So far in this series, we’ve looked at why we should write book reviews, and I’ve shared with you my handy little acrostic for what a KINND book review is.
Now it’s time to get to the details of how this should look. I’m going into more depth on each word to explain how you can achieve this in your own reviews and then I’ll share with you my most recent book review, for which I used this technique!
KNOW The Story, The Genre & Your Preference
Reviews don’t necessarily have to begin with a summary of the book, but I find them helpful for a few main reasons. First, it provides another point of view for readers to know what they’re getting into. They can also be beneficial to the authors to see if the themes and central ideas or characters or events they intended really carry through clearly for their readers.
Second, a brief summary gives me a glimpse into what kind of reviewer you are and if I think I can put stock in your opinions. Now, please remember, a summary should be brief and should NOT include spoilers—unless you mark it as such. Goodreads and most book seller sites have a handy little checkbox for that. One click and no unsuspecting reader will stumble upon the whodunit in your summary unless they want to.
Third, it helps you think through what you read and identify some of the other details we’ll get to in just a moment.
With all the subgenres and sub-subgenres out there, I don’t expect anyone really knows how to categorize some books these days. That being said, you need to know enough about the genre this book has been placed in to understand if it’s something you typically read and to know what’s expected (or not expected).
And, that leads to the fact that you’ve got to know what you like to read. Like I mentioned in the first part of this series, I applaud you for reading books outside of your comfort zone. You have to understand, though, that you may not enjoy that book. And, if not, your review and rating should be based on the book itself in relation to its genre and the expectations of that listing and not your personal preference.
IDENTIFY The Positives & Negatives with Specificity
Two-word reviews are helpful to no one.
Like I mentioned in the last post, you can definitely choose to leave a review to just the stars, especially if you’re a reader who loves to read and wants to help authors get more ratings but you don’t have a lot of time. But, if you want to get all of the other benefits of reviews for yourself and others, that’s where words come into play and they really must go deeper than two words.
[Quick note before I dive in here: you do NOT have to answer all of these questions! What jumps out at you will be different than what jumps out at me and will vary from book to book as well. These are simply to get you thinking.]
So, you hated a book. Why? Maybe what you didn’t like would be something I would enjoy.
You loved another book. Why? Share with me why you found joy in that particular book!
Get as specific as you can.
Was the storyline confusing? Was there way too much description for your preference? Could you see the setting and smell the jasmine through the pine trees?
Did you fall in love with the characters from their very first scene? Could you hear them speak to one another? Did they come to life for you—or could you not relate to them or empathize with them? Why do you think that is?
How did the dialogue work? Did it read like a natural conversation or was it forced? What about the story’s open and close? Did it grab your attention right away or did you have to push your way through? Was the ending satisfying or did it leave you feeling let down? Can you identify why for each of these things?
Those are the details that will help other readers make their choice. You may abhor descriptive writing, but I adore it. So, when you tell me what you hated and why, I may realize that book is right up my alley.
Your specificity can also help authors either take steps to improve or have a happy cry to see how their hard work positively affected someone.
I do have to add a quick sidenote here, though: not all authors read their reviews. For some, they prefer to focus on the joy of the writing without getting caught up in the emotional roller coaster that reviews often bring or they simply don’t have the time to read every one. So, just know that Janet Evanovich or Stephen King are probably not going to get your super personal message in the review you write.
NAME The Author, Publisher & Editor to Remember Humanity
This may sound weird, but I think it’s helpful to write the author’s name in your review. It helps you remember this book was written by a real, flesh-and-blood person. Someone who put in countless hours and energy and heart stands behind these words.
Beyond that, real people hold the roles of publisher, editor, designer, etc. Now, I don’t think you necessarily need to include their names (and you may not even notice their names when you read anyway), but just remembering the humanity behind the books helps you consider any criticisms through a different lens.
Two aspects that get criticized often in reviews are the editing (of lack thereof) and design of a book.
The other helpful part to keeping in mind the various roles behind the entire publishing process is to remember that the author is not always to blame for a lack of editing. On the flip side, it’s not always the editor either.
So, who is responsible? Well, it depends on many things.
I will be the first to bemoan the fact that careful editing has apparently gone the way of the dodo bird; however, I cannot tell you exactly why that is. I have some speculations that I won’t be sharing here and a few that I will.
My best guesses for traditional publishing companies are budget cuts and shortened production times. I have picked up books from some top publishing companies recently and found errors that make my skin crawl. Because I don’t know why those issues make it to the finished product, I can’t blame any one person.
Where I have the most experience is with Indie Authors. Editing in that case is a two-way street. The author may hire an outstanding editor, but the ultimate choice to accept or deny their changes rests with the author. Conversely, some authors either don’t see the need to hire an editor or don’t think they can afford one. In other cases, they just don’t get all the editing they really need. And, yes, there are “editors” who are not as qualified as they say.
You may not be bothered by a few typos scattered through the manuscript, but a poorly designed cover or one that just doesn’t seem to fit the story within may bug you to no end. In that case, let me share a few behind-the-scenes details. Typically with traditionally published books, the author has absolutely no say in the cover (and sometimes even the title). For Indies, many of the same issues that apply to editing fit here as well. In addition to the cost or need issue and the unqualified designers, sometimes the author has an image in their mind that they just won’t let go of—whether it actually makes for a good cover design or not.
At the end of the day, you can’t know (unless you worked behind the scenes on a book) who’s really to blame for shoddy editing or design. For that reason, a review that calls out one person for inconsistencies in comma use is just silly. Point out your concerns in a positive and constructive way without pointing fingers and move on.
NOTE Observations & Remarks on Unusual or Uncommon Aspects
Did the author write a common story or theme but do it in a new way? Was there something unique about the setting of the book? And, did these unusual things work?
As you work through these questions and others that come to you, remember the key in the “Identify” step above: be specific. Get detailed. Give reasons. You may not always be able to do that because you just don’t know why, and that’s okay. But do your best to back up everything you say—both the positives and the negatives—with specific details.
DRIVE The Author to Keep Going & Other Readers to Pick It Up
If you reflected objectively on it and gave a KINND review, you will be able to encourage the author to do one of two things—improve or keep shining.
If the book just wasn’t your cup of tea but you’ve written a KINND review, you will be able to encourage other readers who will enjoy it to read it.
Why Did I Come Up With This?
Honestly, I devised this process for myself. I was frustrated with the pitiful—and often hateful—reviews I kept finding, and then I thought about my own reviews. I realized I’ve never been super consistent or helpful with my own book reviews. Right then and there, I decided I would do better. To do that, I needed a guide. I don’t know about you, but having a format I can follow really helps me.
What About the Stars?
Every online book review platform has you choose a certain number of stars for the book you read. I’ll be honest, this is one of the most subjective rating systems known to man. I know people who consider three stars great praise and five nearly unachievable; others bawl their eyes out over a 3-star review.
I’m afraid I’m not super helpful for you with this one. Most of my ratings stick within the 3-5 range. I’m fairly generous with five stars, I suppose. Unless I have a good reason for it, I won’t go too low.
Some readers I know assign their own guidelines to their rating system. Goodreads does have its own definitions for each:
- 1 Star: Did Not Like It
- 2 Stars: It Was OK
- 3 Stars: Liked It
- 4 Stars: Really Liked It
- 5 Stars: It Was Amazing
Below, I’m sharing four versions of a KINND book review for Robin Hobb’s The Farseer: Assassin’s Apprentice. I decided to write multiple to show you that you don’t have to be wordy to write a helpful and KINND book review!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on book reviews and this little series I’ve written. Do you plan to start writing KINND book reviews? I would LOVE to read them! Drop some links in the comments below or send me an email. You can also follow me in all my social places and especially on Goodreads.
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