Goal: Build your audience.
Strategy: Reveal yourself as a reader.
Prompt: Review a book you’ve read lately.
Okay, first, there’s a certain skill to reviewing and not everyone has it. Most people will tell you to couch any bad things you have to say between two good things. Most people will tell you that you should be more generous with praise, especially if you want good reviews in return.
I take an entirely different philosophy with regard to reviews. It begins by considering your audience. I don’t write reviews to communicate with the author of the book I am reviewing. If that’s why you’re writing the review, then write a fan letter instead. My philosophy is that you write reviews to communicate with fellow readers. As a writer this form of communication can be especially valuable, because you communicate your values as a writer when you write reviews that are read by your readers.
Think of it this way: If you read a book of poor quality, and you tell your readers it’s a good book, then you’re telling your readers that you don’t know a bad book when you read one. So, why the hell would they trust you to write a good book when you write one?
I encountered this problem with a particular book. I read a book with a MAJOR flaw. As a writer, I didn’t want to trash the book, because it was an engaging story up until I encountered that flaw. As a writer, I also had to be clear to potential readers (of hers and my own work) that I saw it as a flaw, recognized it as a flaw, and wouldn’t dare do it myself.
Reviewing a book to communicate your writing values to your readers doesn’t mean you have to be mean or nasty when you encounter a bad book. You can choose not to review the book or you can find some way to couch it. I’ve done both.
But it also means that you may have a reason to be honestly nasty, or respond in a way that a select group of others might perceive as nasty. I’ve done that, too. It won’t destroy you, especially—I should say, only if—you can support your nastiness and be right about it.
Sometimes, however, what you want to communicate isn’t nastiness at all. You want to make an honest review that isn’t all praises, but is essentially promising. This is the kind of review I wanted to be able to write for that first example, but couldn’t because it wasn’t true. When I read LaMonte M. Fowler’s The Watchers of Ur: Cradle, I knew I wanted to write an honestly favorable review, because that’s exactly what the book deserved. This is the kind of author I want to support and the kind of author I want my readers to know I support.
So, if you’ve read a book that help you show your readers what kind of writer you are, review honestly.