In the end, 28 of 30 bloggers posted something about my novel, Glastonbury Tor last week. Most also tweeted, posted links on Facebook or reviews on Amazon and other book sites for a total of 74 mentions in six days. Not at all bad. The thing that struck me was that very few of these reviewers were profound or particularly articulate. They simply love books, and people who read their reviews pay attention to what they have to say.
The Internet combines the two. With sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and Shelfari, YOU can have your say. You have a forum for expressing what you think of a book and a chance to influence what other people choose. Your friends and even complete strangers can come to value your opinion and read the books you recommend.
So how do you write a book review?
It isn’t necessary to rehash the plot. On a blog you only need to include enough of the premise to give an idea of what the book is about. On Amazon or other book sites you don’t even need that. The site already includes the publisher’s book description. And you definitely don’t want to give away the ending! If some of your comments require revealing more than most readers would want to know before they begin, it is customary to indicate that your review includes “spoilers”.
Interact with something specific you liked about the book—realistic or eccentric characters, use of language, unique setting. Find something positive before you mention weaknesses.
It IS okay to mention weaknesses. Last week’s bloggers received a free copy of the book to review. That did not obligate them to say nice things. Tell the truth. Your opinion won’t mean anything if you gush about everything. That doesn’t mean you should trash a book you don’t like. If you wouldn’t be willing to say it to the author’s face, you might want to reconsider saying it to the world or at least find a way to say it graciously.
On this blog, you will only see books I am either enthusiastic about or that discuss issues I want to interact with. You guys may not make many comments, but more than one has told me later that you read such-and-such a book because you saw it here. I take that responsibility seriously.
I usually post reviews of any Christian fiction I read on Amazon even if I don’t blog about it. My colleagues in the industry need the promotional help as much as I do. But they don’t need me to trash a book. If I didn’t like it, I don’t post a review.
Everything I read, like it or not, goes on Shelfari so I can easily see which authors I enjoyed and which I will avoid in the future. That’s where my to-be-read list is also. Sometimes I dislike a book—shoddy research, blah writing, unconvincing characters. Sometimes that book was written by someone I have met through my writers’ associations, someone I would like to call a friend. Sometimes that person might review a book of mine in the future. I have no desire to make enemies of my friends. I can usually think of something nice to say in the public review and restrict details of what I didn't like to the hidden-from-other-eyes notes section of Shelfari. If I REALLY dislike the book enough to give it a negative rating, I can hide the entry altogether. That doesn’t happen very often. (I suspect that feature was designed for porn users, but it works for me too!) I confess that I probably give my friends the benefit of the doubt, but I DO NOT give five stars unless it is something I would love to read all over again.
Which brings us to the last thing that goes in a book review--your recommendation. Readers don’t want just information about the book. They want to know if you enjoyed it, and more important, if you think THEY will enjoy it.
Most of you are avid readers. These sites are free, and it doesn’t take long to click on the book and add your review, however basic. They do require you to take a few minutes to sign up the first time. (That’s to keep people from thinking they are anonymous and so can get away with being rude.) Sites like Goodreads have discussion groups for various topics like an on-line book club. If you choose, you can friend people just like on Facebook and see their recommendations. So get out there and let the world know what you think about what you are reading. (And while you are at it, reviews for Glastonbury Tor are still welcome!)