5 Points on How to Write an Effective Book Review

Hile, inklings,

If you pay any attention at all to publishing industry news — specifically e-pub and indie pub — you know that we indie writers have a nearly insatiable craving for online reviews.

There are many reasons for this, but the crux of it is that the more favorable reviews we get, the more books we sell. Our greedy little writer-hearts like to know that the world is reading and enjoying our stories (not to mention the fact that our pocketbooks appreciate sales, too), so seeing favorable reviews and selling more books flips our bangerang switches most verily.

(Translation: We like it a lot.)

A Word on One-Star and Two-Star Reviews

And that word is: “blech.”

(By which I don’t mean “Blech,” which is German for “tin.”)

No, we don’t like low-star reviews. But I would venture to say that most of us accept them (whilst heaving heavy sighs), accept the reality of them, and accept even the necessity of them. A well-written low-star review can actually tell us valuable information about what works for readers and what doesn’t.

(Philosophical sidenote: Though I don’t believe in pandering to the crowd, I do believe in knowing one’s audience. Understanding + respecting reader expectations = okay. Pandering = not writing what writer really wants to write = not okay. Please to be noticing the difference.)

(Also, sorry about the penchant for parentheses. It’s a thing today, apparently.)

Me, when I read a low-star review of one of my own works, I indulge in a 24 to 72-hour wallow of self-pity. (I do not write a response to the review.) Then, I re-examine said review to see if there’s anything of value in it. If there is, I file that information away for possible future reference. If there isn’t, I attempt a brain-dump so that the self-pity doesn’t come back.

Sometimes, I have to repeat the brain-dump several times before it takes.

But I digress.

Brief Interlude

NOTE: Yes, I am a writer. Yes, I have strong opinions about the reviews I receive. BUT. I do recognize that reviewers aren’t writing for me. Reviewers are writing for their fellow readers.

Allow me to re-state, because this is a thing of importantness:

A book reviewer writes a review for the benefit of other readers, not for the writer’s benefit.

Basically, the purpose of a book review is to tell other readers why they would or wouldn’t enjoy reading a particular book.

Keeping this in mind, I shall ignore my greedy little writer self for the remainder of this blogpost. You’re welcome. ; )

Onward to what you really came here for.

5 Points on How to Write an Effective Book Review

1. Make it readable.

Use good grammar. If people can’t understand what you’re trying to tell them, then your review will “fall on deaf ears.” Don’t make review readers squint at their computer screens as they try to decipher whether you thought a character didn’t win ( = lose) or whether you thought he was a slut ( = loose).

For the same reason, and for the sake of all that’s good and writerly in this world, check your spelling. Use a spellchecker if need be. The pregnant main character is not a rotary phone: In the third chapter, she’s dilated, not “dialated.”

And if you’re going to write more than 7-10 lines, do please consider the beauty of the paragraph. Giant blocks of text hurt the eyeballs.

2. Be honest.

If you loved the book, say so.

If you feel neutral about the book, say so.

If you hated the book, say so.

If you didn’t finish the book, say so.

Recently, I challenged a reviewer who left a one-star review on a friend’s novel. I didn’t challenge the solitary star. I challenged the fact that the reviewer provided erroneous information in his review: He stated that Character X did not appear in the novel. He also admitted to not having finished the novel.

My challenge: Character X actually does appear in the novel — which the reviewer would have known, had he finished the book.

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate reading all the way through a book you’re not enjoying. I don’t finish books I don’t like. Who has the time for such shenanigans?

But. If you don’t finish the book, be honest about it — and be cautious about making absolute statements concerning the parts that you didn’t read. If you provide erroneous information about a novel, you are not helping fellow readers make informed decisions about their reading choices.

3. Give your fellow readers something they can relate to.

“If you like beach reads, you’ll enjoy this one.”

“Fantasy readers are going to eat this up.”

“This book is for the reader who’s always wondered what would happen if Orson Scott Card collaborated with V.C. Andrews.”

“If you enjoy YA novels, this probably isn’t the book for you.”

“This book reads very differently from the author’s other works, so keep that in mind.”

Whatever genre you’re reviewing, write toward it — because most of the people who read your review are going to be familiar with that genre. Let them know how a book follows expected conventions. Let them now how the book breaks from convention. Let them know whether or not the break from convention works well.

Know the expectations your genre’s readers will bring to the novel you’re reviewing. Tell them whether or not the novel will meet those expectations.

If the writer does something crazy original that amazed you, tell them to expect that, too.

But for the sake of all that’s good and writerly, do heed the following point:

4. Warn fellow readers of spoilers.

Provide details.

But not too many.

You know when you’re reading a review, and you’re trying to figure out based on the review whether or not you want to buy this book that sounds kinda cool but you’re on the fence about it, and you’re reading along and BAM! the reviewer tells you exactly what happens at the story’s climax?

No? You don’t know? Well, maybe it’s just me. But trust me — it stinks.

The words “SPOILER ALERT” are your friends. For the love of Grabthar’s Hammer, use them.

5. Have fun with it.

Don’t worry too much about what I said in #1. Make your review readable, yes. But nobody’s going to grade you. Your fellow readers just want to know what you liked or didn’t like and whether or not they can relate to your opinion.

I was going to continue this point by saying that you should have fun with your review even if you didn’t have fun with the book. But you know what? That’s probably not very realistic of me, and that might be the writer in me coming out.

If you didn’t have fun with the book, you’re probably not going to have fun with the review (unless you’re feeling gleefully vindictive, I suppose). If you feel dismal about writing the review, then your tone will likely show it. And — although the writer in me mourns this part — that’s probably something your fellow readers need to hear about, too.

________

And there you have it, y’all. My thoughts on writing an effective review. So, who are my blog-reading book-reviewers out there? Did I miss anything? Is there anything here you disagree with? Let’s talk about it. I’ve got a lot of opinions, but I’m not in the habit of reviewing everything I read. So I’d love to hear from you! What do you think?

He Made Me Loose, and 5 Other Shenanigans

Or: How You Spell Dis?! Part Deux

Greetings, O Fearless Writerly and Readerly Ones! I come to you today bearing tidings of great joy. And those tidings are that you, too, can learn to communicate clearly by improving your spelling and your grammar! Doesn’t that sound like fun?!

*ahem* You don’t have to answer that.

C-A-L-C-U-L-U-S

So, moving right along! Once upon a time, I regaled you with the tale of Riku and his encounter with a terrible, flying M-A-T-H. Aha! And there we’ve arrived at my first point, which is a reiteration of the moral of Riku’s story: If you don’t spell things correctly, people ain’t gonna know whatcha mean. How easily does Riku’s “math” become “moth” (which was the true source of the poor kid’s terror).

For the purpose of emphasis (and to make this post have something to do with its title [Yeah, we all see what I did there. {I don’t apologize.}]), I’d also like to restate one point from the Riku post:

THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LOOSE and LOSE.

He made me lose. = He caused me not to win.

He made me loose. = He turned me into a slut.
(Notably through no fault of my own.)

PLEASE STOP DOING THIS WRONG.

*ahem again* Thanks.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s move on to happier things like lightning and cat pee.

Yes. You read that correctly. Lightning and cat pee. Here we go!

5 More Spelling/Grammar Shenanigans: How do you spell…?

1. THEY’RE, THEIR, THERE.

INCORRECT: They’re cat peed on my porch. = They are cat peed on my porch.

Now, if you’re trying to insult someone, you might say, “They’re (They are) cat pee on my porch,” but that wouldn’t be very nice of you.

“Their” is a possessive pronoun. A possessive pronoun is a word that replaces a name and indicates ownership of something. Instead of saying, “The Smiths’ cat peed on my porch,” I replace “The Smiths'” with “their.”

Correct:
THEIR cat peed on my porch.

INCORRECT: I saw the cat pee their.

What we’re looking for here is the word that shows where the cat peed. Remember, “their” is a possessive pronoun; it shows ownership. As-is, the sentence isn’t complete. I could say, “I saw the cat pee their coffee beans,” but that certainly wouldn’t be very pleasant for the cat.

Correct:
I saw the cat pee THERE.

THEY’RE = THEY ARE
THEIR = ownership
THERE = location

2. IT’s and ITS, YOU’RE and YOUR.

INCORRECT: I saw it’s mischievous look when the cat peed on my porch.
= I saw it is mischievous look when the cat peed on my porch.

INCORRECT: I saw you’re mischievous look when you peed on my porch.
= I saw you are mischievous look when you peed on my porch.

I saw it is mischievous look?
I saw you are mischievous look?

No, no. The “mischievous look” belongs to the cat — or to you, for shame! — so, once again, I am looking for a word that indicates ownership. “It is” and “you are” do not fit the bill.

Correct:
I saw ITS mischievous look.
I saw YOUR mischievous look when you peed on my porch. (Tsk, tsk, tsk.)

BONUS:
mischievous (MIS-chuh-vus) = CORRECT
mischievious (mis-CHEE-vee-us; rhyming with “previous”) = INCORRECT

3. LIGHTNING and LIGHTENING.

INCORRECT: When the cat peed on my porch, I saw lightening flash across the sky.

(This is quite the apocalyptic cat.)

LIGHTNING (noun) = those bright bolts of electricity you see during a storm

LIGHTENING (verb; well, technically a participle, but that’s more than I want to get into here) –> from TO LIGHTEN
= to change gradually from dark to light; opposite of TO DARKEN

Correct:
When the cat peed on my porch, I saw LIGHTNING flash across the sky.
The lightning highlighted the mischievous look on your face as you allowed your cat to pee on my porch.

4. INDEPENDENCE or INDEPENDANCE?

INCORRECT: Your cat peed on my porch on Independance Day.

(You really should control your pet’s behavior a bit better, you know that?)

I don’t know what the Indepen Dance is, but if someone wants to teach me it, I’d be more than happy to learn.

Correct:
Your cat peed on my porch on INDEPENDENCE Day.

(This is grammatically correct but conceptually quite bad form.)

5. WHOSE and WHO’S.

INCORRECT: I am perturbed at Mr. Smith, who’s cat peed on my porch.
= I am perturbed at Mr. Smith, who is cat peed on my porch.

Mr. Smith who is cat peed?

No.

If I wanted to insult Mr. Smith, I would say, “I am perturbed at Mr. Smith, who is cat pee on my porch. The worthless slime.” But again, that wouldn’t be very nice. And, again, I am searching for a word that shows ownership of the mischievous and apparently incontinent cat. “Who is” does not work.

Correct:
I am perturbed at Mr. Smith, WHOSE cat peed on my porch. AGAIN.

OR:
I am perturbed at Mr. Smith, who’s (who is) the man whose incontinent cat won’t stop peeing on my porch.

DISCLAIMER: Neither you, nor my porch, nor urine of any sort, nor any cats were harmed in the making of this blog post. Nor, even, Mr. Smith.

However: Terrible, flying maths will always be swatted.

I Got Sentenced

I have nerd friends, and I love them.

On December 31, 2011, a group of us got together for an evening of food and fun before ringing in 2012 at midnight. Part of our fun consisted of listening to the children complain that the adults were too loud (apparently, it was Opposite Day, and no one told me). The other part of our fun consisted of playing board games. Laughter and mayhem ensued, earning us stern talking-tos by the aforementioned, strangely perturbed children.

One of the games was “You’ve Been Sentenced.” In this game, each player receives 10 cards and must use these cards to build one sentence per round. There are five words or phrases on every card. A player’s task is to put together a real sentence and be able to defend its meaning to the rest of the players.

This game is a language nerd’s dream.

If one of you wants to buy me this game, I will not object. If you play it with me for hours on end, you will have my undying, variegated gratitude. That will flip my bangerang switch most assuredly, not to mention assuage my penchant for fiddling with language in the weirdest ways possible.

For posterity, I recorded a few of our sentences to share with you. Other than the challenge of building the sentences in the first place, the real creativity shone through as we defended our sentences to each other. Oh, the stories we told so that our sentences might serve as reasonable punchlines!

So, here are our sentences in all their (non-)sensible glory*. Borrow them for story ideas, if you like! I have the feeling there could be some story sparks in here. ; )

The squash kicked through the springs and slopped sentences.**

What if, presently, Americans under the outside pots liked to nose above the ground?

What if, early in the ’80s, Team Leader dumped orderly women on Houston?

Before the shocking trip to Jupiter, Tim gulped the merry-go-round color pink.

The slick, strong babysitter came to fake poisonings through the balanced diet.

Weirdly, Thomas Jefferson was saucing up Marie Antoinette until the blaster dangerously fired roughly.

From the kitchen: What did the licker Hippocrates break into?

Afterward, we decided that the advent of whale blubber was immediately preceded by an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

_______________
*Believe it or not, no phonemes were harmed in the making of this blogpost.

**This might have been the most prophetic statement of 2011.

How You Spell Dis?!?

This is the moth I drew with my mouse. And he is pretty. Shut up.

Once upon a time, a young man of my acquaintance named Matt told me the following story:

In college, Matt roomed with a foreign exchange student. I don’t remember the other guy’s name or where he was from, so I’m just going to call him Riku and say he was from Japan. Riku was always trying to improve his English, and anytime he heard a word that was new to him, he would ask Matt, “How you spell dis?” And Matt would oblige, spelling the word and helping Riku use the new word in a sentence.

One day, Matt came back to the room he shared with Riku and found his roommate cowering in a corner, pointing at the light fixture and making sounds of a concerned and fearful nature.

Matt: What’s wrong?
Riku (still babbling incoherently, stabs finger in direction of light fixture)
Matt (looks closely): Oh! You mean the insect flying around?
Riku: Yes! Yes! What is dis?
Matt: It can’t hurt you. It’s just a moth.
Riku: Moth?!
Matt: Yes, just a moth.
Riku (still jabbing finger at moth in fearful manner): HOW YOU SPELL DIS?

Expanding the Universe

I’m not gonna go into a long diatribe about how proper spelling lets us communicate better. There are enough essays and blogposts and master’s theses out there that cover the subject ad infinitum ad nauseam.

However, I do love Riku’s story and recount it here because it shows so clearly how we use language to define and comprehend the world around us. Giving something a name allows us to categorize it. Understanding a thing’s name lets us have a little extra measure of control (however illusory) of our environment. It makes our universe just a little bit bigger. Knowing a thing’s name and communicating it to another lets us establish a closer connection with that other person.

And, sometimes, this naming and communicating lets us remove the element of fear, which enables all of us to become more fully the people we were created to be.

Indeed: How do you spell dis?

But none of that fantabulous stuff happens when we don’t spell things in a way that gets the right message across. When Riku asked “how you spell dis,” Matt would’ve done his roommate a great disservice by giving him the wrong information. Imagine the confusion that would’ve ensued had Riku gone on to tell his friends that he’d had a close encounter with a terrible, flying “math.”

Spelling’s important, y’all. And by that, I mean “you all,” not a small, two-masted boat (aka “yawl”).

So, keeping said importance in mind, I shall now share with you five misspellings I’ve noted recently. Some of them aren’t misspellings per se but grammatical errors. But this is all part and parcel of clear communication, kids. So Ima mush it all together here. Because I want to. And this is my blog, so I can. Nyah.

; )

How do you spell…?

 
1. DEFINITELY

INCORRECT: definately, definatly, defiantly, definitly.

Correct:
DEFINITELY

2. LOSE and LOOSE

INCORRECT: I am going to loose my mind if you keep spelling this wrong.

“Lose” means “not keep” or “not win.”

“Loose” means “not tight” or “release.”

Correct:
I am going to LOSE my mind.

Maybe even if you start spelling it right. Only time will tell.

3. DRINK, DRANK, DRUNK

INCORRECT: He had drank too much the night before.

Correct:
He had DRUNK too much the night before.

Which was why he was drunken, if you want to know.

I drink. I drank. I had drunk. And don’t read more into this example than you have to, dears.

4. SPRING, SPRANG, SPRUNG

INCORRECT: Mount Olympus buzzed with gossip for a week because Zeus’s daughter, Athena, had sprang fully grown from his head.

Correct:
Athena had SPRUNG from Zeus’s head.
Olympus only knows why.

I spring. I sprang. I had sprung. Or, rather, Athena had sprung. I was born through more conventional processes.

5. A LOT

INCORRECT: Alot of people are afraid of moths.

Correct:
A LOT of people are afraid of moths.

As in, a certain quantity of people.

I don’t think Lot in the Bible was afraid of moths. But if he was, I’m sure a bunch of them burned up in Sodom and Gomorrah, and I’m sure the moth-fearing Lot was happy about that.

_________________
I had a close encounter with a terrible, flying math in high school. They spelled dis C-A-L-C-U-L-U-S. Riku’s fortitude was not mine. I lasted three weeks, then ran shrieking and never looked back.

10 Ways to Really Write an Awful Novel

In this post, I’m going to tell you how to write a bad novel. And by bad, I do not mean the more-than-implied badness of the tweet with which Josh Unruh executed #TweetVengeance upon me yesterday:

*ahem*

Instead of that sort of badness, I bring you the badness of truly horrid writing. Because, really — there are so many cramazing, beautiful works of written art out there, you don’t want to be like all of them, do you?

I didn’t think so.

(This is going to make some of you very sad. But it’s for your own good, I promise.)

10 Ways to Really Write a Truly Awful Novel

 

1. Never read.

Novels, short stories, magazines, newspapers, poetry journals — reading all of that stuff is way overrated. You have your own style, your own voice. You don’t need anyone else’s examples of writing to clutter up your thinking.

2. Only write when you’re inspired.

You wouldn’t want to tax yourself. Writing is supposed to be fun and flowing and brilliant all the time.

3. When writing dialogue, never use the word “said.”

Instead, use booed, chuckled, hissed, demanded, muttered, mused, mumbled, other verbs starting with “m,” protested, retorted, agreed, and so forth.

These beautifully complicate your writing. Besides, you need these tags because your readers can’t figure out your character’s tone, and they can’t do that because you:

4. Never stay in character.

There’s too much noise in this world already. What? Your characters don’t need distinctive voices! It’s much safer and easier on the brain if you make them all sound happily the same.

Besides, crafting unique voice is what our plethora of dialogue tags is for.

5. Writing a novel, your participles should absolutely dangle.*

Having gone to the store, the groceries cost $20.
Cleaning the house, the broom handle broke.
Frolicking on the lawn, the lumberjack watched the kittens.

6. Do what I did in the title of this post: Split infinitives.

In case you don’t know, a split infinitive is when you conveniently take an infinitive verb such as to write and insert a word between to and write. There are reasons why this is a bad thing to do, but let’s not talk about what they are.

In fact while, we’re talking points 5 and 6 just don’t pay attention to any rules of grammar spelling or punctuation, while your writing. Grammar does nothing for clearly communicating with you’re reader’s. Especially you should ignore, correct apostrophe usage; definitely insert things like “This gift is from the Smith’s” instead of “This gift is from the Smiths.” Oh and definatly every comma in this paragraph, is incorrect.

7. Mix your metaphors.

Every main character who knows his stuff will bite the bullet up his sleeve. She’ll cut off her nose to go out on a limb. If you don’t mix your metaphors, you’ll be a small fish to fry in a big pond. But if you do it right, you’ll really be living high on the hog while the sun shines.

8. Use lots of adverbs.

Fortunately, I’ve been giving you a terrific example of this throughout this blog post. The more adverbs you use, the more overwhelmingly receptively your audience will respond to your story. And if you pair an adverb with a non-said dialogue tag, your audience is likely to chorus enthusiastically, “Butterflies wouldn’t melt in your stomach!”

9. Don’t prepare or do prewriting of any sort.

That way, when you get to the end, you’ll run out of ideas, and those pesky plot twists won’t bother your readers so much.

10.

_______________________

*Writing a novel, your participles should absolutely dangle. = The participles write the novel.
Having gone to the store, the groceries cost $20. = The groceries went to the store.
Cleaning the house, the broom handle broke. = The broom handle cleaned the house.
Frolicking on the lawn, the lumberjack watched the kittens. = The lumberjack frolicked on the lawn.

And after that, he beat the writer to a pulp.