Please help me welcome Oliver F. Chase with an excellent article about reviewing…
I Write. Therefore, I Review
Why yes, I write books. Did you fail to notice the patches on the elbows of my tweed jacket, and the vacant, yet meaningful gaze?
Nah. That ain’t me. I’m the guy in the trenches, always learning and testing, and re-learning; ever on the look out for a clever turn of phrase; and always marketing my work and myself…albeit, very delicately. Nothing’s worse than a bore who believes he’s the next Lee Child.
Writers also review. Especially those of us who are as yet “undiscovered” and thus, un-contracted by a biggie. Writing is not a competition, but more like an aftermarket team sport. We write alone but need one another in the business end of creation. Like reviewing another’s novel. This is a new truth in the age of the self help publishing world. Therefore, I thought I’d pass along a few must-do’s and must-have’s that have helped me over the years. This is a quick list that could easily be much, much longer.
When you review for another, have these few things at your fingertips:
- Know the plot and the theme. Don’t so gauche as to give it away. That means, of course, you need to read the book, and not use someone else’s Cliff Notes.
- Have a ready-list of main or interesting characters. Grab your reviewing audience, just like you grab someone in your own work. A great character is a way to engage others, just like wonderful scenes. You may the character were yours, but aren’t, so give insightful due to the author. Yours will be better next time, guaranteed.
- I suggest you only refer to one scene that you liked. Remember, no spoilers.
- If you’re reviewing for the writer crowd, you can mention pace, grammar, arc.. that sort of thing. Don’t bother if you’re reviewing for the public. No one cares.
- Was the storyline predictable, or were you so engrossed, you simply became lost and totally blew off your brother’s wedding. Go ahead and admit you were having too much fun to pick the story apart.
- If you did like the story, tell the reviewing audience why. Open up a bit, let them see into your private wardrobe, floppy collars and all. The reviewing audience is looking for something real, even if fantasy or Sci-Fi. The story either rings true, or it doesn’t.
- Oh, and the old shirts? Toss’m. They’re not coming back.
- Do the boring stuff, too.
- Tell the reviewer who you think would enjoy the story. If you can, compare the writing to others.
- Be cautious about setting the prospective reader’s expectations. Let the author rise to the occasion, not the prospective reader. Be careful not to force the issue. Your credibility is on the line, too.
- Recommend the story to right audiences: YA, thriller adults, cozy mysteries. There’s nothing wrong with a cautionary statement, as well. I appreciate these, especially for writing that makes me squirm a bit.
- Proofread your review. Reviewers will likely do a search on you, and may even want to see what you’ve written.
- Be professional, friendly and helpful. Leave your various chips (on your shoulder) and axes (to grind) at home. A review is no place for personal politics…unless, of course you’re reviewing an opinion piece.
- If you’re going to zing the story, temper the author with praise. Be cautious and be honest. Praise in public. Excoriate, or in this case criticize, person-to-person.
If you can’t figure out how to critique kindly, or gently prod the doggie story that made you cringe, thank the author and pass. Demurring may be a bigger kindness, even though we need thick skins in this business. Be circumspect, genuine, and honest. After all, don’t we all end up in the same place, anyway? Life’s too short for anything else.
Thank you SO much, Oliver. I am not good at reviews, but I will bookmark your suggestions and work on my reviewing skills. Love this article!
Check out these books by Oliver. Don’t they look like fantastic reads?
Oliver grew up on military bases throughout the country and like all boys, played good guys and bad. Coaxing him into an afternoon of baseball along Lake Erie, hiking the Southern California’s hills or paddling a canoe in the North Carolina backwater didn’t take much unless a book found him first.
His best friend and he joined the Marines and took a deferment to attend college. Herb left school finding stumbling blocks that seemed insurmountable at the time. A year after graduating, Oliver stepped onto a sweaty tarmac with a manual Smith Corona typewriter not far from where Herb died. Fate usually finds a way of putting day-to-day frustrations into a cruel perspective, especially when lost in the haze of an ugly war.
Thirty-one young men flew days and nights in the mountains trying to keep the world safe for … well, says Oliver, that’s not really true, is it? The only reason we ever went into those dark, frightening places was for friends, most of whom we’d never met before that day. That they lived, meant others died and that still haunts to this day.
He spent time wandering. Lots of young veterans did so, some on foot, some just on the rails of life. Many like Oliver made stops along the road. He never slept in the park or a bus station, although many did. Most found a way out of the maze, too many others did not. Oliver promises it was not he truly at risk, but still believes pulling the right ticket is mostly a matter of circumstance and luck.
He did a bit of teaching on the Navajo reservation, spent a few years with the cops and a couple alphabet agencies but never quit writing. The old manual typewriter became a memory when his first computer came along. A notebook travels with him now, the wanderlust never completely leaving him be. Today, he spends days on the family’s tiny farm and following the season, sometimes wondering if the old Smith Corona founds a home, too. He hopes so, wishing his old friend happy days.