How to Write Great Book Reviews

A Guest Post by Larry Froncek

anita rodgers mystery writer
Image courtesy of rawpixels.com

Every year, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of novels are published in each of your favorite genres. In an earlier era, a new novel may only have had to compete for your attention with other recently released books and time-honored classics on the store shelves; however, in today’s world of near-permanent availability and infinite digital shelf space, any newly released novel is essentially in competition with every other book that’s ever been released in its genre. Without word of mouth, it can be almost impossible for a new writer to cut through the noise and gain traction.

That’s why it’s so important for readers to write reviews and share them on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, as well as their reader groups and their social media accounts.

I recently surveyed our VIP reader list to find out what they consider to be the top things they look for in a review when considering a new novel. Here are their most common responses, in no particular order:

  • The author’s unique voice.
  • Couldn’t put the book down.
  • Didn’t see plot twists coming.
  • A new take on the genre.
  • Would read more by this author.
  • Already purchased the next book in the series.
  • Great world building.
  • Total sensory experience.
  • Vivid imagery.
  • Character growth.
  • The book reminds them of an author, book, movie, or TV show.
  • Can’t stop thinking about it.

On the other hand, there are the things readers don’t like to see in reviews:

  • Spoilers (revealing plots twists, whodunnit, etc).
  • A summary of the book.
  • Rudeness or snarkiness.
  • Penalizing a book because it’s not in a genre you normally read.
  • Short reviews like “I loved it!” are fine but sharing WHY you loved the book is more helpful to a potential reader.

What to do if the book didn’t work for you?

Sometimes we give a book a shot and it turns out to be outside of our wheelhouse. Maybe you normally enjoy epic fantasy but thought an urban fantasy sounded interesting, but then found you just didn’t enjoy the book. That’s fine. Just note that in your review. Something like, “I normally prefer epic fantasy and wanted to try this novel. It didn’t work for me, but I can see how urban fantasy fans would really enjoy this story because of X, Y, Z.”

Just remember that if you’re reviewing the book of an up-and-coming author, they will likely see your review. So just remember there’s another person on the other side of the screen who invested months, if not years, of their time to create that story.

What to do if you have criticism for the author that you think might help them?

First, write it down and sit on it for a day. If you still think it’s useful, contact the author privately via email or a form on their website.

Letting them know about a weird spelling error or formatting problem might be helpful but editorial advice is likely worthless. They’re not going to rewrite the book to suit your tastes. If the fantasy novel you just read didn’t have enough romance, that’s your preference, not theirs. Every novel isn’t for everyone.

Once you’ve written that great review, spread it around

The best thing you can do with your new great review is share it on social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads and tag the author. If you know their email, send them a link to the review. Not only does it give them a heads up that you reviewed their novel but if they’re smart, they will tag you on their list as someone they can approach to review their next novel.

Need some inspiration to help you write a great review?

Every day I post my favorite new review on the Voracious Readers Only Instagram account and Facebook group. If you want to see some great reviews that you can model your own after, that’s a fantastic place to start.

I hope this short article has given you a useful perspective on the purpose of book reviews and how to write them to best help readers and authors find one another. Perhaps I’ll be reading one of your reviews someday soon!

Larry Froncek is the owner of Voracious Readers Only, a service that connects avid readers with authors in the genres they most enjoy. Since September 2017, Voracious Readers Only has made over 95,000 reader-author connections. For more information about Larry and Voracious Readers, please visit the Voracious Readers Only Website.

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Review: Be the Gateway by Dan Blank

This book changed me

When I first heard about Be the Gateway I was immediately interested. I have always believed that promoting your books or artistic work should be more organic than I had seen others doing. And many of the ‘best practices’ in book promotion turned me off. It seemed too cold and distant to me. And counter intuitive to what we’re all trying to do, which is share our art with the world.

And yet this book is so hard to describe. It’s part philosophy, part advice, part brain-stormer. The basic concept is that when you make connections with individuals, one on one, and one by one (rather than some nebulous generality known as audience) that you will bring people through the gateway of your artistic work. And that generosity, empathy, and real connections trump all.

Frankly, I agree.

Dan has many steps that he suggests you take in achieving this and frankly there were times in reading them, I was completely overwhelmed just wondering how I would do these things. But I kept reading feeling that if I got one or two things that I could do to get my work into the hands of those it was meant for, that it would be worth it.  I’m glad I did.

Something wonderfully strange happened as I kept reading the book. New opportunities just magically appeared. New peers, colleagues, friendships – so many things. Very subtle in some ways and very big in others. It was almost like magic. Then it dawned on me that those opportunities were actually always there – but until I read Dan’s book I didn’t see them. And I realized that I had slowly shifted my view from what it was before to Dan’s gateway view, without even realizing it.

I honestly don’t know if I could possibly do everything that he suggests in the book but I do know that I understand more about myself, my artistic work, and those I want to share it with so much more than I did before the book.

I know there are bagillions of books telling us the best way to promote (and I think I’ve read about a million of them) our work – but I think you would be changed in a good way if you read this book. I highly recommend it, if only to find a deeper connection with yourself and your work.

Annie

 

 

Reviews – so far, so good

stars

Well, I’ve survived my first month as a self-pubbed author and the first reviews for Coffee & Crime are trickling in. So far, nobody hates it. I’m still waiting for the first bad one to see how much chocolate and coffee it will take to revive me.

So I thought I’d share.

“So, about the story: Scotti Fitzgerald has not had an easy life. Abandoned soon after her birth, she grew-up in the California foster care system. She had one friend, Zelda Carter, who was also a foster kid. The experience made her a cynical and suspicious adult, but it also taught her self-reliance. Now Scotti and Zelda are working as waitresses in a diner owned by “Manny the Cuban”. Scotti’s claim to fame in local circles is her culinary skill, especially when it comes to deserts, which she provides for Manny’s diner. Tired of living in California, and anxious to get home to his native Miami, Manny has agreed to sell his diner to Scotti. Her benefactor is George Manston, an affluent personal injury lawyer that admires her tenacity, as well as her brownies, and he has agreed to help her finance the purchase of the diner. But when George dies unexpectedly, Scotti and Zelda are thrust into a complicated web of deceit and murder. As the mystery unfolds, we discover there are many suspects, including Scotti, who is desperate to clear her name. Coffee and Crime is a fun read, and a real page-turner, as we piece the clues together with Scotti and Zelda to ultimately bring the villain to justice.

So, about the author: I think Anita Rogers is an excellent writer and story-teller. She presents Coffee and Crime as a first-person narrative, which I find very bold. Too often first-person authors get so lost in didacticism, that the reader is bored to tears. Ms. Rogers isn’t one of these authors! She masterfully creates drama and context by weaving Scotti’s thoughts and words into the descriptive panorama of the world seen through her eyes. We discover her personality, as well as those around her by the way she experiences their interactions. Sometimes she’s right, but sometimes she’s wrong, which grounds the story in reality, and lends plausibility to the plot. I’m a sucker for the old pulp fiction crime stories, and Ms. Rogers writing is reminiscent of those, but with a modern twist.”
Jody

“This is a fun book. Even though it’s a mystery and a good one, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I loved Scotti Fitzgerald, the heroine and narrator. There were several places where I chuckled out loud at her jokes and comments. Lots of colorful writing and characters. A good read.”
Andrea K

“The first in the series, Coffee & Crime introduces you to Scotti Fitzgerald and her friend Zelda. Their quirky attributes make them real, like friends you’ve known all your life. The author’s pithy writing style incorporates colorful descriptions that are very graphic and get to the point quickly.

With an engaging pace, jockeying humor and mystery, the book was hard for me to put down. Scotti was prone to rash decisions but very street smart, easily discerning clues that kept leading her more and more into harm’s way. Her character worked well for plot development and creating suspense. You couldn’t help worrying about her yet admiring her courage and drive to seek justice. Was there a bit of “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”? Oh yes, indeed, but it was so in character, plus you could relate to that kind of flaw. We’ve all been young and fearlessly foolish at times. Later we look back and marvel at how we’d managed to survive.”
LB

“I’m not done reading the whole book yet, but I can’t put it down. Love Anita Rodgers style of writing. Easy fun reading with an “I wonder what is going to happen next” excitement.”
C Sarg

“a very good read, so much so, that i forgot about dinner in the oven – which fortunately switched itself off.”
Atir

Coffee and Crime new release

Review: Lowcountry Bribe, Carolina Slade Mystery – Book One

review lowcountry bribe

This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. My bad, I should have gotten to it right away because I denied myself a good read for too long.

C Hope Clark’s break out novel, Lowcountry Bribe delivers

Clark is adept at creating a great sense of place and culture and does it with ease in Lowcountry Bribe. She provides us with spunky, quirky characters that are immediately likeable and recognizable. The reality of small town living is depicted well – everybody knows everybody and their business, wagging tongues ceaselessly work behind the scenes wreaking havoc, while local politicians manipulate circumstances to their own benefit.  And our spunky kick-ass heroine quickly learns how terribly wrong things can go in her idyllic small town life.

Carolina Slade who goes by the handle ‘Slade’ manages a local Department of Agriculture office in a small southern town. She’s smart, ambitious and can spot horse pucky a mile away. When out of the blue she is offered a bribe by one of her farmer loan customers, she ruminates over whether to report it (as is the policy) or let sleeping dogs lie. Because she has a conscience and personal integrity she does the right thing and reports it – having no idea the can of worms she has opened.

Who knew that working in the local agricultural office could be so dangerous?

Instead of just reporting the bribe to the investigator who is sent to interview her, doing the paperwork and being done with it, Slade is pulled deeper and deeper into a web of deceit and lies.  The investigator sent in to take the report convinces Slade to become part of a sting, implying there are bigger things at play than the bribe. Already distressed about her rocky marriage and office politics, Slade reluctantly goes along with the plan, despite misgivings.  She is rewarded for doing the right thing by being punished severely from expected and unexpected sources. No good deed goes unpunished should be this gal’s mantra. The more she tries to get things wrapped up, the more they unravel and affect both her professional and personal life negatively. And her blossoming attraction to the investigator on the case, who has secrets of his own, only further confuses and complicates her life.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll leave it at this:

Slade is the kind of character you care about and would call a friend if she lived next door or down the street. Every step of the way you’re pulling for her and hoping she’s going to get out of the mess she’s gotten herself into. Lowcountry is a good read and I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it. Definitely made me want to read the next one. I recommend it to mystery fans looking for a good solid mystery. Available at Amazon and other book outlets.

The above is my opinion and I was neither paid, nor asked to write this review.

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

Are reviews the best way for you to select a book?

books reviews to select a book?All writers want reviews, preferably good ones. We ask for honest reviews but we secretly hope for good ones. Really good ones. It makes sense, we want to sell books. We want to feel like that year we spent fiddling with words, plot points and character arcs wasn’t wasted. But above all, we want to know that we spoke to you, the reader. That we resonated. That we connected. That we took you on an adventure. Provided entertainment, relief and escape. Because we don’t write novels for ourselves, we write them for you.

But…are book reviews believable?

Have you been fooled by a book review? I have

A few weeks ago I held my new Kindle in my hands, trembling with excitement and dying to download some books and get reading. I particularly wanted to read some indie authors and hopefully find a few new favorites. So, I popped onto Amazon and was completely overwhelmed by the selection. I suppose I could’ve asked around for recommendations but I wanted books right then.

I decided I could download a few freebies first. If I liked the author, then I’d pony up and buy everything they’d written. I scanned through trying to decide which books to download. I reduced the list by filtering for 4-star and up reviews. Still a daunting list, so I checked the blurbs. I found six books that interested me and I wanted to download and watched my Kindle screen as they magically appeared.

I was in heaven. Six brand new mysteries – total brain junk food and I was hungry. I opened the first book but the prologue was indecipherable and when I made it to the first chapter, the author had totally switched gears and was yammering on about a woman’s red fingernail. Next!

The next four books I couldn’t get past the first two or three pages. For various reasons – mind numbingly boring, passive writing, bad editing – in short, I couldn’t engage.

The fifth book showed promise. The author could write and there were passages that were pure brilliance. But there were so many stupid mistakes that could easily have been solved with research that it was astounding.

It was a crime novel and not do only I write mysteries myself, I’ve been reading them since I was eight years old. I have more than a passing understanding of forensics, investigation and procedure. And it was clear that this writer hadn’t researched any of those things or hadn’t retained any of the research. And the main character was a medical examiner.

I actually read the book to the end because I liked some of her characters and the story was clever. The shame of it was that a good editor could have helped to make it a top notch book. I almost fell off my bed when I saw at the end of the book that this author was touted as ‘best selling’ and had written 10 – 12 other books. I couldn’t imagine how this book had gotten five star reviews up the wazoo. Well, the reviews may have gotten me to read one of this author’s books but I won’t read another. So how helpful were those reviews to her in the long run?

You can buy anything on the Internet

We all love the Internet because we can find anything our little hearts desire in that nether cyber-world. Wonderful things on the Internet, also a lot of crap. The trick is in knowing the difference.

To be sure, if there’s something you want to buy, somebody out there is selling it.

Did you know that you can buy Twitter and Facebook followers? Is it a stretch to think that you could also buy reviews? Not really. I’ve seen ads offering money to write reviews, and they aren’t for the New Yorker. And every second there are thousands of online marketeers coming up with new ways to game the system. Because a lot of these marketeers think that marketing is about creating illusions, they don’t understand that marketing is about helping the consumer find what they’re looking for. You don’t have to trick anyone into buying anything if you’ve got what they need and want, right?

So the phrase, Buyer Beware, may apply doubly on the Internet.

How do you know if you can trust the reviews?

There’s no way to know for sure if a review can be trusted. There is always the matter of personal taste. Some readers may prefer a different style or not care about things that drive you nuts as a reader.

But there are a few things you can do to ascertain the veracity of the reviews:

  • Read a few pages before you buy, many Amazon books allow you to read the first few pages to see if you like before purchasing.
  • Check the author’s blog, website or Facebook page to see if you like their style of writing.
  • Ask friends to recommend authors they like
  • Download a free book from the author (if there is one) and sample their writing. Even if there isn’t a free book from the author, most authors offer a free chapter download or other stories for you to read.

In other words, don’t be like me and rush to download because your brain is hungry.

What’s your experience with book reviews? Helpful? Not helpful? How do you choose a book to read?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014