December 7, 2011

The Golden Rule of book reviews

According to the Bible, the Golden Rule urges us to treat others as we want to be treated. If we apply that biblical thinking to our work as Christian poets or writers, we might say:

Review unto others as you would have others review unto you.


To consider this from both sides, let’s talk about the two views of reviews:

Giving a book review

Getting a book review

Either way, Christian writers and readers need helpful reviews of books in any genre, and most of us want to encourage each other whenever we can.

To give book reviews, start by letting publishers and writers know you’re willing to review books in your favorite genre. This will give you a free copy of a book you can read, enjoy, and learn from as you aim to improve your own writing too.

If you absolutely love the book, great! You have added to your personal library at no cost. If, however, you hate a book, you do not have to give a glowing review nor be brutally honest by saying the book, writer, and writing stink! Just decline the review. If the person presses you, pray to say something unhurtful and generic such as, “I didn’t connect so am not the best person to review your work.”

Since you have already reviewed the book yourself though, make a point of re-viewing the book for errors or anything you did not like in order to learn from that writer’s mistakes.

Similarly, reviewing a well-written book can help you to stretch toward higher literary quality too, but frankly, it’s easier to pinpoint what does not work than to see what works well! Nevertheless, as you read a well-written book, make a point of noticing the development of the characters in a novel or the theme in a nonfiction book. Notice the transitions, too, since a skillful writer will be especially subtle in getting readers from here to there in a smooth move of time, thought, or place.

As you continue to do book reviews, keep these tips in mind:

Be fair.

Be thorough.

Be specific in stating what you like.

Begin with positive comments, but, if you must make a negative remark, be honest but kind.

Be particular about the books you review to keep from getting bogged down in your own library. For instance, I’m only interested in reviewing traditionally published books for children or traditionally published poetry books for any age group.

Be particular about where you place your reviews. Some publications pay for book reviews; others do not. Although most of us prefer getting compensated for the time we spend reading a book and writing a review, payment should never sway our opinion.

Some book reviewers have their own blog to post reviews, and, if you enjoy reviewing, you might set up a free blog on Blogger or WordPress. (I use and like both.) Posting reviews does not fit the focus of my blogs though, so I occasionally write reviews on the Amazon site where I often order books that interest me.

As you become the kind of reviewer you hope to find, you will soon develop your own voice and approach. And, as you approach people about doing reviews for your book, the Golden Rule will again apply and guide.

For instance, I do not like receiving books out of the blue to review, so I do not feel free to mail someone a book of mine that I want reviewed. Instead, a short letter or email with a short blurb about the book and a request for a review shows respect for the reviewer's time and also saves you or your publisher the expense of mailing a book that the potential reviewer has no interest in reading.

To find interested readers, check out writers’ groups on LinkedIn or Facebook, join Group discussions, and look for people with whom you connect who might be willing to review your work.

Notice, too, the people who post helpful reviews on Amazon or other bookstore websites for the kinds of books you write. If you do not know the person, you can probably find a contact on their Amazon review page or, with a name search, on the Internet.

As you consider your options, I need to tell you that some writers are willing to pay for book reviews, but I’m not one of them. Nor do I accept payment for the promise of a shiny-bright review. I do, however, offer honest critiques of devotionals, book proposals, poetry, and children’s picture books at a reasonable fee for your eyes only. If you want that kind of professional help, visit the Critique, Edit, and Writing Consult pages on The Poetry Editor website for more information.

Meanwhile, may God bless our reading and writing life and rule each of us Golden!

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© 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.

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