I remember the first review I wrote. It was for Wild River Review, on a book by Jonathan Maberry. I wanted to do a good job, write the best review I could. I feel every author deserves a well thought-out review of their book, whether the reviewer ends up giving them only one star or five.
If there isn’t an etiquette for writing book reviews, there should be. A book reviewer should structure their review around some major points to make it well-rounded. For example: who, what, when, where, and why.
Who? I’ve noticed an increased sloppiness in book reviews these days. First, I want to make it clear I’m not talking about big-name reviewers like the New York Times Review of Books, or BookPage. Rather, there are innumerable book bloggers out there writing reviews. Authors published by small presses, as well as self-published authors, are flocking to small-time reviewers in the hopes of getting their books noticed. It is important to remember why we accept advance review copies, what this means to the authors and publishers, and why reviewers should adhere to a certain etiquette.
What? When you get caught up in day-to-day activities, it’s easy to lose focus. But if you have a book blog or a website dedicated to providing reviews, your first priority should be writing a review that is explanatory and well-rounded. You can use the basic who, what, when, where, and why approach, or you can come up with something you’re more comfortable with.
Regardless of how you do it, what you need to do is give the reader good reasons as to why they should or shouldn’t buy this book. That means answering a few basic questions in your review: What did you like about it? What didn’t you like? Even if you’re awarding the book one star and making your subject line reflect your loathing (“This book was awful”) you should still provide solid reasons as to why it was so awful.
When? We are all guilty of making mistakes. That’s okay, it’s what makes us human. But if you’re guilty of writing sloppy reviews, now is a good time to figure out why. Decide whether you’re serious about writing reviews, and pinpoint your reasons. Are you just doing it because you love reading, or because you also want to help authors publicize their books?
Where? Think about where you’re posting your reviews. Are authors expecting to see them go up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble? If they’ve given you an advance reader copy, and you’ve agreed to write a review, they are expecting you to write well and offer solid reasons as to why you liked it or why you didn’t.
What it comes down to is sales. The author or publisher is hoping they can increase sales by gaining more reviews. If you agree to write a review, you need to do the decent thing and put time into it. Show them you care about what you’re doing.
Why? If you’re a book blogger, then you have a website, and you want people to enjoy it. You want readers to return to you for information about new authors and upcoming releases.
As an author, I love reviews—whether the reviewer hates my book or loves it. The reason is because I can tell they put time into it. I am honored they read my book, and grateful they took time out of their busy day to properly explain for their readers what they did or didn’t enjoy about my work.
A book review is a piece of writing in itself, and the author of that writing should take what they’re doing seriously and endeavor to do the best they can. I don’t think a reviewer has to be a stellar writer, I just believe they should do their best to cover important points in their review.
If there isn’t an etiquette for writing reviews, there should be.
Enjoy your day. Write, read, and be merry!
More on Book Review Etiquette, from the perspective of both reviewers and authors:
The Five Step Program for Book Review Etiquette: Writers, here’s some great advice on dealing with reviews that make you cry yourself to sleep at night.
A Book Blogger’s Guide to Etiquette: From the Wicked Little Pixie herself.
A Book Blogger Etiquette Guideline: Some fantastic advice for book bloggers, especially those who are just starting out.
A Writer’s Guide to Book Blogger Etiquette: Looking to send your book to book bloggers? Here’s some essential advice on how to go about it the right way.