About one year ago I posted a link to Goodreads on Facebook proudly showing off the 50 books I had read that year. At that time, I did an internship at a literary organisation that also hosts their own online literary platform. The next day one of the editors approached me, saying he liked my reviews and asking me if I’d like to try writing one for the platform. Of course I said yes and since then I write reviews for Passionate Platform.

Writing reviews for an organisation feels really different to writing one for myself on Goodreads, or for this blog. It’s a different audience, a different style, and I got an editor who helps me make the best of my reviews. During this past year, I learned a lot about the art of writing reviews, so here are some tips:

1. Your opinion matters.
The first times I was so incredibly insecure about what to say about a book. After all, what kind of authority could I possibly have to make my opinion valid? Well, all opinions are valid when it comes to books. And you have more authority than you’d think! Maybe because you’re a literary student, because you’ve read a lot of books, or simply because you have a talent for explaining things. And especially when the book is recently published, every review is welcome. There are so many books getting published, people need someone to tell them what to like. You could be that person.

thumb-reviews
Some of the books I reviewed.

2. Your opinion doesn’t matter.
Liking books is a matter of taste, and not everybody likes the same things as you. So whether or not a book makes you happy or not, try to stay objective. If you like something, explain why. If you don’t like something, explain why. Put your review to the following test: if I was another person, with a different taste in books, would this review tell me if I’m gonna like the book or not?

3. Don’t try to be liked.
The first few reviews I published were mostly positive. Even if the books had aspects I didn’t like, there was enough to compensate. These reviews also did pretty well: they got a nice amount of views, partly thanks to the publisher and the author sharing the review on social media. I was content. Then I had to review a book I absolutely didn’t like. It was just horrible. I talked to my editor about whether she even still wanted me to write a review about it, but she told me I could still give it a try, as long as I explained clearly why I didn’t like it. So I wrote it, we published it and… nothing. No shares. No comments. No likes. It is completely understandable that a publisher or a writer doesn’t want to share a negative review: why risk the bad impact on sales? But as a reviewer, it’s important to keep your integrity, and stay honest. Even though it might seem like nobody likes you anymore, get off Facebook and out into the real world. Get some positive feedback from your friends about the review to boost your confidence and start a new book!

4. You need those extra pair of eyes.
Editors are your best friend. Their only goal is to make you a better writer, so listen carefully to their commentary. And although I’m always glad with their feedback, I have one special editor who has this unique view that always makes my reviews better: my boyfriend. And this isn’t some sappy love argument. My boyfriend doesn’t know anything about books. He does not like to read at all. And this makes him the perfect editor: if he understands what I’m saying, everybody does. I have a tendency to use words I use for papers at the university, but my professors are not my audience for my reviews. So get yourself someone who doesn’t read books to proofread your reviews. They look at them with an open mind you will not find easily in the literary sector.

5. Stand your ground.
If you put something in your review, you’ve put it there for a reason. It’s good to listen to feedback, but when a certain aspect of a review is really important to you, it’s ok to fight to keep it in. Don’t be afraid that your editor will be offended: they are probably just looking for the motivation for your argument. If you feel like it really needs to be in the review, you don’t have to kill your darling. You just have to explain it better.

3 thoughts on “About writing reviews

  1. Hi Francine, I have enjoyed reading a few of your posts and book reviews. I’m looking for a reviewer for a George Sand novel I translated which was published a couple of years ago. Do you take requests for reviews? Trish

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    1. Hi Trish! How cool that you translated George Sand! I love France and feminism, to I’m really impressed. I don’t focus on translations, but I’d like to give this book a try! You can e-mail me at francinemaessen[at]gmail.com, and we can talk out the details 🙂

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