• Ten Top Tips on How To Write A Book Review

    Author and reviewer JJ Marsh has some tips this week on how write good book reviews - and how not to!

    Step One: Read the book. Trust me. It’s best.

    Step Two: Get over yourself. This is not about you. Write the review as if you were talking to a good friend. Reviews which begin ‘I don’t normally read erotica but ...’ / ‘As a lifelong vegan, I must say ...’ are about the reviewer and her/his tastes. Yawn. Just talk about the book.

    Step Three: Spoilers. When handing over an artistically wrapped birthday present to a friend, do you blurt out, “It’s a toilet seat!” before they even begin to open it? If yes, you are a git. Never ruin someone else’s journey of discovery through spoilers. Don’t give away key plot twists, don’t allude to the Ohmigodineversawthatcoming bit and never ever ruin the ending.

    Step Four: Only refer to the author by surname. If you sound like mates, your review is suspect.

    ‘Tolkein’s underworld of polarised ethics encapsulates a mythopoeic legendarium’ = good, if a tad pretentious.

    ‘John Ronald Reuel pulls off that Middle Earth stuff the same way he cooks a chilli. Hell, he puts pretty much everything in there!’ = faux familiar and untrustworthy.

    Step Five: Tell future readers why they might (not) like it and manage their expectations. Signpost via familiar references. ‘Bella Twilight meets Hannibal Lecter in a twist on Jane Eyre scripted by Dario Argento. If you love squirrels, look away.’

    Step Six: A quote from Alice Roosevelt Longworth: ‘If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.’ I love this sentiment, especially at weddings. However, it does not apply to reviews. If I can’t give a book at least three stars, I (try to) keep my opinions to myself. Likewise, I refrain from standing on street corners, pointing at a turd and yelling, ‘Yo! There’s some real stinky shit over here!’

    Step Seven: Review as a reader. Writers are horrendous snobs. Most readers care not a fiddly fig for excess adverbiage, speech tags for which Elmore Leonard would shoot you, alliterative indulgence or a cacophony of clumsy clichés. Is it a good read? Say so. Are there elements you could do better? Go do it and stop wasting time having a go at others.

    Step Eight: Review THIS book. Beware of comparing the book to the rest of the author’s oeuvre. Everyone has the right to reinvent themselves, and I already feel for poor E.L James when she releases her three-volume analysis of British Coalition Governments since 1900, where the only use of handcuffs is as metaphor.

    Step Nine: If you do any of the following, you are a complete arse.

    • Review your own book under the guise of a sock puppet

    • Write poor reviews of books with a similar readership to yours

    • Refer to your own book in reviews of other people’s work

    (If you do all three, you’re as lowdown and dirty as a dung beetle’s undercarriage.)

    Step Ten: If you loved a book, share it. Paste your review on Goodreads, Amazon (both sides of the pond), Shelfari, Library Thing, that bored lady behind the fish counter at Sainsbury’s – spread the joy!

    JJ Marsh is European Correspondent and regular book reviewer for Words with JAM magazine. Her second book in the Beatrice Stubbs crime series, Raw Material, comes out on 1st December 2012. www.beatrice-stubbs.com

    2 Comments

    • 1. Nov 12 2012 1:27PM by Library Cat

      I agree with just about every word of this, except the bit about personal tastes. Yes, if it's done to puff yourself up and make the review about you instead of the book, then avoid it like the plague. But if, say, I find most horror books a big turn-off, but I pick up one and find it totally engaging, and I say so and I say why - then I think it can be an indication that this particular book could have wider appeal than the genre buffs. Certainly as a reader. I'd evaluate that review differently to one written by someone that I know soaks up every horror book going.

    • 2. Nov 12 2012 6:07PM by jjmarsh

      That's a fair point, Library Kat. If that is the reveiwer's intention, to illustrate broader appeal, I would find that valid. It's those people who dump their personal prejudices, lifestyle choices and individual morals into a review where it has no more relevance than the colour of pants they wore whilst writing.

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