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On Book Review Etiquette

I read. A lot. Really, a lot. Like many bibliophiles, I also post reviews of what I read, mostly on the Barnes and Noble site, but also on Amazon and iTunes. Plus, I have a LibraryThing account. And I post reviews here at BookMusings. So, I write about books. A lot.

That's the thing about bibliophiles. We love to talk and write and rant and rave about the books that we love and hate and love to hate. The thing is ... not everyone does it well. There are, to put it mildly, some really bad book reviews out there, written by some really bad reviewers. As someone who not only writes reviews, but who bases many of my purchases on others' reviews, let me offer a few pointers.

And really, most of these are common sense. But I still feel the need to explain that ....

1) Spellcheck is important. For Gods' sake please, please, please check the grammar and vocabulary in your review. As a fellow reader, I will not take ur review srsly if u rite lik this, m'kay?  

2) Critique the book. And I mean critique. The best reviews are balanced and well-thought out, analyzing both the good and bad points of the book, its strengths and its weaknesses. As a writer, I can tell you that an overly-effusive "OMG best book evar" review is actually the least helpful. It offers me no pointers on how to improve my writing. Similarly, as a reader, I find such reviews highly suspect. A plant by the author? A plant by the author's mother? Either way, I am unlikely to accept it as a legitimate review and I will look elsewhere for feedback.

The opposite is also the case: a wholly negative review is unhelpful to both the writer and a potential reader. If the book was really that bad, explain in depth just how and why; offer concrete examples. 

In line with the above point ....

3) Do not plant reviews. Authors, do not write glowing reviews of your own work under a pseudonym.* Do not hire someone to write a review. Passing out review copies is perfectly acceptable -- provided that you and the reviewer both know that the latter is under no obligation to offer positive feedback. Your work must stand on its own. Anything else is fraud.

To continue the line of thought from the second point ....

4) Do not attack the author. Okay, this one is a bit fuzzy around the edges. There are certain circumstances under which criticizing the author is acceptable. For instance, if a Druid author gets the definition of fili completely wrong, or a Kemetic author states that the Great Pyramid at Giza was built in 50,000 BCE. When faced with such blatantly incorrect information, I consider it a knowledgable reviewer's obligation to call out the author.

There is a difference, though, between correcting misinformation and reprimanding an author for spreading said misinformation -- and personally attacking the author. That is just mean. And juvenile. And, really, totally immature. Personal attacks serve only to lessen the legitimacy and impact of a review; stick to the facts.

Finally, 5) Read what you know and enjoy. Again, this one is a bit fuzzy. I am not suggesting that you never broaden your literary horizons. Gods forbid. Intellectual curiosity is every person's birthright.

No, what I am saying is that if know that you will not enjoy a book -- don't read it, and then type up an angry review about how much you absolutely hated the book. Don't like BDSM? Don't read a BDSM romance. Leave them for others to enjoy. Same with historical fiction, bird watching guides, car repair manuals, and Charles Dickens. 

Life is too short to waste on bad books. Read what you love -- and let everyone else know why

*I half-broke this rule. Several years ago, I posted a three star review of Bearing Torches, an anthology in honor of Hekate. I had a few poems in the book, but could think of no other way to point out how great all the other contributions were; and I stated my involvement in the project in the body of the review. Up front, not sneaky.

 

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

Comments

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Wednesday, 20 March 2013

    I am going to link to your post EVERY TIME I offer books for review on Facebook. Forever. You are brilliant.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Wednesday, 20 March 2013

    Excellent, Rebecca! I'm an Amazon Hall of Fame Reviewer and I couldn't agree more.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Wednesday, 20 March 2013

    @Anne: heeeee. :)

  • Cea Noyes
    Cea Noyes Wednesday, 20 March 2013

    Excellent advice. Thank you.

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