Writing a Book Review - don't give away the plot in your review! - by SC Skillman

The other day I was reading a book review on Amazon; I sometimes like to have a quick look at the reviews when I'm halfway through a book, to get a feel for what others made of it.

However, I didn't want to know the outcome of the story  Then I read a review which revealed a dramatic plot twist later on in the book. I though,"thank you very much, Ms Plot Spoiler."  I suppose it served me right for looking at the reviews in the first place!

I love writing book reviews, and try hard not to include plot spoilers. I review every book I've read all the way through, will often post a review on my weekly blog at scskillman.com, and always post on Amazon, Goodreads and Waterstones. On 19th July the blog featured my review of Joy Margetts' new book The Pilgrim and on 2nd August I reviewed Natasha Woodcraft's novel The Wanderer Scorned both as part of blog tours.

The point of a review is to whet the appetite of prospective readers, not spoil the book for them. The purpose is simply to convey the quality of the reading experience; it shouldn't really be to provide an alternative synopsis of the novel; a temptation some reviewers can fall prey to.. I must admit however it can occasionally be helpful if the first two or three Amazon reviewers do that; but not if everyone else follows suit! All novels depend on a number of key questions, the answers to which are unravelled through the story. As prospective readers, we want reviewers to tell us how they felt about the answers the authors provided to some of these questions, without betraying the answers themselves.

Phrases we authors love to see on our reviews might include: "Felt bereft when this book ended" (this appeared on a review for Ruth Leigh's second Isabella Smugge novel) or "I was hooked from the first page and just had to keep on reading at every opportunity" or "the twists kept me guessing right up to the end." (I'm pleased to say these were on reviews for my novels). When a reader uses these kinds of phrases he or she is conveying to others the quality of their own reading experience without undercutting the enjoyment of prospective readers.

Ultimately in a review you are sharing your journey through a particular story, alongside a certain group of characters. You are communicating to others the flavour and highlights of your journey but not a detailed list of directions, landmarks and mileage counts.

I also believe online reviews should not be too long and 250 words is probably a good length, though I can't always say I keep to it! Of course reviews in the national press are a different matter, and conform to the editor's requirements. 

So, when writing a review, do give the prospective reader a clear and honest response, using simple words and remember you are not writing a synopsis. Also, thank you for writing reviews at all: authors love them!

SC Skillman writes paranormal and psychological mystery fiction and she has also just completed the third of three books on Warwickshire for history publisher Amberley. The first is Paranormal Warwickshire, the second Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire, and the third A-Z of Warwick. All are illustrated with 100 photos, mostly taken by herself and her son and daughter. She also has a new mystery novel out with publishers and agents and is working on the sequel.  She blogs and reviews books at scskillman.com. 

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