book was by one of my favorite authors, Nalini Singh. :-) Trapped gives you an idea of a review I had written where I adored the world Ms Aimes had created but also saw further into the story to some of the broader themes she had touched on when I mentioned the Lord of the Flies feel to the action. And last but not least, Healing Danger shows you where I generally enjoyed the book and thought it was pretty good but had a few flaws which jumped out at me.

Of course, the hardest part of writing a review is the critical thinking behind the reading and analyzing the book as you go. It's easy to read a book and enjoy it without thinking about what it means. The messages the writer was hoping to convey and the way the characters made me feel, even the themes which were present throughout the book. It's easy to say "I liked it" but in reviews simply saying "I liked it" is not enough. You need to say WHY.

Why did you like it?

Why did you feel the way you did when the hero / heroine did that thing to the heroine / hero?

Why did you get angry?

Why are you sad?

Why are you happy?

Why did you cry? or laugh?

Articulating how you felt about each book you read is not easy.

Girl typing on laptop
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For me, I think it helps that I do a lot of editing and proofreading (mostly non-fiction (day job!) and some fiction (pro-bono for authors I like), critiquing of early drafts (fiction) and beta reading (fiction). All these things challenge me to THINK about what I'm reading and it forces me to articulate WHY to the author. Doing that makes me think about what words I'd use to describe my feelings and reactions and that has helped with writing reviews.

Along the way, I've learned a few tricks to help me with my reviews.

Evernote review note page

First and foremost is to write down notes of important points that jump out at you while reading. A lot of times, I'm thinking and analyzing while reading. It's become an automatic process for me now. So when a particular word, phrase or sentence pops into my mine, I jot it down because I know I will forget it if I don't. I usually do this in Evernote which is a fantastic database tool I use for capturing a lot of things. I have a "note" in Evernote dedicated to reviews and I write all my reviews in there.

Secondly, I try to write the review as soon as I've finished the book. That works most of the time. Even if I am lying in bed late at night and I finish the book, I will get up to write the review (it only takes a few minutes!) and then go back to bed. Since I'm already up reading, it's not that big a deal to get up and go to my computer to write it. I don't like writing it on my iPad, which I know I can but poking at the screen on the dinky little keyboard drives me bonkers for something longer than a few lines. I also find my thoughts do not flow as well when I'm poking at the iPad screen. Of course, this doesn't always work because sometimes I think I have nothing to say (more on that later) and for that, I try to not pick up another book to read (time permitting) so I don't dilute my thoughts, or I don't read too much if I do start another book.

Scales of justice golden statue
Photo credit: Citizensheep via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Finally, I learned to be brave and to trust myself. I feel what I feel when I read a book. These are my thoughts and my feelings. I need to stay true to them. This brings me to a very important point in writing reviews. It is okay to not like something. It is okay to not finish a book. What is not okay is being mean about it. Readers and authors alike are appreciate if you are kind, polite and constructive at all times. Of course there are times when books don't work for you. You may hate a character because of a particular personality trait, or the subject matter hits a nerve with you, or the particular trope the author has chosen is not one you particularly enjoy. That's all ok. You don't need to like it all. You do, however, need to stay classy and be kind. It's scary to say what didn't work and why. You are afraid of the hate you might get for it. You don't want to hurt someone's feelings. I understand all that, but first and foremost, you need to be honest and be true to yourself. You owe it not only to yourself but to your audience. It speaks to your integrity as a reviewer.

There is a reviewer who raves about EVERY book she reads. So much so that everything is always 5 stars and once she even said a book was so good, she gave it 6 stars. Reviews and ratings like that become meaningless. In fact, for this reviewer, her reviews were called into question and she had to write a dedicated blog post explaining her reasons for only  having 5 and 6 star reviews. In all things, I believe in honesty and integrity and I want my reviews to reflect that. If I didn't like something, you'll know. If I loved something, you'll also know about it. It's called balance. It makes you as a reviewer believable. And if you are believable people will trust your reviews and come to you for your opinion on a book they are interested in.

There are things I have not covered in this post because it would make it too long which pertains to reviewing as well, like what it means to be asked to review a book. How reviewing fits into a schedule and how to stay on track (or not!). I may write about these later on if there's any interest on the topics. You let me know.

In closing, I have to say if you want to write reviews:

Read deep.

Be true to yourself.

Be kind to the writers.

Guy reading holding pages
Photo via Visual Hunt

So what do you think? Do you want to start writing reviews? If you do, I'd love to read your reviews. :-) Happy reading and reviewing.


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6 comments:

  1. Hi Deanna

    That is a great post as you know I read and review the books I read and really enjoy doing this and I pretty much enjoy the books I read it took me a while to start reviewing but I found that I loved it although I still don't always have a lot of confidence in my reviews sadly, I am honest and if there is a book I really didn't like then I don't review it the authors put a lot of heart and soul into their stories and just because I wasn't fond of it doesn't mean someone else won't love it.

    And there are times that I get a bit behind on my reading and hope that the authors will be patient with me to get them read and reviewed.

    Have Fun
    Helen

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    1. You are an awesome reviewer. Don't be too hard on yourself. You review so many books!!

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  2. I never wrote them pre-blog either but an odd one on Goodreads. Now I lament all those unreviewed books. lol I do take notes and do a rough draft as soon as I finish a book. If I don't I end up having to re-read and no one's got time for that. lol

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    1. I take notes AND I write the review almost immediately after reading the book before I start the next one. If I don't, I forget. Plus, it's a bit like purging before the next book so the books don't share the same head space. :-)

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