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"How To (And How NOT To) Review A Book"Hi, Pretty Little Pages readers! I'm Brandi Kennedy, author of the Kingsley Series, the Selkie Trilogy, and Fighting For Freedom. For those of you who've never heard of me, I'm a fairly fresh new indie author, specializing in romance but unable to stick to one solid genre. Due to my adventurous - or maybe ADHD - nature, I've touched the fringes of several genres, while still sticking with what I love ... the art of romance, the relativity of characters that feel real, the honesty of a love story we can believe. I write characters that pull your heartstrings, make you mad, bring you to tears, and drive you to slam the book shut - only to come back again later because you just can't go without knowing the rest of the story.
by Brandi Kennedy
by Brandi Kennedy
But I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here, first and foremost to wish Kristen a kick-ass birthday. And secondly, I've promised a guest post, and I try to always deliver. So today I want to tell you how to - and how NOT to - write a review.
Lately, I've seen the internet go a little crazy over several issues that all revolve around the value of a book review. I mean really, we authors seek out book reviews like a starving man searches for crumbs - because our careers are made and broken by the power of reader reviews. By the all-encompassing power of "word-of-mouth". So, what are the issues?
The first is a little thing that I tend to think of as "review bullying". There's a craze of authors who, in a desperate race to get to the top of the publishing world, encourage their street teams and other fans to go out and troll the internet, bashing other authors with bad reviews, regardless of whether they've actually read the book - or whether they actually liked it. Honestly, I don't really need to say a lot on this subject - we all know that it's wrong on all counts. On the part of the authors who take part in this sort of thing, it's selfish and greedy - and really just bad business to take advantage of reader loyalty in this way. And I feel that if you have to take someone else down in order to build yourself up at the cost of someone else's dreams ... it shows something much more shameful than a probable lack of solid talent. If you have to crush other people to get to the top because you already know that you can't shine on your own merit, that speaks terrible things for way more important things than your bestseller ranking.
But like I said before - there isn't a need to really expand on that. People who know it's wrong won't participate in it, and the people who don't know? THey won't be listening to me anyway.
There is another thing I've seen a lot of craze about though, and this one bothers me quite a lot. There's a lot of fuss in the literary world about reviews, both because authors need them, and because sometimes, authors hate them. A positive review has the power to pick an author's heart right out of his or her chest and send it on a high that no street drug could ever duplicate. And it lasts for days. But a negative review? A negative review can make us cry, can wrench at our hearts and send us into a depth of very real despair. A negative review can make us just give up; it can make us just pack right up and quit the game.
It doesn't have to, though.
I've read a lot of stuff about how "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all," and "never leave a review less than three stars," and "try to always be positive." But let's face it, some books just suck. Some books are improperly formatted and that distracts from the pleasure of the reading experience. Some books have grammar that would make a fifth-grader cringe. Some books are filled with spelling errors, punctuation errors. And sometimes, no matter how well-written a book may be, or how perfectly polished, or how incredibly spot-on in every way ... it just wasn't YOUR kind of book.
And let me let you in on a little secret: if you thought the book sucked, YOU SHOULD SAY SO. Sure, you can say it nicely, because, "Man, this book sucked! The author is an idiot who should just stop wasting oxygen!" is pretty hurtful and not even a little bit constructive. But you could say, "This book was well-done but not for me," or "This book might have been great with better editing/formatting/characters/etc." The point of a review is not to sugarcoat every single thing you read until every book on the planet is a solid happy five stars - at that point, those five stars become meaningless anyway. No, a review is your way of speaking out and telling other customers about your experience, while also telling your author what they can do better next time. If you're going to leave a review - and you really, really should - you owe that author gentle and constructive honesty. Even if it's going to be a 1-star dose of gentle and constructive honesty. To that end, I'd like to offer my favorite four "Do"s and "Don't"s of a Good Book Review.
- List things you liked about the book. Talk about the character you liked best, the way the author paints a scene for you, the dialogue of the characters, the realism of the story, etc.
- Mention things that bothered you. Offer constructive and kindly spoken criticism about things that could be improved in the author's future works. This is where to gently mention formatting/grammar/timeline/plot/character/etc. errors that popped out at you and distracted from your reading experience. Feel free to gently include your thoughts on the cover and the blurb too, because we as authors can't fix what we don't realize is wrong.
- Tell the author how to do better or catch your eye more definitively next time. "I might have give more stars if ..." is not necessarily a bad thing to write, so long as it's written kindly.
- BE KIND. While constructive criticism is a GREAT tool for writers off all kinds, please remember that your words DO have power. Use that power responsibly - because otherwise, Karma is going to kick your ass, and you'll deserve it.
- Bash the author personally in a review. His or her personal lifestyle is not on trial and has nothing to do with the book itself. You should be reviewing the book as a consumer purchase, not the author as a person.
- Be mean just for the sake of being mean. If you didn't like the book, you can say so without being purposely hurtful.
- Go on a tangent. Talk about the one book that the review is about - the good, the bad, and the ugly, but keep your review pointed and concise as much as possible.
- Link to or advertise another book in your review. That's just bad behavior. Seriously, you should know better.
And there you have it, my top four "Do"s and "Don't"s of a Good Book Review. For more information about where you can find and gently review my books, and to watch for an upcoming article about how an author can stand up and take reviews with poise and courage, please explore my website, AuthorBrandiKennedy.blogspot.com.