Monday, July 4, 2016

The Review Revue by Nola Passmore



A revue is a form of theatre that consists of songs, dances, and funny sketches.  Oh wait!  Wrong kind of revue.  I was thinking of book reviews.  But in deference to its theatrical homophone, here are some short sketches that outline what you need to know in order to write book reviews.


Reasons for Writing Reviews
 


  • They help authors - Good, honest reviews help to create a positive vibe around a book which in turn can increase sales.  Once there is a critical mass of reviews (e.g. over 25), Amazon will also start recommending the book to readers who’ve made similar purchases.   Writing a review is one of the best ways of supporting an author or publisher.

  • They help readers - Constructive reviews can help readers decide on their next purchase or library loan.  Is it the type of book you’d enjoy?  Is it well-written?  Is there anything you’d like to be warned about (e.g. swearing, graphic sex or violence)? Is it a light read or something that will stay with you long after the last page?  Reviews can help answer all of those questions and more.

  • They help the reviewer - If you regularly write reviews, you’ll sharpen your analytical skills.  What was it about this book that compelled you to keep turning pages well into the night?  Why did that story drag in the middle?  What made that particular passage sing?  As you answer these questions about the books you read, you can learn valuable lessons to apply in your own writing.



Guidelines for Writing Reviews



  • Be Honest - This might sound like a no-brainer, but it can be tricky, especially if you have reservations about the book and/or know the author.  However, the desire to support authors doesn’t mean you write a glowing review when there are a number of problems with the book.  Your integrity is at stake.  Readers expect you to give an honest evaluation so they can make an informed choice about whether or not to read the book.  An author worth their weight in fresh metaphors will also appreciate constructive feedback that can help them grow as a writer.

  • Be Specific - Don’t just say it was a fantastic book and everyone should run out and buy it.  For the feedback to be constructive, you need to identify the elements that worked well.  By the same token, be specific about what you didn’t like and why.  Perhaps you couldn’t relate to one of the characters because they were too perfect.  Maybe there were too many long descriptive passages that slowed the pace.  Specific details add credibility to your review.

  • Be RespectfulDon’t feel as if you have to point out every flaw.  The aim is to help readers and authors, not to tear people down with your biting observations.  Imagine the author is your mother and think about how you’d like reviewers to address the problems in her book. 

  • Don’t Give Spoilers - “This book has a fantastic twist.  I had no idea the sassy hairdresser would turn out to be the killer!”  EEK!  You’ve just ruined the book for me. If you want to discuss your feelings about the ending, save it for your book club.  There might be more leeway in this when reviewing nonfiction books, such as self-help books and how-to books.  Afterall, it’s hardly a spoiler to know that the croquembouche recipe appears in the desserts section.

  • Follow Policies and Give Disclaimers - Before posting a review on a particular website, be sure to check their guidelines.  You should always disclose whether you have been given a free copy of the book for the purposes of review. Amazon also has strict policies about who can and can’t review a book.  For example, authors, family members, close friends or those with some involvement in the book (e.g. publishers, editors) are not allowed to post reviews. Sites like Goodreads are more flexible.  However, you should still give a disclaimer if you have any conflicts of interest.


Suggested Format for Reviews



There is no right or wrong way to write a review.  However, I’ve found the following format helpful:

  • Briefly say what the book’s about.  As an optional extra, you could also note any key themes.
  • Use the sandwich method to say what you liked and didn’t like about the book.  That is, start with something positive, then mention any problems or flaws, then finish with a positive.
  • Give a recommendation (optional).  For example, what type of readers would like this book?
  • Give any disclaimers where relevant (e.g. if you received a free copy or if you had any involvement with the book).


For an example of that format, you might like to read my review of Twice Stolen by Susanne Timpani.  It’s a bit longer than I would usually write, as I got carried away with the indigenous themes.  However, it gives you an idea of the different elements to include.



Where to Post Reviews


There are hundreds of potential outlets, but here are some of the major ones.

GoodreadsGoodreads is a great place to start if you’re a novice reviewer, as their policies are a bit more flexible than Amazon.  You can read their guidelines here.

Amazon – Be sure to put your review on the American and Australian sites as reviews don’t automatically cross over. You can read their guidelines here.

KoorongKoorong is an Australian Christian bookseller.  Reviews are restricted to 250 words, but you can earn $10 gift vouchers for every four reviews they publish on their site.  If you click on a book on their website, a link will pop up allowing you to review it. You can read their guidelines here.

Books in StockBooks in Stock is an Australian company that offers a wide range of books, including Christian and family-friendly titles.  Click on the relevant book, and a link will come up to add a review.


More information



To learn more about writing reviews, pop along to Iola Goulton’s workshop at the Omega Writers Conference in Sydney in October.  Iola has posted hundreds of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so she’ll have a wealth of experience to share.

Do you have some other sites to add to this list?  What do you look for in a review?  I’d love to hear your comments.


Nola Passmore’s poetry, devotions, inspirational articles, true stories and short fiction have appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies in Australia and overseas.  Although she’s a former academic with qualifications in creative writing, psychology, and Christian ministry; she’s found that you can never underestimate the power of friends, critique partners and mentors in the writing journey.  She’s a founding member of Quirky Quills and co-leads the Toowoomba chapter of Omega Writers. She and her husband Tim have a freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish                                                                         




22 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post, Iola :) I love Goodreads - not only because writing reviews helps authors but also because it gives me a record of the book I've read :) And reviews don't have to be long to be useful. Another advantage with some review sites or publishers (like Rhiza Press or Netgallery etc) is getting free book to review. If anyone hasn't started writing reviews, I'd encourage them to give it a go :)

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    1. Hi Nola - sorry for my butter fingers & half-blink state atm (struggling to see out of my left eye) - I did mean to type Nola not Iola - I do know the difference :)

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    2. LOL Jenny - Iola and I are twins separated at birth, so it's an easy mistake :) Goodreads is probably my favourite site for reviewing too, as it's user-friendly and has lots of other great features as you've mentioned. If anyone isn't already a Goodreads member, I'd strongly encourage you to sign up and have some fun. But be warned. It's addictive!

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  2. I love book reviews and find thoughtful ones extremely helpful. It's fun to both write and receive them. I'd encourage anyone to try too. It's a simple and generous action with more far reaching effects than we might imagine.

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    1. Thanks Paula. I really like the ones you put on The Vince review. Always very thoughtful and tactful. A good example for the rest of us to follow.

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  3. I love book reviews, both reading and writing them. They're especially great if they're nice ones about my books. :-) I do try to be nice with the ones I write. Sometimes it's hard if the book's really bad though.

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    1. Yes, it is always trickier for books you don't like. If it's someone I know, I tend to avoid reviewing the book if I don't feel I can honestly give it a good rating. But I think as long as we're respectful and explain why we had a problem with it, hopefully the review will be received well. If I've found a lot of problems with a book, I also don't try to list them all. Usually a few points suffice. And I can usually still find something good to say, even if I didn't like the book as a whole. Thanks for taking the time to comment Lynne.

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  4. Great post Nola. Thank you. I confess I am an unusual reader who chooses books by looking at them rather than by reading reviews. For some reason writing reviews has never been my favourite thing - perhaps because it reminds me of precis writing in school - something that challenged me. :) So thank you for spurring me on!

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    1. Hi Anusha - Thanks for that. I think a lot of people can relate to the dreaded school book review assignments. But the good thing about sites like Goodreads, is that your review doesn't have to follow a set format. You can be brief and also have fun with it. I've enjoyed doing them and find that it helps with my own writing too. Will look forward to reading more of your reviews :) Thanks for taking the time to comment Anusha :)

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  5. Thanks Nola. Was encouraged by this - so, mostly, I'm reviewing properly! My problem is I don't get to read too many fresh-on-the-shelf books. I like finding forgotten gems and reviewing those - those titles that were overlooked at the time and have been superceeded by a million titles since!

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    1. Hi Rhonda - It's always great to keep good books in the conversation, even if they are older. You might just inspire a whole new group of readers to check them out. I've enjoyed doing that Reading Challenge with you, as people are reviewing a wide range of books from classics to new releases and all genres. The problem is that it's also made me add too many to my to-read pile :) Thanks for your comment.

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  6. A very helpful guide, Nola. Worth printing and checking against.

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    1. Thanks Rita. I'm glad you found it helpful.

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  7. Thank you for such a detailed and very helpful guide, Nola! I'm with Rita - copy... paste... file for the next review writing occasion :)

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    1. Thanks Margaret. I've copied and pasted a few blogs. Glad you found it useful.

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  8. Great advice for review writing, thanks Nola. I must confess when first introduced to the world of reviewing, I started out a tad reluctantly, mainly because I didn't want to seem negative if I didn't really enjoy a book. Over time, tips such as these have helped me approach reviews with fresh eyes and now I see this as an opportunity to help other readers find a new 'favourite read'. As a writer on the receiving end of reviews, I've also benefited greatly from honest reader feedback. This is invaluable.

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    1. Thanks Adele. I struggle too with not wanting to be negative. But I think we owe it to readers and authors. If we're respectful and constructive, hopefully it will be taken the right way, though I guess we can never guarantee that. It must be interesting from the perspective of authors like you who give and receive reviews. How to receive feedback could be another whole blog topic. Thanks for your comment :)

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    2. Yes - receiving feedback is a skill in itself! LOL. But there is something that would make reviewing a much easier task for me. Half stars!!! (Please, Goodreads - allow me half stars ... :) )

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  10. Thanks Nola for once again sharing your wisdom and knowledge. A timely post, as I was just thinking about reviews a couple of days ago.

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    1. Thanks Janelle. Will look forward to reading your fabulous reviews. Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

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