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Roz Groves on The Art of Reviewing

We’re the sign outside the shop telling you how good the stuff inside is. Or the big red warning circle, telling you “No, do not go any further! You will have flames of rage shooting from your ears”.

Reviewers aren’t of course the final word on the quality of a book – what one person enjoys about a book might drive another reader to want to scratch out their eyes. What reviewers actually do is tell you what they think of a book. I may or may not be telling you something you already know (I do have a tendency towards being Captain Obvious).

I started reviewing for that very reason. I wasn’t sure anyone would ever actually read my reviews, but it was a way for me to let other readers – and, importantly, the author – know what it was that I liked or disliked about the books I read. Even before I started my blog, My Written Romance, I was a passionate reader of romance, and I would often bore the ever-living crap out of my poor husband talking to him about them. So, in the interests of furthering my audience (and saving hubby’s sanity) I started writing reviews.

Hang on, aren’t reviewing and talking about books much the same thing?

Not really, at least not in my opinion. You can talk on and on about a book, and your related opinions, until you’re blue in the face. Reviewing is a little more complex. Anyone can, of course, leave a review. However, if you are doing it more than one every now and then, it does pay to be a little more detailed than just “Book good. I liked it!”.

Are there rules for reviewing?

Everybody reviews differently, just like everyone sings differently. There are no set rules or regulations – we aren’t bound by anything other than our imaginations.

I do, however, have my own way of writing a review.

Rule 1: The review is about the book, not the author.

No matter what I think of a book, I will only ever give my opinion of the book and not the author.

There have been some occasions where I have not enjoyed a book, but I love the author’s other work, or I have met them and found them delightful. I’m not suddenly going to get all bitchtastic and start trashing them or their work because of one thing. Hey, I’ve lived through plenty of dark moments as a Collingwood supporter in the AFL, and I didn’t suddenly stop supporting them because of that.

I have, unfortunately, seen some rather nasty pasty reviews in my search through review channels, which rate books by what the reader thinks of the author rather than the content of the book. But since most readers will not have met the author, this is pretty poor form.

Rule 2: I don’t give away the milk for free

I know when I’m reading reviews wanting to see what others have to say before I make a purchase, it really gets my goat when a review basically gives away the entire plot of the book without giving you fair prior warning of this. I try not to write spoilerific reviews but if I simply cannot get by without letting part of the cat out of the bag, I will always give the reader fair warning.

Rule 3: I don’t take it personally if the author doesn’t reply to my review

That’s not to say I don’t come over all giddy and inappropriate when I get a lovely response from an author on a review – I may or may not have squealed when Jill Shalvis commented on my review of her book. I realise that it is the hardest thing in the world to let your book babies go out to the world alone, and then see other people talking about it, so I don’t expect you to respond.

What are the best things about reviewing?

1.      Let’s face it – the free books and ARCs*! There’s something fundamentally awesome about getting books before release date, reading them and then rubbing your hands together with glee when you realise what fabulousness is in store for everyone else!

2.      Getting to know authors and other bloggers. Through my memberships of RWA and ARRA, and the terrific timewaster that is social media, I have been able to meet some incredible people and learn so much more about the craft of writing and reviewing.

3.      Knowing that people appreciate what it is that you do for them. As I said earlier, I don’t expect authors to respond to my reviews, but when they do, I love knowing that they like what I had to say.

What are the worst things about reviewing?

1.      Having to give a negative review. I’m one of those people who wants to enjoy everything I read but there are just times I want to throw the book or my Kindle out the window in a fit of dislike. I am never going to change my opinion just to avoid upsetting someone, however, I do sometimes feel quite guilty for not liking something that someone has worked so hard to create.

2.      Constantly having to defend my reading choices to the uninformed. I’ve had people snigger when I’ve told them I review romance fiction. If I have one more person take the piss out of my love for this branch of literature, I may just go hulk-smash on them!

In conclusion

Just as there is no perfect way to write, there is no perfect way to review. Finding your own style and voice is important and don’t feel the need to compete against others who review. I don’t – I review because I love to read, talk about books and help people discover new authors and genres. This is not something I am doing to get rich doing (very few people can make a living solely from reviewing) but it is something that I enjoy immensely.

The Naughty Ninjas have very graciously taken this little reviewing grasshopper under their collective cloak of awesome, and I am very much grateful for that.

*ARC = Advance Review Copy