What is a good review? It is helpful. It is fair. It is honest. It isn’t venomous, or destructive.
All authors experience negative reviews, and that is all right. We can’t expect to please everybody. Naturally, there are various approaches to reviewing, and that leaves us with a few questions. What is a ‘bad’ assessment? And what is a ‘good’ appraisal?
All authors and readers probably have their own ideas of what should go into a review. Some think that so-called spoilers will ruin a book, but to me that depends on the book. If it is a crime thriller, obviously, it would be wrong to reveal the killer or the perpetrator. On the other hand, in literary and or speculative fiction it matters less – especially if the plot is less in focus than the characters.
In my reviews, I aim to give an idea of what the readers can expect, not necessarily giving a plot outline but, maybe mentioning elements that struck me as important. To me, it also seems important to give an impression of the atmosphere and use of language that the author applies to bring the book to life. I find it interesting to analyse the characters and how they develop through the plot or their circumstances.
Reviews don’t need to be long, but it is fine to mention issues that stuck the reviewer as especially apt, or especially unlucky. If we aren’t honest in our analysis, our description of the experience, reading a book – why write about it at all? If there are some mistakes in research or some issues with grammar or typos, the reviewer must be careful about how to approach these problems. In my opinion it isn’t all right to say that a book needs editing without stating why. Use examples – or don’t mention the issue at all. This isn’t about anything but fairness. If one writes a review in which one throws about negativity without underlining it with examples, it stops being fair.
Is it better to contact the author privately with critique? Some reviewers think so, but that would stop their review activity if they don’t know the author personally.
So, should we refrain from pointing out mistakes in a review? No. We can do it – but be gentle about it. If a book appears too ineptly written, it may be better to drop it, and leave the author in ignorant bliss. . .
© HMH, 2021