Tag: AIW Press

Critique Groups

Critique Groups

Critique groups. Critique partners. For many writers, the idea of joining such a group or linking with another writer is scary. New writers, in particular, may be hesitant about sharing their work. Some might be afraid of what other members will say or think. Still, others may feel inferior to more seasoned writers in the group.

In my opinion, if you want to become a published writer, joining a critique group or having a critique partner is necessary.

I’ve been a part of a critique group for several years and can say my group is invaluable. We have experienced writers and beginning writers. We write in different genres. But we all have one thing in common—we are writers. People who want to want to improve their craft and, if not already, become published writers.

Here are three of the many reasons for joining a critique group:

A critique group provides helpful feedback. As writers, we are “too close” to our work. We know what we want to say, but will our readers understand? When you allow others to read and critique your writing, they can offer suggestions such as, “I believe if you worded it this way…” or “That sentence was a bump to me, it distracted from the main story…”

A critique group offers encouragement. Remember that critique groups are composed of writers. Like you, they love to write and have a deep appreciation for the craft. They want to encourage you, and they want and need encouragement.

I recall when I was working on my first novel. At that time, I hadn’t written a lot of fiction, and the draft needed a lot of work. And yes, there were times when I didn’t want to share it with anyone. The comments and encouragement I received encouraged me to keep going.

Now that I have more experience, I enjoy offering feedback and encouragement to newer writers.

In a critique group, you form bonds and friendships. The people in your group will be with you through thick and thin. Yes, some may come and go, but over time, a core group will form. Together, you celebrate successes and sympathize over rejections. The bonds of friendship are priceless.

I believe smaller groups are best. Too many members equal too many opinions. I think a group of 3-5 people is best. Some choose to have a single critique partner rather than join a group.

Are you part of a critique group or have a critique partner? Please share your experience in the comments.

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Revisions and Elevator Pitches

Revisions and Elevator Pitches

Booksie AnswerDear Booksie,

I’ve been working really hard on my dystopian space opera/fairy tale mashup novel. It’s got all the cool elements of the genres I mixed, and it starts with a really neat description of a dark and stormy night. It took me three whole weeks to write these 200,000 words. I think it’s just about ready to be sent to the publisher. What’s my next step?

Cordially,

Thrilled to be Finished

 

Dear Thrilled,

Ah, the excitement of completing a novel. All writers feel that heady rush. And that first time? Well, you’ll never feel quite like that again. Congratulations.

Now for the tough-love portion of my reply. Grab a box of tissues…

You’re nowhere close to ready to submit. Sorry. I don’t have to read your draft. I know. Don’t send it to anyone. Heck, don’t show it to anyone. It’s not ready to meet the world yet. You’ve got a lot, and I do mean a lot, of revising to do.

Revisions

  • First, consider your genre. (In your case, your “interesting” mashup of genres.) Have you followed the necessary tropes for that genre? It’s okay to break the rules, but not for the sake of innovation. Only break the rules when you completely understand them and have a great reason to do so.
  • Next, go on Amazon and look up bestsellers similar to yours. Check their word or page count. If you’re too low, you’ll probably need to add description. If you’re too high (and believe me, 200,000 words is way too high), you’ll need to cut.
  • Remember the phrase, “Kill your darlings.” said by just about every author you’ve ever read? Do that. And do it again. And again. And again. Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it belongs in your novel. If it doesn’t define character or advance plot, kill it.
  • Read each scene by itself. Does it start with a hook and end making you want to turn the page? Does it serve one specific purpose (either being an action or a reaction)? If not, fix the issues.
  • Consider the work as a whole. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Does it answer all the questions you implied you would answer? If not, clean up the problems.
  • Read it again for grammar, punctuation, typos, etc. Fix all those issues, too. Then go back and do it all again. (Joan Hall recently wrote a post on proofreading. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.)

Okay. By this time, you’ve been through your novel several times. Are you now ready to send it to a publisher?

No.

Now you need to share these pages with your critique group and/or beta readers. Take their comments into consideration. And revise again.

When you’re confident you’ve done your very best and there’s nothing more you can do, it’s time to submit to a publisher. To do that, you need an elevator pitch and a synopsis.

The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a quick description of the crux of your novel. It’s called that because you’re to picture yourself in an elevator with an agent, editor, or publisher. You have only three floors to wow them. What do you say? (Think ten seconds, or fifty words.)

If you can answer five questions and put those answers together into a brief paragraph, you’ve got an elevator pitch. Try this:

  • Character (or characters, if you have two POV characters). This is more than a name. This is the identity plus a key descriptor for the character.
  • Situation. This is the problem the character is facing and why action is necessary.
  • Objective. What is your character’s goal? What is the one thing they wish to accomplish? (This should be an answer to the problem faced above.)
  • Opponent. This is where the antagonist is mentioned. Try to avoid “evil for the sake of evil” and show the unique and compelling details of this foe.
  • Disaster. This is the climax of the novel. Not the resolution of the novel. The climax. The black moment. The point in the story where it all hits the fan. (Note: your pitch should not reveal the resolution to the problem. If it did, there would be no reason for anyone to read the story.)

Okay. If you can answer these with vibrant words and string them together into one to three sentences, you’ll have a solid pitch.

Here’s (what should be) a well-known example. (I’m using the better-known film rather than the book.):

  • Character—Dorothy Gale, a sweet farm girl from Kansas
  • Situation—She’s stranded in Oz and can’t get back.
  • Objective—She wants to see the wizard so he can send her home.
  • Opponent—The Wicked Witch of the West, who wants to kill Dorothy for the murder of her sister and the theft of the powerful ruby slippers.
  • Disaster—Dorothy must defeat the witch and bring proof to the wizard or he will not help her.

Here’s the first draft, where I’m not worried about word choice or word count:

A Kansas cyclone sweeps sweet, innocent Dorothy Gale over the rainbow to the wonderful land of Oz, where she is blamed for the death of a wicked witch. Stranded, she sets off to find a powerful wizard to send her home. His payment for his services is the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West, who is determined to kill Dorothy for dropping a house on her sister. With the help of three new friends, Dorothy sets off to face her greatest enemy—but only one will survive.

Not bad. Eighty-nine words. Now it’s time to tighten.

Here’s the second draft, where word choice becomes more important and word count matters:

Swept over the rainbow by a Kansas cyclone, young Dorothy Gale finds herself stranded in the wonderful land of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West blames her for killing her sister and stealing her magic slippers, so she determines to kill Dorothy and take the magic for herself. Dorothy and her new friends seek a powerful wizard’s assistance, but his payment is the death of the wicked witch. When Dorothy faces her greatest enemy, only one will survive.

Better. The sentences are tighter, and we’re down to seventy-nine words. But there’s still room for improvement.

Third draft:

Swept over the rainbow by a cyclone, Dorothy Gale gets stranded in Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West blames her for killing her sister and stealing her magic slippers, and she threatens Dorothy’s life. To avoid danger and get back home, Dorothy seeks the help of a powerful wizard, whose payment is the death of the wicked witch. When the battle commences, only one will survive.

Okay. Down to sixty-seven words. One more revision should get us to fifty or less.

Final Draft:

A cyclone sweeps Dorothy Gale over the rainbow to Oz. Stranded, she seeks help from a powerful wizard. He won’t send her home until she kills the Wicked Witch of the West, who has been terrorizing Dorothy for killing her sister. Who will survive their epic battle?

Goal achieved at forty-seven words. I could continue tweaking to really make it shine (and I would suggest that), but we don’t have all day. Please note—the pitch is written in third person, present tense. No matter the POV or tense of your novel, always write your pitch (and your synopsis) in third person, present tense.

Now that you’ve got your pitch, what are you going to do with it? You don’t send it to agents or publishers.

Well, for starters, memorize it. People will always ask what your book is about. This is the answer.

Booksie QuestionWhy’d I tell you to write this now, before your synopsis, when it doesn’t get sent to anyone? Because having a fifty-word description of your book will help you maintain focus as you work on your novel synopsis. You need a suscinct statement regarding what your story is all about.

Learning how to craft a synopsis is a long and detailed process. It’s probably best if we tackle that the next time. Actually, I believe author K. E. Lane wants to discuss it, so keep your eyes out for that one, coming soon.

Until next time…

Booksie

PS—Send Booksie your publishing and writing questions. He’ll sort through them and post his answers.

Staci Troilo

Writing Tips To Improve Your Work – Part 2

Writing Tips To Improve Your Work – Part 2

Last week we discussed a few tips to help you create a good manuscript.
This week we have more tips to keep you going.

Keep it Simple
Long words, complicated sentences, and off the cuff tags only distract the reader. Don’t force your audience to stop to look up words you’ve written. If you continue to do this, your readers will lose interest, stop reading, and most likely will not pick up another of your works. Your audience wants to be entertained, not feel like they are in school.

Read Your Work Aloud
I cannot stress this enough—reading aloud enables you to check the cadence of your work. If you stumble over the sentence, your readers will as well. If rhyming poetry is what you write, this will enable you to check the rhyme of the poem.

Show Don’t Tell
This is a big one. The one everyone tells you about. What your critique partners will point out.
Often we glaze over how important it is to show something rather than tell the readers and not give them anything to imagine.
Don’t tell us it’s raining hard. Show us instead. The rain pelted off the window and bounced off the sidewalk. It came down so hard and fast, water flooded the streets.

Beta Readers
If you ask for Beta Readers, listen to their advice. If they all have a problem with a sentence or a scene, then you need to change it. Often they will have ideas or suggestions that will make your piece better. Remember, as Staci pointed out, you can have a critique partner that isn’t a writer. Often a reader will notice things a writer will miss. I use a reader as one of my beta readers and as a critique partner.

Don’t Panic
Several times while working on my current WIP, I worried it was utter crap. I stared at the screen and saw nothing good—only additions to my word count.
If you’re like me, don’t panic. Not everything you write will make the final cut. Take a deep breath, save what you have done, and step away. Take a moment to get a drink and compose yourself. Then go back and pick up where you left off. Remember, you will eliminate the unnecessary “crap” in the editing process.

 

All authors experience writing distractions, need help, and go through periods of self-doubt. This is not uncommon. The key is to find a way to get past what distracts you and keeps you from crafting your masterpiece.

What tips do you use to stay focused and make your work the best it can possibly be. Share with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.

Writing Tips To Improve Your Work – Part 1

Writing Tips To Improve Your Work – Part 1

Every writer experiences it. Distractions. Anxiety. Doubt. It can come from anywhere. And it always come at the worst time.

Honestly, writing success boils down to hard work, imagination and passion—and more hard work.

Give yourself every chance possible to be successful. Use these tips as guide—or better yet, print a copy to put on your desk, or wherever you can see them so you can be constantly reminded.

Read
To become a better writer, you must read. Pick up a book and see what’s been done. Does the book flow? Is it interesting? Does it keep your attention? Learn from what you are reading. Use this as a guide to more effective writing.

Schedule writing time
Writing time should be uninterrupted and free from distraction. Make sure you give yourself time to write every day. Make a schedule and stick to it. Don’t take phone calls, watch TV, or play on the computer. Write. When your time is done, then go about the rest of your day.

Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.
If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.

Plan
Make an outline. Create your character sketches. If you are creating a new world, craft your towns. Create a good description. Do your homework. Research.

Be Prepared to Take Notes
You never know when inspiration will hit you. Have the means to write down notes. Carry a notebook, use your phone. Don’t think you will remember it later. You don’t want to lose a good idea because you had no way of recording it.

 

Remember, you are not alone. Every author at some point struggles with focus. Don’t put off your writing

Even famous authors sometimes have a tough time with writing; they also go through periods of self-doubt. Despite this, they always manage to come up with the goods. So take a lesson from them and stop putting off your writing plans and get started on your publishing journey today.

Have a tip you would like to share? We would love for you to share. Leave your tips for us in the comments below.

 

Proofreading Your Manuscript

Proofreading Your Manuscript

You’ve finished the first draft, edited, re-written, and maybe even edited some more. You’re satisfied with the results, and now it’s finally time to send your manuscript to a publisher. Or in the case of self-published writers, time to format and upload into various online retailers.

But before you do this, I think there is one final necessary step. Proofread. Yes, proofread—even though you may have already done this step with the first, second, or even a third draft.

I’ve learned from experience, proofreading using different methods will help flush out some of those missed typos and punctuation errors. Today, I’m going to share a few of the things I’ve used.

Print a copy of the entire manuscript. Yes, this can get expensive if you don’t have a laser printer. Ink cartridges aren’t long lasting, not to mention the cost of paper. Because I take pieces of my writing to a critique group, I decided to purchase an inexpensive laser printer. There are some good ones on the market for less than $200.00. If buying a printer isn’t an option, check with your local print shop for pricing. Spending a few dollars can be worth it for a cleaner manuscript.

Read the entire story aloud. I read sections each week at my writer’s group and often find that by reading aloud, I find errors that I didn’t catch when reading on the screen. No matter how careful I am, sometimes my brain reads what I want the words to say and not the ones I’ve written. Using text to speech software often helps to catch additional errors. There are a number of free apps available on the Internet, and newer versions of Microsoft Word have this feature.

Use online editing tools. My preference is Grammarly. It catches punctuation errors, passive voice, suggest alternative and overused words. It’s not perfect, but I find it to be better than Word’s spelling and grammar checker. Grammarly’s premium version also catches plagiarism.

If printing isn’t an option, try reading in a different format. I use Scrivener for writing, and it can format into ePub or Mobi files. Try reading the manuscript on your Kindle or Nook. You might be surprised at the errors you catch.

Have a trusted friend or critique partner read your draft. A second or even third set of eyes is helpful.

Even with all these methods, there are times when things slip through. After all, we are human. I’ve found typos in books published by one of the big name publishing companies. However, by taking the time to do a final check, we can eliminate many of these errors.

How about you? Do you have other proofreading methods you use? Please share in the comments.

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Five Benefits to Participating in Anthologies

Five Benefits to Participating in Anthologies

anthologies
Anthologies

If you peruse the AIW Press website, you’ll see we’ve published a few anthologies, and we currently have another one in the works. If you’re a novelist, you might wonder why you would ever consider writing a short story for inclusion in such a compilation. After all, it takes writing time away from your ongoing novel projects.

Don’t let that discourage you. There are five advantages to participating in an anthology.

(1) Writing short works helps you hone your writing skills.

When you participate in anthologies, you will most likely have to adhere to a set word count, one that is substantially smaller than that of the novels you’re used to writing. While this virtually eliminates the possibility of introducing secondary characters and developing subplots, it does teach economy of phrase.

When every word counts, writers tighten their prose. They eliminate filler words, passive voice, weak writing, or tangential thoughts—pretty much anything that requires extra words. No um’s or uh’s or well’s. No “was walking” when “walked” suffices. No “walked slowly” when “strolled” captures the mood better. No drifting into a daydream that doesn’t advance the plot.

These things slip in when we write novels, but they don’t really belong there, either. And just think how strong your novels will be when you develop these stylistic choices and apply them to your longer works.

(2) Publishing with other authors helps you reach a larger audience.

When you only write novels, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to work with other authors and have introductions to their fans. Yes, you could participate in novel boxed sets (something I also advocate), but novels are much longer, and if your novel is placed in the back of the set, readers may never get around to reading it.

If you write a short story for an anthology, though, the chance of readers reading through the very last contribution is much higher. Also, in addition to the readers who chose the anthology because of the subject matter, there will be people who read the anthology specifically because they are fans of one of the contributors. This affords you the chance to reach a dedicated fan base of not just one, but several of your peers—an opportunity you otherwise wouldn’t have.

(3) The contacts you make can lead to a larger marketing pool, both now and in the future.

The other authors are going to market the anthology to their readers. This essentially means you get free marketing to a different audience simply because your work is compiled in the same place. It also means you might be able to market a little less than you do for your own singular works, because several people will be sharing this information. (No need to overdo the marketing and make readers tired of the promo.)

But there’s a future benefit, too.

You will get to know the anthology authors and their work. When you have something else to market—for example, a new novella or novel—you can call upon these contacts and request help getting the word out. Perhaps they’ll review an ARC or offer you guest posts on their blogs. And what author can’t benefit from more exposure?

(4) The short story can be used to introduce one of your longer works.

Regardless of the theme of the anthology, you can write a companion piece to an existing novel or series. This can be an excellent marketing tool.

For example, say you have a paranormal romance series you’d like to promote, and you have an opportunity to contribute to a horror anthology. You could tailor your horror story so that it’s a prequel or sequel to the first book in your paranormal romance series. You might even choose to weave in a little romance so readers have a better understanding of what to expect in the series. As long as the story meets the requirements for the anthology, you’ll have a great introduction to your longer work placed in front of an already interested audience.

(5) The short story format allows you the opportunity to explore different genres without committing time to compose a longer work.

This is kind of opposite to number four. Instead of expanding your series offering, you might take the opportunity to try something completely different from what you normally write. For example, a regency romance writer might choose to craft a futuristic sci-fi story.

What do you gain from such a departure?

Well, not only do you get to flex your creative muscles, the departure might actually recharge your batteries and give you a fresh perspective on the novel you’re working on. Furthermore, you may just find another genre that you enjoy writing in and a new fan base should you decide to become a multi-genre author.


These are just five of the benefits to writing short stories for anthologies. Can you think of others? Have you contributed to an anthology before? Why not share your experience with us? Leave a comment below.

 

Staci Troilo

Ten Tips To A Better Manuscript – Part Two

Ten Tips To A Better Manuscript – Part Two

So last week we talked about ways to get a first draft into fighting shape as a manuscript. This week, we’re going to cover the last five tips about turning that manuscript into something worth submitting. Any manuscript in its final phase has been edited so many times the writer may want to pull their hair out. But it’s those steps that give the manuscript its extra edge, and its those little steps listed below that really round out the editing process leading up to submission.

6. Layout. 

This is where we want to make sure our draft is in order. Some people naturally write in order, from beginning to middle to end, and that’s fine. But not all of us do. Going back and ensuring the story is in the correct order seems like common sense, but it’s also incredibly important. And who knows? Perhaps the order of events can be rearranged to make the story better.

7. Cohesiveness. 

More active reading! Actively reading to make sure all of the plot points make sense is a crucial tip. Does the main plot resolve itself in the end? Do the side plots tie into the main plot, and also have a resolution? Think about what is most annoying about a book that doesn’t fit together properly, then make sure your book doesn’t have the same qualities. Fix any issues and move along to the next drafts.

8. A catchy first page. 

Something important to remember is that the first page is make or break. As authors, we only have so much space on the first page, and that page has to grab a reader’s attention. A good first page is invaluable, so readers and the person evaluating the manuscript for the publishing company wants to keep reading.

9. Grab a beta reader or three. Or four. 

It’s important that our eyes aren’t the only eyes reading our stories. After a few drafts, when the manuscript has been cleaned up and fleshed out, send it to trustworthy people. Make sure they’re a mixture of different types of people, from readers to writers, but ultimately, I can’t stress enough that it’s important these people are trustworthy. We want them to tell us the truth about their thoughts so we can make changes where it’s necessary. We also want to make sure they won’t steal our work or leak it somewhere. Take Stephanie Meyer’s trouble with her manuscript “Midnight Sun” – this is a great example of what could go wrong if we pick the wrong beta readers.

10. Edit and edit some more.

Lastly, after our notes and the notes of the beta readers have been compiled, it’s time to make that final draft. It may take one or two drafts, but that’s all right. Once that whole process is through – and it’s a lot of work – we deserve a pat on the back. Now, it’s time to submit the manuscript, and hopefully, without butterflies. Good luck authors!

 

 

Ten Tips to a Better Manuscript – Part One

Ten Tips to a Better Manuscript – Part One

We all get them. The butterflies that populate our stomachs before submitting a manuscript to a publishing company. The process is nerve-wracking enough without second guessing our submissions. It all starts with the first draft. The brainstorming, stream-of-consciousness, and outlines have all been converted into an organized draft that resembles a manuscript. Now what? With these ten tips, authors can feel more confident about turning their first draft into a full manuscript by using a solid editing process, and quell those butterflies.

 

 

1. Research

All good stories have some kind of research. Whether the story is set in a brand new world crafted from scratch, or in the world as we know it, research will help bring the world of a story to life. Writing about magic? Research other stories and see how they made it work and why. Writing about politics? Research different political systems and parties to make the story come to life. Even in fantasy, details grounded in realism can really help readers relate to the world and feel like they are part of it.

2. Supporting details.

Like doing research, supporting details go a long way to not only flesh out a story, but to draw the reader in. There is a fine line between telling instead of showing, but that’s why the editing process takes more than one draft.

3. Make notes. 

One of the things I personally prefer is to make notes rather than delete. Some things that I think were a good idea in one edit turn out to be a bad idea for the story over all. Not all things have to be changed, and that’s the key to a good edit. Take notes while actively reading, and making edits based on those notes. Save them, and save each draft separately so no work or writing is lost, because we never know what could be recycled!

4. Active reading.

Once the first draft is complete, the research is done, and the right kind of supporting details have been added, go back and read the book. I can’t stress enough how important it is to read actively instead of critically. There will be several edits based on your active reading during the overall editing process. Actively read for glaring plot holes, and cohesion. Edit to fix those. Then go back and read again, maybe searching for details that are out of place or no longer belong. Maybe cut a scene that worked in the first draft, but upon a second or third reading, just doesn’t fit into the next draft. Don’t forget to save those scenes, though, they might still be useful! Active reading helps to get us through the multiple draft process with a focus that enables us to read our work without criticizing our voice as an author.

5. Trimming.

While actively reading, it helps to read for things that just don’t need to be there. This is the excess fat that is trimmed from the story. Maybe there was a whole scene about a food fight in that draft. It may be fun to write, but if it doesn’t further the plot or add depth to the story, it doesn’t belong. Trim it out, but save it as a separate file. It may come in handy down the road.

 

Well authors, that’s it for this week. Hopefully, these tips will get the wheels greased and help to refine the beginning of the editing process. Tune in next week for the next five tips!

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Can You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

Years after I first read Where are The Children, I purchased a hardback classic edition copy.

Okay, confession time. As much as I love my Kindle and the opportunity to carry an entire library in my purse, I often miss making visits to a brick and mortar bookstore. There is something to be said about perusing the aisles filled with dozens of books.

And way back before the days of Internet shopping, online reviews, and social media, readers often had to rely on word of mouth when selecting books. Reading the back cover or the first page of a book was a factor for me before deciding if I wanted to check out a book from the library or make a purchase. Especially if the author was unfamiliar. But before I opened the book, before I turned it over to read the back, I first looked at the front. If I found the cover to be appealing, then I would move to the next step.

I’m a big fan of mystery and suspense novels. I still recall the first time I saw a book by the now famous author, Mary Higgins Clark. I was at a bookstore (in the fiction section, no less) when I saw the spine of Where Are The Children. The title got my interest, so I pulled a copy from the shelf and looked at the cover. I saw a house located beside a body of water. Tall brown grass indicated to me the story likely took place in the autumn.  But the thing that intrigued me most was the single red mitten in the foreground.

After reading the back cover, which further piqued my interest, I walked to the register, bought the book, took it home and began to read. Years later, I’ve read dozens of Mary’s books and have to say she is probably the author who most inspired me to write mystery and suspense stories.

And it all began with a book cover.

A few years ago, a friend of mine loaned me a book that was written (and self-published) by someone she knew. I kept it around the house for a few weeks, but I never opened it to look inside. Why? The cover looked amateurish. The back was plain white. No author information. No blurb. Nothing. I can’t even remember the title of the book or what was on the front, but I do know it was no more appealing that the back side. The content may have been high-quality writing and an interesting topic, but the writer lost me by not having a good cover.

To be honest, I have read (or attempted to read) some books in which I liked the covers but not the story itself. No matter how pleasing a cover looks, if your content isn’t good, readers won’t continue to purchase your books. But having a professionally designed cover is a must. It’s worth spending a few dollars to hire someone who is an expert at what they are doing. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

 

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Four Steps to Writing a Substantive Book Review

Four Steps to Writing a Substantive Book Review

FeedbackIf you’re on a publisher’s site—like, for instance, this one 😉 —you likely know book reviews matter. Amazon determines your ranking and whether they’ll promote you in part by the number of reviews you have. Readers use them to determine if they want to buy your book. Promo sites like BookBub use them as criteria for acceptance.

Despite their importance, a perusal of Amazon book reviews shows many are virtually useless due to their lack of pertinent information.

Let’s consider these reviews:

  • Great book.
  • I loved it.
  • Not my cup of tea.

Yes, those are actually reviews I’ve found on Amazon. Not really much there to help me make a decision. How about you?

Today, I’m going to give you the four-step blueprint for writing a substantive and helpful book review. This does not mean the review is a five-star recommendation. Helpful reviews can point out flaws just as much as they can showcase quality. But whether you want to sing the book’s praises or express (polite) dissatisfaction, there are steps to follow—steps that will result in a thoughtful and honest assessment of the text.

  1. Introduction
    This is where the title, author, and genre are provided. But there’s more to it. Give the reader insight into your reason for reading the book to begin with. Did the cover appeal to you? Was it a compelling description? A recommendation from someone else? Did you happen to stumble across it when you browsed a favorite genre? Also, consider sharing your feelings here. Did the cover, blurb, or book itself coax fond memories or inspire any desires? Your opinion matters, and it could be the difference between someone reading the book or moving on to a different title.
  2. Summary
    The back-cover copy isn’t long enough to tell people what the book is about. Spend a paragraph or two analyzing the content of the story. Talk about plot, character, setting, and pacing. Give readers an opportunity to know what’s in the book, but don’t reveal any spoilers. That would ruin their experience and could cost the author a sale.
  3. Analysis
    RatingsThis section reveals whether the book followed through on its promise. Did the blurb promise an epic romance, an action-packed quest, a suspenseful mystery? Tell the reader—again, without writing any spoilers—whether it met, exceeded, or fell short of your expectations. And tell them why. This is not the section where you say whether you liked the book. This is about success. If you are someone who only enjoys happily-ever-after endings and the book you’re reviewing ends with death and destruction, you won’t like it. And that’s fine. But was the book successful? Was it well-written? It’s not fair for you to pan the story just because of your personal preferences. Well-crafted stories should be given high marks, regardless of your feelings. And the opposite is true for poorly-written work. It may give you your happy ending, but if the characters were one-dimensional and the work riddled with grammatical errors and cheesy plot devices, it doesn’t deserve five stars.
  4. Result
    This is where you say whether you liked the story. Reviewers often start here, but it should come last because this section is actually the least important part of a review. In fact, it can be left off entirely. If you choose to include this section, consider making a recommendation rather than a proclamation. Instead of “I loved this story,” or “This book wasn’t for me,” maybe you can just say, “Fans of [insert another author name here] will enjoy this book.” It’s much more diplomatic, and it takes the pressure off you to reveal your private thoughts.

Tips:

  • You may not be able to leave a unicorns-and-rainbows review, but you can be constructive in your comments. Always strive to remain objective and polite.
  • If you are an author, be cautious about leaving blatantly negative reviews. Yes, you are entitled to your opinion, but Amazon could consider your review to be a personal attack designed to denigrate a competitor. If that’s their determination, they may delete your books and your account from their site.
  • If you really can’t think of a single positive comment, consider the possibility that it’s your own biases and not the author’s work. Try to give the benefit of the doubt and critique analytically rather than emotionally.
  • Remember, Amazon is the big dog in the yard, but it’s not the only dog. Add your review to Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, etc. You don’t need to write new reviews for each site; just copy and paste the original. It may take you a few extra minutes, but it won’t take too much longer and you could be helping an author gain traction in an overly saturated market.

Did I forget anything? Do my steps vary from yours? Let’s talk about reviews in the comments below.

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