I am absolutely thrilled to introduce my latest Guest Blogger, book reviewer Cathy Speight. In this wonderfully informative post, Cathy shares some very constructive tips, and much of her own wisdom, on the criteria which make for a good review and a good reviewer. A very big welcome to you, Cathy! And thank you so much for accepting my invitation to be my guest here.
Well, I won’t bore you with a long and dreary bio, but just so that you know a little about me, my name is Cathy Speight, I live in Bristol, UK, am married, have twin daughters, and three (nearly four) grandchildren. I opted for retirement four years ago when the company I worked for relocated to London and then last year, I did two things: I signed up to Facebook (I’m a late developer), and I bought myself a Kindle. Those two things are actually how I find myself here. Thank you, Amelia, very much indeed for inviting me along.
The Kindle revolutionised my reading. After only one eBook I was well and truly hooked, and I joined a number of Facebook book groups where I met a hitherto unknown (to me) group of people: indie authors. I discovered an Aladdin’s Cave of indie books, got chatting to lots of authors and—long story short—I found myself creating my own review blog. For me, clicking the last page of the book wasn’t quite The End. Complete closure was writing about what I thought of the book. And lo, Cath ‘n’ Kindle Book Reviews was born—an album or an anthology of all my Kindle books.
Having reviewed for a couple of book-reviewing sites, I picked up some very useful hints about writing reviews, and together with what I personally like to see, I’d like to share those elements I believe make a good review and offer some ‘tips and wrinkles’ (where did that expression come from?) about becoming a reviewer:
- Read the book from beginning to end (not as obvious as it sounds!) and carefully. (I have been known to read a page three times if I thought I hadn’t read every word).
- Were the characters well-conceived, varied enough, did you like the heroes/heroines?
- The plot—was it well-structured? Were there any loose threads?
- Did you like the author’s style—was it suited to the genre?
- The pace of the story—too fast, too slow?
- Did it evoke any emotions? Did you cry or laugh?
- Was the dialogue natural?
- Was it well edited?
- Would you recommend the book?
- Would you read another book by the author?
- A detailed synopsis of the story isn’t too important as there is always one at the point of purchase—but of course, it’s difficult to talk about the book without reference to the story, so keep it short with no spoilers—please, no spoilers.
- Try and be sensible about the length of your review—too short, and there are too many unanswered questions for the potential reader: ‘this was a good book, couldn’t put it down, I could relate to the heroine, and loved the ending’ isn’t going to influence a reader very much. By the same token, if your review is too long—you will lose a reader’s interest—not just in the review, but maybe even in the book.
- Most importantly, if you expect a well-edited, well-presented book from an author, I feel the very least you can do is give the same in return, so there should be no typos, spelling mistakes, etc.
- What didn’t you like and why? This is the most ‘delicate’ part of reviewing. Don’t be afraid to say if you didn’t like a book—but be constructive, try to be helpful, and above all, don’t be nasty or abusive. Not liking the book because you didn’t like the subject matter is, well, a bit of a non-starter. Don’t read a book in a genre you know you don’t like or deals with a subject in which you have no interest or would prefer not to read about; you just won’t be able to give an objective review
Try to take a bigger-picture view. Not long ago, I posted a review on Amazon of what I thought was an excellent book. I discovered nearly 60 reviews, most of them good. I don’t often read reviews after I’ve read a book, but I was intrigued (and surprised) by the one- and two-star reviews. I thought it was a very good book, how could it possibly be worth only one or two stars? Had these readers put their reviews on the wrong page? Of course, we all have different tastes, and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but when I looked at these reviews more closely I thought they were a tad harsh.
The review was for a detective thriller. Amongst others, there were comments about certain issues that would never have happened in real life. Well, no, quite possibly that was true, but this is fiction. Isn’t that part of why we read? To escape from an ordinary real life? Isn’t that true of all entertainment, films, and drama shows? How many times have you said to yourself, yeah, like that really happens. But it’s drama, so we cut a little slack. Because it’s all good fun. Poetic licence is allowed.
Every book that lands in my lap for review is to me an extraordinary achievement by another human being and one I could never accomplish.
So before slapping one star on a book you didn’t like, it’s worth taking a moment to step back and reflect how that book got to be on your Kindle/eReader. It didn’t just happen. It may have taken years of hard work and dedication, first by the author and then a team of people doing their best, both parties keen to continue to improve in their respective crafts. A little encouragement is one of the things that helps this process along.
A very handy tip for authors when they self-edit, is to step back from their potential bestselling masterpiece for a few weeks, even months, before rereading it. A little break before writing a review is something I also advise. Not weeks, though: if you’re anything like me, I’ve forgotten characters’ names almost as soon as I’ve dived into the next book. But after a few days, it’s surprising how differently you feel about a book. I have sometimes upgraded from a two-star rating to a four-star rating after having had a few days to ‘digest’.
Judging by the number of books I have waiting to be read and reviewed, it would appear that there can never be enough reviewers! Your to-be-reviewed list will grow rapidly to almost daunting proportions. Authors—especially indie authors—surf the ‘net searching for book reviewers and their blogs, and if their searches find you, you’ll be overwhelmed by requests. Keeping to the genres you like (but don’t be afraid to try one you think you might) will keep your review list to a manageable level (says she whose TBR is quite off the radar).
Finally and most importantly, enjoy yourself: have fun writing your reviews, start a review blog, and share them!