Imma tell you how to write a book review on Amazon or Goodreads — one that will be helpful to the writer and to fellow readers.
It isn’t hard, and it could just be one line, although longer and more comprehensive is better.
The main purpose of a book review is to help other people to know whether or not they’ll like the book. Just stating your opinion won’t do that. “This book sucked” is not helpful. Neither is “A great read!” or “Meh”.
The most helpful book review begins with a sentence — very most helpful is 120 characters or fewer so it can be tweeted and retweeted on Twitter — using the title and author’s name and a reason. This works whether you like the book or not.
Love zombies? FAKE BOOK by Imaginary Author is for you.
You can then follow with more details.
Personally, I hate books about zombies. I only downloaded this book because it was free and I liked the picture on the cover. As promised, it features the kind of zombie that shuffles around and drops bits off itself while it moans about eating people’s brains. Fair enough, the cover and book description told me to expect that, so I can’t claim to have been unpleasantly surprised.
So why did I give the book more than one star, when I didn’t like it? Because it isn’t the author’s fault I don’t like this kind of book, and because it’s well-written. The plotting is tight and, given the premise of a zombiepocalypse, believable. The characters, even the dead ones, are well-drawn and individual, and the dialog is snappy.
Too bad it’s about zombies.
So I only gave it one star, partly because: zombies, but mostly because the plot meandered all over the place and had loose ends that were never tied up. All the characters, dead and alive, sounded and acted alike. The dialog was unnatural, and not in a good way.
Not everybody has it in them to even begin to write a book, let alone finish and publish one, so I hate to sound harsh, but FAKE BOOK really needed a good developmental editor or critique group to help shape and polish it. I wish Imaginary Author well on future projects. Even if they have zombies in them.
[note: This is not a real book review. No actual authors were harmed in the writing of this example.]
That tells prospective readers some things about the book, so they can make their own decisions based on specifics: zombies, writing, plotting, characters, dialog, zombies. It gives the writer a reason to tweet your review, even a bad review, which is good for your review cred.
“But it says nice things about a book I don’t like.” What are you, the book sheriff? Is it a crime for somebody to write a book you don’t like? It costs nothing to be kind. “So shines a good dead in a naughty world,” as dear Mr. Shakespeare said.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Go write a nice book review.
V. BrittonNovember 17, 2014 at 11:17am
Well done, Marian. I think much of the angst between author and reviewer arises out of a sense that the reviewer’s agenda isn’t so much to critique as it is to criticize – they’re not at all the same, of course. On the other hand, some authors give the rest of us a bad name by knee-jerk reactions against anything perceived as critical, even when it’s really just honest critique. We all have some work to do, methinks.
Marian AllenNovember 17, 2014 at 11:47am
I think you’re right on both counts, V. A good critique can help us grow and improve. And a book review is supposed to tell people what a particular reader’s experience of the book was and why, so other potential readers have something on which to base their gamble. If somebody says, “I hated this book,” it doesn’t tell me anything about what MY experience might be. If somebody says, “I hated this book because it was like something Terry Pratchett would write,” I’M GONNA BUY THAT BOOK! lol
JaneNovember 17, 2014 at 2:39pm
I find that book reviews do tempt me or turn me off a book.
I seem to credit the ones most that tell me the dialogue and plot were –bad– and that editing was very annoying, or that the characters were trivial.
I’ve even read down a list of reviews which were enthusiastic: I stayed up all night; I can’t wait til the next one, etc.
Then another reviewer says there was an unnecessary cliff-hanger, or that the writing was immature, or lacking grammar and spelling, etc., I am generlaly turned right off the thing.
I also won’t even check reviews if the blurb is trivial, overly-tragical, or poorly written. I am convinced the rest of the book will be, too.
Marian AllenNovember 17, 2014 at 3:11pm
It’s a harsh world, the book-selling world. Going through blurbs like that gives me great sympathy for acquisitions editors, who have to make snap judgements on little evidence.
Mary Montague SikesNovember 17, 2014 at 5:02pm
What a great post about writing book reviews! Reviews seem more and more important for authors. Thank you for this!
Mary Montague Sikes
Marian AllenNovember 17, 2014 at 5:20pm
You’re quite welcome, Monti! I never seem to get reviews anymore. Need to make a push, I guess. 🙂