A while back I wrote a blog about how to request a review which led to an avalanche of review requests in my inbox (I’m still sorting through those!). But what about the other side of the coin? How do you write a review? And who cares anyway? It’s your opinion so why do there have to be any rules? I don’t think we need to have hard and fast rules, but there should definitely be some guidelines. In this age of instant communication, feelings get hurt because everyone is hurrying, hurrying, hurrying. People shoot off text messages, Facebook posts, and tweets without thinking about grammar let alone how their writing may affect others. Common courtesy doesn’t seem to matter in the digital world.
I had a law professor who I didn’t like one tiny bit, but I always remember his advice. It sounded something like this: Everything you write, whether it’s an email or a note in a file or a court document, is admissible in court and can be used against you. Best. Advice. Ever. Although I’m no longer practicing law (YEAH!), I still practice his advice everyday. I don’t send e-mails or messages until I re-read them and make sure I’d be happy with that message being made public. This applies to reviews I write as well. Of course, I’m a writer so I understand how hurtful a review can be and I can’t help but take this into consideration when reviewing.
Here are a few of the rules I try to follow when writing a review:
Re-read before pushing the publish button. Don’t just shoot off a review without taking a moment to pause. Personally, I always wait a day after finishing a novel before writing the review. I take extensive notes while reading so as not to forget any important issues I want to mention in my review. Immediately writing a review often leads to a review founded solely upon emotions. For example, I finished a book for review yesterday and I hated the ending. I mean HATED THE ENDING. I slammed my Kindle shut and immediately added ending totally sucked to my notes. If I had written the review at that moment, I probably would have given the book 2 stars based solely on the ending. That’s not exactly fair. One of my books, Life Discarded, has a not particularly happy ending. Although the ending is happy in its own way, most readers don’t experience it that way. I have gotten a ton of bad reviews based on the ending of the book alone. So please take a moment to pause and let the entire book sink in before writing that review.
Always, always say something nice. No matter how horrible a book is, if you managed to finish it, there has got to be something positive to say. Search for that positive and mention it. Just because a review is online and you are therefore anonymous shouldn’t mean you can be nasty. If you wouldn’t dare to say it to the writer in person, why do you think it’s okay to write it?
Judge the book written, not the one you believe the author should have written. I don’t know if other writers experience this as much as me, but I’m often judged by the book the reader believes I should have written instead of the book I wrote. I’ve written serious novels, but my most recent books are light, cozy mysteries with a wallop of humor (okay maybe just a dash of humor). Because one of the heroes of the novels is gay, many readers have criticized my lack of including the perils of being gay in America. Well, folks, that’s not the book I wrote. Is it really fair to criticize a writer for not writing the book you wanted to read?
Make it clear that the review is your opinion. Just because you didn’t like a novel, doesn’t mean that no one in the world is going to enjoy it. All-encompassing comments sound very judgmental and aren’t very helpful for the writer.
Write a review, not a critique. Unless the author has asked you to write a critique, review the book instead of critiquing. What’s the difference? A critique is a critical analysis. As critical is defined as tending to find fault, a critique is almost always negative (or at least it feels that way to a writer). A critique looks for problems in a novel whereas a review gives a reader’s opinion of the book and whether the reader enjoyed it. Critiques are great tools for helping a writer learn her craft, but they aren’t reviews and shouldn’t be used as such.
What rules do you have for writing a review?