Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This reviewer’s perspective: What a book reviewer looks for

This week’s guest post comes from Laurie Jenkins, the prolific blogger and book reviewer who writes reviews of a range of books from independent authors on her own blogs as well as other prominent blogs.

Laurie has graciously agreed to divulge exactly what it is that she, as a book reviewer, looks for in a book. And of course, she has reciprocated by hosting my post on her Paranormal Features blog. But first, read her thoughts, below:

First let me say thanks for giving me this opportunity to talk about myself and my preferences. I will do my best to respond as candidly and honestly as possible, but like everything, there are always exceptions—for example, memoirs are not generally a favourite genre of mine. I rarely pick a book if the genre isn’t appealing to me personally, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read some wonderful memoirs over the years. Also, I am speaking only for myself. Other reviewers may disagree or place a higher value on certain attributes than I do.

First, the blurb is extremely important to me in deciding whether or not I want to read the book. I love a pretty cover, and it may entice me to read the blurb, but if the blurb bores me, or is too long, or is too short, or simply doesn’t grab me, then I move on to the next selection. It’s unlikely I will read a book if I don’t connect via the blurb.

Next, I’ll read at least a few paragraphs or pages from the Kindle free sample. The story must grab me quickly. This is difficult to quantify; sometimes, I may think a story starts off wonderfully, while some other reviewer will claim it was slow and dragged for her. I guess there’s no accounting for taste. LOL

I almost forgot to mention another big consideration for me. I have to constantly take into account how many other books I’ve promised reviews for and how loaded up my reading schedule already is before I promise another book review. I feel terrible when I’ve promised a review by a certain date and I am not able to meet that commitment on time. Right now, for example, I’m behind schedule and feeling the pressure. Mostly, it’s pressure I put on myself, but I know I’m disappointing authors waiting for reviews, and I hate being in that position.

Cover art

I love reading books by new authors or small publishers. They may not have the resources to put into a snazzy cover. I like to see beautiful cover work when it’s there, but when deciding whether or not to pick a book for review the cover graphics rarely play much into my decision one way or another. It’s just not that important me, personally. Other reviewers may feel quite differently.

Likes and dislikes

I want to read a story that flows easily—that is not choppy or disjointed. Passive voice can have its place, but excessive use can make for a very boring story. As a general rule, I don’t care for a book that incorporates lots of changes in the point of view. I enjoy stories written in third person, and I enjoy many that are written in first person. In conversations, I like to know definitively who’s saying what—I hate having to guess.

Sometimes words just pop out at me as I am reading. For example, I just finished reading a book I enjoyed, but the author often referred to a creature’s “appendages” when she was talking about its “wings.” It got old quickly for me. Sure, wings are appendages, but not all appendages are wings. Another writer, a favorite author of mine actually, tends to describe folks “skittering” around a lot. That just rankles: mice skitter, but people generally don’t. I also often see authors using the word “chortle” when they mean “choke.” That’s just wrong—a chortle is a kind of laugh.

Poorly constructed sentences drive me bonkers, as well as common grammatical problems. I’m not an English major, and I know I make more than my fair share of mistakes, too. I read to be entertained, but I do set the bar rather high when it comes to line editing. I realize it can be expensive for independents to get their book professionally edited, but I do feel a well-edited story is just as important as the story itself when it comes time to peddle it to readers. One sure way to get slammed in reviews is to publish a poorly edited book—you can make corrections after the fact, but your reputation will have still taken a beating.

I often see one paranormal reviewer complain in her reviews that the heroine is so blasé about all the strange new powers she gets, or whatever. “How can she just shrug it off and move on?” is her oft-repeated reframe. I am just the opposite: I hate whiny, “why me” heroines. I prefer strong females. Suck it up, accept your new circumstances, and let’s move on to the action and saving the world. Though I suppose I’d be pretty doggone whiny too, if it were me. So there you have it: I relate to characters who are strong and courageous in the face of adversity, and who are loyal to their friends.

I love authors who find interesting, relevant, and creative ways in which to torture their characters.

Slow reads

I don’t have time to get bogged down for too long. If I find a book slow or dull, I’ll set it aside and move on to something that is more entertaining. Sometimes, it isn’t the book; it’s just that I’m in the mood for something lighter or darker, as the case may be.

It’s not that uncommon for me to be reading two or three books simultaneously. That was especially the case before I became addicted to my Kindle. I had a book at home, one for the car, and another in my purse. Now, I just make sure I have my Kindle (and my backup Kindle) always with me.

I make an effort to get a good feel for whether or not the book is one I think I will enjoy reading before agreeing to read it. Truth is, I absolutely don’t want to read a book that’s not interesting, so I am pretty picky about which ones I select to read. Sometimes a book will surprise me by turning out better or worse than I expected. I try my darnedest to keep the bad surprises to a minimum.

I dislike writing bad reviews. I think there is little purpose to it. Just because a particular book did not appeal to me, doesn’t mean a whole slew of other readers might find it wonderfully original, or creative, or whatever. Also, I try to have empathy for the authors, who have (in most cases) put their heart and soul into the story. It’s their baby; who am I to tell them they have an ugly baby?

If I am forced to write a less than favorable review, then I will try to offer specific details about the issues I ran into while still trying to stress the aspects that worked for me.

Reviews—good, bad and ugly

I despise reviews that sound like personal attacks. I heartily dislike reviews that contain major spoilers or read more like book reports. I don’t want to read a synopsis of the book, I want to know what feelings the author was able to evoke in the reviewer. I dislike reviews that nit-pick every little thing—it just seems harsh and inappropriate to me. Sometimes, if there are specific things that bothered me, I prefer to email the author directly and privately about it. Most are gracious and seem to appreciate the insights. Stuff like that, imo, has no place in a public review. I know others will disagree and that’s okay, but I prefer not to participate.

Unless I am required to, I will not post a 1 or 2 star review—it takes time and effort to write each review, time I would rather spend reading. I want my efforts to be geared toward helping talented authors improve name recognition, and not embarrass those who may not make the cut. There are plenty of others who tend to jump at the chance to demean, belittle, or degrade the efforts of others. These days it’s sometimes referred to as snark. I do not go along with any of that.

Competition is tough and reviewers are overloaded—What can you do to get your book noticed?

Write your story so it flows energetically and smoothly. Make it entertaining to read. Never publish a first draft. Edit for content, edit for grammar, edit for little typos and misused or missed words. From what I’ve heard from many successful authors, belonging to a writer’s group and having critique partners is very important. I also think beta readers can help, but only if you are willing to incorporate some of their suggestions.

I know that getting those first few glowing reviews is important, but be wary of getting too many of your friends to write a review for your new book. Reader backlash against that practice can really hurt new authors.

Write the best blurb you can. Make sure your book is well-edited. With the barrage of self-published books and the explosion of new writers, readers and reviewers can afford to be selective about their reading choices. Never turn down the opportunity to promote your book via interviews or guest blog spots. I am constantly searching for books and authors to feature on my blogs. I enjoy most fiction genres. If you would like to be featured, just fill out my Feature Request Form ( I generally reply back within 24 hours, or less.

I also think a virtual book tour can be a really good investment. Shop for best value, not simply lowest price, or you will most likely not get the results you hope for. I love finding new stories and new authors and helping them spread the word about their creations. Unfortunately, I haven’t the hours needed to personally read every book that I find appealing—I wish I did.

Now, visit Laurie's blog, where I explain why I wrote the book that I did.
Laurie’s Paranormal Thoughts and Reviews

Laurie’s Non-paranormal Thoughts and Reviews

Twitter : Lauriej170

Facebook: Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews on Facebook

I review for: Night Owl Reviews, Coffee Time Romance and More, World Literacy Café, Independent Book Collective

About Laurie:

I am retired from Verizon Communications where I mostly worked as the Senior Accountant handling employee benefits in corporate books. Through the years I assisted and/or worked with various teams writing policies, procedures and lotsof responses to audit questions. This experience has been beneficial to my review writing skill-set since I am accustomed to writing concise and specific narratives.

I love to read and as a result I have read many, many reviews. When writing, I make the effort to give my personal, honest appraisal of the book without giving away any particulars of the story line. My goal is to provide valuable information from a fresh, candid view point that will help the perspective purchaser make an informed decision.

I like reads which flow smoothly and logically from one point to the next. I like authors who take me into their worlds; who can cast the line and hook me with their ideas. I'll go almost anywhere in my imagination through books but the author must set it up and make it believable.

My husband and I live on a little private lake 100 miles east of Dallas, Texas. We enjoy our quiet, small community and share our home with several curious, quirky, beautiful felines. We enjoy retirement and love being able to do things and go places on the spur of the moment.


  1. Hi Scott - Thanks for hosting me today and allowing me to blather on!! Have I mentioned how much I enjoy finding great new reads and meeting the talented and creative people who feed my addiction??

    1. I'm so glad to have you here, Laurie!

  2. Laurie, I loved gaining insight into your reviewing world. :) You reviewed Much Ado About Marshals and I was impressed that you understood what the book was all about, way beyond the romance. Your in-depth analysis was spot on but entertaining in itself.

    Scott, this is my first visit to your blog and you've done a great job here! I'll definitely be back. :)


  3. Great interview, Laurie. It's great to read more about you - as you do so much for authors!
    I'll be sure to visit your spot on Laurie's site, Scott.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Laurie. Enjoyed the interview. (nice site, Scott!)

  5. Thanks so much for coming by Jacquie and Regan - unexpected and so nice!! It was really fun putting this together and super wonderful of Scott to host ME....It's strange being on the other end of this promo stuff, for sure!!

    Jacquie, I so want to read Much Ado About Madams later this summer (I promise it is on my radar and my TBR....I thought Much Ado About Marshals was such a HOOT and lively. :)

    Regan Matchmaker's Mark is on my TBR also, along with the rest of your 2096 series.....I need to read faster!!!

    Thanks for stopping in Bev and taking time to comment. :) This has been fun!

  6. Great Interview Laurie!!!

  7. Awesome article, Laurie! You promote so many others that it's nice to see you getting some promotion too. I tell everyone about your blog, of course, "everyone" includes 2 dogs, 2 cats, and 5 chickens, but I try. ;)

  8. Great post, Laurie! As a relatively new reviewer (10 months) I really appreciate hearing your "imo". I am wondering how you handle an overload situation, and approx how many unread/unreviewed books do you consider an overload. At what point do you stop accepting any additional reads?


  9. Anonymous9:42 AM

    Hi Laurie. This input is important for all writers.
    I'm uncomfortable leaving a review of less than 4 stars, and choose to leave no review at all, but emailing the writer as to why is a good idea. Usually only helpful for indie authors. But can make a huge difference in their work.
    Thank you very much for sharing.
    Louise Sorensen