Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thoughts on Writing Reviews


Lately, it seems I have more requests for book reviews than I can handle. I've only been accepting books of my own genre or if I know the author really well. Still, it has me busy. And it has been giving me some new thoughts on writing reviews.

When you know you have to write a professional review at the end, I think one tends to becomes strangely more and less critical while reading. 

In your mind, you might look at a sentence and think it looks cliche, but you are torn about actually stating as much. After all, you are doing this to assist the author who has entrusted his/her precious book to you. And, if you're like me, you want to somehow find the perfect balance between loving, gracious criticism and exuberant encouragement. After all, you need both in a good review.

Before I go on to explain how I develop my review, however, I'd like to share one thought that has really been on my heart. You ready?

Look at the heart.

And I do mean the heart of both the author and the actual book. If you are coming to a book with a critical mindset, you will be certain to find aspects you disagree with or simply cannot stand. But you have missed the most important element of reading that book. You have missed out on the joys, the fun, and the message. Basically, you have missed the whole point - even if you are right in your opinions. 

And that is sad, pure and simple. 

I'm not saying to endorse a bad book that does not fit within God's standards. I'm not saying to give someone a good review if they truly cannot write. I'm definitely not saying to give every book you read five stars.

But I do think it is good to really look at the heart and message of a book before writing a review that can damage an author's reputation. 

My Style:

Every reviewer has their own way of doing a review, but the following is the way that works for me.

 I evaluate everything, not just the story. I evaluate the writing quality, the grammatical elements, the historical accuracy, the depth of research portrayed, the style, the plot, and the similarities between the book and other books. And, last but not least, I try to interpret what the author is saying and the message he/she is trying to get across. 

This way, I am not merely basing my rating on how much I enjoyed the story, but on every single element involved. (Personal opinion here, I think reviews that are based solely on the enjoy-ability of the book are slightly immature. This is because we are not to read just for entertainment purposes.)

As I read, I take all of those elements in. I also like to weigh the importance of the elements. Maybe the style is slightly cliche, but the story-line is powerful. Therefore, which is better: to criticize or to endorse? I would say, in this particular case, endorsing is better. (Although a mention may be made of the cliched style.)

Dealing With Criticism:

We've all come across those books where the author is a weak writer. Or just can't write period. So what to do? Well, you can point out the most frustrating elements in your review, but don't rip the book to shreds. It is simply not kind or helpful. If your heart really is to help the author, contact them personally. Don't damage their reputation by an online shred-the-book review. 

Also, don't accept a book for review if you know beforehand you are going to dislike it. Just don't to it. Let someone else who will have some good things to say read and review the book.

Another thing to keep in mind is becoming a "hater". A hater is one who has never written a book, but gives everyone low, critical reviews. Make sure you have some personal experience before being too overly critical. I'm not saying not to have opinions and feelings, but challenging every author out there when you've never published more than a blog post is slightly hypocritical. And people will stop listening to you. Enough said.

Applying Christianity:

Overall, be considerate. Be the light in this world. Allow the Spirit to guide you. Hey, there is nothing wrong about praying over a book review. It's important. Asking God for the grace to deal tactfully with any criticism you feel the need to share is very advisable. The same goes for whatever positive comments you wish to make. 

Happy Reading and Reviewing! And, while we're on the subject, why don't you swing over to Goodreads and check out the reviews I just finished for Word Painters author John J. Horn? Click HERE and HERE.

Any books you are currently reviewing/reading?

Alicia A. Willis is a home-school graduate, published author, and avid historian. She is a firm believer in the principle that one can accomplish anything by substantial amounts of prayer and coffee. Visit her at her blog to view her historical-fiction novels and all the goings-on between writing!

4 comments:

  1. Good one Alicia. Given, I write reviews for soundtracks, I found this pretty helpful.

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  2. I am actually working on a series of posts about doing book reviews. I to have found that I am getting less critical of books as I go along. Right now, I have three books that are waiting for my review.

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  3. Very well done Alicia. Godly advice and well put. You are so good at doing this! I don't do many reviews, so it may not apply in that way, but the advice is still very good overall in dealing with any situation of giving an opinion and such. Always think of the other person and , like you said, focus on the heart of the issue and what is really being communicated. Honesty graced with thoughtfulness and loving kindness. :-)

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  4. Great thoughts, Alicia. And, thanks for reviewing my books!

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