Today's theme for Armchair BEA focuses on the nitty gritty of blogging. I wish I knew enough Html to come up with an interesting tech-themed post, but alas... I'm going to focus on the most basic element of a book blog - the book reviews.
On a side note, I did a big advice post a few weeks ago about increasing followers. Check it out:
Blogger Advice: How to Gain Followers
My comments about how to write a book review is by no means the only way to do things. There are a million ways to write a great review. I've tried many of them. It's just a few thoughts that come to mind...
How to Write a Review
1. Review Elements: Most reviews have three parts - Cover photo, summary, and review. I think the majority of people paste the Goodreads/Amazon summary onto their reviews. That's what I do. I admire the people who come up with their own summaries, but I'd rather focus on the review (I'm lazy). Then there's the review itself.
2. Time: First off, how long after reading the book should you wait before writing the review? I think my reviews are best 2 days to a week after I've read the book. Too soon and the review is gushy or angry. Too late and I have trouble remembering the book. Lately, I've been waiting several weeks before writing reviews. I don't recommend this. It takes extra long, because I have to comb my brain to remember the book.
Second, how long should you spend writing the review? However long it takes you to write a review you're pleased with. I typically spend 20-40 minutes per review, which is the main reason I procrastinate in writing them. I've spent as long as 2 hours! (for the Twilight Official Guide, which was a super long, detailed review).
3. Style: Here's the big one. How do you write a review? Obviously there's no answer to this. The only "must" is content. You should say something other than just summarizing the book.
Here are some things to think about:
Pacing - Slow start, slow middle, consistent, page-turner?
Prose - Simple, complex, beautiful, lyrical, too wordy, clunky?
Characters - Likeable, relatable, smart, funny, strong, swooning type, agressive, etc.
Plot - Believable, engrossing, confusing, complex, fun?
Romance - Hot, not believable, otherworldly, realistic?
How do you put this down? In traditional five paragraph essay form? That's how the majority of my reviews are. But for books that I really love or have a lot to say about, I often break it down into an outline - splitting elements up by numbers or separating the good from the bad. I think this format is easier to read, but not so much so that I write all my reviews that way.
Here are a few examples of my review styles
Standard Paragraphs: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Numbered Outline: Die For Me by Amy Plum
Good v. Bad: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
4. Consistency: Here's where I don't follow my own advice. I think the best blog has a standard format for reviews, so the reader knows what to expect when she looks at your blog. My reviews are definitely not consistent. As I said above, my reviews range from multi-paragraph essays to numbered outlines to good v. bad. How I write my review depends on what comes to me in the moment.
5. Length: There's an ideal here, although I'm not sure what it is. It's possible to do a good review in a paragraph, but pretty difficult. I think a review should be at least 2 to 3 paragraphs. Probably not too much longer. Here's another "do as I say, not as I do." Many of my reviews are quite lengthy. I don't purposely write them long, but once I get going it's hard to stop. Ultimately, I think the ideal length is however long it takes you to give a thorough discussion of the book.
6. Prose: My only "must" on this front is proper grammar and spelling. I'll excuse one or two mistakes, because we all make them, but people don't want to waste their time trying to decipher poor writing. Now that doesn't mean each review needs to be a masterpiece. Most of my reviews are readable, but certainly not pretty. I have a conversational tone. I admire bloggers whose reviews read like a piece of art, but if I tried to do that it would sound stupid. Each person has her style. I just write in the same style that I would talk about a book with a friend.
7. Negative Reviews: Another tough one. My main suggestion on negative reviews is to be kind and be fair. If you hate a book, you should explain your reasons. In a way that does not turn into a personal insult of the author (e.g. My pet rock could write better than AUTHOR.) I think a good negative review highlights good things about the book as well as bad. After all, if you hated the entire story, would you really finish it? If I can't stand a book, I put it down and then don't review it. If I've finished the story, there are definitely elements I liked, even if my overall reaction was bad.
The most important part of a review is conveying your feelings for the book. There's no right or wrong. If your readers come away from your review having learned something new or gaining a different perspective on a book they're interested in, then you've succeeded. It doesn't matter whether the review is long or short, written in flowery prose or with laugh-out-loud humor. You should write a review in whatever style allows you to best describe your thoughts.