HAPPY ST. PATRICKS DAY (notice the green apple?) and welcome to the fifth day of March BOOK Madness. (For a complete schedule and explanation, see below this post. If you’ve missed any days, make sure to catch up! It’s been awesome!)
Today my friend, Charissa Stastny, is here discussing the importance of writing book reviews. Charissa and I have been online writing friends for a few years. She is a sweetheart, a successful blogger, and the talented author of three novels. Check out her info/books below. I’ve followed Charissa’s book reviews for some time now, and have found new favorite authors based on her suggestions, so I really appreciate her sharing this topic with us today.
Here she is.
The Importance of Reviews by Charissa Stastny
Have you ever thought about purchasing a book, yet you’re not quite sure whether the story will be a right fit for you or not? What do you do?
I go straight to reviews on Amazon or Goodreads and start skimming. After reading some good ones, a few bad ones, and some middle-of-the-line reviews, I get a fair idea of whether I want to buy the book. Books with few reviews make people wonder what’s wrong with it. There might be nothing wrong with the novel; it could be brand new or it might not be marketed well enough by the author or publisher to get into the hands of the right readership. But when consumers see few reviews, a red flag goes up in their mind. Without reviews to judge by, it’s hard to get a glimpse of whether a book is good or not.
That’s why EVERY review is important, whether it’s short or long, super funny or very basic.
One of my friends recently admitted she didn’t think she should write reviews because she didn’t know what to say. She thought only writers (or those good at critiquing elements of writing) left reviews. On the other hand, I’ve read several recent debates about whether authors should write reviews on other books. The camp against doing so says it’s a conflict of interest because your review might detract from your own books. I don’t really get that type of thinking, but it’s out there.
So if readers are too intimidated to write reviews, and writers are afraid they’ll lead people to other books than their own if they leave a review…who is left to help me judge between the millions of books out there to read? I don’t have time to read them all (although I try very hard to do my duty in this area).
My feet are firmly planted in the camp that if you read a book (whether you’re a lawyer, writer, businessman, stay-at-home-mom, celebrity, teacher, student, or even a dinosaur!), you should leave a review. For those few hours of time, you are a READER. So do the writer a courtesy and leave a small review of how the work touched you (or didn’t, if that’s the case). You will make book sites, authors…and especially fellow readers love you!
Tips for Reviewing Books
Here are some tips to help you review the books you read. Don’t let my long list scare you. This process can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be.
1) Get on Amazon and Goodreads. These are the 2 biggest book review sites. Create an account and username. If you don’t want to use your real name for privacy reasons, make up an alias. You can be ILikeChocolate or BooksRMe. My Amazon review name is CharInBoise. Once you log on, type in your review.
2) Rate the book. Most review sites have a 1-5 scale, 5 being the highest. I usually rate higher on Amazon than Goodreads because of how the ratings are worded:
5—Love It 5—Amazing!
4—Like It 4—Really liked
3—It’s okay 3—Liked
2—Don’t like it 2—Okay
1—Hate it 1—Did not like
3) Be yourself. Don’t try to copy other reviewers and say what they say. We all have different time constraints and personalities, so let yours shine through.
4) Categorize. You don’t have to be a librarian or a book editor to create a category based on when it happens, where it happens, and who it’s about. “This is for young children and has magic” works, or “Alien planet in the future” or “Modern-day romance with a plumber and movie star.” A short description helps others know at a glance whether they want to read on or not.
5) Write emotion. What did the book make you feel? Were you annoyed with certain character’s decisions? Did you wish you could meet them in real life for lunch…or in a back alley to box their ears? Did you go through a whole container of tissue? Did you fall asleep every chapter and have to force your way through to the end? Tell what the story did to you. I think this is even more important than a synopsis. Readers can get that from the author’s blurb, but knowing how the story affects other readers is invaluable.
6) Enlightening details. Tell readers what you wish you knew before you read the book. Are there graphic scenes, tons of swear words, icky characters, etc? Since I love romance, I always read reviews to see if a book has sex scenes. I don’t want to read these, so I’m grateful when someone says something like, “This was a great story, but there are intimate scenes, so beware if that’s not your thing.” Some people will buy it after that; others, like me, will steer clear. Authors want the right people to read their books, so write pertinent details, and never feel embarrassed about being truthful.
7) Summarize (optional). The author’s blurb gives pertinent story details, so you don’t have to rehash the book’s plot. I put a short summary in mine because I like this for my own records (so I don’t reread a story unintentionally; if you don’t have short-term memory like me, be happy and skip this part).
8) No spoilers. Nobody likes a rotten egg. Be careful not to ruin the book for others. Don’t give away a great plot twist or tell who the girl ends up with at the end or who the killer is (if you’re nervous you might do this, then don’t write a summary). It’s all right to say things like, “This book has awesome twists and turns” or “This book was very predictable.”
9) Don’t get personal. Just because authors may read reviews, doesn’t mean you should write to them in your review. Also, if you happen to know the author from high school or you’re their favorite cousin, please don’t share that information. BIG NO-NO! That makes most readers discount anything you say, no matter how glowing or ranting it may be.
10) Have fun. Unlike in school, you’re not getting graded or judged on your review…so have fun and don’t stress. Writing a review should be comfortable since you pick which level you write it at. If you’re short on time, just leave a basic one. If you’re feeling creative, explore the magic of words.
Book Review Examples
Here are examples of reviews—from very simple to crazy creative.
1 Star *
Picked this off library shelf when studying 1st person perspective; ended up being trashy teen book I couldn’t stomach; wouldn’t recommend.
2 Stars **
I liked the beginning and the end. The 400 pages or so in between I didn’t like so much. Way too boring and no plot. Although the language is amazing at times, I got bored because I felt the language was taking me nowhere (and indeed, it didn’t for over 400 pages).
- [Note] 1 and 2 star reviews hurt authors, so only use them when you truly don’t like a book. Even then, try to give some positive feedback (which I didn’t do so well in the previous examples). Bad reviews, if written with the intent to inform instead of hurt, can help authors write better books in the future.
3 Stars ***
No distracting errors; the characters were easy to like. The only weakness was there wasn’t much tension. There were bad characters, but they didn’t come into play much and never pushed the hero and heroine over the edge. The setting in the desert of Colorado was fun. The ending was a little contrived and didn’t match the characters I’d come to know. They both seemed to act a little stupid, purposely misunderstanding each other. I would have preferred the bad guys to push them into action and reveal their love that way. It was still an enjoyable, clean read.
4 Stars ****
Wow! What a crazy story! I can’t believe what a messed up life this girl led. Her parents were wacko…yet she still helps you understand and sympathize with them in this memoir. More than colorful language in most of it; the father swears terribly (no F-bombs though), but she paints a very descriptive picture of what life looks like in extreme poverty and shiftlessness.
5 Stars *****
Warning: This book is bad for your cuticles and REM cycle. Just had to put that out there because this suspenseful (yet witty) romance has nonstop action from page 1 until the end. Have you ever watched the series 24 with Jack Bauer? This is kind of like that. The action never stops and the odds keep stacking against our heroes until you don’t think they’ll ever get out of it; but you know somehow they will…but you wonder how…which makes you crave brownies. Seriously! A pan of brownies would have been nice while reading this book; maybe then I wouldn’t have bitten off all my nails.
I’m still glad I read this though—ugly remaining cuticles and all. I did miss out on a night of REM sleep, so if I cut you off on the freeway today, I’m sorry…but I blame it all on this intense book. You see, I was worried about the crazy characters I’d just barely met, but kind of fell for, that I stayed awake all night trying to figure out how Rachel and Dawson would get away from the terrorists (I mean, Rachel is only a small town girl from Montana. How is she going to survive New York City, let alone some insane terrorists who are chasing her down to get their bomb back they planted in her suitcase?). Anyway, lesson learned. Next time, I will just stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning and finish the dang book instead of lying in bed awake trying to determine the ending myself. If you still want to read this book (which I strongly encourage), just remember to make a pan of brownies before you start; this will lower the chances of you eliminating your nails, cuticles and REM sleep like I did.
That last one was over the top, but I was in a creative mood that night and had fun doing it (usually, I’m not).
Whichever type of review you have time to leave (short or long, creative or basic), I thank you as both an author and reader for leaving one! Every review is important. Authors love reviews because they help us sell more books. And readers love reviews because they help us pick the right kind of books we’ll enjoy.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone!
Wonderful thoughts, Charissa. I struggle writing reviews, even of books I love. Not sure why, since I’m technically a writer. But I feel like you’ve given me lots of ideas of what to say in my reviews. I’ve also super-ly appreciated your reviews of my books! Thanks for taking your time to share your thoughts and tips with us here, and for all the reviews for readers everywhere!
How about you? Do you write reviews for books you’ve read? What tricks or tips do you have? Comment here.
Charissa Stastny hails from Las Vegas, Nevada, but has never pulled the handle of a slot machine and can’t shuffle cards to save her life. Since 4thgrade, she has envisioned herself an author after writing the creative work, The Creature from McGool, and continuing in shame to pen some cheesy romance scenes as a teenager. Thankfully, she has matured somewhat and is a member of the Idaho Writer’s Guild and tries hard not to spread too much cheese around in her writing now. She graduated from Brigham Young University and enjoys writing, reading, hiking and biking. She resides in Idaho’s Treasure Valley with her husband and children (where card shuffling isn’t required).
OTHER MARCH BOOK MADNESS POSTS:
Make sure to check back on Thursday, March 19, for our next guest presenter,Tricia Pease, who will be discussing the importance of book genres.
MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
Welcome to the fourth year of March BOOK Madness. Every Tuesday and Thursday in March, I’ve invited fellow authors to share their thoughts on the writing world, giving them an open mic to talk about anything book-ish.
2015 MARCH BOOK MADNESS SCHEDULE
- Intro and 3 Tips to Balance Writing Time, by Rebecca Belliston
- Top 5 Reasons To Get (or Not Get) Your MFA, by Sarah Belliston
- Unique Tips for Successful Blog Tours by Danyelle Ferguson
- Writing–A Hobby or a Career? by Charity Bradford
- The Importance of Book Reviews by Charissa Stastny
- 6 Reasons Why Genre Matters by Tricia Pease
- 7 Editing Strategies by A. L. Sowards
- Writer’s Block? Using Mind Mapping by Chris Rosche
- So You Want to Write Funny? by JoLynne Lyon
2014 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Our Connection to Book Covers and the Characters Within, by Danyelle Ferguson
- Four Essential Elements of Good Writing, by Gerald N. Lund
- Welcome to Niche-land! by JoLynne Lyon
- Developing Plot and Characters Together, by Tricia Pease
- ”Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson,” by Sarah Belliston
- Using Repetition To Improve Your Book by A.L. Sowards
- Getting the Most Out of Your Critique Group, by Charity Bradford
- The Moral of the Tale, by Christopher Rosche
- Querying: The Method to the Madness, by Chantele Sedgwick
- Creating Context Clues, by Charissa Stastny
- 6 Places to Find Novel Ideas, by Janice Hardy
- Avoiding Didacticism in Our Writing, by Braden Bell
2013 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Weeding Your Words, by Charissa Stastny
- Know Your Audience–Even the Subtle One, by Cindy Piper
- Beating a Dead Horse, by Julie L Casey
- Why Everyone Should Be a Writer, by Sharon Belknap
- Reading in the Digital Age, by JoLynne Lyon
- The Art of Accepting Criticism, by Mary Bateman-Mercado
- Pinterested in Books, by Sarah Belliston
- The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche
- Never Pity the Adverb, by Anthony Mercado
- Creating Flawed but Likable Characters, by A.L. Sowards
- Priorities and Choices for Writers, by Braden Bell
- Premise vs Plot – Which Do You Have? by Janice Hardy
2012 MARCH BOOK MADNESS:
- Tips on Querying, by Lynn Wiese Sneyd
- Plotting vs. Plodding, by Tobi Summers
- 10 Marketing Tips, by JoLynne Lyon
- 8 Editing Tips by Cassie Mae
- Editing, by Jessica Khoury
- Reading for Writers, by Tricia Pease
- For the Love of Reading, by Sharon Belknap