By Dianna Booher
Reading widely and writing book reviews either on your blog or at online bookstores serves your career and your colleagues well. But have you ever read a book review that was totally unhelpful?
Certainly you’ve seen some of those posted on Amazon that have never been clicked as “helpful.” Why unhelpful? Think about these review comments:
“I thought this book was going to be about X. It was about Y. I was disappointed.” (Such a comment reveals nothing about the book! It merely states that the reviewer had the wrong idea before he/she bought the book. The reviewer may have misread the title, misread the jacket copy, or failed to read the book’s description, purpose, and table of contents.)
“Everybody could benefit from being more organized. This is a must-read book. Highly recommended.” (Not particularly helpful with specifics when there are 357 books on being organized)
So if you plan to write reviews that get read, consider these tips offered from my experience as a book reviewer for the Houston Chronicle (long ago). (Last month’s blog covered the “Do’s” for book reviews.)
• Don’t confuse a review with a jacket blurb. (Example: “[Title] is a must-read for leaders in women’s ministry and anyone who want to learn to share their faith with women in crisis.” Such comments sound like copywriting; they’ll likely not be taken seriously as a review.)
• Don’t write the review as if you’re the author’s best buddy. For centuries novelists have commented on the work of their peers-both privately and publically. But your review should be written from a professional point of view.
• Don’t write such a lengthy review that the reader has no need to buy the book. Your goal is to give your opinion about how this book differs from others in the field, to point out what unique reading experience this might provide readers, what key insights it might provide a reader. In short, it should help a reader decide whether to buy the book or not.
• Don’t reveal the ending of a novel or a key story in a nonfiction work.
• Don’t slam a book. (Admittedly, this last “don’t” is my own personal philosophy because I like to get a good night’s sleep.) Dorothy Parker must have been having a bad hair day when she wrote these two comments about books by her contemporaries:
“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”
Here are a few other famous putdowns that have lived on as part of the author-reviewer’s reputation: Mary McCarthy about Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'” Truman Capote on Jacqueline Suzanne: “She doesn’t write, she types.”
My guess is that you have more positive ways to build your reputation. Look for the best in the book-or find a better book to share with your colleagues and friends.
Note: For Review “Do’s,” see “Write a Book Review That Helps, Not Hinders—Part 1”
Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of 46 books, published in 26 languages. Her latest books include What MORE Can I Say?, Creating Personal Presence, and Communicate With Confidence. Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, Fast Company, CNN, NPR, Success have featured her work on communication issues. www.BooherResearch.com
I enjoyed reading your thoughts on writing a book review. 🙂 I have been struggling with finding the proper balance of pointing out the good but also the negative. Thanks for sharing!
I definitely appreciate your advice not to write such a lengthy review that readers do not need to buy the book. I had to sigh when enthusiastic reviewers for my new novel The Methuselah Project wrote long reviews that give away too much of the story. I’m glad if they loved it, but I fear they spoil it for others who can no longer be surprised. Instead of recounting all that happens, briefly state what you did or did not like about it and why. No spoilers, please. 😉
Negative reviews can be a good thing if they make people curious about our titles or they generate controversy, and thus, even more curiosity. For this very reason, I was told by a publicist that I needed some negative reviews for Refuge, since all of mine were positive. The only negative review I received started out with the reviewer slamming the novel. But by the end of the review, she admitted that when she did her research she discovered that none of her assumptions were true, and it was a pretty good book after all.
That made me chuckle. Why write the review if you’ve circled around and discredited yourself?
I’m not sure what the percentage is for readers who actually take the time to write a review, but it seems to be pretty small slice of total readers. Most people have no idea why a review is important, so we writers do end up with a high percentage of other writers reviewing us. We seem to be the people who understand why reviews are important, and we want to help our fellow writers along.
Your advice about how to do those professional reviews is spot on! Thanks for sharing this!
I’m the team leader and editor at Books 4 Christian Kids and I’m coming to think that different readers want different things from reviews.
I receive the comments from our followers and a number of our followers seem to like the longer reviews. That the reviewer has told them many of the plot twists seems to please them, not bother them. So take heart,a long review might help those readers to consider your book when a short one would just not do.