Monday, September 19, 2011

The Art of Writing Reviews

The deeper I get into my writing career in terms of both writing and reading other books, the more I’ve been studying reviews. Mind you, I didn’t say reading...I said studying. I’m convinced there’s an art to writing an effective review. If they don’t already do so, maybe the ACFW should consider offering a class.

I’m struggling with some issues in terms of writing reviews now that I’m a published author. Should I write reviews under my own name? After all, I write my books under my real name and detest the thought of using a pseudonym. On the flip side, is it dishonest if I don’t use my real name in writing reviews? Why does it matter, you might ask? I’ve noticed some authors tend to give fellow authors five stars automatically—every single review is the highest ranking. I ask you, is that possible? Perhaps in a perfect world. Review ratings are like a grading scale: Five stars = A, Four stars = B, and so on. Everyone strives for that A, but in fiction writing, it’s so subjective to personal opinions and whims. I’ve had other writers say, “Oh, no one pays attention to what other writers say about your book.” The other interesting comment? “People zero in on the bad reviews first.” The offshoot of that latter comment is that potential buyers will sometimes buy a book based on those negative reviews or because something in the review snagged their attention, good or bad, and prompted them to want to see for themselves. I want to write reviews, and think I’m decent at it, but there’s that whole political correctness factor—you don’t want to offend anyone, but neither do you want to be insincere. It all boils down to a personal choice: you have to do what’s best for you while always respecting the fact that the Lord’s given each one of us the passion for writing. We’re in it for His glory, not ours or anyone else’s.

Below are some of my observations (a personal list of “dos and don’ts," if you will, in no particular order).

*Don’t rehash the plot since the book’s synopsis is right there on the website.
*Don’t give away the farm. Whatever you do, don’t mention an event in the book which is considered a spoiler, giving the potential reader insight into something the author most likely wants the readers to discover for themselves.
*Don’t make the review a platform or blog for you. I see this done a lot when a book addresses a controversial topic, especially in Christian fiction. It’s fine to mention an event (without a spoiler) in a book that prompts you to rethink your position or has a profound impact on you, but it's not an opportunity for you to sermonize or go off on tangents not directly related to that particular book.
*Don’t tear apart a book and rate it low because of poor formatting or editing. I think it’s more the non-author reader who will do this (especially those who download the e-book version for no cost!). Authors only have so much control over these technical issues once they turn in their manuscript to a publisher. A review should focus on the writing, the plot, and the reviewer’s reaction to the story—not the mechanics.

*Do remember the Lord has given this story to an author for a reason. It may not be your preferred style of writing or genre, but embrace it and appreciate it.
*Do keep it simple and focused on your reaction to what you read. It doesn't have to be literary. Five or six sentences is fine. Much more, and you’ll lose interest and many potential readers will gloss over your review or skip it altogether. It’s like the closing argument in a courtroom: keep it brief, hard-hitting and state your case—for or against.
*Do wait at least a day or two and let it settle in, and then mull it over and formulate what you want to say before writing that review.

Lastly, one point that’s near and dear to my heart: Do the author justice by not rushing through their book and writing a review with erroneous facts or misconceptions that are clearly laid out in the book. As you know, authors agonize and expend many, many hours laboring over their labor of love in writing a book. It’s quite an accomplishment in itself. If something you write is only going to tear them down or crush their spirit, think twice. There really is something to be said in not saying anything if you can’t say something nice. Or at least a three-star rating or higher.

Jump right in and give me your thoughts, please. Whether you agree or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments! Blessings until next time, my friends. Matthew 5:16


  1. Excellent points, JoAnn. A bad review can be devastating for a writer.(Unfortunately, I know this from first-hand experience.) A firm grip on the Golden Rule will help us to stay honest, yet give grace. The next review I write, I'll ask myself, "Would I say this to the author if we were face-to-face?

  2. What was that, Rachael? I was busy practicing a beautiful worship song for the ACFW... SMILE. Excellent question to ask ourselves; we shouldn't "hide" behind our words. If it's not something we can say face-to-face, then we shouldn't say it. Thank you. can't wait to see you soon! Blessings.

  3. Great advice JoAnn, and helpful thoughts! Thanks!

  4. Great points, JoAnn! The golden rule applies, doesn't it? Hope to see you at conference!