Hello! It turns out the Orenda Month had a bigger impact on me than I thought and I did not feel like writing… Until today! Instead of a review, I wanted to grab a glass and chat about what I call the Art of Reviewing, or how we blogger put our hearts and souls into a demanding exercise!
When I started blogging, I only had a vague idea of what reviewing was. I had read a few posts in which readers were sharing their thoughts but couldn’t figure out what it really took and how to do it right. You only need to go back to my first reviews to see I had no experience (don’t go and check, please, it’s really bad!) and I felt as though it should be as painful and boring as an high school essay. Still, I wanted to write, so I was ready to sweat and tire my fingers until nice looking posts appeared on my screen.
One year later, I no longer suffer. Reviews have become a way to be creative and to set my emotions free after every reading experience. Yes, I still get stuck staring at a blank page, eating too much chocolate in the hope it magically triggers something in my brain and inspired words type themselves. I found a format I like, I love to experiment and match the review to its book, I take the time I need and the pressure is (mostly) gone. I have learned from reading thousands of reviews, and writing dozens of them. I don’t pretend I mastered the art, but I’m comfortable with it and there’s no better feeling!
The blog-changing lesson is over, but it brings me to a particular subject I discussed with an author friend of mine (I sound very cool saying this, right?) I love reading reviews but after coming across a few “special” ones, I started thinking about what made a good review, or better, what made a useful review, because there are a hundred different definitions of “good”, aren’t they?
Remember when I said there was no “right” way to review a story? I truly believe it. Two sentences or a three-page essay, both are okay as long as it is sincere
and without grammar errors.
But can we really say whatever we want the way we want it? Take spoilers for instance. Should reviews include them or steer clear from them? What about criticism? Are we allowed to disagree and say it? How do you tell an author you think his story is a disaster?
I don’t think there is a set of rules carved in marble that you must follow, but I do feel a guideline is handy to make a review useful for both the reviewer and the author. Everyone is different but here are the “rules” I follow to make sure the reviews I write fit what I expect from them.
#1 Say it but say it right
Lists, long reviews, gif reviews, I choose! But there is one thing they have in common. Respect.
You did not like the story? It’s fine. You hated the characters? No problem. You found the writing dull? Why not. You are allowed to say all of this if that is what you think. But you can’t just shoot negative points at the author or publisher as if you were throwing your dirty laundry into the washing machine’s belly. There is a way to say you did not like something.
“The writing sucks so bad, the author shouldn’t call themselves a writer. They should hide into their basement and never leave again. It’s all stupid, an elementary school kid could have written better.”
“The plot was so shitty I wanted to use the book to rekindle the fire.”
Okay, you made yourself very clear. Too clear. I apologize if you feel those comments weren’t so bad, it’s not a habit of mine to shoot at writers.
Attacking a writer won’t benefit anyone. Reviews are made so that other readers can know what to expect, and writers can understand what their strong and weak points are. If you feel the need to use violent statements to make your case, then you miss the whole point of the exercise.
#2 No spoilers.
I hate spoilers in reviews and I do my best to avoid them, which results in my being so vague you guys probably have no idea what I’m talking about sometimes, haha! I barely touch plots, as you can never really mention them without giving away hints that ruins the reading experience for the next person. I focus on how said plots have made me feel, but I don’t discuss them. Discussing plots in details are what comments are for! I always appreciate when a reviewer mentions if there are any spoilers in their reviews, thanks guys, you rock!
I hated the book? Okay, but saying it isn’t enough for you to have a clear view on the story! You deserve to know why it did not work for me, and I deserve to vent and be angry and rant! After all, I spent hours on this book!
But whatever point I make, I try my best to find examples and make a true case about what went wrong. “I couldn’t connect to the main character as her whining prevented me from enjoying the plot.” “There were too many typos and grammar errors for me to finish this book. You’re and your are different. There are only so many times you can handle this mistake in a chapter.” I am guilty of being part of the grammar army, despite my own grammar mistakes (this is the only case where I use the excuse of not being a native speaker :p )
When I say I like something, I like to pinpoint exactly what made it so good for me. That is where I allow myself small details, a reference to a character, a couple of quotes to let the author know just what they did to me. If I did not like a story, I find it useful to take examples of what left me unmoved and cold.
#4 Leave the ending to those who are brave enough to get there on their own!
I never say anything more than “I liked the ending” / “the last chapters left me speechless” / “ It was a let down” /
Feelings again instead of concrete descriptions of what happens. Some people like to jump to the last chapters to see how it ends. It’s totally fine, but it should be your decision. I don’t want to read about the ending of a book in a review. To me, it is a means of deciding whether or not a book deserves my attention and time. If you tell me how it ends, why should I even bother read the damn book?
You received a book for review from an author or a publisher, congratulations!! You can make a happy dance and devour the book, you deserve it. I have smiled every time it has happened to me. I still do. I probably always will. I never take ARCs for granted and I know how lucky I am.
But receiving a book doesn’t mean selling your opinion. Receiving a book is an engagement to read and try to connect to a story and its characters. Receiving a book means you take it as it is, you experience it, and you report on it. Nothing more. Just like you did for 50 Shades of Grey. You don’t owe the author or publisher a raving review because you got the story for free. You owe them to be honest and to express your feelings, just like in therapy.
Those are the points I always make sure to find in my reviews. If one is missing, I go back and rewrite. I rewrite until I can be satisfied and present a fair and respectful review, hopefully with plenty of fangirling moments, or big fat rants (those are easier to write!)
And after this very long post, you now probably think…