Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ten Steps to Writing a Fiction Review

Jake Chism is a fiction reviewer I’ve come to trust over the past few years for his insights and honesty. So when he offered to write a post about how to write a good review, I said absolutely!

In 2006, Jake Chism began writing reviews for various websites, and approximately 200 reviews later he decided to start his own. He launched in June. Since the launch Jake has developed reviewing guidelines for his writers. He shares those with us today.

1. A Good Plot Summary. Be informative but not too informative. I typically write one or two short paragraphs that give a basic premise of the story. If you get carried away with plot details, you run the risk of losing the reader’s attention. No need to re-write the book. The main concern here is to give the reader a brief snapshot of what kind of story to expect.

2. NO SPOILERS!!!! I got carried away with the caps and exclamation points, but this is something I feel strongly about. Nothing screams “poor review” more than blatant spoilers. The purpose of reviews is to inform readers, not to spoil the reading experience. Authors don’t spend hours upon hours, day after day, pouring their soul into their work just so you can come along and ruin the whole thing with two sentences.

3. Highlight the Positive. So you’ve read this book and it has absolutely blown you away with its awesomeness. Great…Tell us why! Whether you were moved by the characters, or floored by a plot twist, or even driven insane by the suspense…please, by all means tell us about it. You do authors and readers no favors if you don’t adequately explain why a particular story is worth reading.

4. Don’t Shy Away From the Negative. Many reviewers take the approach, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” As I’ve grown as a reviewer I’ve begun to distance myself from this philosophy. From conversations with a variety of authors I’ve discovered it’s not negative reviews they have a problem with. It’s the reviews that are mean-spirited, poorly crafted, and tasteless that are the most damaging and discouraging. Reviewers do authors no favors when all we do is kiss up to them. Authors want to know what readers think of their work, even if they don’t agree with them. On the other hand, no writer wants to read a review of his/her work that does nothing but belittle and bash. What’s the point? If a book didn’t work for you, by all means tell us why. But use some tact and have a little respect for these authors who work so hard to bring us their stories. If you long to rain down curses and ill will on the writer, then do us all a favor and don’t say anything at all.

5. Honor Your Commitments. Sometimes as reviewers we bite off more than we can chew, and before we know it we are buried under stacks of books we’ve requested. Add to that all the unsolicited titles publishers love to send, and pretty soon we’re completely overwhelmed. Bottom line: you have to know your limits. Publishers spend a lot of money distributing ARCs and review copies, and we have a responsibility to review what is sent to us when we ask for it specifically.

6. When you post a review, e-mail the publicist to let him/her know. It’s just the decent thing to do, and you never know--you might see your review quoted in a future title or on an author’s website.

7. Share your reviews online. Use places like,, and, especially if it’s a positive review and you want others to read the title. Twitter and Facebook are also great places to post links to reviews. If you write for a review site or publication you may need to get permission before you post elsewhere, but this is one thing you can do to help promote authors.

8. Don’t leave a negative review on Amazon (or other similar sites) simply because your book took too long to arrive or was damaged. That certainly isn’t the author’s fault, and it makes no sense to blame him for it. (For those of you who are shocked at such behavior….believe me….it happens more than you think.)

9. Familiarize yourself with new authors when reviewing their work. You don’t have to read everything they’ve written, but it helps to know what they have done and are currently working on. Sometimes, if I love a book, I will spend a little time at the end of the review highlighting what they have coming out next or something they’ve previously written. This shows readers that this author has more than just that particular book that is worth checking out.

10. Spend some time reading other reviews to get a strong feel for what quality reviews look and feel like. Here are some recent reviews two of my writers have submitted:

Jane Austin Ruined My Life
The Strain

--Jake Chism

Bio: Jake Chism is a self-diagnosed book junkie and the founder of His reviews have been widely quoted in the works of such authors as James Patterson, Terry Brooks, Eric Wilson, Ted Dekker, and Robert Liparulo. Jake obviously enjoys reading, movies, sports, watching way too much TV, and spending time with his amazing family in Texas. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter ( and Facebook (


Nicole said...

Good list of points. I've had to do a few "negative" reviews. No fun but I felt obligated to post them, always specifying that undoubtedly some would enjoy the stories.

Jason said...

I thought this was a very good article. Perhaps it should be required reading for blog tours! I've tried to do most of these points, but I know I can continue to improve. Thanks Jake for writing and Brandilyn for posting this.

Jessie at Blog Schmog said...

Thanks for the tips. I've just started reviewing since I read so much and love to write. Number 4 helped give me some perspective and not to shy away from negative reviews. I had the "don't say anything at all attitude" because I didn't want to be crushing. Haven't hated one yet that I've reviewed but you never know.

Jessie at Blog Schmog said...

Excuse my naivete but how do you email the publicist? I've looked on a couple of the websites but only find contacts for customer service or submitting manuscripts? What do you recommend?

Jake said...

Thanks for the kind words everyone!

Jessie, most publisher websites list an email for their publicity contact, you just have to find them. Usually they can be found in the Media section or the Contact Us section. If you can find a phone number for the publisher you can always call and ask to be connected to their publicity department. Another trick I have tried is emailing the author directly and asking them for their publicity contact info.

Sometimes it takes a little digging and it does some like a lot of publishers make this harder than it should be. Hope that helps!

HollyMag said...

Thanks for sharing this! I love sharing about the books I've read. I want to write good reviews that help both the author and potential reader.

The only question I have is how do I know who the publicist is? I like the idea of letting him or her know about my reviews.

Thanks again!

I just got a copy of Exposure! Looking forward to reading it!

Jake said...

Hi Holly,

The best way to find the publicist is to go to the website of the publisher. Usually they will list an email and/or phone number of their publicity department either in the Media or Contact Us section (sometimes it's buried somewhere in the website and is hard to find).

You can also send your review to the author via email and ask them to share their publicity contact.

Russell said...

Excellent article, thanks for sharing!

Jessie at Blog Schmog said...

Thanks Jake, that helps I'll just have to do a little more digging. It seems worth the trouble for both authors and readers alike.

HollyMag said...

Thanks Jake for taking the time to respond!

Kimberley Payne said...

Great tips! I don't write many reviews but when I like a book, it's helpful to follow the guidelines here.

bath mateus said...

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