I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Our Book Reviews: What's Helpful, What's Not

This has been a big topic of conversation lately among some of my friends, both readers and authors. Among the things I've heard from readers (and perhaps even thought to myself while I'm perusing book reviews for potential reads on Amazon):

"I really want to know what people think of a book, but some of these reviews sound like they were written by the author's friends. That means their reviews aren't honest."

"Why did this reader give it a 2-star rating and then say they liked it?"

Or, from an author's perspective:

"Someone gave my book a 1-star rating based on the packaging, not the story!"

"Why did the reviewer have to be so mean?"

Earlier, I posted on ways to help an author. Writing book reviews is one of the things I mentioned specifically. Book reviews can let others know if the book is worth their time, especially considering the price of purchase.

They are also viewed by others in the industry. I'm not saying editors read every review (they're busy people) but some editors pay attention to authors' social media stats and reviews, along with sales and awards.

So what's helpful when writing a book review?
  • Know that readers, authors, and editors appreciate the time you're taking to write a review that could be helpful to potential buyers. Your gift of service is a blessing!
  • Some sites, like Amazon, require a review to accompany a rating, but others, like Goodreads, don't. Try to write a few words to explain your rating, anyway. I recently contemplated purchasing a sequel to a book I enjoyed. The reviews let me know that several readers finished the book feeling frustrated about their perceived regression in the characters' developments. That told me so much more than a 3-star review without an explanation.
  • State the facts about the story and why you enjoyed it/didn't enjoy it. Was the story engaging? Was there a specific reason you didn't like it? Is the issue you have with a book a major stumbling block... or personal preference? I've liked a few movies that critics graded an F, and disliked a few well-regarded movies, but I'd read reviews in advance and determined the critic and I judged on different merits. Same with books. That reviewer's three-star rating might be my perfect cozy afternoon read.
  • Consider the book's audience. It's not fair to criticize a book for being what it's supposed to be, ie, by disparaging the spiritual elements in a Christian book, finding the hero too young when the book is a YA, or for bemoaning the lack of blood and gore in a cozy mystery.
  • Mention if you received the book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This is the law.
What's not helpful when writing a book review?
  • Don't stress about recapping the book. Some reviews summarize the plot or back-cover copy, which can be helpful to readers, but it isn't necessary.
  • Don't rate the packaging, shipping speed, book cover, or other things an author has no control over. Sometimes this extends to the title, too.
  • Refrain from spilling the author's private info. You may know where the author went to high school or where she gets her hair cut. This information, spread on the world wide web, is an invasion of her privacy, and to many readers, it negates anything positive that was mentioned in the review because it makes a review sound inauthentic.
  • Harsh language isn't polite.
  • Avoid spoiling the plot. Announce if you're divulging anything twisty or pertaining to the end with an all-caps SPOILER ALERT.
Some other facts about book reviews?
  • Yes, authors do review their friends' work sometimes. It's less about boosting one another up as it is sharing honest reviews, because authors are big readers, too.
  • Mean-spirited reviews do hurt authors' feelings sometimes. They don't expect everyone to love their books, but nobody likes to be called names.
  • They last forever. Or until the internet explodes. Just as in real life, our words stick around.
What do you think when you read book reviews? Do you often review products you buy?


Karen Lange said...

These tips are helpful, thanks so much! As time allows, I do review many of the books I read. I know how important reviews can be to an author, and I try to convey what others might want to know about the book. Honest, well balanced reviews can really help potential buyers.

Susanne Dietze said...

I think you hit the nail on the head, Karen: honest, balanced reviews are what help buyers--and authors, too!


Debbie Wilder said...

This is a great blog post. After reading all of your tips and suggestions I feel that I'm doing a pretty good job at this point. Now I just need to remember to ask God for His help with each review I write from now on so that I can continue to do a good job with the opportunities He gives me to read and review books. I love being able to help both the authors and other readers out.

Susanne Dietze said...

You mentioned something paramount that I did not, Debbie: asking God for His help. What a profound reminder that reading and reviewing is a privilege. You are a special person indeed to recognize what a service you're doing to readers and authors!

I'm so glad you could come by, Debbie!