Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review Writing 101

You’ve just downloaded an eBook that caught your eye. You read it…and then what? Do you just toss it aside and move on to something more “fun”? Or do you take a few minutes to let people know what you thought of the book?

Sadly, most people do the former, and that’s too bad. They’re missing out on a wonderful opportunity to let others know what they think of the book as well as helping the author with future projects. You probably tell your friends or relatives about books you’ve enjoyed, so why not share your opinion with everyone? Think of a written review as another form of FaceBook entry. Everyone wins, especially you.

I’ve heard people say that it’s “just too much trouble” to write these things. Really? All it involves is going to that book’s page in your vendor’s site (Amazon, Smashwords, whatever), and clicking on their equivalent of “Write a Review. Then you just write. Simple, easy, and takes only a few minutes. You might have to login to the site (Smashwords is famous for that), but that adds only a few more seconds.

Reviews needn’t be like those in the newspaper; in fact, they shouldn’t be. People who write those reviews have a certain amount of space to fill in a short time, so they tend to go for wordiness. That’s not your job. You should just write what you think. A simple paragraph will suffice, although you may certainly wax poetic if you were completely enthralled with the book. Just remember, do you take time to read lengthy reviews? If not, then consider that a great many others don’t, either. In this über-busy world, people tend to rely on sound-bites for most of their reading and decision-making, and that includes reading book reviews.

So, how do you write one of these things? Mostly, just write your opinion of the book. Be honest; if you didn’t like the book, that’s okay. Not everyone likes every book they read and it’s okay to say so. On the other hand, if you enjoyed the book, say you did. Who knows, maybe someone will decide to read that book simply because you recommended it, or to not bother because of what you said against it.

DON’T BE A TROLL. No one likes these creatures, not even themselves. That includes writing spoilers. Everyone else enjoys finding out for themselves if the butler did it or Col. Mustard did it in the den with a pickaxe, and they have serious problems with those who ruin their fun. So unless it’s really important to your review, avoid telling how the story ends or what happened to the characters or similar events.

Be honest. And by all means give your reasons for either liking a book or not. If the characters aren’t well-developed or the plot doesn’t work or the technical aspects (grammar, spelling, punctuation) are bad, say so. Or, if you were captured by the story from the first paragraph and the story swept you away and left you breathless and satiated at the end, say that. Both the author and other potential readers will thank you for it.

You’re almost done. Really. Just don’t forget to give it a star rating—they’re usually located right before or after the review block and they’re crucial. Vendors such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Smashwords use these when doing their own ratings of the book. They don’t bother reading the review but just go by the star rating, so do eveyone a favor and click on what you believe the book is worth. Again, don’t be “nice” or politically correct and give it a high star rating if you don’t think the book deserves it, but neither trash a good book with a low rating.

And finally, by all means proofread your review before clicking on that “Post Review” or similar button. This is your writing, after all, so it reflects on you. Your credibility hinges on it. Other readers actually do pay more attention to well-written, thoughtful, and technically correct reviews than they do to textspeak or poor grammar or reviews that just aren’t well thought out.

And that’s it. That’s Review Writing 101. I hope it has helped.


  1. An insightful post David, especially that last point. How many reviews have I read with a misspelled word or uncapitalized sentence? I wonder why readers omit reviews; do they feel it's unnecessary?

  2. Thank you, Anna. I appreciate the feedback. I've heard from a few others via personal email and they've all been positive. You know how good that makes a writer feel, right?

    To reply to your last question, I think there are several factors at play here. For one thing, I'm afraid the age of courtesy has ended and has been replaced by the age of discourtesy - at least, to a large extent. So many people just don't seem to care about anyone but themselves. Blame it on the the increasing alienation caused by texting, FaceBook, and other similar factors, or from poor upbringing by parents who, themselves, were never taught simply courtesy. I think there's more than just that, though. I think there are those who don't believe they *can* write a review, it's just too complicated and something only professionals can do. That's too bad, too. Any ideas on what we writers can do about it?