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Write a Book Review That Helps, Not Hinders-Part 1

By Dianna Booher

Sooner or later, either passion or generosity (or marketing savvy) will push you to review someone’s book.

Passion: You either love or hate the book so much that you must tell the world.

Generosity: You know the book’s message will help others. Or, you want to help the author sell books and understand that reviews help sell books.

Selfishness: Your review of another’s book helps your own books when you sign your reviews “author of [your book title].” Most book buyers purchase more than one title in any given genre. Seeing your review triggers them to take a look at your own. You can also draw attention to your speaking, training, or consulting business in that review. Finally, as a much appreciated content curator, you can post your book review of other books on your own social media sites.

With the following “Do’s” in mind, you should be able to write a substantive review in 5-10 minutes. Offered from my earlier years of writing book reviews for the Houston Chronicle, these guidelines work well for most categories of both nonfiction and fiction.

Review Do’s-

(It’s not necessary to include all the following items-but these are typical of most professional reviews.)

Overview in a sentence or two the book’s key concept or storyline (but don’t simply repeat the jacket or editorial copy).

Give your opinion about whether the author achieved his or her stated purpose (if nonfiction).

Comment on how the book compares or differs from others on the market on this theme or in this genre.
Dan Janal of PR Leads did this powerfully with this review comment: Example: “If you’re a fan of Robert Cialdini’s Influence or Dan Kennedy’s copywriting books, you MUST read What More Can I Say? It has up-to-date research on how to influence people. Some of the work will challenge established beliefs like adding more benefits and bonuses actually decreases people’s perceptions of your offer.” Notice also how this reviewer tossed in a great “teaser.”

Point out particularly helpful sections that the reader wouldn’t know by simply reading the editorial copy on the jacket. Jacob Paulsen wrote this about Execution IS the Strategy: “I found a lot of value in the sections about training and coaching. Understanding how to best create an environment of mentors, for example, was really helpful.” An anonymous Amazon customer had this to say about Complainers and Energy Drainers: “I specifically like the ways to refocus conversations with complainers and the actual words I can use.”

Point out a negative or weakness in the book-if you see any. (If this is a friend or respected colleague, obviously you don’t want to write a bad review. Yet pointing out what some might call a “weakness” actually lends credibility to your overall favorable review.)

For a review on Nourished by Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph, I wrote this “negative,” which is actually a back-handed positive: “The authors are at their best and funniest in the chapter on nourishing your marriage relationship; they offer totally opposite viewpoints on adding romance-both valid and substantial.” (The weakness: The two authors disagreed in what they said. The back-handed compliment? Both made substantial points.)

The goal in pointing out a weakness with a colleague’s book is somewhat the same as the job applicant’s when asked the clichéd question: “What is your biggest weakness?” Answer: “I’m a perfectionist.”

Point out anything about the book’s organization or design (photos, maps, diagrams, data, assessments, surveys, downloadables to accompany the book) that’s particularly helpful or unique.

• Establish the credibility of the author if you are aware of his or her reputation in the field.

• Give your overall opinion about the book: Is it worth reading? For all audiences? A particular audience? (Joyce Weiss commented on Klout Matters: “This book is perfect for both the experienced and the new social networker.”)

The upshot: Do your colleagues and yourself a favor. Read widely to broaden your thinking, and write a thoughtful review to continue the conversation.

Next month, “the Don’ts.” Stay tuned…

WhatMoreCanISay--FinalDianna Booher is the bestselling author of 46 books, published in 26 languages. Her latest books include What MORE Can I Say?, Creating Personal Presence, and Communicate With Confidence. Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, Fast Company, CNN, NPR, Success have featured her work on communication issues. www.BooherResearch.com.

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3 Responses to Write a Book Review That Helps, Not Hinders-Part 1

  1. Iola says:

    I mostly review Christian fiction, and I try to remember another “Do”: Reviews are for readers, so do mention anything likely to appeal or not appeal to readers of Christian fiction.

    For example, while I love fiction written in first person present tense, I know some readers loathe first person, present tense, or both, so I mention it.

    A lot of readers are sensitive to bad language or violence (especially rape), so I’d mention those. With Christian romance, I’d also mention if there seemed to be too much hot-and-heavy.

    The other thing I mention is around genre: “Christian fiction” (i.e. published by CBA publishers) seems to run a spectrum from no mention of God at all to a sermon on every other page If books are towards either end, I say so. Some readers like their Christian fiction to be full of Christian characters and sermons, while others prefer the opposite.

    I also mention factual errors and editing issues. People who read my reviews regularly know these are pet hates!

    All in all, it’s about making sure that if a reader buys a book on my recommendation, they know what they’re getting and it meets their expectations.

  2. Pingback: Write a Book Review That Helps, Not Hinders-Part 2 | ACFW Blog

  3. I realize that this series of posts is targeted towards authors writing reviews for other authors. However, as a professional reviewer, I must make two important points.

    First, most of the reviews on Amazon.com are not written by “professional” reviewers; they are written by readers.

    Second, if one is able to write a comprehensive review of a book in 5-10 minutes, I would wonder what method is being employed? 2 Peter 3:8? A well-crafted and thoughtful review takes time and effort.

    If twenty-five readers read the same book at the same time then came together to talk about it, there would be 25 different stories told about what was read. The wonderful thing about stories, is that we each see them through the lenses of our experience, likes, dislikes and other filters that are uniquely our own.

    As a reader, I am more likely to be suspicious of author quotes on a book. It is likely that they all know each other personally, and will write glowing reviews regardless of the quality of the book in question. I see plenty of reviews by authors on books that say “A thrilling narrative.” I fail to see how that is any more helpful than the Amazon reader who writes that this book wasn’t about x it was about y.

    So, you see, it’s all about the reader and their perceptions. To paraphrase Ranganathan: to each reader their review. 😉