The points I mentioned in Part 1 and Part 2 are:
1. Be Discerning in Your Reading
2. Highlight Your Favourite Passages
3. Believe in Your Voice
4. Keep a Small Notebook
5. No Spoilers
6. Constructive Criticism
Today, I’m doing Part 3 (the final) of ‘How To Write A Book Review And Why Anyone Can Do It’ continuing from where we left off yesterday.
7. Use Pictures and Paragraphs
Always show the cover of the book and if possible an image or two. Pictures make a text easier to read, less dense and add pleasure to reading a review. Similarly with paragraphs, they break up the text making it easier for people to read and less likely to skip over it.
8. Structure of the Review
For that first creative draft, forget about structure, but when you reread your review, check if you covered these points.
Write a friendly first paragraph, I usually say how I came across this book, why I decided to read it, whether I’ve read any other books by the same author or the personal story that lead me to picking up this book. Yes, make it personal! Well, unless you are writing for a publication, then edit out the ‘too personal’ bits, but for a blog, save your anecdotes, most readers love knowing about connections related to books.
Plot, characters, setting, era. Give a brief summary of the book, what is it, a novel, short stories, collection of essays, genre, the main character(s), the form (letters, 1st or 3rd person narrative, stream of consciousness), where and when is it set. But remember people read reviews for opinions, keep plot descriptions brief.
Favourite passages, quotes, images.
d. The Verdict
Thoughts, themes, aspects appreciated, whether it was thought-provoking and in what way, anomalies and frustrations (never use the words like or dislike, say why), comparisons with other books. Analyse at a level you are comfortable with, share what you felt, perceived.
Often when I read reviews I scan over plot summaries and look for the paragraph where the reviewer shares their thoughts on the reading experience. It is like the difference between reading a description of a travel itinerary and actually experiencing it. We want to know what the experience was like, how it made you feel as you read it – describe your encounter with the book and don’t be afraid to say why.
9. Comment on Reviews
I don’t read reviews while I am reading or reviewing a book. Reviews help me decide whether I want to read a book, then once I have it, I stop. Reading reviews while trying to write our own compromises No.3 Believe in Your Voice. Doing so risks awakening the inner critic and silencing the sensitive, more than capable subconscious within us that knows exactly what to say.
No one else can write in your voice as well as you can and people are attracted to your words precisely because of its authenticity. Your audience are people like you!
Once you have completed a review, if it is for your blog, visit other blogs who have reviewed the title and leave genuine, heartfelt comments. Don’t link back to your review, it’s not about promoting your blog, it’s about engaging with and supporting the community.
Great comments are a sufficient invitation for a like-minded reviewer and lover of books to return the favour. Check the twitter feed and join in conversations about the book and reply/tweet reviewers who have written reviews, spread the word!
10. Be Respectful
Above all, reread your words and make sure they remain respectful to the author. Writers can take criticism if it is constructive, but they are by nature empathetic beings and therefore more sensitive than most, a book is rarely significant to a reader’s life, but it can be everything to the person who wrote it.
11. Forget the Rules
The last tip is: forget the rules and the advice and just follow your instinct. By writing regularly, we all improve and develop our style and in the blogging world anything goes; people respond to integrity and we attract what we put out. Bonne Courage!
“It’s harder to take the first step towards a goal, than it is to look back from the heights of having achieved it.”
Don’t aspire to be like anyone else, find your own voice and attract your own community. Then it’s never hard work, it’s just another step on the path towards refining your writing voice.