How to Write a Book Review

How to Write a Book Review

As authors, we would like the general public to believe that book reviews hold little or no importance to us. We would have you think that such write-ups are minor side effects or consequences of our career as we get on with the real business at hand—writing. And of course that should be our real focus. But we can no more deny the real effects that book reviews have on us and our readers than we can the effect of an Academy Award nomination on the career of an actor.

People take heed to what is said. Once it is said or read we can’t undo the effects. The thing is, distinguishing a good, solid review as opposed to a bashing, venting or an out and out rant of the story or book.

black_child_a_girl_reading_a_book_0515-1002-0104-1043_SMU

The purpose of a book review

When giving a good review whether you are a professional or just an avid reader, keep in mind the purpose of a book review: It is to inform potential readers of your opinion and to give merit as to whether a book is worth the read. As a reader of your review, I would hope that it is not biased, but objective based on your varied reading experience and knowledge of prose. For example, perhaps you are prochoice, but the protagonist in the book you have just read has a mission of destroying abortion clinics all over the country. Your review should be unbiased and not based on your beliefs for or against the subject.

Was the story well written?

Well written stories have specific and vivid detail. The wording is crisp, accurate and precise. You are drawn in to the suspension of disbelief. In other words based on description of characters, setting and dialogue you are able to step away, temporarily from your own experiences and believe in the plausibility of that story, for that time without judgment.

Also, does the story have a natural flow? Does it progress with great timing, not flitting here and there like a nervous bird as if the writer was not quite sure where he was going? If he doesn’t know, at this point, who does?

Was the story compelling?

Honestly, I have read books with rich, specific and colorful detail and that was the best part of the book. I was completely pulled in with anticipation thinking, this is going to be good, only to realize that the risk for the protagonist was minimal or not really a risk at all. There was no driving force.

A protagonist can be a complete jerk. You absolutely can’t stand him. But–his reputation is at stake. His life is at stake, or that of his family. You must know what happens to him. It is what compels you to keep reading. It is what causes you to pick it up during your lunch hour, read into the late hours of the night. You can’t wait for dinner to be over so that you can delve right back into it. A compelling story is tightly written. The main characters have taken a path, the path of least resistance but even that one is risky and could end badly. He could lose it all. He could fail and that would be to his demise. Ask yourself as you are reading: Were the reasons for not pursuing the other paths clearly given or at least implied?  Otherwise, you will read and find yourself saying, Well, if he would have just…he could have avoided this entire mess. But keep in mind that his chosen path is based on the character’s personality background, history. If he is naturally driven, then for him, turning back is not an option. But if his other options were viable, possible, less risky, then, that is a problem.

Secondly, did the story move too slowly with a lot of unnecessary details and you find yourself skipping over them just to get to the good parts? Or perhaps there are too many subplots and characters and not enough story to convince you that all are necessary or there are simply too many for you to care about.

 

blog

A rant is not a book review

What you want to avoid in a book review is a rant about how much you hated the book, or how the characters are stupid or dumb, without giving the potential reader of your review specific reasons for despising it so. Such descriptions are unproductive and they do not give the reader or the writer anything they can work with.

Ultimately, if you are writing a book review for the public to read, you want it to truly be useful and fair. Otherwise it is not a review in the true sense.

Turning an Idea into a Book

Turning an Idea into a Book

old_booksThere are probably many book ideas going through your head, even now. They come from everywhere– personal experiences, stories others have told us and those that just seem to be conjured up through pure imagination. But it is a lengthy road from idea to book. Most ideas never make it to book form; and for many, rightfully so. Others can and should be developed. Let’s take a moment to examine the process of turning an idea into a book.

Record your book idea

When you get an idea write it down. Contrary to how it feels when your adrenaline is pumping, you will forget if you don’t record it. Please understand you will end up with more ideas than actual stories but that’s O.K. But if you cannot remember them, it won’t matter. Start a journal or a log of sorts and as the ideas progress with characters, setting and conflict add this information to your entries.

Flush out your story

Write out the conflict behind the story. All stories whether fiction or non-fiction must have sustaining and driving conflict. Conflict is simply the dilemma which your protagonist finds herself in; it is the driving force behind the story.

Provide Sustaining conflict

This is not something that is quickly wrapped up or resolved. There are obstacles, ebbs and flows which your protagonist must work through.  Ensure that there is a journey to end or solve this conflict. If, as you are flushing this idea out, you don’t see it, and you can’t reasonably create one, there won’t be a story. It will fizzle before it even starts.

Provide Driving Conflict

The conflict must drive your protagonist; there must be something at risk. Why is he so determine to find a cure for this disease? Will his wife die if none is found? Is his reputation at stake?  Or, why is she so determined to get married now? Is her biological clock winding down?  Is it her mother’s dying wish to see her married? The driving conflict can be physical, mental or even spiritual. But the stakes have to be elevated enough that the protagonist is willing to risk all to solve this problem. If it is not important enough to your protagonist to risk all or nearly all, it won’t be important enough to your reader to continue reading.

hey diddle diddle

Find resolution for the conflict

 If the idea you have for a story as an experience which you are currently going through (mainly for non-fiction) it may yet make for a great book, but  it must have some type of resolution. For example, you just found out your husband has been having an affair for the past five years (I really hope not!). You are obviously right in the throes of it. At this point, you don’t know what the end is going to be. Well, pick a resolution point based on where you are.  Perhaps, so far you’ve learned you are too trusting. You always have been. Take us to this point. How did you get there? Tell that story. Perhaps it is still too fresh, but you feel it has been interesting so far—even book-worthy. Writing can be cathartic. Keep a journal. Write. One day it just might make an interesting story.

The resolution is the final part of the story. And there must be something learned, gained or changed at the end. Either the conflict will bring you full circle or things will change completely. As your idea progresses, you will be able to see the end at the beginning even if you haven’t quite figured out how to get there.

Find out if your book idea is marketable:

I saved this for last because these days there are markets for almost genre. But if your book is a romance/thriller/book of poetry you may have a little trouble finding a market for it. Usually you have the market already subconsciously tagged in your head. But often you don’t. As you work your way through your idea, keep the market in mind. Don’t let it completely drive your story or it can block your creative flow, but simply keep it in mind.

You may have a million ideas. Sometimes you will know right away that an idea won’t work based on the above information. Sometimes you won’t know how far you can go until you begin to write because the idea is so alive and thrilling. But you will know. Some ideas may have to be merged with others to become stronger and more sustainable; some need to be completely done away with. But keep writing them down, keep the creative thoughts flowing and soon you may find yourself with a beautiful and engaging story.

Finding Time to Write Your Book

Finding Time to Write Your Book

I often hear people complaining that they can’t find time to write. Between work, school, kids and all of the other factors that equal life there just isn’t time. Well, would you like to know that secret? Would you like to know how we published authors are able to do it so deftly? How do you write that book? Are your ears bent? OK. Good.

There is no secret.

Nope. No clear-cut, foolproof super-method on how to write your book. The bottom line is you have to make time. You know that same time you make to watch that favorite reality show you recorded on the DVR. The same way you make time to whip up that special desert your family cannot do without. The kind of time you carve out to watch the can’t-miss, once-in-a-season football game. I know you’re saying, well wait a minute, those are necessary pleasures and I’m not giving those up. I’m not suggesting you give them up—at least not all of them. But you will have to make some sacrifices.

You see writing, like exercising or dieting or doing anything that will produce beneficial, long-term results—takes some sacrifice. And as I wrote earlier, it doesn’t take long stretches of uninterrupted time as your household runs amok and your children douse themselves in paint and glitter just to remind you of how neglectful you’re being. But you will be surprised at how small, even tiny chunks of time add up and produce beautiful results.

Although I’m sure I’ve told this story before, it deserves a retelling. I wrote my first published novel, In Three Days while working the midnight shift at a hotel. My co-worker and I would work into the wee hours reconciling reports, assisting guests with this and that and making sure patrons weren’t taking skinny dips in the pool while everyone else slept. At about 4 am things begin to quiet down. It was our time to relax and unwind. And around that time sleep would creep up like a thief as we searched for something in which to occupy ourselves. It was during this time I would manually shift into second gear and write. I was never able to get more than three pages done.

 

waiting

Dawn was on the horizon and sleepy patrons’ calls began at about five or six am. Three pages, five days a week was all I could muster. But a year later and I had a full novel. Writing steadily and consistently is all that is required. And the marvelous thing is that once your story is going at a nice pace, you can’t wait to get at it again as you see a real, live book in the future.

You might say I can be that consistent. Well a half an hour a day, anytime a day will still push your story along. When I worked at the grocery store (yeah, I’ve had quite a career) I would stand there minding U-scan, bored until my eyes were crossing and I would grab a napkin or paper towel and write. I had many such napkins and paper towels over the course of several months. And all were parts of my novel. It was during such times when my creativity began to flow fast and uninhibited.

You may say, wow I’m just not that motivated. The thing is you need to develop a habit. The only way you can label yourself as writer is to actually write. Sure there will be another day, hour, a better time to write your book—once the kids are grown or things slow down on the job or the wintertime when you’re stuck inside. But what would happen if you started today? You might just be surprised.

The Relevancy of your Faith

The Relevancy of your Faith

disappointments

Note: This post was originally posted in December of 2013, but I felt impressed to repost. Feel free to share!

I’ve watched one or two of those reality shows that gather some of the brightest and gifted minds in the entertainment industry for a game of show; those who have fallen by fame’s wayside for one reason or another and are now attempting to make their second or third resurgence via reality TV. (The genre is a forgiving haven for those cast from the spotlight.) We are always asking, whatever happened to…

After a few painful episodes of this show and that one, I came to this realization: mere talent is not the main variable to success. Being the smartest or most gifted person in the room is become less and less a deciding indication of your escalation to fame. Do such things give you an advantage? Yes, sometimes. But often they are the greatest hindrance.

Those people that believe they are particularly bright, gifted or beautiful or have some kind of peculiar and intriguing talent usually rest in that very talent. They rely on it like an eagle does its wings. And when it fails, the fear settles in as they flutter around seeking Plan B. And no I’m not seething with jealousy or any kind of envy. I am just an observer.

Most of us have to confess our fears and insecurities upfront before we experience any kind of success. Our fears are daunting and undeniable and have to be dealt with head on. For that group of exceptional they can hide it for years behind the glossy beauty of talent and gifts. This is not to say that the rest of do not possess some kind of gift. I believe we all do. But for the majority no one hears us flawlessly playing Beethoven’s Fifth at six years of age, most of us aren’t 6’2 at 12, dunking shots off of grown men. No, for most of us we have to seek and find that place where we fit.  We have to work hard and face so much failure we threaten to quit every day.

It is here that our faith becomes the most relevant factor. It becomes the single most undeniable force; this is the fulcrum for our success. It is the Plan B for the most talented but necessary for us all.

Consider this: more than 300,000 books are published in the U.S. each year; and that is not including e-books. To sit for days, weeks, months and sometimes years at a keyboard with the sincere hope and belief that within that haystack someone besides our parents, siblings and spouse will find us takes some kind of faith. There will be many times where this feeling of ridiculousness will overwhelm you and you will question the validity of your project. And you will press through. Writer’s block will leave you stumped and confused. And you will not give up. Sometimes, you will count time vested as time wasted. You will blow this off.

And when the work is done, they will tell you that the real work hasn’t even begun. You’ve got to market that baby, they will say. You will sigh and roll your eyes and huff. Then you will get to work. You will read; how to publish a book in 30 days; 21 ways to double your Twitter followers in a week; Five thousand Fabulous Facebook Followers. A tiny voice will whisper that it is all gibberish and worthless. And you will initially be convinced to believe it (some of it will be), but quickly realize that doing nothing will result in eminent death of your project. And then your faith will push you, prod and demand from you.

And finally when you have done all that you can do your faith will compel you to release the reins. It is then you will see it clearer. Your marketing will make sense. Those who are needful to you will become more apparent. And most importantly, your faith has moved the hand of God. And He my friend is the most relevant factor of all.

Man in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Just a little inspiration for a Tuesday….

 

roosevelt_quote

 

 

Don’t worry about the ones who question your reason for doing what you do. Go at it with all you’ve got.

1muhammad ali

Painting of Muhammad Ali by JaBrion Graham

The world needs to hear what you have to say.

 

SPEAK

 

%d bloggers like this: