WRITING A WORTHY REVIEW by Regan Walker

Regan's pic for Boroughs

We are all readers. Hopefully we are also reviewers of the books we read. With the hope of helping you write meaningful reviews, I’ve jotted down some notes on how I do my reviews. I have over 500 reviews of mostly historical romance novels on Amazon with a 91% “helpful” rating. And I have a blog dedicated to helping other readers find the keepers, so I’ve thought some about this topic.

Reviewers have many styles, but to my thinking they generally fall into three categories:

1. Just my opinion: These are short and often sweet reviews that say very little except that they liked the book. They tell you nothing about the story. They are often be written by friends of the author and they are frequently 5 stars ratings. I do not find them helpful.

2. The Barracuda: These are written by those having an axe to grind, something that sets them off. Typically, these folks give one and two star ratings and rant about that one thing that has upset them. In reviews of bodice ripper romances, you can find them ranting about rape or forced seduction, typically inherent in the subgenre. To me these are really unfair reviews and they only detract from what might otherwise be a 5 star novel.

3. FOT (Fair, objective and thorough): These give you a bit of the story and setting, what the author did right/wrong, what the reviewer liked and whether they would recommend the book. The ratings generally range from 3 to 5 stars.

To write a fair, objective and thorough review, I recommend you include as many of the following as you feel appropriate:

1. Your familiarity with the author’s work. Have your read other books by this author? Are you a fan of this author’s work? Is this the first of hers you’ve read? This tells the readers what you know of this author’s work and gives your review credibility.

2. The setting. Tell the readers where you place this book in history and geography. For example, in my review I might say “Set in 12th century Scotland…” or something like that. You’d be surprised how many blurbs do not do this. While perhaps this is more important for a historical, it is also important for a contemporary. You might say the book is set in “modern day London,” or “on a desert isle.” If it’s fantasy, or time travel, let the reader know as the blurbs can leave them wondering.

3. A bit about the plot. You want to let the readers know enough of the story to be interested; yet you don’t want to give away the surprises or the ending. It is in this section I might tell the reader “This is a story of second chances,” or I might say, “The hero is a man wounded both in battle and in his heart….” I try to give more than the bare facts so the reader has a clue about this book. I have had some authors tell me I summarize their story better than they could. If that is so, it’s because I carefully take notes and ask myself, “What is this book about, really?”

4. What the author did right. There is always something good to say. Perhaps it’s very well written, or the characters are well developed, or the novel is obviously well researched, or the dialog natural. To have a balanced review you need to have something positive; and be specific.

5. What you didn’t like or think other readers might not like. Be honest and tell the readers what bothered you (if anything). For me, it is typically contrived conflict, improbable plot elements, major historical inaccuracies or the characters acting against their type. I recall one book that I rated 5 stars, but found completely improbable the rape of the heroine by the noble born hero who had been a British naval officer and a gentleman. She was an innocent 18 year old he’d just rescued from a shipwreck. If the author had made the hero a cad, or a pirate without scruples, I could have seen it perhaps, but not as the man she’d cast him.

6. Your lasting impressions. When you finished the book, were you wishing there was more? Did the story make you cry? Laugh? Want to read it again? Or, did you find it entertaining but not something you’d put on your keeper shelf? Say so. These impressions help other readers and give your review added dimension. My favorite comments in the reviews of my first novel were “…a definite must read,” (14 reviews); and “…I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Regan Walker’s next book…” (11 reviews). Amazon has a tool that picks these repeated phrases out and presents them to the readers looking at the reviews. I like that.

7. Whether you intend to read other books by the author. State your intention if you have one. I might, for example, say I liked this so well I’ve already bought the next in the series. You might also recommend another one by this author that you particularly liked. That, too, helps readers.

8. Why you gave the rating you did. For example, I might rate a book 4 stars because while I considered the writing 5 stars, it was a 3 star story. Generally, a 5-star rating is excellent, and if I add that it’s a “keeper,” I view it as better than 5 stars. I will not be giving that book away (if it’s a paperback). Four stars is “good”; and 3 stars is average, at least to me. I only put books on my Regan’s Romance Reviews blog and on my 10 “best lists” if I’ve rated them 4 or 5 stars. I also make use of the ½ star to add to a review…and might say “4 and ½ stars” before the rest of my title for the review if I feel that is justified.

9. Say something meaningful in the review’s title. You have lots of choices here but make it helpful. One of the earliest reviews for my first novel was titled “History and A Love to Remember.” You might choose titles like these: “Couldn’t put it down!” “Wonderful Scottish Historical,” or “ Absorbing Civil War Story, Wonderful Characters” or “My Favorite Vampire!” Whatever you choose, say something that would be meaningful to another reader.

For more examples of my reviews, take a look at my blog (http://reganromancereview.blogspot.com). And remember, the important thing is to write the review and post it on as many Internet bookstores as you frequent. The author will appreciate it!

ReganWalker_AgainstTheWind_logo

Blurb for Against the Wind:
 A night in London’s most exclusive bordello. Agent of the Crown Sir Martin Powell would not normally indulge, but the end of his time spying against Napoleon deserves a victory celebration. Yet, such pleasure will not come cheap. The auburn-haired courtesan he calls “Kitten” is in truth Katherine, Lady Egerton, a dowager baroness and the daughter of an earl as elusive as she is alluring. She flees a fate worse than death. But Martin has known darkness, too, and he alone can touch her heart–as she has touched his. To the English Midlands they will steal, into the rising winds of revolution.
Available now!
 
Regan’s bio: As a child Regan Walker loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors thought her suited to the profession of law, and Regan realized it would be better to be a hammer than a nail. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool.

Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.
Find Regan on her websiteblogTwitterFacebook and Goodreads.
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About RWA San Diego

The Romance Writers of America's San Diego chapter promotes excellence in romantic fiction, helps writers become published and establish careers in their writing field, and provides continuing support for writers within the romance publishing industry. Contact us for more information about RWASD.

31 thoughts on “WRITING A WORTHY REVIEW by Regan Walker

  1. Pingback: WRITING A WORTHY REVIEW by Regan Walker | Kathy L Wheeler - Author

    • I understand, Kathy, and that is why I only feature books I love on my blog, but I still think other reviews are helpful to the readers wondering if they should buy the book.

  2. Great post. Thanks. I am curious on your opinion of the following: can a 1-2 star review also be fair, objective and thorough? I don’t write 1-2 star reviews because I feel that if i disliked the book that much, I am probably not the target reader. But I wonder if a case could be made for 1-2 star reviews that are FOT and not “Barracuda”.

    • Great question, Janet. Actually I did a 2 star review once on an erotic I picked up thinking it was a Scottish historical (it was advertized as such). The plot was negligible, the heroine pathetic and there was nothing Scottish historical about it except some wallpaper allusion to being in the Highlands. I forced myself to finish it to review it (I don’t review books I don’t finish). So, yes, I do think it is possible.

  3. This is a very helpful post, Regan. I sometimes angst about what to say in a review, particularly if the book is good but not, in my mind, great. My keeper shelf is so full that I’m afraid the “keeper” bar is getting higher!

    • By my standards, Alina, such a book would garner 3 stars, maybe 4 if very well written. To be “great” it takes more than exceptional writing. It takes a story that really holds my interest and characters I like–and a believable plot!

    • Thanks, Ana. It’s not the only way but it does help me to think of these things as contributing to a helpful review.

  4. Pingback: WRITING A WORTHY REVIEW by Regan Walker | Kathy L Wheeler

  5. Thank you so much for detailing how you go about writing a “five-star” review. The information you have provided gives me something to ponder as I strive to write future reviews. Having read (and loved) a number of your excellent reviews, it appears that you definitely know what you are talking about.

    • How kind of you to say, Vonda. I also use this same “formula” for all the reviews I write, but because I’m pretty selective about what I read (unless it’s a brand new author sending me her book), most of my ratings are between 3-5 stars. After all, as I tell my blog followers, I’m committed to finding “the good ones” for them!

  6. Thanks for your input on this topic, Regan. I found some useful gems in this piece and intend to share. I think people don’t understand how to go about posting a review, what to say, or the value of their input. Your points are excellent.

  7. I think the rape scene you mentioned would automatically knock the rating down at least a star. Five stars is for something truly outstanding, IMHO. I do give one-star ratings for books that are really bad, but I don’t post them on my blog.

    Do you review books by your author friends? How do you handle that?

    • Rape would never drop a book a whole level of rating for me, Susana. I look at the whole story. If it fits the characters and the story I may give the book 5 stars (and I have done just that for some of the classics that are bodice rippers!).

      I have become friends with many authors through my reviews. If I love their work I promote it, and over time we have developed relationships that have lasted. But I pull no punches in my reviews and they know it. Some have thanked me for my integrity in my reviews. I have rated some books by a single author 5 stars and then others by the same author I have rated less. Few of us can put out 5 star novels consistently (though I know authors who do it and they have my praise).

      I do not seek to review books by my RWA chapter mates because they might not like my review. Though when they ask, if the book interests me, I will do it. I have given 3 stars to several new authors and it was, in my opinion, the proper rating. If the book is truly problematic and it’s an e-book, I might not review it at all, but instead, provide comments to the author suggesting revisions. In one case, the author pulled the book off Amazon and made the changes. I respect her for that. Her story was so depressing it needed some major changes to make it likeable. She thanked me profusely for what was essentially a “beta read,” and sent me the “new” book.

  8. Interesting post, Regan. Thanks for the tips. I’ve yet to write a review although I always (most always) have a book at hand. As PRO Liaison at RCRW, I’m planning a “review” party this summer for people like me who don’t write reviews but would like to start.

  9. Pingback: Guest Blog by Author Collette Cameron – What to do with Book Reviews… | A Splash of Romance in Your Life

  10. Thank you for the article. I found it very helpful, especially since I work with a critique group and the members were just saying today they appreciated that I do reviews. But I want them to have meat and merit. I’m sure by applying the content of this article I can make my reviews better. Thank you again.

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