All writers covet considerate reviews from readers who appreciate the hard work they’ve sandwiched between their book’s covers. Additionally, submitting thoughtful reviews can be an excellent way to earn bylines for your writing resume, while being a good literary citizen of the writing community. Even one-liner 4- and 5-star reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, Target, and Walmart can help a new writer get noticed among the bestsellers whose work always ranks at the top of most search engines.
So how should you go about writing a good book review? What should you do—and what should not do?
As you’re reading, jot notes about the things you love in the story. Mark quotes or powerful lines that move you. Use those in your review (note the page number for bonus points).
Think about and mention the story elements, such as memorable characters, sensory and setting details, or lines of dialogue that stick with you. Write about what surprises you in the story. (Be sure to denote a “spoiler alert” if you plan to give away the ending.)
What about the story will you take with you? What will you remember long after you close the book’s cover? Chances are, if it moves you, it will move other readers to whom you’re recommending the story.
Do NOT review books you don’t like. Sure, some say any attention is good attention, but if you’ve watched a two-year-old have a tantrum in a grocery store, you know that’s not true. The writing community is its own microcosm, and you don’t want to be known as “that spiteful writer” who dissed the work that another reader or writer loves. Let it go and move on to write glowingly about the next book you love.
Where can you publish your well-written review? Many local newspapers and library newsletters seek book reviews, especially those written by local authors. If your review is especially detailed and thoughtful (and includes quotes with the page numbers on which they appear), you may submit it to one of the literary magazines and journals that publish well-written book reviews. Bonus: some will even pay you for your review!
Here are a few you can try (be sure to follow their guidelines, as each is quite specific):
Whether you spend your summer days reading on the beach, in a shaded hammock in the mountains, or curled up in your own climate-controlled living room, you won’t want to miss grabbing one–or all!–of these Summer 2019 #MustReads! There’s something in the list below for everyone!
NOVEL – Valerie Nieman’s To the Bones is a murder mystery, slash romance, slash ecocritical novel, slash ghost story, and it deftly blurs the lines between these seemingly unrelated genres with page-turning skill. Y’all, this novel kept me up late, and the ending caught me so off-guard I know you’ll never see it coming. With equal parts Celtic mythology and Appalachian folklore, the twists and turns will have you laughing, gasping, and second-guessing what you think you know until the very last page.
SHORT-STORY COLLECTION – The Sound of Holding Your Breathis Natalie Sypolt’s debut collection, and wow! What a way to start a writing career! These stories are set in modern-day Appalachia, but no matter where you’re from, you’ll relate to each of the fourteen stories herein, because these characters deal with emotions you’ve felt or feel, they’ve faced challenges you’ve faced or are facing–or shoot!–one might even be you! These stories will test your courage and your mettle, and you may find yourself at the end of this stunning work asking yourself if you would have behaved in the same way these characters did, if you would have responded in the same manner in which they did, should you be faced with what they are facing.
MEMOIR – Dawn Davies writes “A Memoir in Pieces,” Mothers of Sparta,and even if you think you’re not a fan of memoir, prepare yourself to be struck to the core by the gorgeous rawness of these stories. It’s rare for me to cry over a book, but this one turned me inside out. I giggled, I shook my head, and I truly wept over the course of these sixteen stories, each even more powerful because I know it is true, I know Davies bared her weakest, strongest, and most honest self to us in these pages. We see Davies navigate her nomadic childhood, marriage and divorce, pregnancy and postpartum depression, and the beautiful heartbreak of motherhood. With blade-sharp prose, Davies bisects and dissects her life for us, and in doing so, she lays bare a path that leads straight to the heart.
FORTHCOMING NOVEL – Though you won’t be able to order Jon Sealy’s latest, The Edge of America,until September 11th, you’ll want to go ahead and pre-order today and keep it at the top of your to-be-read list. This action-packed political thriller is set in steamy 1980’s Miami, Florida, and man, is it hot! The CIA is keeping their eye on employee Bobby West, who when in need of easy money succumbs to a money-laundering deal with the devil himself–if the devil is named Alexander French. West’s obstinate teenage daughter skips town with French’s millions and a small-town Southern boy who is merely looking for his own shortcut to riches, neither realizing an Israeli hit woman has been hired by Cuban exiles to find French’s money and exterminate them both. You’ll hold your breath on this one through to the very last page. NOTE: Be sure to look for my detailed review of Sealy’s novel forthcoming in South 85 Journallater this year!)
Today is the day serious book nerds like you and I look forward to for days, weeks, even months: it’s the day summer reading begins! You probably have a tall stack (or, if you’re like me, stacks) of books that you’ve anticipated reading for far too long. Some of these books may be mindless entertainment; stories you won’t take too seriously, and ones you’ll probably forget a few weeks from now. Some may be literary fiction; stories that will cause introspection, play with your emotions, leave you forever remembering characters who touched you. Some may be nonfiction; memoir, how-to, or self-help texts that will teach you something new. If you’re lucky, one will be a poetry collection; poems to inspire your day, lift your spirit, and encourage new ways of seeing the unique in everyday moments.
The best way to devour your summer reading list is to relax, and get started. Begin your day with a cup of coffee and a couple of great poems. Once you’ve been sufficiently inspired, crack open a non-fiction text and learn something new about a topic that interests you. In the afternoon, visit the beach with umbrella drink in hand, or grab an iced tea and sit outside on your porch, and lose track of time with a riveting novel that will transport you to a different world. Then, for a bedtime snack, pull out a collection of short stories or a fine literary magazine. Short stories couch brief flashes of light, of insight, of understanding; they’re perfect morsels of fiction that can nourish dreams and visions during your sleeping hours.
Now, what should you read? Feast your eyes upon whatever stories interest you! There’s a smorgasbord of summer reading lists online, and most any supermarket-checkout magazine will include someone’s recommended list of summer must-reads. If you don’t already have a stack you’ve been waiting to devour, check out the reviews at NewPages.com, or search Goodreads.com for suggestions. Or, check out the titles (some new, some a few years older) on my personal summer reading list, below:
American Sycamore by Kathleen Nalley – Poetry collection – I’ve had the privilege of not only reading Kathleen’s poetry before, but of hearing her read it aloud at the Converse Low-Residency MFA Program in Spartanburg, SC. Kathleen’s writing is sharp, precise, and easy to understand, yet it never fails to leave me breathless with newfound revelations.
Pasture Art by Marlin Barton – Short-story collection – Another collection of work by a friend whose Southern voice I hear in my head every time I read his stunning stories. This collection, set in Alabama, has been in my “save for dessert” stack. Why? Because I know from reading Barton’s prior work that this collection will indeed be a treat to be savored, full of stories I won’t want to rush through (even though they are brief), stories I’ll want to ponder and re-read, letting them melt into me, like ice cream on the tongue.
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron – Writing craft text – Every good writer must regularly read more about the craft of writing, but this text is touted as more than another how-to-write-well manual: it’s a blueprint of how the brain understands and processes stories, offering “cognitive secrets” and neuroscientific breakthroughs on how we respond to the stories we read (and write). Yes, this one should be worth biting into!
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane – Crime fiction– I’ve always loved to wolf down a riveting thriller, and when I first discovered Lehane’s work through his Gone, Baby, Gone series starring detectives Kenzie and Gennaro, I was hooked on his writing, as it’s the perfect blend of entertaining genre and literary fiction. Live by Night is the story of the rise and fall of a Prohibition-Era gangster, soon to be made into a major motion picture directed by Ben Affleck.
We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates – Literary fiction – Yes, this “Oprah’s Book Club” bestselling novel was published in 1997, but it’s never too late to catch up on classic fiction that you missed the first time around. This family saga of heartbreak, healing, and hope has been recommended to me at least a dozen times, and this summer is the perfect time for me to sink my teeth into it.
Lost Mountain by Erik Reece – Environmental non-fiction – Another text that’s a few years old (2006), but one that I’m anxious to read. Reviews of this work collectively state that it’s more than a nature book, more than ecocriticism, more than a documentary; it’s evocative writing in truthful terms about a subject that is often buried, and when it is unearthed is sometimes pushed aside as mere righteous indignation. The unpalatable, radical destruction of Appalachia through mountaintop-removal mining is something every American needs to know more about, and this is the text I’ll be reading to further my education on this devastating reality.
Bellevue Literary Review, Vol. 15, No. 1 – Literary magazine – If you aren’t regularly reading literary magazines, you are really missing out. Not only is it the best way to be the first among your friends to discover great new writers, it’s the best way to support those new writers as they’re starting out. In addition, you’ll find smashingly good work by your personal favorites. Bellevue Literary Review, with its focus on short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction stories about medicine, nursing, philosophy, ethics, psychology, and sociology, has long been one of my favorite literary journals. These little literary bites are perfect for mental noshing while waiting for an appointment, lounging by the pool, or just before bedtime. I’m looking forward to whetting my story appetite on this quarter’s issue.
Now you know what I’ll be reading this summer. What are some of the titles on your summer reading list? Share them in the comments section below, and let’s exchange recommendations and reviews!
You may be thinking that it’s difficult to throw back on a brand new blog site, but there are ways to pass or rush around just about any obstacle. I’m going to tackle it today (another football metaphor—did you catch it?) by posting a list of throwback novels or story collections that had a direct and positive impact on my writing. I call them throwbacks, not only because I read them some time ago, but because each was published over ten years ago. I’m leaving out the classics—it goes without saying that most any writer or reader has been shaped in some way by Hawthorne, Austen, Poe, and Hemingway—focusing instead on works by contemporary authors, a few of whom you may not have read.
Some of these novels influenced my use of language or dialect, some taught me how to develop characters or add tension, some inspired me to prioritize study of the craft, while still others simply left me breathlessly wondering how on earth did they do that? All of these fulfilled the ultimate goal of any work of fiction; they entertained me.
If you’re a writer or an avid reader who loves a great story, I hope you’ll crack the spines of a few of these fabulous fictions. And while you’re browsing the list below, perhaps you’ll recall titles of a few works of fiction that inspired or influenced you in some way, as well. If so, please share them the comment section below, so we can add them to our “to read” lists in 2015.
Here’s to a great novel and a cup of hot tea to warm your spirit on this cold winter’s day!
Storming Heaven: A Novel, by Denise Giardina – I credit this novel (and author) for helping me realize it’s okay to tell my own story, my “Where I’m From”, in a voice and dialect that sound natural and authentic to my upbringing. (It’s okay to write y’all, y’all.)
Open Secrets: Stories, by Alice Munro – These intriguing, multi-layered stories hide as much as they reveal, and I love reading them again and again, each time uncovering some new truth, gaining a new perspective on the world in which I live and write.
A Drink Before the War, by Dennis LeHane – This first in a series of six private-eye novels taught me that genre fiction and literary fiction don’t have to be separate entities, as there’s some damn fine writing here. It’s the first time I’ve ever read straight through an entire series of novels, one after the other, in less than a week. Captivating and harrowing!
Burning Bright, by Ron Rash – It’s no secret among my bookish friends that I’m a huge fan of Ron Rash’s writing. It’s—wow—it’s just, WOW! (Okay, okay, I’m breathing normally again.) Though I’d read everything Rash had written up to that point, when I read this collection of amazing stories, something clicked in my head, and I began writing at a deeper, more intuitive level. I can honestly say that my MFA creative thesis would not have been the same without the heady influence of these stories.
Waiting, by Ha Jin – I’ll never again try on a pair of too-tight shoes without remembering the compelling characters in this story. With amazing narrative structure, the right touch of humor, fascinating cultural details, and poignant allegories, this is one love story you’ll never forget.
The Complete Stories, by Flannery O’Connor – Yes, yes, I know I said that I wasn’t talking about the classics, but O’Connor’s collection transcends description like classic and canonical—though it’s certainly that! Her stories are as relevant today as they were when she penned them half a century ago. I turn to them often, particularly when I need inspiration to write, when I’m struggling to make every word purposeful, or when I simply want to enjoy an entertaining read.
This list could potential go on for several more pages, as every novel I read perhaps holds some sort of lesson for me as a writer. These I’ve mentioned, however, are a few that gave me courage and confidence and motivation to pick up a pen and write.
Now it’s your turn. What works of fiction have influenced you?
Welcome to my new blog, Read. Write. Live! I’m an author, ghostwriter, editor, an adjunct professor of English, a licensed Realtor, and a pretty decent cook. I’m thrilled to be living on Florida’s East Coast, though I equally enjoy jaunts throughout the South and visits to the Appalachian Mountains.
Here I’ll share with you my book recommendations and reviews, my thoughts on writing, inspiration for surviving thriving in a hectic world, and a great recipe or three. (What good is living, if you don’t enjoy yummy food and a great drink along the journey?)
I’ll also treat you to posts from guest-bloggers who enjoy this creative life of reading, writing, and living, so check back often–or better still, click the link to follow this blog!
I invite you to chime in with your own comments and thoughts. Let’s Read. Write. Live!