A Letter to Aspiring Book Reviewers A Blog Series

7 Two Texts For One Review: The Structure of the Indie Book Review

You have your notes, you have contemplated and considered and gathered your thoughts. Now it’s time to write. Don’t write directly onto your blog. Don’t write directly into the form field at Goodreads or Amazon. Use your word processor, or a pen and paper if you’re that sort, and write. Just write. If the book was great, no doubt you have a lot to say, and you should write every word of it now. Then edit. Then revise and rewrite and reconsider. Then do it again. Remember, reviewing is like writing because it is writing. Writing is drafting and editing and polishing over and over and over again. Do this until you have two finely polished texts.

Two texts, you ask? For one review? Yes two. There are two “formats” that will serve you in providing a quality review. We’ll call these formats the “Commercial” format and the “Long Form” format. As you polish the text, finding the words for both of these formats will be your goal. Let’s take a look at the formats now since the purposes behind these formats will help you when it comes time to polish and re-polish your review.

The commercial format is the format you’ll use at Amazon and eventually all the other retailer sites. Retail sites are commercial, they have a singular purpose, and as such they are the proper place to post a commercially formatted review. The purpose of the commercial review is to answer the reader’s question: “Should I buy this book?” The Commercial review is an endorsement of the work, not a discussion of the work. The commercial review shares the emotional experience briefly, but answers the “should I buy” question with a three star yes, a four star emphatic yes, or a five star brilliant and glowing Yes! We’ll take a look at an example of a commercial review in just a moment.

The long form review, on the other hand, is a more in-depth analysis of the experience the book you chose to review. The long form review is a discussion about a book. The place for the long form review is at your blog, not at any commercial outlet. In the long form review you can expand on your experience and share your thoughts and impressions and most importantly of all, the long form review is “the meat and potatoes” on the reviewer’s plate. It’s how you engage your followers and keep them coming back to you.

We’ll talk at length about the long form reviews in the next post. For now, let’s take a closer look at the commercial format. In our examples, below, you’ll note that the commercial review is a series of concise sentences that not only express your emotional experience of the novel, but help the reader to get a taste of that experience for themselves. In both cases the examples below answers the reader’s questions. One does so poorly, the other quite well.

Consider this review of a 5 star “mind blowing” book:

Stars: 5
Review Title: “Totally Great.”
Review Text: “This was a great book. I liked it very much. I give it five stars because I liked it so much. You should buy this book.”

What does this review tell you about the book? What does it tell you about the experience of the book? Without a doubt it is a five star review, but it serves no one. It tells the reader almost nothing. It’s not likely readers will take this review (or this reviewer) seriously, and I suspect they would not mark it as helpful. It meets the criteria of a commercial review, but it fails. Why? The reviewer did not share their emotional experience of the book.

Now let’s consider the review of the same work by a more experienced book reviewer:

Stars: 5
Review Title: “If You Haven’t Read Author X, You Should!”
Review Text: “X is a genius. In (this title) her characters are rich, the plot is heart pounding. I couldn’t wait to turn the pages. I stayed up all night to finish, and the ending? Just wow! I never saw it coming even though the clues were all there. I’ve given (this title) five stars, but the truth is, X earned those stars, every one of them! If you like (genre) and you haven’t read Author X, you should!

Do you want to read that book? I bet you do. It does everything a five star commercial review should do and it does it precisely and exactly. How? Let’s start with the tone. It’s enthusiastic. It makes the reader perk up and take notice. The reviewers enthusiasm for this book seems palpable. This review expresses the emotional experience: “I stayed up all night to finish” and “just wow!” The review is specific, it mentions the author, the title, and the genre. It discusses the pace of the plot without giving away a single detail of the plot. Note the structure of the sentences. Each are essentially sound bytes cobbled together to form a coherent review. That’s a commercial review!

Now ask yourself this: Do you want to know what other books this reviewer recommends? Do you want to follow this reviewer? Do you think it is likely that a reader will click yes the review was helpful? Remember, our goal is to review books in such a manner as to benefit everyone. The reader is exposed to a potential new favorite read, the author receives benefit for all his or her hard work in the form of an excellent review, and you, as the reviewer have the opportunity to promote your own talent and amass followers. The commercial review is not solely for the benefit of the author. When done correctly, the commercial review benefits everyone concerned. That’s our goal in this series. That’s why you should seek five-star books to review.

What doesn’t this review do? First, it’s not excessively long. It keeps well below a hundred word threshold which is just about ideal for a commercial review. Secondly it does not discuss characters, include dialog, or discuss theme. Under the best of circumstances the exposition of the story is the job of the blurb, not the review. If the book has a powerful theme and it has inspired you to talk about it, then by all means do so, but do so in other posts or articles at your blog. That is the role of the long form review. Make sure your Commercial review does the job it is supposed to do. The commercial review answers the reader questions at the point of purchase.

In the next post “The Long Form Book Review,” we’ll discuss the purposes, the format and some suggestions on way to make the long form review work for you.

-J

Suggestion: To write your commercial review: “Know your feelings and say them.” To practice this, imagine that before you are permitted to speak, you must declare your feelings with single words. “Angry!” “Doubtful!” “Uncertain.” Follow up with a brief statement to exposes the source of that feeling. ANGRY: “Dillon hasn’t called!” Then draw a the conclusion. HURT: “I thought he liked me!” UNCERTAIN: “I’ll give him ten more minutes.” Notice how a story is forming? That’s one way to write a commercial review. Practice this with some of your favorite works and see what you come up with.

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