Things to Avoid When Writing a Book Review

Susan Violante Managing Editor
Susan Violante
Managing Editor

This past week, I received feedback from an author on our last editorial, Book Reviews – An Author’s Best Friend (Even When Not-So-Positive), where he shared his “most extreme hostile review.” This author forwarded to us a review of his book which basically comprised of everything reviewers should avoid when reviewing. I decided to address this through today’s editorial for two reasons:

1). To help readers and book reviewers better select the books they will be dedicating their time to.

2). To help readers and reviewers create well written, and helpful reviews for the audience as well as for the author.

It is important to understand that book reviews are tools to help readers select books, and for authors to evaluate their writing and audience niche; but they are also a place of communication between author and reader. So, if the review is written in an offensive voice, and the book was not the right selection for that reader (not the genre that they usually like to read), the goal of the review was not reached. Below are things to avoid in order to produce a successful review.

·         Making it emotional – It’s true, a review is based on the reader’s personal opinion, but this opinion must be free of all of our personal biases or pre-conceptions. In order to give a successful review, the way we present our personal opinion of the product needs to be professional. An example of what to avoid is – “…this book riles up the pissed-off-feminist in me…” It is enough to simply say ‘angry’ or  ‘the feminist in me.’ This particular review also contained a lot of offensive wording that I can’t mention here, which limits the use of the review as it may not be posted everywhere.

·         Say what you mean in short and sweet sentences. For example, a sentence like this one: “It’s even worse when Russell has his characters tackling some liberating issue. Sex does not liberate a woman! Obsession with a man does not liberate a woman!“ Here the reviewer should have stated only, “It’s even worse when Russell has his characters tackling some liberating issue.” A book review is not the place to rant her beliefs on how women should feel liberated.

·         Make sure you select a book in the genre you like reading. It is obvious that the reviewer, in order to give an impartial opinion of a book, must choose a book within the genre they have experience reading. Sentences like, “I can see where a novel like this-minus the erotic portions,” indicates that the reader does not enjoy erotic novels. So, in this case the reviewer should not have reviewed this book, as it is not what she usually enjoys reading. On this point, I must say that this sometimes happens because the book does not identify the genre on the back cover, or because the reviewer takes any book in order to comply with a quota of books to review, or simply did not pay attention to the genre, and picked it in error.

Finally, there is a set of conditions that must happen for a review to be successful based on what I mentioned above. The author must make sure to place it in the right genre, and the reviewer must make sure they pick books only from the genre pool they enjoy reading. Whether positive or negative, the review must always be impartial, respectful and professionally written. The author should always be grateful, respectful and open to criticism. If all this happens, there can be a wonderful relationship between both parties for future work!

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