How to write a book review – please do!

Authors love reviews – this is not a secret!

But after you’ve closed a book, why should you bother to write one? How do you do it? And who can write a review? What’s considered a ‘good’ review?

Whoa! Let’s take a step back…

Why write a book review?
Analysing and expressing your thoughts about a book you’ve read can help you understand it better and thus enrich your reading experience. Additionally, and more practically, book reviews are crucial in helping other readers understand what a particular book is about and whether they should invest time in reading it. An honest and well-written book review can also help your favourite authors. Reviews not only provide valuable feedback for the author – or at the very least, some much-needed praise and/or positive critique – they also boost visibility of books on sites like Amazon, helping more people find (and purchase) the books that you love and want to recommend to others.

Some tips…

  • Before writing, consider who the review is for: online retailer e.g. Amazon, magazine/newspaper article (what readership?), book site e.g. Goodreads, your own blog, serious review journal, e.g. London Review of Books, genre review site/magazine e.g. Discovering Diamonds Reviews, HNS Historical Reviews or Mystery People magazine.
  • Consider the style, tone and length of review appropriate for the publication while not sacrificing your own.
  • Do not be intimidated into thinking your review must be erudite or cover several pages. Some of the best reviews can be only three lines long.
  • Key guideline: it’s about the book, and not you.

A few general guidelines

  • Make notes. By the time you have finished the book, you’re bound to have forgotten things you wanted to include in the review. The physical action of writing helps commit those points to memory.
  • Read the whole book unless it is so dire you can’t bear it. But be prepared to say why if asked.
  • Any review that you write should be constructive, whether it’s positive or critical.
  • Engage your readers immediately in your review – use the first sentence to state your overall opinion.
  • Strive to be kind in your brutal honesty. Avoid being hurtful in your constructive criticism – authors are people too!

Nitty gritty

  • Mention the main theme, genre, whether it’s part of a series, or a debut.
  • Does it fit into genre conventions or not? Does that make it a better’/more interesting or engaging book?
  • Does the book give you a sense of the place it’s set?
  • What is the author’s ‘voice’ like?
  • Mention the plot, character development and the writing style
  • Is the dialogue lively or dull, correct for the period/setting?

Your reactions

  • Other readers don’t want to hear just the facts. They also want to know what you think about the book, and how it made you feel! Did you like the story? Hate it? Why? Explain your feelings towards the book as best you can. What particularly excited you? What made you want to throw the book away (If you did)?
  • What do you think the author did well? What do you think the author could have done better?
  • Be authentic. Your followers/readers want to hear what you think of the book, and in your own voice.

Extras

  • Include comments on any artwork or graphics included, extra materials (like a reading guide, map, family chart, glossary, etc.), whether there are any incorrect facts. (Check very carefully before you do!)
  • DO NOT include half the plot, or heaven forbid, the whole plot, or spoilers in your review (No one enjoys spoilers and it’s mean).

Watch your formatting

While most book review sites and retailer sites such as Amazon prefer you write in a simple format, you can make it readable and enjoyable by other readers with these guidelines:

  • Avoid writing just one big block of text. Space out your paragraphs so your review is easily readable.
  • Don’t use ALL CAPS ever in a review.
  • Don’t use punctuation excessively, such as using multiple exclamation points or question marks.
  • Proofread your review for grammar, spelling mistakes, typos, etc. before sending it in or publishing it. A simple typo or error in your book review might discredit your review in the eyes of readers.

These are just a few guidelines – you do not need to do all of this, but hopefully, they may help to encourage you to leave a review after you’ve finished reading that book on your bedside table.

Happy reviewing!

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Inspired or over-imaginative? On the Alliance of Independent Authors podcast

Absolutely thrilled to be invited on to the Alliance podcast, hosted by Howard Lovy. And even more so as it features ‘inspirational authors’ Not quite sure I’m inspirational, but that’s enough imposter syndrome. 😉

Like many people, I always take a (mental) deep breath before an audio interview as you can’t see who is going to be listening at the other end, both interviewer and the wider audience  – they won’t be able to see your smile, whether nervous or confident. Audio only gives a stronger, less attenuated signal and is standard for interviews over the internet on systems such as Skype. I usually ask the host to switch on their video a few minutes to chat beforehand so I can visualise them as the interview progresses. Then we’re back to audio only.

Howard has created a very smooth yet snappy podcast from all my mumblings and highlighted a couple of quotes:

On Creating Alternate History

“Every book has its own world and you have to create that with detail, but not drop it in in great lumps. You’ve got to get your characters completely integrated into the world and drip drop information in. But you have to make it plausible, credible and consistent.”

On Bringing Roman Times Forward

“You can’t have kick-ass feisty women who are heroines doing stuff in the ancient Roman world. So it basically had to come forward to the modern world. And to get it forward, we had to have a Roman society that had survived.”

And here’s the podcast!

 

If you enjoyed it, do feel free to tweet!

Alliance of Independent Authors /
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, “ally with an i”) is a professional membership organization fostering ethics and excellence in self-publishing.

ALLi  is a diverse, supportive and friendly community of thousands of authors, collaborating with other author organizations and service partners.

In addition to an active, engaged, and growing membership, alongside with a healthy social media presence, ALLi has credibility and influence in the publishing and self-publishing industries with its founder-director, the award-winning novelist and poet Orna Ross, repeatedly named one of the “Top 100 people in publishing.” (The Bookseller)

As the only non-profit representing independent authors globally, with members on all seven continents, the association has become the most trusted voice in self-publishing. And its outreach education programs and campaigns ensure its impact is felt beyond its membership designations and borders, influencing the wider author community at every level.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

The tyranny of word count?

Does your writing heart shrivel when you read on Facebook something along the lines of ‘Giving myself extra chocolate because I wrote 5,000 words today’? And it’s only 3pm… Praise piles on from others with the ‘Wow’ icon splattered everywhere. Then one or two brave souls, possibly including you, confess apologetically they’ve ‘only’ written 500.

Only?  What’s wrong with that?

Of course, 500 words are a lot fewer than 5000 words, but why should anyone apologise for writing any amount on any specific day?

Undoubtedly, there are other people who won’t post at all in response because they feel truly embarrassed. Perhaps they weren’t able to get beyond a double-spaced page that day.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire such a high output but posting about it may seem a tad triumphalist and have the unintended consequence of agonising and demoralising people who are blocked, write slowly, or who don’t write every day.  These could be writers just starting out, who’ve suffered multiple rejections of their work, were dropped by their publishers, or who for any number of reasons just don’t produce a lot, or write fast, possibly both. Or Real Life may be intervening…

Does a high word count mean high productivity, let alone high quality?

Writing fast may not be a guarantee of anything. Even taking into account it was probably for the first draft which is always a bit rough and ready, those 5,000 words may be complete rubbish. Writing that much and that quickly only proves the person can type fast.

It’s a pity some parts of the writing community are so obsessed with churning out words every single day, day after day – and tons of them. If you have a contract and you’re under deadline, I’d suggest the work schedule wasn’t too well planned in the first place. But measuring yourself as a writer by the number of words you write per day isn’t necessarily the best way.

Serious face of a cat

Serious face

Non-writing as part of the book process

Experienced authors know how important revision and editing are to a finished work. At that stage, it’s not about how much you get done but about what you get done, how you re-shape your work  A revised paragraph could involve few words but make a huge difference.

And let’s consider our old friend research; not the research you do before you type Chapter 1, but the checking facts and dates, products and weather that arise as you go along. I’ve spent half a day tracking down details of arable crops grown in Roman times and that changes significantly over all 1229 years!

Revision is also about introducing layers, honing dialogue, deepening character traits or motivations. You may only write fifty new words that day, but they could make a substantial impact on the overall narrative.

The positives of counting your words

When I’m deeply into my writing I do track my progress with word counts, but in a general way. My goal is 500-1,000 words a day. Some days I reach nearly 2,000, but usually it’s around 800-1,000. I have a back problem that prevents me sitting down for hours. I’m also a mental fidget. When writing that first draft, noting how many words you’ve written can be very encouraging. A little preen does nobody any harm, but obsessing can be bad for your mental health. It can also result in bad habits.

You won’t, I’m sure do any of these:

  • Write over complicated and rambling sentences just because they entail more words.
  • Use two words in description or scene setting when one will do.
  • Pad dialogue with eight lines of speech when two would do.
  • Introduce a scene that doesn’t take the story forward or develop the character

Would you?

Staying regular

Writing every day should not feel like a compulsion. You are allowed to have a normal life, or at least a semblance of it. But if you dread sitting at the desk every morning and are scared to write the first word, you may not be in the right job. Yes, writing is a job as well as a creative art.

Logging word count gives you something to look back on when you think you can’t get going; it reminds you that you have written something on a regular basis, even if it’s for three evenings a week only after the children’s bedtime.

Regular writing is like regular exercise, the more you do it the fitter you get and the less strenuous it becomes. I don’t use the word ‘easy’ as creative writing isn’t, although it’s extremely satisfying.

Regular writing will become habit-forming and your productivity will increase. I’ve noticed this every time I’ve finished marketing a book and I get back to serious writing. Noting words written can act as a springboard to get into the regular writing mode. As you see the total mounting up, you realise you might not be such a bad writer after all.

Don’t make it a tyranny, and don’t compare yourself to others; they may actually be telling fibs.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Characters in setting

Rounded, multi-layered characters are essential if you want people to be engaged in your story. Reading is an emotional trip and we want to gasp, shiver, feel rolls of warmth, resentment, sympathy, fear, loss, and triumph as we turn the pages.

Superwomen are fine in some contexts – we like a bit of pushing over the edge of reality – but our heroines and heroes should make horrible mistakes, mis-judgements and stupid decisions, but also be aware, clever and cunning as appropriate. They are, after all, only human.

But equally important is to think about what formed those characters. Some characteristics are common across ages, locations and personality. Bad temper or a sweet disposition, a loving childhood or abusive environment can occur whether your character lives in Ancient Rome or the Moon Colony in 2175.

But what are the factors that make your character what they are in the place that they exist?

Looking at the large scale, most settings have a form of governance – autocratic, democratic or even none, which brings its own scope for conflict. Similarly, some sort of economic, social and political systems exist, whether feudal, industrial, agricultural, self-sufficient, colonial, revolutionary, egalitarian or something else. You don’t need to mention these as such, unless they impact directly on the plot, but you need to have it all worked out in your head.

On the personal level, most people are concerned with food, shelter, safety and income. On top of that, in no particular order, health, their family, the future for their children and a non-miserable old age and pain-free death. After that come more altruistic concerns like personal values, social good and social justice, the urge to explore, discover and invent.

 

The essential questions

Back to our characters… You probably know their role in the story, their motivation and their ultimate goal. But what do you know about their values, knowledge and experience of the world that formed them?

How do people make their living?
Where do they work?
How are they educated?
What kind of production is there?  Artisans or big industry?
Is the government representative?
Is there a class/caste system, and is it flexible or structured? Overt or ‘understood’?
Are laws authoritarian, permissive or strict?
What’s the religious practice? Easy going or compulsory? Personal or collective?
What’s the crime level?
What’s growing in the fields? What animals are grazing?
What’s the food like?
What do people wear? Don’t forget  boots, shoes, sandals or bare feet.
Are there markets, little shops, big chains?
What does the money look like? Is there banking, credit or pennies under the bed?
Are there muddy tracks or metalled roads? Are they safe?
Is transport horse and cart, steam engines, electric trains, aeroplanes, space rockets or hyperspace portals?
And what about ports, ships, navies, river transport, canoes and barges?
Do people travel or stay put?
Are there accepted codes of behaviour – speech, manners, obligations, red lines?
Is there law enforcement, robber bands, distrust in authority?

And the big question – who holds the power?

Quite a lot of this will depend on geography

Are there mountains, seas and rivers?
Does the countryside consist of plains, valleys forests?
Big cities or small towns, coastal or inland?
And don’t forget the weather… 😉

Make sure your characters act naturally within their world.

Characters don’t explain chunks of backstory to each other when they meet. Imagine explaining a third person’s entire life story to your best friend when you’re relaxing over a drink. All your friend/colleague wants are the bare facts of what that person has been doing to cause you to mention them. You can use letters, messages, instructions, photos, general dialogue, phone calls, TV, radio, internet, old friends as ways to bring the information in. This is what we do in our everyday real lives.

Your characters naturally accept where and when they live; this is their normality, so try to put yourself in their minds. The canny writer will be careful not to describe a world too obscure or alienating and will leave some hooks and common connections to our world, time and experience to maintain an element of familiarity. The trick is to make your book word plausible and authentic by keeping it consistent with and within that world. Otherwise, the reader may well click the book shut and delete it (or chuck it in the charity box).

Characters are what you make them in their role in the book, but they are also the product of their society, however mundane, otherwordly or othertimely that world might be.

Happy writing!

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’ FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Thriller, mystery, action adventure, suspense, or what?

What’s in a genre? More precisely, what’s the difference between the genres in the title? Are there any hard lines between them?

Action stories feature a lot of movement-heavy exciting scenes including but not limited to fights, shootouts, car chases, foot chases, explosions, fast flying helicopters – you name it – and more than one. Sometimes they feature one character, but more often an ensemble each with different functions or expertise.

However, these stories and films tend to have simple, obvious or sometimes hardly any plot, even huge plot holes and lack of continuity. The fun is in the fast and furious pace and in films, heart-stopping CGI sequences. such as Mission Impossible.

Adventure stories are essentially about an exciting experience or mission/quest at the centre of the tale and sometimes have old-fashioned tone as H. Rider Haggard’s classic stories, spy stories such as by John Buchan, Ian Fleming and Eric Ambler, or an epic one as in space opera  such as the Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon.

Such stories often feature exotic locales and several puzzles/riddles/challenges that may or may not be physical. A good supporting team  of trusty locals, comrades, experts and ‘elder statesperson’/guru is in the mix. The ‘good guys’ usually win, although there may be bitter loss or sacrifice along the way.  Confusion arises these days with the label if books are called ‘adventure’ when they may only be a day out or a family road trip; these are really dramas, I’d say.

Action-adventure is a hybrid in which both action scenes and puzzling challenges are combined. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good example of an action-adventure film since it contains both strong physical action scenes as well as a defined quest. Raiders includes fights, stunts and shootouts along with period settings, travel, historical puzzles and death-defying challenges.

Suspense stories have danger but not necessarily action. Much of the danger and tension come from the unknown or apprehension of potential danger. The protagonist acts in a state of excitement, misplaced hope, anxiety and/or uncertainty about what is about to happen. Readers often know something the characters don’t and hold their breath as the characters’ dread increases. Should a vulnerable, young character venture upstairs to find out what’s making those noises in the attic? We know they shouldn’t and we have a pretty good idea why they shouldn’t.  We may possibly know EXACTLY what’s waiting for them up there…

Mysteries have, er, mysteries, a puzzle or sometimes a seemingly impossible quandary to understand or explain. It often relates to a crime like murder, and includes hidden elements, a cover-up and a sleuth/detective, and the answer is revealed only at the end. Agatha Christie specialised in this. Traditional authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett mixed mystery and suspense. The best mystery stories often explore people’s unique capacity for deceit—especially self-deceit. This is usually considered the most cerebral (and least violent) of the crime/mystery/thriller genres.

Thriller stories are more nuanced than action stories and build more on tension and complexity of plot. Traditionally, the plot appears more important than the characters, but the best thriller writers develop both equally fully. Often, something bad happens to the protagonist externally, e.g.they are mistaken for a criminal, kidnapped, attacked by ‘persons unknown’ or are betrayed by the authorities or seeming colleagues – anything to ramp up the tension. Equally often the only solution is for the protagonist to act alone at great personal risk or in certain danger. Internal conflict, illness and psychological pressure and self-doubt add to the tension.

Thrillers use plot twists and devices to create excitement, while action and adventure stories use their action scenes and risky situations. In crime thrillers, the central characters are involved in crime, either in its investigation, as the perpetrator.

According to International Thriller Writers (and who am I to argue?), a thriller is characterized by “the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.”

A few types of thrillers and some examples
Classics: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and The Count of Monte Cristo, both strip away civilisation and reveal cruelty of people to others, the first more of a psychological thriller, the second a story of vengeance and redemption.

Legal thrillers: Anything by John Grisham who has made the sub-genre his own.

Intellectual or pseudo-intellectual thrillers: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is a prime example. Using a professor as protagonist gives an essence of credibility (but not much), but it does attract readers by delving into a mystery most people would love to know about, and moves very fast.

Epic/high-concept thrillers: These deal with terrorism, trained assassins or space opera. A ‘pull out all the stops’, ‘save the world’ genre. Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders would be a good example of this.

Socio-political thrillers: Frederic Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal is one of my favourites!

Espionage thrillers: Le Carré is, of course, the master here with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold as an excellent place to start. Mick Herron is another terrific spy story writer, with anarchic insight into his cynical protagonist Jackson Lamb and team of competent incompetents of Slow Horses.

Techno-thrillers: Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger. Both are fast-paced and with sympathetic and complex main characters.

Historical: My favourite is Lindsey Davis’s Roman detective Falco and the spin-off series featuring Flavia Albia. Ellis Peters’ 12th century Brother Cadfael series is a a well-loved classic.

What ifs: Fatherland by Robert Harris remains my favourite alternative history, although there are many more here. Oh, and there’s the Roma Nova thriller series with stories set in a Roman society in the 20th and 21st centuries full of betrayal, rebellion and ‘tough gals’… 😉

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova‘ FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.