Monday, 17 June 2013

To Review or not To Review?

A piece of advice given to a writer fretting over a bad review was ‘Don’t read them, count them.’ After all, the more you have, the more people (at least in theory) are buying your books.
As a writer, what should be your role, if any, as a reviewer? There has been a lot of controversy about some writers rubbishing rivals’ work and praising their own under an assumed name. A practice almost, but not quite, universally condemned.
And what if a writer friend asks you to review their latest work? Do you mumble something about planning to do it later and then conveniently forget about it? Or do you treat everyone equally and give 5 stars on Amazon when all you’ve read is the blurb? Surely not!
I enjoy writing reviews: it forces you to look at a piece of work more closely, to examine it critically and find out what works and what doesn’t. All of this helps with your own writing, makes you more aware of what you should do to improve and helps develop the ability to write concisely.
There are certain things I try to bear in mind before embarking on a review. They are not exclusive, but if you are new to reviewing, or would like to try reviewing a favourite book, they may help you decide if the role of reviewer is one you want to add to your skills. After all, as writers we will also be looking for reviews, hopefully very positive ones.
1. Consider the book within its genre. How does it work in this context? If it’s a romance, don’t review it as if it was a crime novel.
2. Tell the readers what the book is about, but keep it short. Two or three sentences are usually enough…and make sure there are no spoilers. A review is not a synopsis.
3. Consider how the author develops the characters and the plot. Refer to specifics and illustrate with a couple of quotes.
4. Say what you liked, or didn’t like, about the book but remember you are criticising the book, not the writer.
5. Try to come up with a compelling opening sentence. Reviewing is like any other kind of writing - if the readers’ attention is caught immediately they will read on.
6. Try to find positives. Fortunately not every reader likes the same kind of book, else there would be very few writers.
If I really don’t like a book, I ditch the review (and sometimes the book!) rather than being tempted to give it a very low rating. Unless you are an experienced reviewer all you'll do is upset the writer and your comments won't necessarily be of help to a reader. 
If you are in doubt, look at the reviews for some of the ‘big names’ and you will see that among the 5 stars there’s often a sprinkling of 1 and 2 star reviews. The positive reviews show there is nothing wrong with the book - it's just not to my taste.
If you haven’t reviewed before, do give it a try.