Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How Do You Review Books?

Free Clipart

I’m sure we all have our own criteria for writing book reviews. I like to review every book I read and as you know, I’ve been posting some reviews here from time to time, however, I don’t post reviews on my blog for every book I read.

My life has become so busy that I’m not able to read as many books as I would like to, not if I want to finish some of my own that I work on from time to time. However, I still love to read and at one time was reading about sixty-two books a year. Now I’m lucky to get a dozen or two read.

I would like to tell you some of the things I consider when doing my reviews. I have to say first that the title has to get my attention, that and the cover. Then I read the synopsis to see if it’s something that I can get into.

As I’m reading, I look at the following:

1. How long does it take to engage me in the story?

2. Does the story keep me engaged?

3. Are type-o’s, punctuation, and missing words distracting?

4. Does the story flow well and make sense?

5. Does the cover and synopsis accurately reflect the story?

I’m sure all of you look for those same things when reading a book. You know how important it is to engage the reader in the first few pages of the story. I’ve read a few books over the years where things don’t get moving until after the first one hundred pages. It’s very hard to keep reading a book like this.

I’ve also read books where the punctuation has been missing completely, leaving sentences to run together. This is very distracting, hard to figure out where the story is going and what is happening, especially when it comes to dialogue, even if it’s a good story.

I’m making these statements about books published by one of the big publishing houses where a good editor should catch things like this. I’m not talking about self-published books, although you’ll find some of these mistakes in them as well, but usually not to a large degree, at least not in my experience.

When I get ready to review the book, I’m always honest, regardless if I know the author. To glorify anything like this would be a disservice to future readers and to the author, who could benefit from my feedback. I am immediately suspicious if I see a book on Amazon that has too many five star reviews, or all five star reviews. I know these days that it is easy to get friends and family to review books and not leave an honest opinion. This is a red flag to me because, let’s face it, not everyone who reads the book will enjoy it, whether it is a good story or not. That is just human nature. I have no qualms about giving a three star review to a good book, if there are enough other issues that were an annoyance to me while reading.

When reviewing I try to keep it concise, but also give at least a one page review without giving away any spoilers.

Besides the things mentioned above, I also look at:

Presentation: Is the formatting consistent throughout? Are all the paragraphs indented or none at all indented? In other words, does it all match throughout? Is the font size the same throughout and is it easy to read? All of this stuff can be distracting, taking away from a polished manuscript.

Voice: Does the book read naturally and come across as believable? Is the author pushing some agenda, or do they have issues with the subject of the book? An author should keep their views out of a work of fiction.

Organization: How well is the book organized? Is there a good mix of narrative and dialogue? Do the flashbacks detract from the story? They should be smooth so the reader can follow. Narrative should also fit in with the story. I don’t mind back story if it’s done in moderation, but I know there are some readers who hate back story and would rather it be mixed in as dialogue. Does the book have a beginning, middle, and end? I hate books that leave you hanging with no resolution. If the book is part of a sequel, it needs to stop in an appropriate place.

How do the sentences flow? Are words and sentence structure varied, or does the writer use the same words repeatedly? That can really drive you crazy.

What about word choice? I think that sometimes writers tend to use the biggest words they know, so that they sound well educated. Many times simple words can have an amazing impact on the story, or situation. The words selected should be varied and in keeping with each characters personality.

Ideas, plot, and characters: Is there a well-developed and interesting conflict? Are the story and the characters believable? Are there sub-plots going on that could actually happen in real life?

Here are my ratings:

5 stars – Excellent book – Could re-read it many times, always discovering something new. It engaged me from the beginning and kept me there to the end. I would highly recommend it to others. The synopsis is in keeping with the story, as is the cover. If there are any editing issues, they were few and didn’t distract me from the story.

4 stars – Good book – Could recommend it because of the good story. It probably has some issues that aren’t worthy of a five star rating, even if the rest is what I was expecting it to be, which is as advertised.

3 stars – Good book – A good readable story, but perhaps a predictable story with some issues mentioned above that were distracting. I would still recommend the book though probably, if it is as advertised and only needed a quick clean up without a total rewrite.

2 stars – Didn’t like it much and it needs work and wasn’t as advertised. It is probably not engaging with very little action to the story to keep me reading, along with other readability issues. It may have been work to finish it.

1 star – Hated it and it’s unreadable. Loaded with mistakes and couldn’t make heads or tails of the story.


Lisa Fender said...

I agree Sunny. I have read several books lately but I'm afraid to hurt feeling by critiquing their work in a review. There are a few I would like to tell them the issues though!

M.E. Tudor said...

This is a great way to do reviews. I would love for you to review my book. I may have even already sent it to you. If I haven't and you have time to review it, please let me know. I really need some more reviews.

Sunni said...


Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment.

In my opinion, I think it is always the best practice to be honest.

I'm sure every author expects to get a five star review for their "baby," especially from someone they know, but I think you can be of more help to them by telling them the truth and pointing out major errors, so that any future books will be better. At least that way they will know what to really pay attention to when they are doing rewrites and self-editing.

I would never get mad at a friend for giving me a bad review. We all have issues we can work on in our writing. We can deal with them better if they are pointed out to us. A lot of times a person can read their book so many times that the eye just skips over things that are there.

I think it's important to send your ms out to several people for reading and feedback BEFORE it is published so you can make use of any suggestions provided, if you want to.

I have to admit I didn't do this with my first book and there are some minor things that I would probaby change if I was writing it today, but it is still my best seller. I think this is because it is a good story and maybe on a topic more people want to read.

Thank you for your post.


Sunni said...

Hi M.E.

I love to read and would love to read your book, as long as it's not in the self help or politics genre. I can get into most anything else, but I prefer fiction.

However, right now I'm involved in the NaNo, so between that, staying on top of my freelance work, and my daily life, I have my hands full.

I also have three books waiting that I have to read as I have time and give them reviews.

I would still be open to reading yours, but in all honesty, I probably wouldn't get around to it until the end of January. If that works for you, I'd be happy to review it.

Thanks for reading my post and commenting.