Writing Advice

Writing a Quality Book Review

Have you read some great….and maybe some not so great books recently on your eReader or Tablet device? Congratulations, you are part of a group of people known as “bibliophiles” who are reading more books each month using a variety of electronic devices. In the past, you relied on a friend, librarian, book club, or the book bestseller list in a newspaper to help you choose books. Today, you might be influenced to select a book for reading because of a good online review or a catchy book cover.

No doubt you have noticed that about two weeks after you purchased a book electronically, a request for a review appears in your email. Do some reviews help you make a choice to read that book? Do you wish you could write a fabulous review? Do you avoid doing a review because you do not know where to start? Well, you are in luck because this blog shares the key elements of a great review that will help you be a person of influence in the book-reading world.
 

Writer and editor duties

What is a book review?

A review is a description of the book and your experience with reading this particular treasure. It can be as basic as a few impressions to as detailed and critical as a scholarly analysis. Reviewers provide a sense of the quality, meaning, and impact of a book. Book reviews are very personal creations because they share your opinion.

A review is not a retelling of the story. If you retell the story then you will spoil it for others. The review should instead focus on the purpose of the book, what the book is about, how you enjoyed the book, and in the case of non-fiction — does the book and author provide information that has merit. The review is a record of your emotional and intellectual response, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses, and how the book made you feel or think. A review may be as short as 50 words or longer – just remember that your review needs to get to the point quickly because the goal of a reader is not to spend hours reading reviews…his or her goal is to find that next book to read.

As readers, we are experts on how we want the story to develop and end or how much information a book should give to us… when it works or does not work, we can certainly share our opinion with others. You do not have to be an excellent writer to craft a good book review. Your goal is to assist customers in deciding whether to buy or borrow a book to read.

Are all reviews the same?

The answer is – NO – all reviews are not the same. The content and how you approach a review will depend on your intention and the requirements of your target audience.

The Descriptive Review

This type of book review gives the essential information about a book (style, subject, audience, plot, and character). This is usually done by sharing your interpretation of the work and by sometimes quoting particular passages from the text that you felt were especially strong or weak.

The Critical review

This type of review describes and compares the book to others of a similar genre. You do not always need to cite a specific book in the comparison but you most certainly can refer to similar works so that the reader of your review might be able to use this as a comparison.

The Parts of a Review

Both types of reviews, descriptive and critical, benefit from including the following pieces in your review.

Introduction

This is where you capture the reader’s attention, hopefully with your opening sentence. The introduction should state your main conclusion and set the tone of the review. This can be 10 to 15 words.

Body

This should be sufficient so that the reader of your review will have some understanding of the author’s thoughts. This is not a story summary of the story; instead, it describes the elements or pieces that the author uses to bring the story to life. This has an overall appraisal of the book. Describe and evaluate what you think was the intent of the author and explain how well you think the author did in giving you a good book to read. You can provide quotations supporting your analysis. Your review is considered an opinion based on your reading. Share how you think the author succeeded (or failed) in his/her goal. Use examples to support your thoughts. This can have 50 to 250 words in this section.

Conclusion

Wrap up your review with some final thoughts and remind the reader of why you did or did not like the book. This can be 10 to 50 words.

Writing a review to thank an author

How to Write that Perfect Book Review

Sit down and write all out thoughts out about the book. If the book was good and you feel positive about this work and want others to know about your great find — simply write that out with the Introduction, then write the Body, and end with a Conclusion as described above.

What about those times when you did not like the book? Certainly you want to “warn” others not to spend good money on this book. This is the most difficult review to write because it is negative. Many authors actually appreciate these reviews when they are well written because a negative review will help the author learn where he/she can improve. Other readers really appreciate knowing why you did not like the book because it helps them make an informed decision about whether or not the book might be good for him/her.

We can all admit it is more difficult to write a negative review. Simply writing “I hated this book” does not tell the next potential reader why. For a book that you consider to be of lower quality, it is a good idea to use the “sandwich” review approach. With this method, you write something positive about the book, then give the details of how this book failed (the negative part) and then find something nice to say in your conclusion. This will help the next potential reader understand why you gave the book a low rating. It also helps you “ease the pain to the author for receiving a negative review” by putting the bad parts inside of two good parts.

The Final Parts to your Excellent Book Review

Carefully read what you have written and make sure it is easy to understand. Check for grammar and spelling errors. Make sure your review is honest and avoids any personal attacks.

When you are ready, submit your review, and know that you have possibly helped 100’s or 1000’s of other bibliophiles find the next treasure or avoid spending money on a bad book.

Get the Most from Your Editor by Being a Good Client

Get the Most from Your Editor by Being a Good Client

Showing your writing to a stranger for editing is nerve wracking for most people. Maybe all people. So is going to the dentist. In both instances, you’re vulnerable and you’re paying money for something that isn’t entirely pleasant.

Let me stretch the analogy just a bit to point out that patients get the most out of their dentist when they cooperate. They answer questions honestly (e.g., How often do you floss?), they continue the work on their own (e.g., by doing the above-mentioned flossing), they ask questions (e.g., How long will this temporary last?), and they recognize the dentist is cleaning their teeth because it’s good for the teeth, not because they have fun making people’s gums bleed.

The same is true with your manuscript. You’ll get the most out of your editor by cooperating, actively working with this stranger so you’re happy with the results.

Be Honest with Your Editor

An editor can only do such much, so tell the editor about anything you want them to focus on. An editor will comment on characterization, but that doesn’t mean they’ll comment on a specific character or on a specific aspect of your characters. If you’re worried your love interest is boring, tell the editor that when you give them the manuscript. If you’re nervous the ending of your whodunit is obvious, direct your editor to evaluate it.

And tell your editor if there’s something you don’t want commented on. If you’re writing a book based on your faith and don’t want the editor to pick apart your logic, tell them so.

Little story. I once had a client give what he called an erotic novel, but the sex was just boring as anything. I spent time carefully explaining just why it was boring and why having boring sex in an erotic novel was a problem. About two-thirds through the book, I realized the book was actually a parable about why having sex is a bad thing and that the sex was supposed to be boring. I had to go back and take out hours of work and re-evaluate everything. A little honesty from the client would have saved me hours of work and allowed me to do a better job.

There’s no need for a checklist. Editors know to look at grammar and style and plot and so on. But if you’ve got specific concerns, let us know!

Continue the Work on Your Own

Writing is a life-long process of learning and criticism and trying again and revising and rewriting and more feedback and trying again forever in an endless cycle. Getting better at writing means doing more writing. Only by writing do we learn how to write.

Indeed, I’m not sure an editor can “teach” a writer anything. Certainly, editors cannot tell authors how to change things to be “correct” (except for grammar). We can only point to things and say that we think they are great or need to be improved and try to explain why. If an editor actually goes in there and tries to fix such things, they become a co-author.

Ask Questions

An editing job ends when the client is satisfied, not just when the manuscript comes back with its edits and comments. If a client isn’t sure what a comment means, they should (and they are expected to by any reputable business) ask the editor to explain.

All questions about the manuscript are welcome. Perhaps something the editor said contradicts what you heard in a creative writing class and you want their opinion. A problem with writing is that it involves thousands of things, and fictional writing is so much a matter of taste. I recently had a client say they’d been told “backstory is the kiss of death.” Several of my favorite (and highly successful) novels open with backstory.

Good questions I’ve been asked include whether a character who worked as a poet had to recite some of their poetry to give them credibility. (I said I didn’t see the need.) Another asked me to elaborate on why I said all the characters sounded the same when they talked. (I pointed out more instances of when different characters used the same phrases, showed the same level of education, and used similar imagery.) Another great question was why I liked a minor character so much. (She had a great sense of humor, and she was never cruel.)

I’ll tell you the truth. Sometimes writing comments on manuscripts feels a lot like talking to yourself in an empty room. A little Q&A conversation makes for a lovely change of pace.

Sorry About the Bleeding Gums

I have a friend who says she loves getting criticism. I know she’s lying. She might value it, might appreciate it, but love getting it? No way.

Yet when you hire an editor it’s criticism you’re paying for. If an editor doesn’t say something negative (or at least not so positive) at some point in the process, they’re just not doing their job.

But one thing can help you read through an edit, even a very strict one, with a minimum of pain.

Always bear in mind that being an editor takes quite a bit of dedication, and it’s not the sort of job that’s going to appeal to someone who doesn’t like authors. I personally have enormous respect for anyone who takes the time needed to write either fiction or nonfiction. I spend my days reading, and I enjoy it.

It can be tempting to think the editor is sneering at you or is getting tired of your misuse of the semi-colon. It’s hard not to wince they tell you your main character isn’t convincing or not to feel pecked at when a comment seems a little short.

But trust me, nobody I know who edits enjoys the knowledge that we might hurt feelings. We work under deadlines, but we get nothing from being glib. And editors are paid to fix grammar, or we’re pretty useless as a species.

What’s most important here is not hurt feelings but what happens when a client no longer feels they can trust their editor. How can anyone get anything of value from someone they feel is making fun of them? If you’re starting to hear sarcasm when you read your editor’s comments, take a break and re-set yourself. When you’re feeling defensive, even “Do you mean for this period to be here?” can sound like some snipe from a snob.

And if, after that, you still think a comment is offensive, write to the editor and ask what’s going on. Learning how to edit is also a life-long process of learning and criticism and trying again and revising and rewriting and more feedback and trying again forever in an endless cycle.


Your turn! In what ways do you think you can be a better client for your editor?

Deciding Where to Publish Your Scientific Article

You and your colleagues have spent months, maybe even years, conducting experiments to either prove or disprove your hypothesis. You spend weeks writing up the results into a publication with your Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion. Then you spend more time self-editing, re-writing, having your collaborators read and edit. You may have even employed a professional academic editor. Finally ready to submit your manuscript for publication.

Throughout this process, it is important that you take time to consider where it is best to publish this research manuscript.

Most research results are published in academic journals. An academic journal is a peer-reviewed periodical that presents articles relating to a particular academic discipline or methodology. Academic journals serve as forums for the introduction and scrutiny of new research and the critique of existing research. To maximize your chances of impact, it is important to pick the right one.

Here are five things to consider when deciding where to publish your manuscript:

1) Do you want to target specific readers?

Thousands of journals have monthly or quarterly publication schedules. Some are for specific disciplines and others are for general, but highly noteworthy, science. Learn what journals your preferred audience looks to for important publications. Do the people that you want to reach tend to reference certain journals? You will want to publish in journals that will engage those in your field of science because this may increase your chances at gaining new funding, setting up collaborations, or finding that new career position.

2) Will the impact factor of the journal have an effect on your career?

Just for review, the impact factor of an academic journal is a measure reflecting the average number of citations to recent articles published in the journal. This number helps readers determine the relative importance of a journal within its field. Journals with higher impact factor numbers are deemed to be more important than those with lower ones.

In some academic and professional circles, the more publications you have with a high impact factor, the better your chance of promotion.

3) Journal standards and efficiency with respect to the quality and timeliness of publications

The quality of the journal content is critical. When we speak about quality content, we mean both visual and language aspects. Items to consider when reviewing the visual quality include text format and sharpness of images. Language quality includes ease of reading and correct grammar. If you read articles in the journal and find that the grammar is subpar, consider selecting an alternate journal.

Good science and writing takes time and each scientist wants to be the first to publish new findings and ideas. One of the keys to success is publication of your article as soon as your work is completed. You want to publish in a journal that people look to for current scientific topics.

To have timely publication of your data, make sure the journal is organized in overseeing the article review process. Efficient journals can have your article reviewed in three months or less, whereas inefficient journals may require you to be relentless in your efforts acquiring deals with them. It is important that the journal you select can publish the article as quickly as possible after acceptance of your article.


The journal you choose reflects on your skill and status as a scientist. If you select a journal that allows poor grammar, takes months to finally review and consider your work, has low quality text and graphics, and is publishing articles on topics that are no longer relevant, then this has a negative impact on your work, possible promotions, and future funding status.

4) Cost of publishing

Many journals do require a per-page charge and even have more fees for color images (graphs, photos, etc.). Part of your decision as to where you will publish your research may depend on cost related issues. Can you afford to publish in a particular journal of interest? Unfortunately, this is the question you must ask if you are publishing in journals that charge for publication.

5) Financial stability and leadership of the journal

At first thought, the financial stability and leadership of the journal do not seem to be of much importance. However, journal publication, like most other areas of activity, is a competitive business. If the journal is not financially stable, it may go out of business, lose coverage (both online and in libraries), and possibly become inaccessible thereby making your article difficult to access.

The leadership of the journal includes the editors and management. If the editors are not devoted to turning out a quality product then people may lose interest in reading articles in that journal. If the management does not ensure timely editorial reviews of manuscripts and rapid publication of those accepted, readership declines and the number of people who may read your work could drop precipitously.

So after you have taken the time to complete excellent research, carry out numerous document edits and revisions, and spend considerable time formatting data, the journal you choose needs to reflect your efforts and those of your research collaborators.
What factors do you feel are most important in deciding where to publish your manuscript?