The Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing

  1. Thou shall have no other gods before the reader. The review is not about the author, nor the publisher, and especially, not about you, the reviewer. Reviews are all about the reader. Don’t try to impress with pompous words in an attempt to glorify yourself or appear scholarly. Give readers simplicity and clarity. They’ll appreciate it. If they want verbose and fancy, they can read Shakespeare. 
  1. Thou shall not lie. Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you’re doing nothing but selling copy. When you give facile praise or sugar-coat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony. 
  1. Thou shall try not to offend the author. Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There’s no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible novel!” say, “This book didn’t work for me for the following reasons…” 
  1. Thou shall not eat the evaluation. Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and leave out the evaluation. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, “I really liked this book” is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying. 
  1. Thou shall not reveal spoilers. Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader’s reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author. 
  1. Thou shall honor grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Don’t be one of those reviewers who are more in love with the idea of seeing their name online than making sure their reviews are well-written and thorough. Your reviews may hang around on the internet for years to come and will reflect on your level as a writer. Run a spell check, edit, revise, and polish your review, as if you were posting a short story. Get a good book on grammar, and punctuation, take an online course or listen regularly to podcasts such as The Grammar Girl. 
  1. Thou shall honor deadlines. If you join a review site where the turnaround for reviews is 3 weeks, then you should respect that agreement. If you promise the author to have the review ready in two months, you should honor this too. Be honest and straight forward from the beginning. If you’re so busy your turnaround is six months, make sure to let the person know. If for any reasons you cannot meet the deadline, contact the person and let him know. It’s your responsibility to maintain a do-able schedule. 
  1. Thou shall not be prejudiced against thy neighbor. Don’t assume that a self-published or small press book is poorly written. Give it a fair chance and let it speak for itself. Likewise, never assume a book published by a major NY house has to be good. You’d be surprised by the high quality of some small press books by unknown authors, as opposed to those written by big name authors whose titles are often in the bestseller lists. In general, most subsidy books are mediocre, but there are always exceptions. If you’ve had bad experiences with subsidy books, then don’t request them nor accept them for review. If you decide to review one, though, don’t be biased and give it a fair chance. 
  1. Thou shall not become an RC addict. RC stands for Review Copy. Requesting RCs can get out of control. In fact, it can become addictive. You should be realistic about how many books you can review. If you don’t, pretty soon you’ll be drowning in more RCs than you can handle. When this happens, reading and reviewing can change from a fun, pleasurable experience into a stressful one. If you’re feeling frazzled because you have a tower of books waiting to be reviewed, learn to say NO when someone approaches you for a review and stop requesting RCs for a while. Unless you’re being paid as a staff reviewer for a newspaper or magazine, reviewing shouldn’t get in the way of your daily life. 
  1. Thou shall honor thy commitment. Remember that any books you’ve agreed to review beforehand are being sent to you in exchange for a review. If your policy is not to review every book you receive, state it clearly on your blog or site so the author or publisher will know what to expect. If you have agreed to review a book, but have a valid reason for not reviewing it, let the review site editor, author, publisher, or publicist know.  

12 comments on “The Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing

  1. Laurie T says:

    Thank you. Your tips are incredibly helpful!

  2. bookbimbo says:

    Great tips for someone starting out 🙂

  3. ccgevry says:

    This is a great list. So many of these items can’t be stated often enough. Number 4 rings so true. I can’t stand it when all the review contains is a long synopsis of a book.

  4. Dorothy says:

    You know just this morning I was on a blog that someone recommended to me for an author I have touring. Well in her review policy she stated that if it was going to be a negative review, she would email the author and not just post it. Man oh man if more reviewers would do that. I think reviewers don’t realize how much they hurt not only the author but the author’s book. It might be an honest review but it’s like telling someone they are fat. Over the Internet. For the whole world to see.

  5. avomnia says:

    Fantastic list! It is soooo easy to slip into ‘book report’ mode when writing a review, so your point about not eating the evaluation is spot on. Really like this!

  6. As a reviewer ist is helpful to have a list like this. When I do a review I do a review I include what the book is about but as part of the post and not my review. If the reader wants to know what the book is about, they can read that. Repeating it in the review serves no purpose. I know I am not a professional reviewer but I write my reviews from the heart…thanks for sharing this post.

  7. Britni says:

    These are great and things that you think everyone would know but they’re broken more often than not, especially when there are so many great RCs available out there.

  8. Wow, this is awesome!! 🙂 I’m gunna copy all this and print it out, just so I can reread it later. Very neat–and a good reminder when writing a review!

  9. Shari says:

    Great list! I think all reviewers should print this and post it nearby. I know I will. I think I will also be checking out grammar girl

  10. Thanks! for sharing this.

  11. […] The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, which they’re promoting by sharing their “Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing.” I won’t review the book, as reviews of a book about book reviewing seem likely to […]

  12. FABR Steph says:

    #4 is my favorite. I have seen a lot of reviews recently that are wordy and still leave out the evaluation. I tend to go the other way. I could probably work on balance.
    -FABR Steph@FiveAlarmBookReviews

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