The Art of Book Reviews

The first time I set out to write the post I ended up on a tangent that had me skipping up driveways. Let’s all hope for some focus this time, okay?

Wonderful things live here.As mentioned before, my source for review books was from LibraryThing or direct from publishers. Then I stumbled across NetGalley. In the site’s words: “NetGalley is a service for people who read and recommend books.”

You sign up on the web site, providing some basic information, and then you’re off. Once you get approved (and if my small-potatoes review shop can get approved, so can you), you get to peruse the listings of forthcoming books.

The catch is that the books are only available digitally. I guess you could use NetGalley as a sort of directory and email the publisher to request a hard copy. It seems easier to just download the galley though. You read them on your computer using a free Adobe product or click the button to send the galley to your kindle (once you’ve added the NetGalley email to your Kindle list; downloads are free over WiFi). Instructions are on the site for sending galleys to other ereaders.

Not every book is available for ereaders. NetGalley has some graphic novels and coffee table books, which don’t read well on standard ereaders.

So the digital exclusivity is only a minor catch.

The major catch is so much is out there to request. I made the mistake of not paying a great deal of attention to publication dates when I sent through my first batch of requests. Sure enough, I ended up with about seven books to review before June 7. You may notice the date of this post and the dates of my most recent reviews. I missed the pub date for a bunch of them.

And that’s something that, as a reviewer, I want to make. In an ideal world, a book review should come out a couple days before the book is published or at least the day of publication. The next set of NetGalley books aren’t being released until the end of summer so I have time to catch up.

But what does catching up mean? How should a reviewer read a book? In my mind, professional reviewers (those on staff at major newspapers, magazines and websites) can spend their work day reading and putting together well thought out reviews. They also have access to copy editors.

Me, I spend my work day at a job where reading a book would be frowned upon. So I read at home or in waiting rooms. If I want to make a self-imposed deadline, I can’t choose to watch TV or play video games over reading. Let me amend the verb in that sentence to “shouldn’t;” I’ve made the wrong choice on numerous occasions. Sometimes a review book isn’t just something I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, it’s not something I would have stuck with if it were being read just for fun.

While I don’t want to give away an ending or plot twist in a review, I think a good review has to be written after reading the whole book. Maybe a plodding pace pays off in the final chapters. Maybe that character bizarrely introduced in chapter eight shows up again 200 pages later and makes a difference in the plot. You have to read the whole thing.

How do you read the whole thing? I read at my normal pace, which is pretty decent. But I wonder whether professional reviewers skim parts of the book, dipping in now and then for a closer read.

I take notes when I read a review book. I didn’t always do this when reading a hard copy, but, I gotta say, the keyboard on the Kindle comes in handy. I can capture my thoughts immediately and then refer back to the notes when it comes time to write the review.

So, fellow reviewers, where do you get your review copies from? How do you approach writing a review? And, fellow readers, what do you look for in reviews? Leave a comment below.

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4 thoughts on “The Art of Book Reviews

  1. I get a lot of my books from NetGalley as well. I as a reader am not a fan when reviews give away an important part of a book with no warning. Like say the main character is really a cat but you don’t find out that you are reading a “cats story” until the end. Some reviews will mention that the book is written in the cats perspective, which totally ruins the surprise element of the book. (I totally just made that book up). As a reviewer, I try to leave out all spoilers because of this but try to list qualities in the book that I liked or disliked and add quotes or parts that I enjoyed. That way the reader gets a feel for the book without getting any of the secrets of the story.
    Book Sniffers Anonymous

    1. Thanks, Kristin. I kind of want to read the cat book you made up now! Do you use a profile page to explain who you are to blog readers or do you assume they’ll get to know why you like/dislike certain qualities as they read your reviews? I’m sometimes tempted to write a review and then put up another shorter post explaining why a piece of writing resonated with me or why finishing a book was a chore if the reasons are more related to who I am rather than how well the book was written. The fictitious cat book, for example, could be the most elegantly crafted piece of prose ever written and I’d probably give it a positive review, but I’m not a cat person so maybe I’d dislike it on a personal level.

  2. Sometimes it’s hard to give a synopsis that doesn’t give too much away but that captures more than the book jacket. You’re right, it probably depends on the genre. Although I found if I really had problems with the book, I’m not as concerned about spoilers

  3. NetGalley is my favorite, though I am a member of the FirstWildcard group that reviews Christian books. I am also a reviewer for Tyndale, Waterbrook and Thomas Nelson and several publicists have me on their list. I’ve gotten books from fsb media too.

    I write what I want to about the books. I’m not a professional reviewer; blogging is a hobby and that’s how I approach it. For most reviews I used the synopsis from Amazon and then add my comments, trying to say what I liked or didn’t. I try not to spoil, but I read a lot of romance and you really can’t spoil those.

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