Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review a book? I don't DO book reports. Here's help--

(* EDIT: I do not mean to imply that people should go review MY books with these suggestions, but ANY book that they adore or appreciate. If you want to review one of mine, I'll cheer and shout, but that was not the entire intention of this post. Some people have perceived it that way, and I don't want that to happen, so I'll point out that you should review only the books you really love. These are merely suggestions. And you only have to choose one or two of the questions to answer, not all of them. Remember, this isn't a school book report! Sorry for any misunderstandings. *)

So many people tell me that they're not writers and they didn't like it in school when they had to do book reports, and therefore they have NO intention of doing any book reviews. Or they say they'd be willing to do reviews of books they really like, but don't have any idea where to begin.

Well, now there's help!

You SHOULDN'T think that you have to do a summary or synopsis of the book. Everyone else has already done that, and it isn't really what book-review readers want to know. No? No! What they want to KNOW is. . . .

What did the book make you experience? What did it make you feel? What was your reaction to the characters? Do you remember any of the characters after closing the book? Would you read a sequel or another book by the same author? Did you feel the book was derivative, or was it original within the confines of its genre, or was it _sui generis_ (a thing all its own)? Were there typos and howlers, or was it clean? Did you like the author's style--or at least note that it was original, even if it was a bit off-putting (or maybe it wasn't off-putting but charming)?

Did the setting entice you to plan a vacation to the place? Was there a profession or hobby (such as bird-watching, ham radio, hot-air ballooning, hacking) that got explored such that you learned a lot or were intrigued by something you'd never read much about before? Did one of the characters appeal to you, or seem TSTL, or make you laugh?

WHAT DID YOU GET OUT OF READING THIS BOOK? Did you learn something? Did you feel a sense of closure at the end? Or did you close the book thinking, "Why did I waste my time? Why did the AUTHOR waste his time? Is that all there is?"

NOTE: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ANSWER ALL THESE QUESTIONS! Choose one or two that appeal to you. Whatever it is that spoke to you while reading the book.

These are the sorts of things we can only learn by reading your review. We don't need another CliffsNotes-style summary. We want to know if we will like the book or should give it a try, and we're trying to figure that out from reading what you thought.

So the next time that someone has sent you his or her book for review, don't panic.

Here are some things that people have said about my books:
(I include them here so you can steal them or modify them as you like. Use these sorts of phrases in your "happy" reviews, and you'll make authors very happy.)

This book satisfies on every level. Nuanced and filled with subtext, unlike most popcorn reads of today.
I came for a funny romp and a puzzle to solve, and I got more.
The sisters' relationship made me wish for a sister of my own, and there is a lot of philosophical stuff.
One strength I noticed about the book is that the sleuth and others actually mourn the victim(s). In so many books, no one mourns or even blinks an eye. Often no one even tries CPR or anything, simply rushing over to the fallen victim and declaring, "He's dead, Jim." This book handles it far more realistically in terms of replacing the functions that the victim served in people's lives and so forth.
The story is very well written. I enjoyed the turns of phrase and interesting metaphors. Great voice.
I laughed out loud. Parts of it were like an "I Love Lucy" episode with the sisters pulling a fast one.
I liked it. But then I used to date the author.

You don't have to write a masterpiece of a review! And you don't have to do a piece of fluff that's obviously from a friend of the author ("This book will change your life! Unputdownable! This author is too wonderful! Treat yourself to a copy today!") You can write an honest, balanced review by answering a couple of the questions I suggest above, and your review will not be cookie-cutter. Isn't that a good idea?

"This book was as much fun as Paul McCartney on a skateboard!"


  1. Good stuff, Shalanna. I saved it for my I-don't-do-review friends.

    1. Thanks, Earl! I went back this morning and added the disclaimers that (1) you don't have to do ALL the questions, just a couple of them that appeal to you, and (2) you can review ANYONE'S books, not just mine. Someone had gotten the idea that I was trying to get more reviews just for myself, so I added a little edit up top. No matter what you do, you're going to upset somebody, so you do the best you can!

  2. This article rocks! Thank you so much for giving a blueprint of sorts to review before doing a review.

    It's so good, I'm checking out your blog and books! Thanks to that "Emotions Thesaurus" gal for posting your article, too.

  3. Great guide for doing a review. It really helps authors when readers give them a thumbs up and tell what they liked about the book.

  4. Thanks for this, It's sparked me to "review" books and not just say "recommend" (or not). ;) I've also adapted it to movie reviews. Great post!

    Mrs. Mac (aka: Kim)
    warmcookies - a blog

  5. Thanks for the tips! I get stuck explaining why I liked a book, especially if I REALLY like it. Also, I've been reading reviews for over 30 years and have in my head that I should be writing reviews like the ones I've used myself.