A Few Tips on Writing Book Reviews

 

Writing a book review shouldn’t be a chore. And it shouldn’t take more than five minutes, plus or minus. You either liked the book or didn’t. Maybe you loved it and read the whole book. Maybe, just maybe, you couldn’t get past a certain point and deleted it or put it down. Either way, the author would really like some feedback. 

 

The fact is, good or bad, the more reviews a book has, the better for everyone concerned. 

A few words will do. A paragraph would be outstanding! And more is often even better! You don’t even need to summarize the plot or setting. The author probably knows a bit about the plot, and the Amazon description likely spells out most everything else. 

 

 (Photo by Elaine Howling on Unsplash)

Stick with how the story made you feel. 

…“I really enjoyed this book! The author did a great job maintaining story tension, and I really fell in love with some of the characters. After watching the characters change and grow, I was left feeling…”

…“After reading (title), I can hardly wait to grab (the sequel)! While this was one of (the author’s) first books, I really felt like…”

If you feel like you need to give away the ending, try tossing in the words “SPOILER ALERT.” (I always think that looks cool!) Also, if you’re going for a little more than a very basic review, try to be as specific as possible about what you liked or what didn’t work for you. Doing so will be SUPER helpful to the author and to the book’s next readers!

Which characters were most believable? Which settings were most interesting? Were there enough plot twists? Was there anything funny, thrilling, or bittersweet? Did you “get lost” anywhere in the writing? Did any scene make you feel uncomfortable? Were there any facts that didn’t ring true? Did the book need proofreading? 

Be as objective as possible. Believe me, authors receive all kinds of rejection as our skills develop and most of us learn to have amazingly tough skins. With that said, it’s probably best for your own “social karma” if you play as nice as possible. 

Speaking for myself, I’m always looking for better ways to make my writing as real and as readable as possible. And since reader satisfaction always comes first, I always try to remain focused on adapting, changing and improving my writing to better immerse my readers in the story. (Just wait until you experience all of the virtual-reality versions of my stories!)

 

 

So, what if you want to write a more professional, literary review?

Um, Okay. But guess what? I’m not actually qualified to tell anyone how to pen an academic book review. (I mean, my big-time university degree is in “Planetary Geology,” of all things!) Besides, I’m not even sure writing that kind of review would be fun….

But since you asked, these suggestions may be more in line with what someone might need to write a deeper review on Amazon or Goodreads. 

1. The first thing to take into consideration what someone else might like to know when looking for a good, probably-escapist read at the library, bookstore or when shopping online.  

What is the title of the book?

What is the book’s category or genre?

Who is the author? Is this a first book? Part of a series? Or one of many books in a writer’s career?

I might even add in the publisher, publication date, and the book’s edition if I thought them helpful. 

2. When reading (and writing), I find that character interaction has the most influence on my enjoyment level. Thus, I like to share the name of each book’s point of view character, and I often like to convey the book’s predominant point of view. First person? Third person? If the book is narrated in the third person, I might want to state whether or not I found their perspective reliable. I might then take a moment to relate my thoughts about the story’s antagonist if I can do so without giving too much away. 

3. As for setting, I like to briefly discuss the time period the book is set in or how any primary location may have influenced the story’s plot. 

4. If I managed to detect the book’s overall theme or message, I might describe it. If I’ve taken the time to note a few choice passages, this is where I might share them. 

5. If I decide to offer a plot summary, I don’t want to reduce reader suspense by giving away too many spoilers. With that said, discussing a few plot points generally lets me get back to whether or not I found the book’s characters credible in their roles. Who did I identify with? Could I relate to them?

6. I don’t think it hurts to say whether or not I liked the book. Was it interesting? Entertaining? Memorable? Did it blow my socks off? Did I enjoy the author’s style? If I had a favorite part, I like to say where and why. If something didn’t hold together for me, I might make a note of it but only if I have suggestions for improvement. I often like to say something positive before something negative. I then like to follow up with suggestions for improvement, and again add something positive. But what reviews ultimately come down to is whether or not you or I might recommend the book to another person. Yes? No? Maybe? Never!

7. As far as star ratings go, try to remain consistent and polite. I never post a review of fewer than three stars, because (again) I’m not that qualified. On the other hand, I have been reading for enough decades (okay: more than half a century!) to know when a story merits five stars. 

Just remember, no author expects anyone to give a fake or false review. We are all just supremely thankful for any honest feedback that you take the time to post.

 

By the way, I’m always looking for great reading recommendations! What books have you read lately? 

Thanks!

Scott

 

 (Photo by Eliot Peper on Unsplash)

Unforgettable characters?

So, I’m really supposed to be working on items related to developing my marketing “street team,” but that’s not what I’m doing. Looking at my editorial calendar, I should be working on all the story introductions for the “Many Moons” anthology. (My desk is covered with science fiction magazines and anthologies, plus piles of old manuscripts.) But that isn’t what I have been working on either. In the next few months, I expect to launch the anthology as well as several other stand-alone books, so I really ought to be generating interior formatting and looking at book covers. Again: not. 

For some reason this morning, my mind is lingering over “casting” considerations for my upcoming Time Wing Six novels. I’m not really looking to have a lone, central hero this time. Instead, I’d like to create a collective hero. A group of time travelers or dimensional travelers, with each of several main characters having separate moments of awesomeness. I’m not sure if I will start with a dysfunctional group that grows to work with one another or if there needs to be a central leader right away, although I know I want to show multiple aspects of loyalty and leadership as the team confronts the enemy and rises to each challenge.

For the moment, not knowing some of this is sort of fun and a little scary at the same time.

One of the team leaders should have at least beaten the odds and accomplished this or that impossible task a few times already. Maybe his or her superiors have taken notice and want to give the team a task to better solidify their reputation? I’m just not sure. I know that the Time Travel Forces are likely a self-funded, self-supporting military unit (as the TTF has been since I first started telling their stories as far back as 1976).

Having worked with (and been super-impressed by) Navy Seals and members of the Marine Corps while an active-duty Navy officer, I will probably look to examples of their teamwork and camaraderie for inspiration. For some reason, my thoughts keep coming back to team dynamics and character interaction.

 

So who are my top science fiction characters from TV and film? And from science fiction books?

Might thinking about some of them offer any level of inspiration? If I want to maintain the highest level of reader interest and entertainment, what kind of character interactions can I expect to generate and maintain with similar characters? And wouldn’t they all need to grow, change, and develop over time? After all, I am looking for long-term authenticity without ever copying anything someone else has tried. Knowing what I know (or remember) about each of these characters, how can I best learn from them so I can provide similar value and always put my readers first? 

 

Okay, so I know I’m forgetting a BUNCH of vital characters, but here are some of the names that immediately jump to mind:

 

My TOP 25 Science-Fiction Characters from TV and Film:

Ellen Ripley, Alien & Aliens

Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi, Star Wars

Han Solo, Star Wars

The Doctor, Doctor Who

Hoban “Wash” Washburn, Firefly & Serenity

Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly & Serenity

Luke Skywalker, Star Wars

Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek

Leeloo, The Fifth Element

Korben Dallas, The Fifth Element

Louise Banks as portrayed by Amy Adams in Arrival

Truman Burbank, The Truman Show

Neo, The Matrix

Spock, Star Trek

Kaylee, Firefly & Serenity

Physicist Robert Capa in Sunshine

Dave Bowman, from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Rick Deckard, Blade Runner

Captain John Sheridan, Babylon 5

Jack O’Neill, Stargate SG-1

Amy Pond, Doctor Who

River Song, Doctor Who

Vincent Freeman (pretending to be Jerome Morrow) in GATTACA

Gwen DeMarco/Tawny Madison, Galaxy Quest

 

My TOP 25 Science-Fiction Characters from Books:

Erasmus in Neal Stephenson’s Anathem

Severian on Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun series. 

Garion in David Eddings’ Belgariad Series (starting with Pawn of Prophecy)

Paul Atreides/Paul Muad’Dib in Frank Herbert’s Dune

Ender Wiggin in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game

Corwin in Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber

Karou in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Kevin Laine in Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree (Book 1 of The Fionavar Tapestry)

Herrin in  C.J. Cherryh’s Wave Without a Shore 

Donel Aspic, the Hegemony Consul in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion

Pham Trinli (Pham Nuwen) in Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky

Arthur Dent in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Kinnall Darival in Robert Silverberg’s A Time of Changes

Tom Bartlett in Robert Heinlein’s Time for the Stars 

Dua in Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves

Stavia in Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country

Captain Creideiki in David Brin’s Startide Rising

Kleph Sancisco in C.L. Moore’s Vintage Season

Koot Hoomie Parganas in Tim Power’s Expiration Date

Molly Millions in William Gibson’s Neuromancer

Luis Gridley Wu in Larry Niven’s Ringworld

Elizabeth Orme in Julian May’s Saga of Pliocene Exile (Starting with The Many-Colored Land)

Leisha Camden in Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain

Kitty McCulley in Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s The Healer’s War

Shevek in Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed

 

Yes, I know I’ve forgotten SO MANY! And, well, I’m not sure any of this has helped push the new project in any particular direction. I’ll have to kick around a bunch of ideas for a while. But at least it was fun thinking back to some of my favorite characters!

How many science-fiction favorites do you have? Please feel free to remind me of a few!

Thanks,

Scott

 

Top Three Extremely Helpful People Online for Indie Publishers!

I am a huge believer in serendipity! Not a day goes by when I’m not accidentally making some kind of unplanned, fortunate discovery. My “morning commute” is a 20-minute walk with two big Alaskan Malamutes named Zeke and Zooey. I then work on my science fiction until I hit my daily word goal. After that, it’s generally time to delve deeper into long-term publishing and marketing considerations. These are the top three most-helpful people that I have found online … so far.

 

#3: Tom Corson-Knowles at tckpublishing.com.

Without really meaning to (but wanting to learn about publishing on Amazon), I first stumbled across all of the FREE author training videos available from Tom Corson-Knowles. In exchange for my email address, I gained immediate access to video topics such as: “Learn the 16 most important factors that determine how many books you will sell, and what you can do to attract raving fans” and  “Discover the three key areas you must focus on in order to make your readers happy and increase your sales for long-term success.” Once I worked my way through those, I also studied Tom’s free video course at ebookpublishingschool.com. That’s where I got my first taste of formatting ebook interiors for Amazon and elsewhere. He also has a screen-by-screen video showing how to publish a book on Amazon. 

 

#2: Joanna Penn at thecreativepenn.com

Joanna has so much information! In fact, she has entire sections on writing a novel, publishing, marketing, making a living writing and on the author mindset. Her free book (Author 2.0 Blueprint) is fabulous and crazy-informative. In addition, she has posted an unbelievable number of tutorials and do-it-yourself articles. I look forward to getting her emails each day, and it has been great getting to “know” someone so unbelievably upbeat and helpful. 

 

#1: Derek Murphy at creativindie.com 

Derek Murphy is KING when it comes to helping authors “develop their vision, build their platforms, and get more visibility with less time and effort.” That quote is from his mission statement and he has TONS of information on his many websites! I don’t know how Derek finds time in his busy life as a Digital Nomad, but he unfailingly builds trust and likability by pumping out amazing content. He also has a Guerrilla Publishing group on Facebook where he routinely interacts with his readers to offer helpful advice. In everything he does, he talks a lot about building relationships with readers and authors and he has made a HUGE impression on me when it comes to writing in service to my readers.  

Some of Derek’s free books include Guerrilla Publishing, Cover Design Secrets, Book Marketing is Dead, and How to Write, Format, and Publish and Promote Your Book (Without Spending Any Money). I purchased one of his many offerings and to date, I have taken (am taking) courses dealing with: “Reader Seduction 101,” “How to Self-Edit Your Book,” “Reach Your Readers,” “DIY Book Formatting  for Print and Ebook,” and “Cover Design Secrets that Sell.”

Wow!

I am so IMPRESSED with all of the helpful people in the writing and indie-publishing world! This is especially true of everything I’m finding in K.M. Weiland’s extensive offerings (helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com), at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (blog.janicehardy.com), within Jami Gold’s many resources at jamigold.com and all I am learning from Leonard Tillerman’s book reviews (leonardtillerman.com).

Okay, so that’s my second “blog” entry so far in this lifetime. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think, especially since I’ve definitely not yet found ALL of the helpful people out there! Please feel free to comment or tell me a bit about yourself or shoot any kind of note to [email protected]. I love getting to know my readers! 

Thanks!

Scott

The Many Moons book cover just arrived!

Here’s a first look at the new cover!

Hi there! So, by now you may have found some of my short stories here on the website. If so, I hope you’ve enjoyed them! (And special thanks to ALL of those who took the time to send me such nice comments about the stories!) While I am still working on polishing the final draft of my debut science-fiction novel Broken Bells, I am also finishing a really nice science fiction anthology. Six of the included stories were previously published in professional magazines and I have also written four more exciting stories new to this anthology. Anyway, once Many Moons is done, I will put it on Amazon but then also use it as a special giveaway for people joining my VIP email list…once I get that going.

 

 

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