March 25, 2009

How to Write a Review from a Very Amateur Book Blogger

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I'm not an expert. It's a good bet that most book bloggers are not professional reviewers. We just love to read. With some recent discussion within the book blogosphere, I started thinking about how a new blogger might feel intimidated by book reviewing. Here are some tips that have helped me:

*Make sure you mention the title and author's name in the title and body of the post. Don't rely on a book cover picture. This is important not only to readers but for Google spiderbots that look for content. You want your review to be found.

*Describe the book briefly. Some bloggers cut and paste from the book jacket. You might choose this route too but I think it's a good writing exercise to do it yourself. I also think it helps me focus before I give my opinion. Avoid spoilers.

*Opinion: Find your voice. Blogs are personal and your readers want a sense of the person behind the blog. When you give your opinion, give it in your own style. Is this hard for you? Here's a trick: pretend your BFF, Mom, spouse, etc has asked, "Why did you like this book?" What would you say? How would you say it? Think of this question and start writing stream-of-conscious style. Don't think too hard and don't worry about grammar. Read what you wrote. Pick your best comments and expand on those ideas.

*Opinion: What's the story, Morning Glory? How did you feel about the plot? The characters? Were they relatable? Believable? How was the pacing? Did the story drag? Or could you not put it down? Is the writer a great storyteller? Or was it so-so?

*The technical details. This is optional but I like it. Tell us about the writing itself. Whose point of view was the told from? What is the writing style? Did it work? Were there a lot of grammatical errors? A lack of punctuation? Did this work as a writing device or was it distracting? How about the atmosphere- dark, funny, etc?

*Balance. Try to balance your reviews with both the good and bad. Most books have something good about them. Someone else might like what you didn't. However, if it just wasn't for you, say so.

*Watch your grammar. I've made many mistakes, believe me, and will continue to but I do try to catch as many grammatical errors as I can. If you have spell check, use it. Mistakes distract the reader. Try to avoid it.

*To thine own self be true. This is kind of like finding you voice but encompasses your whole blog. Be honest in your opinions. Your readers will appreciate it. No one will die if you didn't like Twilight. Be yourself. You have to be able to stand behind what you write. You might like to make an About Me page to clarify your review policies.

*Ratings? I gave up on rating books because I gave everything a 4 star rating. If you choose to have one, give an explanation of your system somewhere on your blog.

*Just write! Not everything you write will be gold. When you look back on your blog there will be some reviews you're really proud of and maybe some you'll wonder if you wrote at all! That's okay. Just do it!

That's all I can think of at the moment. I would love to hear advice from others. What would you tell a beginner book blogger?

33 comments :

  1. Since I'm a beginner I do not have any advice but thank you for yours, it is very helpful. I'm going to keep the suggestions in mind as I write my next review!

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  2. Excellent primer, especially point #1. I see a lot of reviews - even by non-beginners - where a picture of the book is posted, and the author's name might be mentioned in the post somewhere. Sometimes I can't make out the cover picture well enough to read that info there. That's a basic, and if you care about search results, the title and author should be in the review-post title as well.

    I'm including this in my "Saturday Review" links round-up this week - nice job, Chris!

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  3. Great post! Lots of wonderful ideas here. I am sometimes, most of the time, embarrassed by my reviews because they are so short, especially when compared to many out there. So, I've been toying with the idea of calling them "reactions" instead of reviews. Because that is mostly what I do, give you my reaction to a book.

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  4. Great thoughts!

    I would have to say, though, that I absolutely hate it when people summarize from the book cover. I hate how book covers try to sell the book -- it's not genuine. Obviously, I can just skip it, but I would go to Amazon for that if I wanted it. I come to a blog for the opinions, and I want to hear, from the blogger, what the book is about. I would strongly recommend to new bloggers to stay away from quoting book cover -- I think it's a real turn off on a blog!

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  5. Just do it. Don't worry about making a review "perfect" (it won't be!). You'll develop your own personal style after a while (a style you're comfortable with)

    Interesting to read what others think about using the book cover description as a summary. This is the route I take (the "back of the book blurb" I call it), but I omit anything editorial ("a gripping novel," "you'll stay up all night") from the book jacket.

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  6. I always post the summary from the book cover. I'd hate to assume that everyone knows what the book is already about, when this is probably not the case.

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  7. Great post Chris which makes sense, because you write great reviews of books.

    I agree about not posting the book jacket summary, but I understand why people might do it.

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  8. Very helpful post!

    As someone who works in publishing (Annick Press) and loves to see our books reviewed by bloggers, let me add: please remember to include the name of the publishing house along with the title and author/illustrator! It helps us to find reviews of our books without having to search title-by-title or author-by-author.

    Thanks again,
    Joanna K, Annick Press
    www.annickpress.com

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  9. Great post! I've never tried ratings, because I find them so difficult to do on sites like Library Thing and Good Reads. I look at some of my ratings and wonder what I was thinking of at the time.

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  10. Your last point is a good one. Not every review has to be a polished work of art. It's okay to have bad days. I sometimes save easy books to review for days when I'm under the weather. :)

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  11. This is great advice. I write reviews and they're all enthusiastic - because I don't bother reading anything I wouldn't like. Life is too short! If I were to bump into a book that I couldn't endorse, I would contact the author privately and tell her or him. Of course, this only applies to writers I know!

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  12. Daibhin- I hope it helps you!

    Florinda- Thanks that would be great!

    Suey- I like that word.

    Rebecca- It is my preference too. I like when people put the story in their own words.

    Dawn- Yes, style comes with practice.

    Melissa- I think that's totally up to the blogger and what they are comfortable with.

    Raidergirl- Thanks!

    Joanna- That's a good point. Thanks.

    Bermuda- For me, ratings just didn't work but many people can do it right.

    Puss- Some books are easier to do than others.

    Julia- Thanks for your input!

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  13. I am brand new to blogging about books. These tips are coming at a very timely moment and are great. Thank you!

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  14. When Roger Ebert writes movie reviews about films he disliked, he always tries to say something positive about the movie in his beginning paragraphs. Or he'll admit that he may not have enjoyed the movie because it wasn't made with his demographic in mind. After that and only then does he bring out the hatchet. A little praise, no matter how miniscule or grudging adds to your reviewer cred.

    Another thing I noticed about Ebert is that he makes associations between the book (if he's read it) and the movie. Or he'll compare movies. Or somehow tie in the world at large. This extra information makes him seem thoughtful and intelligent, also adding to the reviewer cred.

    OK, you've guessed it: I wish I could write like Roger Ebert!

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  15. I think this is a fantastic post and I need to take Joanna's advice to heart!

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  17. Great post. Thanks for sharing things you think are important in a reviewer. Sometimes I feel like I'm missing the mark. Maybe I need to set up some guidelines like this.

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  18. Rachel- Hope it helps!

    Bybee- lol! Don't we all!

    Amy- Thank you!

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  19. Great post! I like all the points you mentioned. I never use book covers on my reviews because I don't think they are important, but that's me. I only use the blurb for books that I didn't like. For books I did like I always come up with my own synopsis.

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  20. I like it when bloggers link to "extras", such as author Q&A's, excerpts, etc. The publishers are always happy to help you find these!

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  21. Excellent post. I love your advice. I can't do ratings either for the same reason...I'd end up giving nearly everything the same rating. I find it hard to translate my feelings about a book into a number. I admire those who can, though!

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  22. Wonderful advice! It's bookmarked :o)

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  23. I think they are all great suggestions. Thank you!

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  24. Well I think this is gold, thanks for the tips ;) Again your little kitten pictures crack me up, I love it lol

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  25. Chris, that's an excellent primer. Here are some thoughts from the late John Updike, in the pre-blog era:
    1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

    2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

    3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

    4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.

    5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

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  26. That's a terrific how-to. And a bunch of great reminders for us too! :-)

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  27. Fantastic post, Chris. I think given the recent ick over at Amy's about new bloggers and top-tier bloggers this is very timely and incredibly helpful for the newer bloggers who might feel lost and us more seasoned bloggers who are always looking for tips. This definitely reminded me of a few things that I need to be more aware of!

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  28. Excellent post Chris! Not only is this good advice for beginners but a great review for us other bloggers!

    What a wonderful community servcice you have done!

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  29. Excellent post Chris. It and all the comments are good recommendations.

    I would also add:

    1. Write the review immediately after finishing the book. The longer you wait the more you will forget and the harder it will become.

    2. Have some Post-its handy to mark passages you want to quote or refer to or jot page numbers ind reminders in a notebook. I've spend an hour or more trying to find a particular passage.

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  30. wonderful list of things to remember when reviewing books

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  31. Thanks for this post! I think it's very helpful.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  32. I summarized your ten points on my Book Review Questions post, here:
    http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/09/book-review-questions.html

    ... before putting that link in today's Armchair BEA post about blogging, here:
    http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/2011/05/armchair-bea-blogging-about-blogging.html

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  33. *waves hello*

    I've only been at this book blogging thing for a month now, so this post has been very helpful for me. I like the part about imagining that you're talking to your BFF about the book -- I'm still very stiff, and I need to work on this. ;)

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