by Doug Lewars
Book reviews are a fact of life. If it’s your book being reviewed, they’re nice if they’re positive and decidedly unpleasant if they’re negative. Every book is going to have a few negative reviews. That’s a fact of life because people are different, have different interests, enjoy different things, and will relate to your work in different ways.
In addition, you will probably want to, or at least be expected to, review someone’s work and that can be tricky. Explaining to an author that his command of the language would make a pre-school child squirm with embarrassment is not likely to win you any friends; and he or she might take a run at your work purely from a spirit of tit-for-tat.
As a result, I try not to review too many new books but I will review a few because I think it’s something that I, and everyone else should do from time to time. I do, however, write a review for every book I read.
A review is a good method of reminding yourself what you thought of any particular book just after you completed it. Well-known authors won’t be affected even if you don’t like the work so you can say what you want with considerable impunity.
The reason for reviewing such works is because you will probably forget much of what you read within a few weeks and having a review allows you to recall a goodly part of what you forgot. Recently I received a ‘like’ for the review I wrote for a book that I could barely remember.
Being curious, I went back to my book list and tool a look. Just a glance at what I had written was enough to remind me what I thought about that particular work – okay but nothing to jump up and down about – but without the review I would forever be left wondering should someone else make reverence to that particular story.
So what criteria makes for a good review?
First I always prefix my reviews with ‘*** Possible Spoilers ***’. That way, even if I don’t make reference to so much as a single character or plot reference, those individuals who are super sensitive to any sort of disclosure will stay away. Or, at the very least, if they don’t like what they read, and think I’ve described too much, they really don’t have grounds for complaint. It makes life simpler.
Second I try to stay away from discussing plot details. This isn’t because of the above-mentioned spoilers. This is because, at least on GoodReads, the title will come with the author’s summary and it would be redundant for me to talk about it myself.
If I don’t like a book I attempt to articulate the reasons why I didn’t like it. Frequently negative reviews say far more about the individual reviewing the book than about the book itself. That isn’t terrible but it does limit the usefulness of the review.
So, for example, after digging through a slew of ‘5’s for Tom Sharpe’s ‘Porterhouse Blue’ I came across a ‘1’ that started off, ‘This book is probably funnier if you haven’t actually attended a Cambridge college’. That’s a valid comment but it’s more about the reviewer than about the book. Evidently this individual had some sort of unpleasant experience in academia and it shaped his perspective on Sharpe’s satire.
Most people chose books to read that they think might be interesting. As a result, anyone reading your book has a slightly positive bias. That’s good because you’re more likely to receive good reviews than the other kind.
Take, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey. Now I don’t think that anyone would argue that this is a literary masterpiece. For me, it was a did-not-finish and there are very few books that I start and then abandon. It wasn’t the sex that bothered me. It was the wordsmithing that seemed to be somewhere around the Grade 8 level – if that.
I can finish a work when I don’t like the content but if the author is inarticulate, I back off. However I looked up that particular book on Goodreads and it has a 3.66 star rating. That’s not great but it means that quite a few people liked it because the first seven reviews were one star followed by a two. Since it became a runaway best seller, it clearly struck a chord among some readers. Therefore reviews can’t tell the whole story, but they’re useful for you as a reader and sometimes they may help you as an author.
One other thing I do when reviewing is try and determine what demographic might enjoy the story. That way, for example, if I suggest that while I didn’t enjoy a particular book, males 18 – 25 might like it, potential readers can decide the degree to which they might meet this criteria and from that, whether reading this particular book would be time well spent or something to take a pass on.
After all, there are many books in this world and time is limited.
Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published ten books on Smashwords.com.