Hey! Your Book Review Sucks!

Slippery Art of Book ReviewingHaving just read two great articles about book reviewing, it felt appropriate to make this the next, “Hey!” blog entry.
Joanna Young and Joyful Jubilant Learning ask what do you look for in a book review and Lillie Ammann reviews The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing.
Bad Quotes
These quotes tell the story of what not to do in a book review:

Now that this book is here, I can’t imagine not having it. My copy will be worn out before long.

We could easily insert this in almost every book review

A simple (and great) way to show that the choice of being a leader just depend on us.

This is the ENTIRE book review!

I read the book prior to its release. It’s a really interesting and informative read.

We don’t care when you read the book. (Puts on Freud hat) So, tell me why you feel that way?

This book is really badly written.

Tell me why you feel that way? The rest of the review doesn’t back up this statement.
A Book Reviewer’s Template
I agree with Joanna that I like Tim Milburn’s template:
When I read a book review, I want the following:

  1. Thumbs up or Thumbs down.
  2. Tell me what the four, five, six, or twenty one main points are in the book.
  3. Tell me how the book helped you grow, get better, or left you wanting.
  4. Give me some quotes that capture the author’s intent in writing the book.
  5. Tell me one thing the author could have done to improve the book (this helps me know the reviewer actually read the book).
  6. Show me a picture of the cover.
  7. Give me a link to Amazon or Barnes & Noble so I can quickly click through if I want to purchase (or read other reviews).

Ultimately, I read book reviews because I want to make an informed decision about investing in a book or bypassing it. A good review will pique my interest in a book or throw up red flags.
Me, the Book Reviewer
I admit that as a book reviewer, sometimes I feel pressured to produce a “good” review especially when connected with the author or to do a review of a book I don’t want to review. I’ve turned down email requests for book reviews directly from the author or publicists, but some manage to compel me to do it anyway.
When I write reviews, I think of readers first. My words could help them to decide to buy or not to buy. I don’t want to waste their money any more than I don’t want other reviewers wasting mine.
Obviously, I’m not a perfect reviewer as my Amazon reviewer ratings have plenty of “not helpful” votes.
Readers’ tastes and mine won’t be the same. Therefore, I need to give an overview of the book and its style (without rehashing the publisher’s summary), so readers can judge if it meets their tastes. I identify strengths and weaknesses.
An Example
A great example is 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (1,000 Before You Die). Read the reviews and you’ll see comments such as “not enough (genre)” or “how can the author forget (song)?” The better reviews discuss a missing genre and why it needs to be included. One reviewer made an excellent point of how some songs won’t have the impact alone as it’s the reviewer’s experience with another one of a composer’s songs that made a difference to one of the songs listed in the book.
Some reviewers list the table of contents, which is silly because most online book stores provide that. Now, if they provide a summary of the major chapters — that’s a different story. It’ll get boring fast to list every chapter title followed by a brief comment.
Long reviews don’t mean better reviews. I’ve seen one- or two-paragraph reviews blow away eight-paragraph reviews.
Feel free to share your thoughts about good and bad reviews — even if it’s my own.

7 thoughts on “Hey! Your Book Review Sucks!”

  1. Meryl,

    Your statement that you think of readers first is key to good book reviews. Too many reviewers are thinking about themselves or the author or something/somone else when writing a review.

    Thanks for mentioning my post!

  2. Phew, when I saw the trackback Meryl I thought you were saying my review sucked!

    I think this is the most important point:

    “When I write reviews, I think of readers first. My words could help them to decide to buy or not to buy. I don’t want to waste their money any more than I don’t want other reviewers wasting mine.”

    If we hold that in mind we shouldn’t go too far wrong

    Joanna Young’s last blog post… Quotes on Experimenting, Writing, Art and Life

  3. Lillie, thanks for your comment and your inspiration for this post.

    Joanna, sorry to give ya a little scare. I’d never say that about your work! I might disagree or if I point out something, it’d never be that blatant. I doubt I will ever have to do that as I often agree with your thoughts. Also, thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Avid Book Reviewer — right on! I usually I don’t follow a template. I just make sure I provide enough info to help the reader buy or not. Sometimes a book can inspire a creative review.

  5. Karen, well — it ain’t often I can come up with a catchy headline. Thanks for confirming I did. I was a little concerned about using “sucks,” but then I thought about how many professionals use it — it’s got punch!

    Yes, it’s hard when you consider the authors’ feelings… but I would be more concerned if I waste readers’ cash.


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