I’m venturing out. Being bold. I’m going to talk about writing reviews. You may wonder what this has to do with writing or being a writer.
Writing is art. That’s the first thing I want you to remember. Art. And art is subjective. I’ve read many books that I’d have written differently, but I choose to read the story as the author portrayed it.
There are so many things going in an author’s heart and mind while writing it is IMPOSSIBLE to think of every angle, every pitfall, every emotional high or low.
Many times an author will have an objective in mind and during the writing process¾changes, editing, rewriting and proofing¾and the original objective gets chipped away. What seemed clear in the author’s mind doesn’t quite communicate in the end.
There have been times when I was writing and I cut stuff because I was sure I’d said it in a previous chapter only to find out I cut it there too! See, the words remain in an author’s mind even if they doesn’t exist on the page!
Seriously, it can get confusing.
So when you’re reading to learn or to write a review or even an endorsement, consider the many approaches to writing a story and find the gold in the one you’re reading.
Art. Stand back and gaze at the book like art.
Still, there are books that somehow come up short. Even after rewriting, editing and proofing.
Last year I read a book that really felt contrived and weird at the end. Every character actually went by a different name when they were young and that was the ruse the author used to “cloak” the story.
I thought the dialog was weak. Too much, “Hi, how are you?” “I’m good. You?” Then using prose to tell the details the characters should be telling “between the quotes.”
One of my friends loved the book. I mean, loved it! But I just thought it was okay.
Yet, I stood back, took the artistic view and found the good in the book. I wasn’t going to give it five stars, but four. Certainly.
So art is to be appreciated, viewed, considered, pondered with an open heart. Reviewing a book allows you to be objective, critical in a good way, and draw out the gems. It forces you to see what the author did well.
But still, like the season finale of Castle, some stories come up emotionally short and cutting corners. It’s okay to be honest about pitfalls.
As reader-authors, we fall into yet another category as readers. The “beware.” Did you know publishers read reviews? Sometimes they recognize reviewer names. Sometimes as authors whose manuscripts they’ve rejected.
Other authors read reviews. Read their author-friend reviews.
Bad reviews are remembered. Discussed. Repeated. Joked about. Especially if the reviewer offers writing advice. Ouch. Be honest but err on the side of generosity.
I would never write a placid review for an author I knew. If I don’t care for a book, I just keep it to myself and regale the author when everyone else loves it!
Oh yea, I’ve learned that too. Books that didn’t hit my author-button usually go gang bustahs with readers. Hmm… what can I learn from that?
Authors, we can learn from reviews. There’s always something to consider about a low-star, negative review. It might be dismissed, but it should be considered.
Here are a few tips on writing a review:
- Put on your artist hat before writing a review. Find the good in the book and make that your lead.
- What nuggets of truth was the author conveying? Share those.
- Look for layers and symbols. Don’t read so fast you don’t get one of the deeper layers.
- Be careful of cliché words like “light, easy read.” Most authors aren’t aiming for “light easy read.” But be sure wish they it was a “light, easy write!” However, a good beach read or vacation read is good. Means the book allowed you to escape.
- Death keel for most reviews? “I wanted to like this book but…” That’s an immediate flag to the author and other readers. This reviewer probably read outside her genre. Now, sometimes it’s true, you want to like a book but just don’t. If you’re reading a book that is not typically your gene, don’t lead off your review with “I wanted to like this book, but…”
- Speaking of “not your genre.” I always encourage readers to read widely. Go outside your genre. If you do, write a review that’s fitting for readers of that genre. Be clear, it’s not your typical read, but don’t ding the book because you didn’t like that the hero and heroine ended up together in the end and call it “cliché.” Of course it’s cliché, it’s a romance. If they didn’t end up together romance readers would be livid. See and read the book as the genre intends. It’d be like a reviewer of a thriller going, “This books was scary, what a cliché.” It’s a thriller! Of course it’s scary.
- Don’t write about how you’d write the book differently, or what you’d have done if you’d written this book. Be kind to the author. Let him or her express the story their way.
- Review the story for it’s own elements. Were the characters consistent? Did the story flow? Was their conflict and tension? Did the internal and external plot weave well? Could you relate to the protagonist in some way?
Those are the standards you want to us for reviewing and starring.
- Is the writing good? Smooth. Easy to read? Remember, some writers are more poetic, some more straightforward and simple. One is not better than the other, just different. Either way, did the author do a good job of “writing” the story. I’ve been intrigued by reviews where the reviewer said, “amazing writing.” I usually check those books out. Sometimes, I disagree. But I look for what the reviewer saw and try to learn.
- Be generous. Remember, someone is going to read this review. Maybe even the author. The publisher. Or God. Be honest. But be kind.
It’s perfectly fine to not like a book or not connect completely with the character or plot, but be objective and wise when you write a review.
Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She excels in seeing the deeper layers of a story. With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novel. A worship leader, board member of ACFW and popular writing teacher, Rachel is the author of over 15 novels. She lives in Florida with her husband and her dog, Lola. Contact her at: Rachel@mybooktherapy.com.