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!