So …. after getting two reviews on Amazon (go here to add your own review of ‘Getting Some’) and finding out more about how reviews help to promote a book, I decided to start to read and review books by other authors, especially indie authors like me, who don’t have the marketing and promotion arm of a legacy publisher to support them.
I’ve already started to read a few, and was quickly faced with a challenge – how do you say, in a review, that a book sucked? I should say here that I’m one of those people who believes that every book has at least one redeeming feature. Even if there is no discernible editing, the story idea is unique or the pacing is phenomenal or the cover is excellent or the characters come alive on the page or ….. the writer managed to write and finish a book. On that basis, I’d probably find it hard to give any piece of writing less than one star. Having said that, however, the other stars need greater justification.
I started to trawl the internet for pointers about how to write a great review (thoughtful, precise, informative) about a bad book. I found some useful information here and here, but perhaps the most helpful pointers I got were thrown up when I asked myself how I’d like someone who hated ‘Getting Some’ to review it. Seriously. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Declare your bias up front – If you don’t particularly read a lot of the genre the book is written in, or have read more paranormal romances than you should reasonably be expected to stand when the book lands on your desk for a review, say so. It’s honest, and puts your review in context. If your bias is particularly acute, you might want to question whether you should agree to review the book at all.
2. Be honest, not brutal – Have you ever read one of those reviews where it feels like the reviewer had suffered some anger-inducing personal tragedy before putting pen to paper? Sometimes it’s clear that the reviewer intends to be nasty, and that the review would probably have been negative even if the book was the next great American novel. Be honest about your impression of the book, but don’t be nasty about it. This is a matter of the ‘how’ of the review and not the ‘what’.
3. Find the good – Find, and express at least one good thing that the writer did well in the book, even if it’s the story idea, more than its execution. Writing a review is not just about helping readers to decide whether the book deserves their hard-earned money, it’s also about helping writers to understand and appreciate why you didn’t like their book, even if they don’t agree with you. Finding, and acknowledging that one good thing makes the (myriad) of not-so-good things a little easier to receive. Once you’ve found it, say why it worked well.
4. Explain, but don’t justify – By all means elaborate on why certain aspects of the book failed, but don’t over-analyse. And never, ever engage in back and forth with an upset writer about the review you wrote. If you can be persuaded to change or modify a review after a discussion with the author, then your initial review probably wasn’t about the merits of the book in the first place.