07 December 2011

What should you cover in a review?

I briefly touched on this in my last article, How Do Review Styles Affect Site Traffic?  We all know that your review style is important, but what should actually go into a review?  Should you just provide a link to Amazon and let readers find out for themselves how many pages there are, who published it, when it was published, and other books the author wrote?

What about storyline?  What about summary?  Should you write your own, or copy and paste the one given by the publisher?  What about spoilers?  What about grading systems?

When I first started blogging almost two years ago, figuring out how to frame my review was tough--figuring out what went in the frame was tougher.

Determining what you provide in a review, from basic info to summaries to character arcs, is what makes up your individual style.  Whether you provide the number of pages, the publication date, links to Goodreads/Amazon/Author site makes your review yours.  And even though we bloggers generally give the same kind of information (page numbers, I think, are the most common), you can't give everything without building your own catalog.

Lets look at some examples of review information style.

The Story Siren
on her review of "Legend" by Marie Lu:
  • title w/ link to author's site
  • release date
  • publisher
  • age group
  • shelfability
  • pages
  • format
  • source
  • interest
  • challenge
  • summary
  • review
This is quite a lot of information, but Kristi provides it in a clean, easy-to-read format.  Her style is very effective.  Also, she doesn't give a rating here.  She lets her review speak for itself.

Smash Attack Reads!
on her review of "Oubliette" by Megg Jensen:
  • title
  • series
  • author w/ link to site
  • publisher
  • release date
  • genre
  • source
  • series titles
  • add to goodreads button
  • review
    • "smashtastic synopsis"
    • interest in the book
    • characters
    • worldbuilding
    • lasting impressions
    • "smashtastic entertainment scale"
  • other reviews
Again, a lot of information that is set up in a clear, effective way.  Ash splits her review into unique categories that lets the reader get a clear picture.  And also here, Ash doesn't give a rating except for "great potential" on the Smashtastic Entertainment Scale.  Her summary is also her own, and not provided by the publisher.

As seen by these two different bloggers, what you include in a review varies.  Each style is tailored to the specific individual, and thus has some pros and cons.  What you find in one review, you may not in another.  This can prove really frustrating and weeds out bloggers that don't provide a lot of information versus those who provide exactly what you like.

what information do you like to see about the book outside of a review?

*  *  *

How to write your review is probably the hardest thing about being a blogger.  We want to be clear, concise, and interesting.  Drawing the reader in is one thing and making them like your review style enough to keep you in mind is another.

If you're a new blogger, figuring out what you want to do may take a while--and some practice.  You may go a month or two dividing up your reviews into clear-cut categories like Smash does.  When I first started, I divided mine into four categories: The Low-Down (my own summary), The Best Part, The Romance Deal, The Downside, The Review (a one-sentence execution-style summary).

I went with that review style for a while until I stumbled upon a bulleted list.  This turned out to be extremely popular with my readers because I also bolded important parts.  They liked being able to run through it quickly and gather the main points if they were in a rush.

I've nixed the bulleted list, but kept the bolded text.  Now, I don't have categories.  I just write in as a logical a fashion as I can manage.  I also don't provide my own summaries anymore.  I suck at summarizing without being flippant and it doesn't make sense for me if I've already provided the publisher's summary.

I would like to say that we can all agree what should go into a review, but if that were true, all our reviews would look the same.  See?  They don't.  Because if there were a set standard, we'd lose all our efforts to make ourselves unique individual bloggers.

Here's what I like to see a review (when I do read them):

  • easy to read style--don't use ginormous words that even I don't know
  • don't sound like you're kissing up to the publisher
  • passion
  • why should I read the book?  what type of story is it anyway?  what makes it worth reading?
The biggies for me are the first two: the main reason I don't read reviews (besides the spoilers) is because most reviews I read ALL SOUND THE SAME.  Talk about kissing up.  I personally have no qualms about writing my reviews the way I want them.  I think it's rather hypocritical to get an ARC in exchange for an honest review...and then feel obligated to give a positive review regardless of how you felt about the book.  So when I see a review that screams butt-kissery, I click out pretty fast.

Also, when you're writing like you're freaking Jane Austen...whoa.  Huge turn off for me because that's just not a writing style I can digest easily.  I'm looking for elegance, but there is such a thing as being elegant in simplicity.

Humor is also a big thing, too, but it's more of an "optional" feature.  I know in my reviews, I like to throw in humor wherever I can, but not the distracting kind.  Somewhere it fits and adds to the reviewing experience rather than detracting from it.

Speaking of detracting from a review, I really can't stand short reviews.  The ones that are basically two paragraphs long.  I'm not looking for a novel-length review, but I'm not looking for obituary-length either.

what do you like to see covered in a review?