Writers, in general, start out as readers. And in the romance world, one of the best ways to help each other - whether as fellow readers or as fellow writers - is to write a review. A well-written review can help a books' sales immeasurably. It can also give an author who is a little uncertain just the right boost to keep them in the game. (All writers who don't need that sort of support every now and again, take one step forward, so the rest of us can pimp slap you. Twice.)
However, a poorly written review or one written in the wrong tone for all the wrong reasons can do far more harm than good. Ever read a review that was so obviously by the author's mother you expect the review to suddenly tell you to "Sit up straight!" or ask "What are you eating? Don't you know how bad that is for you?"
Or how about the review that is so bad you just know the author's husband's ex-wife got together with her girlfriends, two boxes of wine, some chunky monkey ice cream and painted each others toe nails while they wrote the review?
In the interest of fair play and my not having to deny I know you when I read one of your reviews, here are a few tips :
1. Spell check is your friend. If your review looks as if you are in serious need of "Hooked on Phonics," you are not doing the author any favors. No matter how wonderful her "charractors" are, unless the reviewer is talking about thespians who moonlight as cleaning ladies, one begins to doubt a reviewer's veracity when their spelling and grammar indicate the last thing they read was "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish."
2. Do not summarize the entire book scene by scene. If your review can be used as Cliff Notes to pass a midterm exam on the novel, you are the person who has already seen the movie and tells the ending in a stage whisper Helen Keller could hear. In Alabama, that can get you dragged behind the theater, doused in orange Crush and feathered in buttered popcorn. It is okay to tell a little about the story, but remember a review is to express your opinion of the book, and it is also a tool to encourage other readers to buy the book. You know, so they can read it themselves.
3. Do not gush. Nothing sets my "Relative Radar" or "BFF Alert" off like a string of adjectives so gooey I have to go to the dentist after I read it or at least grab a towel to dry the slobber off my monitor. I have met some of my all-time favorite romance writing heroes at RWA conferences. I've met Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo, and even sang in a master class for Luciano Pavarotti. Somehow I managed to stutter things like "Thank you." "I greatly admire your work." and when I met Vincent Price I even managed to get out "You, sir, have haunted my nightmares for years." (I got a wonderfully wicked laugh out of him and a hug.) Whether you are reviewing a famous author you admire greatly or your critique partner who has talked you down off the ledge more times than Kim Kardashian has made unfortunate fashion choices - read over your review carefully and take out at least half of the adjectives. Now, if I meet Gerard Butler or Richard Armitage all bets are off. I'll climb Gerard or Richard like a low slung magnolia tree and bite the first one of you who tries to pry me away. Fair warning. The review will consist of one word "MINE!"
4. Tell the reader how the book made you feel. Did it draw you in? Did it make you think? Did it keep you up all night? These are the things a potential reader needs to know. What did you learn? What did the characters teach you? What journey did they take you on as they traveled to their HEA? Did it make you laugh, or cry, or shudder? People read to be entertained, but they also read to feel. Of course, if the book made you want to throw it against the wall or throw up like a frat boy on a three-day football weekend, you will want to use some tact in expressing it. Remember, folks, tact is the ability to tell someone to "Go to hell !" in such a way they ask you for directions.
5. Do NOT compare one author to another in a way that has people lining up for a fight night between the two of them. Telling readers if they like Author A they will like the author you are reviewing is perfectly fine. Telling readers the book you are reviewing makes Nora Roberts' latest read like the federal tax code is not only useless to the author of said book, it may well get you both hanged naked by a feather boa over a pool of hungry tax attorneys and pelted by day old bon bons until you see the error of your ways. If you like a book enough to review it (or dislike one enough to review it) find a more creative and succinct way to say so.
6. So what do you do if you don't like the book? Back away slowly and run for the hills? It is possible to write a review of a book that didn't speak to you without coming off like that self-righteous, hair perfect, size two cheerleader with whom you went to high school. First, tell what you did like about the book. If all you can think of is the font the author's name is in on the cover, you MIGHT want to take that run for the hills option. However, if you can list a few things the author did well and then couch the things you didn't care for in terms that don't cut like a barber's razor - go for it. Be honest. About the writing. If you have met the author and she is a four star *itch, don't use a review to take a cheap shot. And don't write a two page essay on how you would have written the book differently and you would have won two Ritas and a Pulitzer with it. A negative review is like breaking up with a boyfriend. Say what you have to say as nicely as possible and then get in the car and drive away before that sucker finds a gun and starts shooting.
These are a few of my tips for writing a book review. What are some of your tips? What are some of your absolute DON'T's? Do you read reviews of books you are considering buying? Why or why not? Do you read reviews of your own books? Why or why not? What do you look for in a review? What makes it helpful?
Lets talk reviews!