Guest Post: "How to Write A Review," by Catherine Astolfo

One of the best, and easiest, things a reader can do for his/her favorite author is to write a review and place it on one of the online sites that promotes writers or sells books (or both).
As a retired educator, let me first make my apologies to students who have followed their teachers’ rules into the present. Here are some entirely new ones, from me. When you do an online review, do NOT summarize the book. All the online sites, such as Amazon, provide excerpts, summaries, or synopses. As a
reader, I can check out up to three whole chapters for free. I don’t need you to summarize. If you haven’t really read the book, you are just cheating yourself, or the author. And if you are a cheater or have an agenda to attack the writer, I’ll be smart enough to see very clearly through your subterfuge. So please don’t bore me with your perception of the novel’s plotline. Or worse yet, tell me the entire story and spoil the end. Leave the summarizing to the professionals.
What I am interested in is your reaction to the novel. This is your opportunity to write two or three sentences giving your opinion. You are not bound by the old rules. You are relieved of the summary task. You don’t have to prove any expert literary skill to anyone, although you may want to demonstrate correct spelling and grammar to be taken seriously. Your only goal is to tell other readers what you thought of, reacted to or how you felt about this particular book.
I want to know your response to the characters. Did you like them (especially the main ones)? Were you repulsed, yet fascinated, by any evildoers? On the other hand, did you find them dull or unbelievable; e.g. their dialogue was unnatural?
Let me know if the plot held you spellbound, was based on fact/history/fantasy or whatever, or if it was slow, tedious or implausible. Again, I don’t want the details. I want descriptive reactions from you. “I couldn’t put this rollercoaster ride of a book down for one minute.” “I fell asleep every couple of pages.” “The history was fascinating and informative.” “The fantastical world of Astolfoland was beautiful, sumptuous and believable.”
You might want to focus on the setting. Was the landscape truly phenomenal? Was the emphasis on the surroundings what turned you on or off the book?
Tell me what you thought of the author’s style. Did you enjoy their sarcastic wit? Was the funny, sardonic voice of the character hilarious? Do you like crisp, succinct writing that keeps a plot moving? Did you love the long, luxurious descriptive narrative?
You don’t have to use fancy vocabulary and you don’t, I repeat, don’t have the tedium and difficulty of writing a synopsis. You only have to tell the other readers how you personally reacted to the book.
This template translates into perhaps five minutes of your time. You don’t have to get very technical about each of these categories. Simply craft three short sentences about your personal opinion. Write about how you felt about the book and what you thought of the style. Pick a focus if you want: voice, viewpoint, technique, setting, plot (thriller, narrative, type of conflict, romance) and/or characters (dialogue, description, actions). Cover all these categories or the one that affected you most and caused you to like/dislike the novel.
As a writer, I would be thrilled if everyone used this technique. Why? Because readers would then submit more reviews. Unencumbered by the difficult task of creating a synopsis or demonstrating a specific expertise, the reviewer knows exactly what to say. After all, their reaction to the novel is personal, unique and honest, and therefore easy to write.
One last thing: about the honesty. Of course it’s preferable to be truthful. But that doesn’t have to translate into mean, vicious and soul-destroying. There is a gentle way to say “that jacket makes you look fat”. A professional, responsible way to state that your reaction to the book was negative. I can say, “I disagree fundamentally with the viewpoint” or I can say, “The author takes a stupidly ridiculous stance”. One accepts responsibility for the opinion; the other blames and demeans. Another way to accept responsibility and be professional is to use your own name when you review a book. Don’t hide behind a moniker. If you are a friend/relative of the author, say so. As a reader, I will take your relationship into consideration. If you are one of my students trying to seek revenge for a low mark on a book report, let me know, and I’ll be sure to put an A on your review this time.
Now, go ahead and review your favourite authors’ books!

Purchase SWEET KAROLINE on Amazon

Catherine Astolfo retired in 2002 after a very successful 34 years in education. She can recall writing fantasy stories for her classmates in Grade Three, so she started finishing her books the day after her retirement became official. Her short stories and poems have been published in a number of Canadian literary presses. Her story, "What Kelly Did", won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in 2012.

In the fall of 2011, she was thrilled to be awarded a four-book contract by Imajin Books for her Emily Taylor Mystery series (previously self-published), and has never been happier with this burgeoning second career!

Catherine's books are gritty, yet portray gorgeous surroundings; they deal with sensitive social issues, but always include love and hope. They're not thrillers, but rather literary mysteries with loads of character and setting. And justice always prevails.

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