Moving Write Along: Advice from the Experts – The Ten Commandments of Writing Book Reviews by Mayra Calvani, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

1. Thou shall have no other gods before the reader. The review is not about the author, nor the publisher, and especially, not about you, the reviewer. Reviews are all about the reader. Don’t try to impress with pompous words in an attempt to glorify yourself or appear scholarly. Give readers simplicity and clarity. They’ll appreciate it. If they want verbose and fancy, they can read Shakespeare.

2. Thou shall not lie. Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you’re doing nothing but selling copy. When you give facile praise or sugar-coat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony. Furthermore, if you give facile praise to a poorly written book, you are perpetuating a bad writer’s career, lowering the chances that a good writer may be published instead.

3. Thou shall not offend the author. Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There’s no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible novel!” say, “This book didn’t work for me for the following reasons…”

4. Thou shall not eat the evaluation. Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and leave out the evaluation. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, “I really liked this book” is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying.

5. Thou shall not reveal spoilers. Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader’s reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author.

6. Thou shall honor grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Don’t be one of those reviewers who are more in love with the idea of seeing their name online than making sure their reviews are well-written and thorough. Your reviews may hang around on the internet for years to come and will reflect on your level as a writer. Run a spell check, edit, revise, and polish your review, as if you were posting a short story. Get a good book on grammar, and punctuation, take an online course or listen regularly to podcasts such as The Grammar Girl.

7. Thou shall honor deadlines. If you join a review site where the turnaround for reviews is 3 weeks, then you should respect that agreement. If you promise the author to have the review ready in two months, you should honor this too. Be honest and straight forward from the beginning. If you’re so busy your turnaround is six months, make sure to let the person know. If for any reasons you cannot meet the deadline, contact the person and let him know. It’s your responsibility to maintain a do-able schedule.

8. Thou shall not be prejudiced against thy neighbor. Don’t assume that a self-published or small press book is poorly written. Give it a fair chance and let it speak for itself. Likewise, never assume a book published by a major NY house has to be good. You’d be surprised by the high quality of some small press books by unknown authors, as opposed to those written by big name authors whose titles are often in the bestseller lists. In general, most subsidy books are mediocre, but there are always exceptions. If you’ve had bad experiences with subsidy books, then don’t request them nor accept them for review. If you decide to review one, though, don’t be biased and give it a fair chance.

9. Thou shall not become an RC addict. RC stands for Review Copy. Requesting RCs can get out of control. In fact, it can become addictive. You should be realistic about how many books you can review. If you don’t, pretty soon you’ll be drowning in more RCs than you can handle. When this happens, reading and reviewing can change from a fun, pleasurable experience into a stressful one. If you’re feeling frazzled because you have a tower of books waiting to be reviewed, learn to say NO when someone approaches you for a review and stop requesting RCs for a while. Unless you’re being paid as a staff reviewer for a newspaper or magazine, reviewing shouldn’t get in the way of your daily life.

10. Thou shall not steal. Remember that the books you request are being sent to you in exchange for a review. Requesting review copies and not writing the reviews is in one word: stealing. You’d be surprised at the number of “reviewers” who, after having requested several books, suddenly “disappear.” These people are not legitimate; they’re crooks, plain and simple. If you have a valid reason for not reviewing a book, let the review site editor, author, publisher, or publicist know. The same goes for piracy. “Reviewers” who request ebooks and later offer them as downloads from their sites are thieves. Integrity is part of the code of honor of a legitimate reviewer.

Mayra Calvani is a multi-genre author of 12 books for children and adults. A reviewer for more than a decade, she’s a regular contributor to Blogcritics Magazine and the Latino Books Examiner for Examiner.com. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, the CBI Clubhouse, and the Children’s Writers Coaching Club. Calvani’s non-fiction book—The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing—was a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award winner, and it’s required reading at four universities. Learn more about Mayra Calvani at www.MayrasSecretBookcase.com and www.MayraCalvani.com or read the Write On Q&A!.

Download for free the following ebook: Literary Sampler, a Potpourri of Stories and First Chapters, from Twilight Times Books.

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16 Comments
  1. Janet Ann Collins 7 years ago

    This is extremely helpful, Mayra. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Nancy Lepri 7 years ago

    Wonderful suggestions, Mayra! I know these will help reviewers and readers of reviews a lot!

  3. Irene Roth 7 years ago

    Hi Mayra,

    This has some great advice. I am printing it off as we speak.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Take care,
    Irene

  4. Nicole Weaver 7 years ago

    Hi Mayra,

    Thanks a mil for sharing your expertise with us. Well penned article!

  5. Laraine 7 years ago

    Great article, Mayra. And I’m not surprised at all the people who request RCs and don’t honour their contract. I applied for one of 20 RCs on a particular book and duly posted my review within the required deadline, to find that there were only two other reviews done. Even after the deadline was long gone others didn’t appear.

  6. Carolyn Howard-Johnson 7 years ago

    Debra, thank you so much for this. I’ve long recommended that authors review as a way to gain clips, and as a way to network with the same editors who may someday offer a review to a feature to them. In fact, there is a section in The Frugal Book Promoter (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkProm) on how to do that and even on how to syndicate the process.

    I’ve also long recommended Mayra’s book to those who want to pursue this neat way to promote by doing what we do best–that is write! (-:

    Best,
    Carolyn

  7. J. Aday Kennedy 7 years ago

    Mayra,
    Thanks for the tips.
    Blessings,
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer
    Children’s Book Author & Inspirational Spokesperson
    Klutzy Kantor & Marta Gargantuan Wings available in August 2010

  8. Dennise 7 years ago

    Thank you for this excellent helpful advice.

  9. Shavounda White 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Mayra. Your tips are right on the money. Great article!

  10. Debra Eckerling 7 years ago

    Thanks, Mayra, for sharing your expertise with the Write On! community! And thanks, everyone, for your comments!

    The timing is perfect, as Write On! is launching Write On! Reviews – which will be a rotating review column, covering TV, Film, Books, Tech, and Writing Tools – this Monday!

  11. Mayra 7 years ago

    Thank you all for stopping by and your comments! I’m glad you liked my article.

    It was great being a guest blogger, Debra!

  12. Kristi Bernard 7 years ago

    Great tips Mayra. I would certainly want honesty if I had a published book out. And I would want to know what the reviewer didn’t like about my book. Thanks.

  13. Darcia Helle 7 years ago

    Great guidelines, Mayra, and I love the way you put them into commandments. Words to live by!

  14. Karen Cioffi 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing these useful tips Mayra.

  15. VS Grenier 7 years ago

    I’m going to have my book reviewers read this. This was a great post and so true about how to conduct yourself when doing a book review.

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