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Monday, January 19, 2009

Advice on Writing Reviews Part Two

(Read Part One and Part Three)
Alright, so I've gone through the types of reviewers, but what about reviewing in general? Well, before you sit down to actually write reviews, you should really think about what you're doing. Consider what kinds of reviews you want to write, what kinds of books you want to write them about, etc. Once you've decided these things, you should stick to some basic reviewing "rules" (they're not really rules as much as good ideas):
  1. Be Honest
    This can sometimes be difficult, even though people constantly say "well I'm honest about all my reviews." The fact is that it can take some practice to actually be honest on reviews. It takes guts to actually say "this book was horrible." After all, we're human beings and often times we like to avoid hurting someone's feelings. There are other factors that play into this too, such as horror stories of authors throwing tantrums over a review, and even some cases where the author actually told the reviewer to commit suicide. These things can happen. Thankfully it doesn't happen often. A good way to start out is to follow the second rule, because you aren't inhibited by such factors as trying to please the publisher, the author, etc.
  2. Read Your Library First
    Don't immediately start asking for review copies. First, it's stupid because no publisher is going to send you ARCs (advanced review copies) if you haven't even started reviewing. The primary reason for reading books you've bought is that you're not obligated in any way, even just by some internal argument with yourself, to do anything but be honest. It's a great way to hone your abilities too.
  3. Read Other Reviewers
    A great way to pick up little tricks and such is to see what others are doing and trying it yourself. This can lead to altering it to fit what you want to do with reviewing. Don't go overboard, though. Find reviewers you enjoy reading and try to figure out why you like their reviews over others. That's likely the kind of thing you want to include in your reviews.
  4. Write For Yourself, Kinda
    Reviews are obviously meant for other people to read, but unless you like writing in styles that aren't your own or doing things that you generally wouldn't do, I suggest sticking to what you like about the form. Write reviews you would want to see, but also pay attention to how you write them. You don't want to alienate readers, but you also don't want to have cookie-cutter reviews. Writing reviews for yourself can add a bit of personal flavor.
  5. Try Things
    If you get an idea on how to improve your reviews, try it. There's nothing wrong with experimenting. After all, a long time ago someone on the Interwebs sat down, saw blogging, and thought, hey, why don't I try doing a book review blog? Trying new things can help improve your reviews. I recommend not going overboard though. Don't just throw random things in there in the name of experimentation; be reasonable and logical.
Anyone reading this post, feel free to add your own little rules in the comments. I think we should try to consider this as some sort of unofficial, slightly comprehensive guide to book reviewing, or something on that order.

There will be a third installment after this that will dig into how I do reviews, to a certain extent. Stay tuned!

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  1. More great advice. Looking forward to part 3. Writing reviews that are not cookie-cutter is one of the biggest challenges. Find your own style that works is a lot of trial and error and practice, practice, practice.

  2. Glad you're enjoying it!

    And I agree, the cookie-cutter stuff is hard to avoid. I think I got to a point where I just stopped caring if my stuff sounded like what someone else was writing and just let it flow. But we all review in different ways.