I. Thou shall not respond when someone gives you a negative review.
It doesn't matter how nasty or mean-spirited you feel the review was. It doesn't matter if the reviewer completely misinterpreted the story because they only bothered to read a third of the story before panning it. It doesn't matter if the reviewer misspelled one of every five words in the review.
Go ahead and devour an entire bag of Peanut M&Ms while having a good ol' ugly-face cry on your best friend's shoulder.
But don't respond. Just don't. Because if the History of the Internet has taught us anything, it's that a writer responding to a negative review only creates a PR nightmare.
That being said, I'm going to take off my author hat and dust off the entertainment editor hat I used to wear at the day job. With that, I'm going to offer some tips on how to appropriately review a book because for every awful book out there, there are five reviews that are equally as bad (or worse).
The first and most important thing to remember when reviewing a book is this: You're writing a review, not a summary. You don't need to deliver a blow-by-blow of what happens in each chapter. To be honest, I think it's safe to say most people hate reviews with spoilers.
So, what then should a review cover? There are many facets reviewers should touch on, such as...
Does the story flow well? Does it start slow and pick up steam with the first plot point? Does it drag in the middle? Does each chapter end with a cliffhanger that forces you to keep turning the page even though it's 3 a.m. and you have a teleconference at 8 a.m. that you absolutely cannot wear pajamas to?
Did the writer make you believe the main character's life existed before page 1 and continued after "The End?" (That's actually pretty easy.) Did the writer make you believe the supporting characters existed and had something to gain/lose throughout the hero's struggles? Were the characters' actions and reactions believable?
This addresses not only the place where the story happens but the era in which it happens, as well. One of the biggest things reviewers should focus on regarding setting is consistency. Are the character's actions consistent with the setting?
Was the story well-written? Was the author sticking commas and colons in places they shouldn't be? Did the author have a firm grasp of his/her homophones? Did the author leave prepositions dangling for dear life?
Believe it or not, this is different than grammar and punctuation. When reviewing the prose facet of the story, you're looking at how the author turned his/her phrases. Were his/her metaphors and similes labored? Was the description a bit too flowery or a bit too plain? There's a fine balance, and kudos to the authors who can walk that tightrope. (Speaking of labored...) Was the author using strong verbs or churning out lazy, uncolored sentences? Was the author building suspense through action?
Is the author consistent on point of view? Is the internal dialogue confusing or easy to follow?
Some will say these are pretty inane facets to touch on but, from a writer's perspective, every aspect that has the potential to attract or deter a reader is important. So did the title make sense? What did you find appealing/unappealing about the cover?
All of these facets can be reviewed without delivering a blow-by-blow, a summary or spoiler of a story and are more likely to spark conversation with others who have read the book as well.
Have a great weekend!
And don't forget to enter my latest Goodreads giveaway. Whoever wins will get one of the first copies with the brand new cover (which, incidentally, is not pictured here).
* * *
Kathryn Harris is a journalist, a weekend blogger, a wife, a mother of two and the author of "The Long Road to Heaven," a novel about finding faith and forgiveness in the aftermath of addiction.