I am an avid reader and always try to write reviews for the books I read.
Reading a book - like writing one - can be a solitary business. You get swept away in the story, attached to the characters, enmeshed in the plot. Apart from just clinging on, though, it can feel like you are a passenger, helplessly caught up, with no one to hear your gasps or your whimpers, to wipe your tears or share the journey. Unless you write a review, you have no right of reply.
Here is where a book review comes in. It gives you the chance to express your enjoyment - or otherwise - to berate the characters, to share the angst. It is a cathartic way of closing the book, of saying goodbye. I find that writing a book review fixes a book in my mind, and crystalises my response to it. I’m lucky enough to be a member of a book club, but when a book I have read isn’t one of our shared texts, writing a review is just as good a way of burrowing down beneath my initial response to a deeper, more cerebral as well as a more affective (emotional) response.
Book reviews help other readers decide whether to give a book a try. After all, when did YOU last buy a book without reading at least a handful of reviews for it?
As a writer, readers’ reviews are meat and drink. True, some writers churn out book after book, like machines. But I am not one of those. My books are personal, I put something of myself in them. I craft and hone them to be the best I can make them. Of course, I want to know how they are being received. To me, reviews are more important than sales.
I am not sure about other ebook platforms but certainly at the end of a Kindle book, you get the chance to give the book a star rating. This arrives on Goodreads, if you’re a member. But weirdly (as Amazon owns Goodreads) it doesn’t arrive on both platforms. I think this is not understood by many readers. To review on Amazon you have to go there and paste your review.
Star ratings are OK as far as they go, but there is some mis-match between Goodreads and Amazon. Three stars on Goodreads is described as ‘I liked it’ whereas on Amazon, three stars equates to a book you neither liked nor disliked, didn’t much care about either way. A three star rating on Amazon would be counted as a critical review. This is why a few words, added to your review, mean so much. If you gave it three stars, why? What was it that made it three, as opposed to four or five? And you can be sure that if, for instance, you found lots of typos that spoiled the book for you, the writer will read that, and SHOULD do something about it.
If you don’t buy books on line, but use libraries or charity shops instead, you can (and should) still review them. Goodreads is an excellent forum for this, and there are also some very good Facebook book clubs which encourage their members to review and recommend books. Other sites are available too. Bookbub, for example, is another site where you can join up for free as a reader and get the heads up on newly published and discounted books. Bookbub encourages you to review the books you have read.
Here are some pointers. First, what NOT to do.
Don’t be daunted, or feel that you can’t do it. If you can read a book you can CERTAINLY write a short review. You don’t have to write an essay. Chances are that if you do, no one will read it all. Ten sentences will be sufficient (see below).
You should NEVER tell the story. There is just no need. Every book comes with a brief ‘blurb’ that the author will have sweated buckets over. Potential readers can read that if they want to know what the book is about. I know one reviewer who simply transposes the book’s blurb to her review and THAT’S ALL! Really, it just doesn’t cut it.
NO SPOILERS. Honestly, writers weep when they see their painstakingly constructed plot twists carelessly revealed in reviews. Spoilers ruin things for everyone. Even people who write ‘Spoiler Alert’ before spilling all the beans are really doing the writer a disservice whilst pretending not to.
Don’t write a negative review for a book you didn’t finish, especially on Amazon, where those star ratings really do make a huge difference for writers. It isn’t fair. Some books are slow-burners and take a while to get going. Most writers have websites or can be found on Facebook. If you feel really strongly, send them an email to let them know privately why you couldn’t get on with their book.
Similarly, if you didn’t like a book because it wasn’t your genre, just chalk it up to experience and move on. I don’t like ginger, so I wouldn’t criticise a ginger cake because I’m simply no judge. A ginger cake is what it is and the fact that I don’t appreciate it reflects on me, not on the cake. Not everyone will like every book, and a negative review preambled with the sentence ‘I don’t normally read chick-lit,’ isn’t helpful unless it goes on ‘but this has really opened my eyes to the genre.’
What makes a good review?
Imagine you are speaking to a friend, a fellow book-enthusiast. You don’t need to impress them with your erudition but they are eager to know what you think.
Begin with a brief description of the book to let people know what type of book it is (its genre) and your response to it. ‘This sweeping historical romance kept me up at night.’
Be honest and balanced. Even if you loved the book, don’t gush, unless it really was the best book you have ever in your entire life ever read and you’d be happy if you died NOW without EVER reading another book EVER . If you disliked it, don’t be merciless. There must be something about a book you liked, even if it was only the cover, or the idea. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by India and this book gave me new insights into the country’s history. Having said that, there as a lot of historical detail that some might feel interrupted the flow of the story.’
Back your points up with examples from the book (but remember, no spoilers). ‘I enjoyed the writer’s portrayal of life on the long trek south. The way the different characters responded to the hardships of the journey was a real eye-opener; it brought out all their flaws. Her description of the sand storm was so exciting! ‘
How did the book make you FEEL? This is tricky but important because, in the end, books provoke feelings and people read books in order to have certain feelings provoked; empathy, fear, excitement, nostalgia. ‘On finishing the book I felt nostalgic for the romance of the past, but ashamed at the way the British exploited India.’
Compare the book (or the author’s style) to others that readers will recognise, if you can. ‘Fans of the Wilbur Smith Courtney books will enjoy this book.’
Would you read another book by this writer? HAVE you read other books by this writer? If so, mention them. ‘I will certainly look out for other books by this writer.’
Would you recommend this book? ‘Highly recommended.’
Don’t forget to copy and paste your review on all the sites; Goodreads, Amazon, Bookbub, and on to your Facebook, Insta and Twitter feeds.
We live in a fast, consumerist world and some books are designed to be consumed fast, so I have no problem with that. But sometimes we come across a book that is a Michelin Star meal, to be savoured slowly, mulled over and appreciated. These are the books it is a pleasure to review.
Here is our review (For MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions) in ten sentences. This sweeping historical romance kept me up at night. I’ve always been fascinated by India and this book gave me new insights into the country’s history. Having said that, there as a lot of historical detail that some might feel interrupted the flow of the story. I enjoyed the writer’s portrayal of life on the long trek south. The way the different characters responded to the hardships of the journey was a real eye-opener; it brought out all their flaws. Her description of the sand storm was so exciting! On finishing the book I felt nostalgic for the romance of the past, but ashamed at the way the British exploited India. Fans of the Wilbur Smith Courtney books will enjoy this book. I will certainly look out for other books by this writer. Highly recommended.’