You’ve just finished reading a novel. (For the sake of random and totally unbiased argument, let’s say it’s mine.) You

  1. love, love, love it;
  2. can’t imagine how anyone on earth could love, love, love it;
  3. think the author needs serious help.

You want to review this book online because

  1. everyone should read it – it’s THAT good;
  2. nobody should read it – no person’s karma can be THAT bad;
  3. the author needs serious help.

My last blog post talked about how influential customer reviews can be. But if I had a chance to review the reviews, I’d say that some are better than others, and that it has little to do with whether or not the reviewer liked the book.

Here’s my subjective list of a few approaches to avoid when writing an online book review:

“This book was boring.” Details would help. Why didn’t this book suit you? Sometimes the type of book one reader finds dull is exactly the sort another reader enjoys.

“I liked the story, but I gave the book one star because it is morally offensive.” Different issues offend different readers. In this case, it’s helpful to be honest about your own sensibilities right up front: “The fact that the characters swore made me uncomfortable because I don’t believe in taking the Lord’s name in vain.” In a world where a low rating can hurt sales, try not to give a competent novel an overall poor review on the sole basis that parts of it did not jibe with your personal beliefs.

“I liked this book right up until (MAJOR PLOT POINT REVEAL THAT MAKES IT TOTALLY UNNECESSARY TO READ THE BOOK).” Please. I’m crying, here. Please, please don’t give away plot twists that authors took hours and hours to create, plot twists we hoped would raise the story to the next level, plot twists that …please don’t.

“The characters in this book were written by someone with an emotional IQ of three.” Try to remember that a real person wrote this book. Please don’t be mean. Okay, maybe the author DOES have an emotional IQ of three, but can you think of a more constructive way to get your point across, something less personal and more related to the book itself?

“This book was just a beach read, not up to my usual literary standards at all.” Please try to remember that the review is about the book, not how erudite the reader is.

So, what’s a reviewer to do? Glad you asked.

In my opinion, the best – and most credible – book reviews allow readers to draw their own conclusions about whether or not a particular title is for them. The reviewer does this by focusing on the book itself: did the plot keep you turning pages? Were the characters interesting? If something didn’t work for you in the story, why didn’t it? Would this novel appeal to a certain kind of reader? Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

It’s interesting to note that positive reviews come with their own pitfalls. There are readers who doubt the validity of every five-star review, suspecting that they’ve been written by relatives of the author, friends, or paid services (oh, yes they do). I have friends who distrust all positive reviews these days. They prefer to choose their books based on bad reviews, figuring that at least those reviews will be honest. And, as mentioned earlier, one person’s poison can be another’s feast.

So, however you feel about that book you plan to review, remember that the power is yours … wield it wisely.

And keep reading.