Ten tips for rocking reviews from David Hill
David Hill, reviewer and author.
- All writers “steal”. They get ideas from what they see/hear, and use these in their writing. The best way to steal as a book reviewer is to read other reviews. How do they begin and end? How much do they tell you about the content? How do they express their opinion? What sorts of evidence do they provide?
- Think about the word “REVIEW”. It means to look back; to describe something from your past and how you felt about it. So your book review has two aims: (a) to describe what’s in the book; (b) to give your opinion of the book’s success – or failure.
- Some people won’t know the author. A sentence early on will help: “This first novel by Wellington writer Phyl Phrogphace……”; “Australian cricketer Shayne Sheepshank’s autobiography…..”.
- And some people won’t have read the book. So give them a summary of what it’s about, or what happens in it. (But be careful of spoilers.)
- However, don’t spend too long on your summary. As a rough guide, it should be no more than about one-third of your review.
- If you’re reviewing fiction, give your opinion of the PLOT, CHARACTERS, WRITING, SETTING (time and place), THEME (message – if any). How good or bad are they? What features do you like most or least? Readers enjoy knowing what happens in a book, and who’s in it, so make sure you mention PLOT and CHARACTERS.
- For nonfiction, readers will want to know the book’s topic; how the author covers it (from meeting to marriage? 2000-2015? cavalry attack to drone attack?); whether details are clear and interesting?; anything new or memorable?; what is the writing like?
- Your opinions must have EVIDENCE to back them up. If you say the plot is slow or confusing, mention some events or episodes as examples. If you think characters don’t seem real, refer to things they do or don’t do. If you say the writing is outstanding, quote some of the best lines.
- Be DEFINITE (if you can) and BALANCED (if you can). If the characters seem real, say “very convincing”, not “quite lifelike”. If the plot or content is difficult to understand, say “obscure…..confused”, not “fairly hard”. Definite opinions are more interesting than vague ones. Mention strengths and weaknesses. But don’t say something is “totally brilliant / utterly hopeless” unless you can provide evidence. If you say “A dead slug knows more about motorbikes than this guy”, make sure you can back up your opinion.
- How to end a review? Maybe say who will like the book most, or how important it is (“The most up-to-date bio of Rihanna I’ve read”), or the effect it had on you (“I used up a box of tissues.”; “I wanted to vomit”), or a look forward (“I can’t wait for her next fantasy”), or any tricks you’ve seen other reviewers use.
David Hill’s latest novel is Enemy Camp. His favourite NZ kids’ book is probably Joy Cowley’s Bow Down, Shadrach: majestic and moving. Favourite NZ book generally is Maurice Gee’s Going West: so authentic it feels like a documentary.