Friday, December 4, 2015

My Thoughts on Reviewing

For a bit of change of pace today I thought I'd take a few moments to share with you all my thoughts on reviewing.  I originally wrote this guest post for Eric J. Gates at Thriller-Writer & thought that it was high time I shared my thoughts on reviewing with you all as well!

Book Reviewing - A Master Class

As a species, humans tend to find ways to escape the reality that they live in. The western world tends to turn to movies, malls, and that sort of thing. A select few of us still turn to books in order to escape reality. We find ourselves lost in a world that the author creates for us. For a while we are amongst the characters that these authors so tactfully put on the pages of the book. They pour their souls into the pages of the book to provide us with our escape. What do they get in return? A pay check? Eventually, they’ll see some return. The ability to affect others through their words? Most likely, but how do they know this? Praise? Possibly, depending on reviews that people write.

For the most part, when we read a book we don’t think about the author. All that we are looking for is an escape from reality. At times, however there is a book that catches us (or definitely does not spark anything in us) and we have something to say about it. This is when people tend to write reviews. They either loved or hated what they had just read. Simply stating that you liked or hated a book or regurgitating what happened throughout is not a real review.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up a bit and take a look at reviewing and why it’s not about the reader, but rather a reciprocal relationship with the author. The reader provides you with your escape from reality and you provide them with feedback about this world via your review.

The most important thing to think about before writing a review is why. Why are you writing a review about the book? If it was phenomenal or absolutely horrendous, you’re right, you probably want to write and post a review somewhere. This is a good starting point for a review but it should be just that, a starting point. There should be more to it than that to come up with anything of substance. A review shouldn’t be tearing a book apart or saying how horrendous it is. It needs substance and explanation. I’ll get into this further in a moment.

If you are writing a review simply because you wanted a free book, please stop for a moment and think about it. Who are you helping other than yourself? If this is the only reason that you are writing a review then it will probably lack any benefit to the author. An author will at times provide free copies of their books in order to gain reviews for various websites to increase their sales. To do this, they need you to put the who, what, where, why, when, and how into your review. This also has an added benefit for the author. If you format your review in such a way you provide the author with constructive criticism that will help them with their future writing. Point being, if an author provides you with a free book, make sure that you are giving them some valid points, this is the value that they are getting from their gift to you, and yes, it is a GIFT. If you are simply writing random words so that people continue to give you free stuff, then you are stomping on the gift so generously given to you.

My reasons for reviewing do combine a bit of both of the above (I’d be crazy to turn down a free book, now wouldn’t I?); however, it goes much deeper than that. By reviewing a book, not only do I tell the author how I felt about the book, but I also help other readers choose their next escape from reality. Above all, I review for a rather selfish reason. Writing a review allows me to get my thoughts about a book in order. I have a reason to sit down and figure out why I loved (or hated) it so much, which character I was able to relate to the most, and if I could picture myself in that world. If I’m setting this up for myself, sharing it with other readers and letting the author know what I think is just a natural next step.

That said, how do I write a review? If I know that I’m going to review a book, I’ll take notes while reading it. It’s nothing in depth. I simply jot down anything that caught my attention. It might be something unique, something that doesn’t quite make sense, or something that was phenomenal. Basically anything that I feel is worth noting. When I sit down to write a review the first thing that I put down on paper is what I thought or felt about the book and why. Keep in mind that the why is just as important as the what here. I also try to mention the descriptions, settings, and character development in each review. They are all important aspects of a novel and deserve to be mentioned in your review. When writing your review keep in mind that there is always something good in a book, regardless of how horrendous you found the writing. There is also always something that you’d change with a phenomenal book. Keep in mind that you are not the author and would therefore write it differently than they would.

Reviewing isn’t easy. In fact, at times it’s very hard work. It’s not about word count but rather about getting a cohesive message across to your audience, because in essence that’s what you’re doing. As a reviewer you are now writing for an audience. Above all, when writing a review, be completely honest. You read what you read and felt what you felt, let others know what that was.

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