I judge romance contest entries and have written book reviews. I’ve seen the scores and comments on my own contest entries, and have read reviews of my published stories and books. My point is, I’ve seen both sides of these processes.
Reviews take a lot of thought time, so I don’t write them very often. Here are some suggestions to get started if you choose to do them.
1. Your job is about the story, not the artwork. I avoid commenting on covers because authors have no control over them unless it’s a self-published work. And even then, it’s not a reviewer’s job to review the cover.
I’ve learned not to judge a book’s content by it’s cover. If, for instance, you look at the above cover design, you might choose not to read it because you don’t like historicals. Yet if you read its story line, it’s a contemporary romance that opens in a masquerade party in Venice, Italy. The heroes happen to live in the US.
2. Contest judges evaluate the characters, setting, plot, story resolution, flow, and the readability of the writer’s style. Think about these as you compose your review.
3. Most importantly, read the books you review carefully. Heaven knows this shouldn’t be a slap-dash affair. People may buy or decide not to buy based on your comments. Be fair to the prospective buyer as well as the author.
4. I find having notepad and pen handy as I read allows me to jot down questions or quotes with page numbers. It makes it easy to get back to those later to double check and be accurate in what I have to say.
5. In reading, I like to allow an author to take me where she/he wants to take me. I try not to be hidebound by rules of structure I may have learned in a class or book. A naturally gifted writer may not know those rules, and doesn’t need to follow them if it’s a good story that flows and keeps you interested.
6. It’s helpful to know something about the genre or sub-genre you’ve chosen to tackle. For example, a medieval fantasy doesn’t have to be historically accurate…it’s a fantasy! A fable is a particular kind of fantasy, and you need to know something about science if you review science fiction.
7. Be as positive as possible in the review. You might provide examples of why you didn’t give a higher mark.
Be aware that 3 stars means an average read, and many publishers will not quote from a 3 star review. Avoid giving something a three, a two or whatever just because a string of others have. They may not have even read it. It’s a lazy copycat kind of thing in my view.
I confess that twice I’ve given top name writers 3s because I felt the latest book simply wasn’t up to their standards of writing.
8. Lastly, don’t reveal the entire plot, and do not give away the ending. You’d be amazed at how many inexperienced reviewers do.
Well, I think I’ve written about all I have to say today on this. I invite you to chime in, too.