I discovered long ago that I like both writing reviews and sharing them. After reading a book, I like putting down in writing my thoughts about the story, organizing and re-organizing those thoughts, figuring out what I liked or didn’t like, analyzing which parts “worked” for me and which ones didn’t. A personal reading journal, so to speak, but publicly shared. Sometimes people respond and share their views; other times, they read my reviews and it helps them make a decision to read (or not read!) a story. I don’t try to make the decision for them, I just give them information based on an impartial yet personal review of the story.
These two elements together — writing the notes, sharing the reviews — mean that I take them seriously. I’m not a “paid professional” reviewer, but I try to do reviews as professionally as I can. Which leads me to what I think of as my first and only duty as a reviewer:
Write a personal review that might help other readers figure out if the book would be of interest to them.
From this duty, I have derived my approach to writing book reviews.
- Reviews will never be anonymous…If I write the words, my name goes with it. Good or bad, any review should be attributable.
- Reviews will be honest and unbiased but respectful…it does no one any good for a review to be false. If I read it, I review it, and will not agree to “only review it if it is a 4 or 5-star result”. Nor will I falsely praise / promote it just because I want to help the author. My duty is primarily to be honest with the reader, but I will also honour a duty to the author that the review will be unbiased and it will not try to trash their work. As a corollary to that, I will always publish my review here on my website, and while I normally share those reviews on other public sites, if my review is a 1 or 2 (which is inherently considered “bad” on most sites) and the book doesn’t already have 10+ reviews on a site, I won’t publish mine there. I don’t like the idea of promoting my reviews at the expense of a budding author, particularly if it is a genre I don’t read very often. If they’re a well-established author, with lots of books and reviews, then they’re fair game. Other than a complimentary copy of a book, I will not accept any compensation for writing a review.
- I will review the book, not the author. While reviews may take into account other books in the genre, or even other books by the author particularly if it’s part of a series, the reviews should not be biased by information about the author or the publisher. The book must stand or fall on its own merit.
- Give my opinion, not consensus…Each review will be based on the conclusion I have come to while reading the book. While I may take into account the blurbs on the book, the promotional material presented, etc. as to the “aim/purpose” of the book, or even look at other reviews to see if I need to explain better how/why my views differ, the opinions are mine and mine alone. Equally, a review is meant to be my opinion of the book, not a summary of the text with spoilers nor a technical critique. Nevertheless, there are certain elements that I consider fair game in any review. Rarely should all of them be considered, of course, but here is my occasional list: choice of title; readability; character and their development; realistic portrayals of plot, theme and people; point of view; genre; pacing; plot development; tone and style; dialogue; setting; timelessness; gaps; clarity of presentation or backstory; satisfaction with ending; and other items that might be relevant to that work.
- Books will be reviewed in context…I will review action books against other action books; mystery stories against other mystery stories. I will not review the latest mystery against the great works of fiction of the past in other genres — so, this means that a supposed great work of classic fiction might end up with a lower rating (against other great works of fiction) than the latest mystery (against other mystery books). Context matters, as most books are not aiming to be the latest and greatest literary masterpiece.
- Reviews will include my rating…I would be far more comfortable providing a rating out of ten or even twenty, rather than five. But all the major sites use five-point scales, and sub-points are not allowed. With that in mind, I will use the following scale:
- Rating of 1 — I finished it, but I don’t recommend it;
- Rating of 2 — Not bad, certainly readable;
- Rating of 3 — Good, worth reading but some noticeable issues;
- Rating of 4 — Thoroughly enjoyed it, with minor issues;
- Rating of 5 — Excellent.
That’s it, that’s my approach to reviews. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them, or at least that the review helps you figure out if a book or story is one that you might enjoy or want to avoid.