Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review Do's and Don'ts

My book reviews are one-third of the traffic on my blog.

Ummmmm…

I guess I am a book reviewer. Or something.

Actually, I love doing book reviews, but before I started out, I made sure to make a few “house rules”. I went out of my way to do reviews for people who like to write fiction. It’s fun. I get to talk about voicing, plotting, thematics, etc., in snobby writer terms.

I encourage everyone to review the occasional book on their blog. There are certain universal rules that make for a good book review:

Don’t internalize your review

The interwebs is rife with reviews that go “me me me me me me me (interesting thing about the book) me me me me me me.”

Don’t do that. Mainly because it’s been done before. A lot.

When you make a conscious effort not to broadcast your internalization of the appreciation or criticism of a book, the review comes across more professional and with deeper meaning.

This is a subtle point: while it seems there is a small gap between expressing why you loved something in terms of your feelings, and why you love something in terms of the art presented—that gap is an ocean. We all have opinions on art, we all feel art, but when we talk less about the artwork itself and more about ourselves, the context of the review changes, and usually not for the better.

Don’t meta the author

This happens all the time, even in reviews in magazines and newspapers. Rather than letting a book stand on its own, the reviewer tries to pick apart the work based on knowledge of the author or an attempt to examine the author’s motives.

This is elitists behavior. The reviewer usually comes across as either an ass or a creepy stalker, either way it’s lazy. Like super-duper-you-are-not-being clever-you-are-being-a-dork lazy.

Picking apart an author is a great academic exercise—only valuable to other readers when the reviewer examines the story on its merits first, and only if it’s done without an agenda.

Do buy the book

A book review carries more weight with readers if they know you purchased the book. More importantly, the book review has more meaning to you.

Do develop some house rules

Are your reviews comprehensive and all-encompassing? Are you going to post negative reviews even while searching for an agent? Will you have a common theme to your book reviews?

Spending a few minutes thinking about simple house rules makes things a lot easier. When I pick up a book to review, it sticks to a common theme (must deliver value to target audience) with a few ground rules (if I don’t like the book, I don’t review it).

Books books books books!

As writers, we love books. The online community is broad and diverse. A well-written book review not only serves my bursting need to talk about the cool stuff I read, but at the end of the day, serves other people who hop on the Internet tubes to read other’s thoughts.

Awesome.

8 comments:

  1. The sheer fact that you called Garren an "evil fuck" gives you a special spot in my heart. Why?

    Because he's an evil fuck!

    That you can't help but to root for by the end...

    Maybe I'll write a post on how to write good villains on Friday.

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  2. Heh. Garren. So flawed yet so perfect.

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  3. Book reviews seem like an interesting way to take an objective look at a book, and learn different techniques that authors use to tell stories.

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  4. I love to read book reviews but, as an author, shy away from writing them. I'd hate to write something and then end up sitting next to that author at a conference someday. The writing world - especially in childrens lit - is small and supportive. I would, however, post something about a book that was particularly wonderful and moved me in some way.

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  5. @Doug: Indeed. I actually found myself reading a recent book twice.

    @Tess: I hear you. I'm actually trained in how to give constructive feedback (really). I would have no problems sitting next to any author and telling them what I thought of their book. Or an agent. Or a publisher.

    But really, I cheat with book reviews. I don't feel the need to post negative book reviews. That particular niche is covered rather well.

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  6. Great post, Anthony! I think it's important to get book reviews right. I've seen some rather bad ones in my time - and not because the book was bad at all. Many reviews are about the author of the review, sadly, than about the book. That doesn't seem to benefit anyone.

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  7. Fantastic post. You give a lot of great information. I as well tend to shy away from writing them, but you may have just peaked my interest in writing one again!

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