Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
How to Write Respectful Reviews
Writing book reviews is always a hot topic with writers. We realize reviews can make or break book sales, but as reviewers there are times we just can’t offer a glowing recommendation. What then?
Do we stay mum? Or write honestly and hope for minimal fallout?
Heather and I have always embraced the write-an-honest review stance; and we support other authors who strive to do the same thing. Today we are sharing some of our tips for turning a lackluster review into a helpful commentary about storycraft and not something that makes the author feel like we knifed them in the back.
1. Make opening a dialogue your primary goal:
Book reviewers understand they must entertain; if they don’t, people aren’t going to read their blogs. But for some reviewers, the mission to entertain overrides common courtesy. Their negative reviews are fodder for insults in the name of writing amusing copy. When you perceive reviewing as a form of discussion, you approach the process differently. You try to make the review about something bigger: the book’s role in society, the way the writer uses language, how the writer tackled a plot twist, or if they made you think about something differently. These are all valuable aspects of literary culture and worthy of discussion even when a book doesn’t live up to your expectations.
2. Use specific examples:
If you have a point to make, make it! Don’t skirt the issues with indistinct chatter. If the story feels too derivative of another famous story and that made it impossible for you to remain engaged, say that! Don’t say that the book was “boring” or it “put you to sleep.” These comments are too vague and don’t convey what your real complaint is. Besides it’s likely someone reading your review will love retold stories, and they will jump at the chance to read the book you didn’t enjoy. That helps turn your review into a potential sale for the author. Best of all, you stayed true to yourself and your honest opinions while doing it.
3. Distinguish between writing mechanics and your opinions about those mechanics:
Both aspects are important, but one is objective (the book has typos or it doesn’t) and the other is subjective (typos throw you into a whirlwind of revulsion). I can enjoy and even rave about a book with some mechanical issues; however, too much data dumping makes me crazy! Break the two issues apart. Describe the mechanical problem and then give your opinion of how prevalent and disruptive the issue was to your enjoyment of the story.
4. Fact check like your life depended on it:
If you want to comment on any emotionally charged topic (race, religion, etc.), make sure you can support your claim with some hard data. When in doubt, stop writing and start researching. If you don’t have time to learn more about the subject, talk about your impressions in an open-ended way. Ask questions of your readers and invite someone closer to the topic to comment. You might learn your interpretation was correct, or that you were dead wrong. Either way, you have opened a meaningful discussion about the subject, and perhaps that’s exactly what the author intended by broaching a challenging topic.
5. Never make it personal:
A book review is not about the author. Never speculate that the author’s real life is bleeding onto the page, or attempt to make the actions of the characters a reflection of the writer’s state of mind. I know many wonderful people who write ghastly horror stories with high body counts; yet I can assure you they are not secretly planning to do anyone harm. Except maybe Stephen King. I’m sure they would love to take a great big bite… out of his bank account.
6. Back away from rebuttals:
When you write a low-star review, someone might come gunning for you. This someone might be the author, or the author’s fans. The best policy is don’t engage. You have written your review, let it stand. If you feel you must say something, thank the person for reading your review and leaving you a comment expressing the wide range of opinions a book can generate. Even if the person comes back and does their level best to drag you into a fight, don’t do it. If you stay silent, the angry person should eventually move on to the next reviewer.
You didn’t think your bad review was the only one, did you?
7. Link with caution:
You took the time to write a review and you want people to read it. That’s normal, and I bet you drop blog links everywhere you go. But stop for a moment and think. How will your link look to other people? When I go on Amazon or Goodreads and see a rating with a solitary sentence (usually something overly sensationalized) with a “read this review at my blog” style link, I immediately dismiss the review as link bait. Any links on Amazon or Goodreads should include at least a paragraph to show the review is genuine.The absolute worst possible link is the one that looks like the review was written to boost the reviewer’s book sales. Be mindful of reviewing any books in the same genre as your own work. Any negative reviews might be perceived as unfairly running down the competition.
8. Don’t review a book you haven’t read:
Every so often this situation crops up in force. It often revolves around a book some group wants to ban and I consider it a form of reviewer fraud. No matter how much you know you will hate the book, or how many people have told you unpleasant facts about the book, stay away from rating or reviewing the book. That’s not to say you can’t review a book you didn’t finish, you absolutely can, as long as you’re clear about where and why you put the book down.
9. Avoid reading books you suspect you’ll hate: I read reviews all the time, and I’m just as likely to be put off by positive review as I am caustic one. That’s because I look at the reasons the reviewer cited, not the number of stars. I know my reading taste and I understand what factors will bother me. I take care to avoid reading those books. Just as you shouldn’t review a book you haven’t read, why bother reading a book you’re sure will disappoint you? Just so you can write a negative review? Take the higher road — life is too short to be that reviewer.
Honesty is the best policy when reviewing, but it’s not the only consideration. Show respect, and be polite, especially when the review isn’t packed with praise.
Do you write reviews of books you didn’t like? Let’s hear your thoughts (pro or con) in the comments.
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.
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