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'Still Life' by Michael Parkes

‘Still Life’ by Michael Parkes

Welcome today Mars (action) into the sign of Virgo (critical analysis and discernment). What a perfect time to hone our review skills!

Some journalist say the best way to write an eye catching review is ring up the author’s ex and ask them the questions. Ouch! In lieu of this second hand (or under hand) approach, here are ten tips to consider when writing a review. Additions most welcome!

  1. Know your audience. If you want to capture the readers’ interest by using tone, vocabulary and references that make sense to them, you need to know who they are.
  2. Know your publication. Whether you review for a blog, newspaper, magazine or online forum, familiarize yourself with their previously published reviews. What do the editors/moderators want? Word count? Tone? Emphasis?
  3. Review the book, not yourself. It’s easy to talk about how you might have handled a certain character, dialog or event differently than the author. These kinds of anecdotes are fun in forums but they aren’t the best way to present the book review unless it fits the tone of the publication. It may help to avoid using the first person. Keep in mind that the review, read against the grain, may tell more about the reviewer than the actual book.
  4. Take notes as you read. Gather examples of characterizations, world building, action, style, sensuality, (sound, taste, texture) passages that grab you, or not. These are the aspects of the review that will give it distinction.
  5. Adjectives. Most writing does better without them. Instead of a poignant, stunning, breathtaking, awesome surprise ending, consider ‘the end will leave readers smiling for days to come.’ Also avoid redundant modifiers like final ending. See Jennifer Fallon for further insights.
  6. Things to exclude. Spoilers, slander, personal judgments, biases, typos, unfair comparisons, anecdotes, rewrites, recipes, ten books/films you liked better, what the dog had for breakfast.
  7. Things to include. Impact, immersion, ideas, gender roles, innovations, POV, voice, writing style, theme, plot, sub-plots, character development, setting or lack there of.
  8. Remember the Author. It may be appropriate to note something about the author. Is this their first novel? What else have they written? Qualifications? Are there more works coming?
  9. Remember the Reader. Give readers enough information so they can assess the book’s appeal. Objectivity is the challenge here. Think matchmaking.
  10. Develop your own Voice. The review is a composition with its own style, tone and impact. It is your voice, your freedom of speech. Polish and revise until it’s the best it can be. Remember, publishers will be reading it too!

book-reviewsWell written reviews give attention to new works and authors. They also bring attention to the genre. Mostly, they can engage you with a readership, bringing an invitation for further discussion, a gift offered to those who might want it. (see Part I) Have you written any reviews lately? Read any memorable ones? Authors, readers, reviewers, would you like to share your best/worst review experience? Discussions welcome!