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Writing Reviews

Got a question/comment about the business of writing or about the publishing industry? Here's your place to post it!
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Margaret
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Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
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Writing Reviews

Post by Margaret » Thu August 4th, 2011, 4:01 pm

Ran across this interesting article on writing book reviews: "Three Golden Rules for Book Reviews" It ought to be required reading for anyone who posts a review at Amazon! At the very least, I wish more of the Amazon reviewers would follow the first golden rule and say what the book is about. So frustrating to hunt up an obscure historical novel at Amazon that has no publisher's description but 2 or 3 reader "reviews" that give no idea whatsoever about the story. (Ariadne, Annis, Misfit and a number of others from this forum get kudos for contributing real reviews of older historical novels at Amazon and elsewhere.)
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu August 4th, 2011, 4:15 pm

I have mixed feelings about reviewers telliing what the book is about -- of the reviews I see, too many simply recap the plot (sometimes going into several paragraphs) and frankly, those kinds of reviews make my eyes glaze over. I'm not interested in someone's fifth-grade-style this-is-what-the-book-is-about book "report." Usually there is a nice summary by one or two publishers on Amazon that tell me enough of what I want/need to know about the story itself. When it comes to reviews, I'm much more interested in others' opinions about whether or not the book was any good and why (the why is the whole crux of the matter for me). I try to give very specific info and concrete examples, most especially in cases where I'm rating the book 3 stars or less. And even more especially when all the other reviews are gushing and I'm the lone reviewer who didn't love the book. :)


In the case of older books where no such publisher's summary exists then I agree it's helpful if reviewers give a brief idea of what the book is about (not too much, though!). When I've reviewed older books I've done this myself, although not that often; most of the books I read don't fall into this category.

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Rowan
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Interest in HF: I love history, but it's boring in school. Historical fiction brings it alive for me.
Preferred HF: Iron-Age Britain, Roman Britain, Medieval Britain
Location: New Orleans
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Post by Rowan » Thu August 4th, 2011, 4:21 pm

I can agree with #1, but what if you don't know #2 and therefore cannot follow it up with a #3?

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Thu August 4th, 2011, 5:00 pm

[quote=""Michy""]I have mixed feelings about reviewers telliing what the book is about -- of the reviews I see, too many simply recap the plot (sometimes going into several paragraphs) and frankly, those kinds of reviews make my eyes glaze over. I'm not interested in someone's fifth-grade-style this-is-what-the-book-is-about book "report." Usually there is a nice summary by one or two publishers on Amazon that tell me enough of what I want/need to know about the story itself. When it comes to reviews, I'm much more interested in others' opinions about whether or not the book was any good and why (the why is the whole crux of the matter for me). I try to give very specific info and concrete examples, most especially in cases where I'm rating the book 3 stars or less. And even more especially when all the other reviews are gushing and I'm the lone reviewer who didn't love the book. :)


In the case of older books where no such publisher's summary exists then I agree it's helpful if reviewers give a brief idea of what the book is about (not too much, though!). When I've reviewed older books I've done this myself, although not that often; most of the books I read don't fall into this category.[/quote]

I have to agree with that, I see so many reviews that practically retell the entire story and I end up with glazed eyes as well. Something I've been seeing in a lot of blogs is to not only recap, they post the publisher's description as well. Talk about overkill :(

I tend to avoid reviews right before and during when I'm reading the book so as not to get spoiled, if I'm not going to read for some time, I will forget a lot so I'll read more, but like Michy I'm more interested in impressions than I am with a detail on the plot. I try not to get carried away in plot descriptions, but with the older books with no blurb on the page I will go further than I normally would.

For those looking at older books, do try to get to Goodreads and check out the book. There's a few intrepid librarians who like to collect these older books and we work hard scanning covers and putting up the blurbs at the GR site.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Posts: 3562
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu August 4th, 2011, 5:34 pm

Um. The columnist seems to ignore his own advice--telling what the piece is about. We have to read through two-thirds of the article. Here I thought it was about Keats and the poor treatment he got from reviewers in his day! Silly me!

I pretty much disagree with everything in the article, for all the reasons stated above. The publisher tells you what the book is about. And I, as a reader, could care less what the author thinks the book is about--I only want to give the reading experience. It's like the author's blogs that discuss the writing process -- why would a non-writer, who has no personal connection to the writer in question (which is not me, but I'm putting myself in the reader's shoes) care any more than reading about the process by which their preferred shoe brand manufactured their footwear?

Although, come to think of it, I care very much about how my footwear is manufactured--whether it was with slave labor, that is--and write to convince others to check into it too. Writers, I'm afraid, are too used to slave labor to be able to help them.

SGM
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Post by SGM » Thu August 4th, 2011, 6:18 pm

[quote=""Misfit""]For those looking at older books, do try to get to Goodreads and check out the book. There's a few intrepid librarians who like to collect these older books and we work hard scanning covers and putting up the blurbs at the GR site.[/quote]

It is so frustrating not to be able to view the blurb from the back of the book for older publications. I do try to add the synopsis at Goodreads when I have one and wish that the people who mark a book as read would do so if it is missing. I did try to do the same for Amazon but as someone has pointed out previously here, they don't always stay up at Amazon for older books and I really don't want to have to do it more than once.

As far as reviews are concerned, I rarely bother about them as I do not know the reviewer and can't judge if they have the same concerns I have. I apply the same approach to all sites not just Amazon. But I must admit that there are a couple of key points that ring alarm bells for me in negative reviews (they usually relate to dialogue) otherwise I really just want the information I would get on the back of a book.
Currently reading - Emergence of a Nation State by Alan Smith

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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Thu August 4th, 2011, 6:46 pm

Well my very first review (Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly, on Goodreads) hit rule number one but I didn't include numbers 2 or 3. I don't think 2 or 3 are really that helpful for fiction in general. For non-fiction I'd be more interested in the author's views, in fiction it's all about the story and since the author wrote the story that's all I need. I either liked it or I didn't.

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Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Post by Margaret » Fri August 5th, 2011, 4:48 am

Something I've been seeing in a lot of blogs is to not only recap, they post the publisher's description as well.
I've noticed this, too, and I find it a bit annoying. It's easy to find a publisher's description of a current book at any online bookstore, and while these are useful, their purpose is to promote the book and get people to buy it. When I read a review, I'm expecting to get the reviewer's perspective on the book. But some bloggers seem to think their role is to be another layer in the promotional process.

The original writer of the "golden rules" was less than clear, but the example given by the journalist clarified for me what he meant: simply that a novel should be judged according to the general type of novel it's intended to be. So a reviewer who condemns a Regency romance for not being a deeply thoughtful literary novel like War and Peace is not being fair to the author (nor is a reviewer who condemns War and Peace for not being a pleasant beach read).

I don't want to read spoilers in a review, but I do want to know in general terms what the story is about. If I'm in the mood for a humorous romp, for example, I don't want to pick up something heavy and depressing. I like love stories, but the typical romance bores me. Too many Amazon reviewers say stuff like "Read this - you won't be sorry!" without saying anything at all to indicate what the story is like - is the main character young, old, male, female? does the story have any psychological depth to it, or is it full of stock characters with all the emphasis on a thriller-type plot? You'd never know from a lot of the Amazon reviews.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

annis
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Post by annis » Fri August 5th, 2011, 6:59 am

Reviewers who enjoy letting loose their scathing wit in the Croker style might have to think twice in light of this recent ruling on a review judged malicious and inaccurate.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-14306115
Last edited by annis on Fri August 5th, 2011, 7:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Misfit
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Location: Seattle, WA

Post by Misfit » Fri August 5th, 2011, 8:32 am

I don't want to read spoilers in a review, but I do want to know in general terms what the story is about. If I'm in the mood for a humorous romp, for example, I don't want to pick up something heavy and depressing.
That's the key. A book jacket (or a poorly chosen cover screaming sex and fluff) won't tell you if it's a wall-paper romance filled with OTT sex, or if there's a well done romance hiding behind that cover.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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