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What Makes A Good Book Blogger?

Mark Charan Newton's stirred up more interest with his latest blog entry on what makes a good book blogger.

Predictably, there's a lot of response to this, but one blogger in particular took the time to write a point by point examination and response to the seven points Newton brought up.

My questions to you are: What do you think makes a good book blogger?

What do you want those reviews to provide?

What don't you like that you frequently or sometimes see?

What do you wish you read more of (in terms of reviews)?


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 28th, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
That's not a "how to be a good blogger"; that's a list of elementary things not to do.

Have a look at my monthly bookposts to see what I think is the right way to review. Among things I do that most others don't: I like to start with a quote from the book itself so you can maybe tell something from having a taste; If I like or don't like something, I explain why (I disagree with that whole "complaining about beer 'cause it's not whisky" thing; If I explain that I would rather have had whisky, and you prefer the beer, you know you might like what I don't. Sometimes I treat a thorough enough pan from someone who hates what I like as a positive review).
Dec. 28th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
So you think a quote from the book is helpful when reading a review written by another person? That's an interesting idea. It does give the reader an excerpt for style so they can see if the writing is something they like, in addition to the premise.

I thought the point with the beer/whiskey thing was Ken was complaining that a lot of book bloggers tend to do that. I agree, only because I've seen it done so many times that it really is a bit ridiculous. It's an early mistake.

Thanks for your input! :)
Dec. 28th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
Well, there's a right and wrong way to do it.

I might say, "I was a little squicked at the graphic chainsaw massacre scene, especially since it surprised me and I was sorta in the mood for a sex scene instead. People who don't like a lot of heavy violence might want to read something else".

As opposed to, "This book SUCKS because it's too violent! It should have had care bears and unicorns!"

Dec. 28th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
Developing the nose for when you don't like the sort of thing the book is, vs. when the book actually executes it badly, is a skill that takes some work. Worth doing, though.
Dec. 28th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, and his point seemed to be critical of the "wrong way to do it," as you put it.

Sometimes, though, a book is marketed (as in, what's on the jacket copy) as one thing and that aspect turns out to be so inconsequential that you feel led astray. This is notable when it's taken into account as one of the main reasons a person bought the book in the first place.
Dec. 28th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
The point of not reviewing a book for not being what you wanted to be is a good one -- not criticize beer for not being whiskey. If you don't like a book for its type, you don't have to review it.
Dec. 28th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
As a book blogger myself, I find that this article brings up a lot of good points. I especially agree with the beer/whiskey comment. I had to wince a bit at the struggling writers point. As a struggling writer myself, I try hard to view books objectively, but it's difficult to turn that internal editor off!

As a book blogger I have some pretty strong opinions over what makes a good review. It's something I feel I'm constantly learning more about. For example, when I first started, my reviews were half summary, half analysis. Now they're closer to a third (or less) summary, and the rest analysis. I feel as if my reviews are stronger as a result. I know I can't stand reading a review that's nothing more of a summary of a book, especially when they include blatant spoilers. I feel that a good book blogger is someone that can provide an honest and fair review, that includes a clear explanation about why they liked or did not like the book. The review should flow well, and be relatively easy to read. Having reviews that connect to the style of the book is also a plus (example, writing a lighthearted review for a light comedy, and a more serious analysis for a deeper book).

One thing that makes me scratch my head in confusion are people that pick up books that they know they're going to hate, just so they can join the hate party. Maybe I'm a crazy lady, but I try to pick up books that I'm going to like. Oftentimes I go through great lengths to make sure I don't pick up a stinker. I'm not always successful, but I never pick up a book going "oooh I heard this is bad! Let's read this so I can write a snarky review!"

One thing I'd like to see more of in reviews is reviews of older books. Most (and I'm guilty of this too) review books published in the last year or two. I'd like to see more reviews of books that may be a few years old, but still good. Those can be a lot easier for me to find used or at my library!
Dec. 28th, 2009 09:33 pm (UTC)
I write, too, but have never thought of, "well if I was writing this book, I'd have written it *this* way." I try to use my experience to critique thoughtfully what I wished there was more of or what I thought was lacking. In short, what worked for me, what didn't, and why. It's a really rookie mistake to begin critiquing any work (whether it's published or not) in terms of what you, critiquing, would have done instead. After all, I'm not their editor, their teacher, or their writing mentor and it's not my job to be. I do enough of that in my own work and what's brought to me specifically to be critiqued! ;)

You bring up an interesting point with changing the tone of reviews to reflect the type of book being reviewed. I think this has some merit to it, especially considering not all books are received the same way, but a blogger might enjoy the variety anyway! Showing that in how the review is written is a good way to understand the range of a blogger's tastes. :)

I like to see older books being reviewed, too. Since I don't just read new releases and write reviews on every book I read, there's a lot that deal with older titles and I've always wondered which get more attention (or if it even matters): the new books I review or the older ones. But you're absolutely right, it does make it infinitely more easy for a reader to pick up a book if it's an older title! Also that makes for better discussion since the chances are higher that more people will have read an older title. :)
Dec. 29th, 2009 04:36 am (UTC)
I typically don't critique an authors work as if I had written in, although occasionally I'll find myself thinking "but you could have prevented this problem by doing XYZ!" I try not to get into the habit of doing that.

And thank you about older books! I've been thinking about reviewing some older works on my blog next year. It will help me lighten that TBR :)
Dec. 29th, 2009 04:13 am (UTC)
RE: hate party

I'm not a book blogger, but I'm an English major and future professor, and I absolutely HAVE to (as in, there is a very strong inner urge to) read things that I think I'm going hate simply to understand why I hate what I hate and use it as a contrast to what I like.

For example, I knew I'd hate Chuck Palahniuk because I'd heard a lot about his shock value aspect and gore, but he's often compared to Vonnegut (who is my favorite author). I read a few Palahniuk books just to make sure I really hated it and better articulate what I think is wrong about it and why I wouldn't compare him to Vonnegut at all.

Now, I wouldn't go out of my way to specifically write a review/paper/article/whatever to pick it apart, but it's nice having it in my arsenal for when people ask me about him. I feel like having these books under my belt help me, as a writer and teacher, to understand what I do like, also.

NOT RE: hate party

I agree that I'd like to see more reviews on books that are older, even classics! It really bothers me when I see reviews popping up saying "I know everyone's read this already so I won't really type out my thoughts but I'll summarize for those who haven't read it and just say whether I liked it or not." Feels like a cop-out to me.
Dec. 29th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
Those are the same reasons why I read any book--to form an educated opinion so I can understand why I feel the way I do about them with examples. If anyone ever asks, I can support myself well in a way I feel comfortable doing, with textual evidence! :)
Dec. 29th, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)
In your case I can understand why you'd pick up a book you probably won't like so you can form better founded opinions, especially as a professional. I've just noticed a trend in the past 10 years, especially with highly popular fiction. There are people that pick up a book for the sole purpose of being part of the back lash. These ARE NOT people that pick up a book to "see what the fuss is about" and feel in turn that it's "overrated." They know it's not a book that they'll going to like, close off their minds form any positive aspects from the start, and specifically read it so they can be ready with an arsenal of snark. There's something incredibly mean spirited about it that just bothers me. Now I'm not going to say that people don't have the right to do this, and I'd never lecture them about how I don't agree with them, but it's something I'd like to see less of.

And I agree about older books! They have just as much right to have a lengthy review as the current New York Times bestsellers. :)
Dec. 28th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
It read more as a primer on what not to do, rather than what makes a good blogger, to me... but I guess that was the point. "If you don't do this, you're a good blogger."

I've wanted to keep a book review blog for a long time now, but I just don't know if I'd have the audience for it - or the patience, really.
Dec. 28th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)
No one has an audience when they first start. That's part of the process of becoming a book blogger! You shouldn't start reviewing or writing about books because you already have an audience, that comes after the fact. I'm not saying that's what your intentions are, but there's some things to keep in mind when you do start your own book blog!

To begin, just start writing about the books that you read. It doesn't matter what they are, or where you've gotten them. The important thing is to write about the books. Keep in mind what you'd like to get out of a book review and try to do that in your own review. Practice really does help you work out the kinks in how your approach writing a review. There's a reason why there isn't just one book reviewer out there. People gravitate toward the reviews that appeal to them based on a lot of different, unaccountable factors--opinion being one of them. You cultivate that more coherently with each successive review, if you're always keeping an eye out for improvement, that is. Your audience will eventually trickle in if they continue to like what they see. Self advertising helps keep yourself fresh to new readers, too.

It does take some patience since you have to sit and type out or write out and then type up a review, but no one says they have to be really long. You'll find a lot of readers prefer short, sweet, succinct reviews to longer ones. :)

Also, don't worry about reading X number of books in X amount of time. You do what you can at your pace. Otherwise, your reviews suffer as a result. Quality over quantity, I say. ;)

Good luck!

Edited at 2009-12-28 09:45 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 28th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
lol I think that's true of most people, with regards to proof-reading. It takes some time and distance (not to mention, a lot of practice) to spot all errors quickly. Even the best writer has an editor there to help them. :)
Dec. 29th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)
I'm honestly not sure what makes a *good* book blog, but I do know what makes me fall in love with one:
1) Voice, voice, voice. If I don't enjoy the style, I don't care how insightful the reviews are. A compelling voice (no matter what register, formal or off-the-cuff, etc.) will make me stick around even if I'm not that interested in the blogger's favorite genres - and will often charm me into trying books I wouldn't normally consider.
2) The sort of books reviewed. I do tend to lean more strongly toward bloggers who are more likely to write about things I'm interested in. (This is a pretty wide range - but, for example, there are a few bloggers who almost exclusively review "inspirational" titles. Excellent bloggers, but I won't be reading their blogs.) I especially like hearing about older books or less popular (but very top-shelf) titles that I'm not going to hear about from industry sources. (This is one of the reasons why several of my favorite book blogs are British, I think.)
3) A relatively high proportion of actual content vs. memes without much writing in them, unannotated links, and/or writer interviews. (I know! But I generally don't want to read author interviews unless I've specifically gone looking for them, and it gets tiresome to see the same person interviewed 5 or 6 times in succession.) I'm fine with links if they are usually filtered through the explanation of why the blogger finds them interesting, and fine with memes that encourage conversational responses... but if I look at a blog and all I see are links and writing prompts, I'm usually bored. There are a very *few* exceptions to this rule that I love specifically because all of their links are so great that I don't mind link lists in the least - but normally I'm their for that person's reviews, and the rest of it feels like cruft.
4) I like to feel like the blogger is being straight with the blog reader and with the book they're reading. This doesn't have to do with disclaimers, per se. But if I get to feeling like the person is trying way too hard to be nice about a dud, or conversely is giving a negative review to something because they weren't really paying attention to the book (without acknowledging that that could be the problem) - I usually go find someone else to read.
Dec. 29th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC)
I've just started a book blog myself and I think that when it comes to writing a review it's always a good thing not to write a one-sided I loved/ hated this book type of review. I've seen this done a few times and it irritates the hell out of me. Even when I read a book that I hated I will still try to include what I did like about the book that way the review is less biased. The standard things that I like to comment on include: the characters -are they unique? realistic? or plain black and white? the story in general -did everything flow well? was it easy to understand? the scenes -were there any scenes that I particularly loved/ hated? and of course the writing style -was it easy to picture the characters? etc etc.

I also dislike book reviews when people just write a summary of the book. I admit that I've done this myself in the past, so I know that the trap is easy to fall into, but I've since managed to break the habit. I guess it annoys me because if it's a popular book then most people will just look it up on wiki to see what the story is about. In the last year alone I must have read a thousand Twilight summaries from people who thought they were writing a review.
Dec. 29th, 2009 03:42 am (UTC)
My one disagreement is with the rebuttal of the first point, and I think what the original poster was TRYING to say is that if you read, say, paranormal romance and then wander over to SF/F for urban fantasy, don't get pissed when the urban fantasy doesn't play by your paranormal romance rules. It's not to say you'll like the book otherwise, but one shouldn't punish a book simply because you expect certain conventions to be met in books where those conventions are not required to be met at all.

Does that make sense?
Dec. 29th, 2009 04:04 am (UTC)
I'm confused because that's the exact point Mark Charan Newton makes, so I'm unclear why Ken seems to be disagreeing with him when it appears that he agrees, but prefers to go about showing that by saying, "I state why I don't like this because it's not that." I mean, I'd hope a blogger would explain themselves like that, otherwise, I, for one, wouldn't take them very seriously.
Dec. 29th, 2009 11:51 am (UTC)
Maybe there's a typo that's causing the misunderstanding, but in his explanation, he's really not talking about the same example, is he?
Dec. 29th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
It doesn't look like it that's for sure!
Dec. 29th, 2009 05:50 am (UTC)
Personally, #6 is my pet peeve. Almost every book on Amazon is rated 4 stars or above. A three-star book is crap.

But when you think about it, a good, fairly average book ought to be three stars; five stars ought to be reserved for truly exceptional books. For example, I would rate Crime and Punishment 5 stars, but Lolita only 4.
Dec. 29th, 2009 07:04 am (UTC)
I like to start with a quote if one has jumped out at me, or a very brief synopsis. I dislike very lengthy reviews. On the screen, I have no patience. More than three or four paragraphs and I usually start to lose interest and begin to skim. A list of the strengths and weaknesses, or comparisons to the author's other work is a plus. I like to at least touch upon prose style. If possible, I like to throw in a dash of humour to make it more interesting.

If someone has obviously taken some time to think about the book and its strengths and weaknesses, then I am happy. I really dislike long, disjointed rants and really basic reviews that don't touch on why they did or did not like it. I'm fairly easy to please, and I think most people are when it comes to book reviews (but maybe I'm an optimist?)
Dec. 29th, 2009 07:09 am (UTC)
On ratings...
I don't write reviews anymore (they were more like responses, anyway) because I can't devote the time to them that they deserve, but when I did I used two rating systems, the Snooty Rating and the Entertainment Rating" for a total of 10 stars. It eased my mind.

I have to agree with the lovey dovey reviewers, but I also have to agree that the haters are annoying when unbridled. If you really really hated the book and can't say anything constructive or interesting don't waste my time with tons of ranting. I won't read it anyway. Also, don't waste your life reading books you hate. I like to use the Rule of 50 to keep me moving...
Dec. 29th, 2009 08:09 am (UTC)
Re: On ratings...
Snooty Rating and the Entertainment Rating, hm? This is something I could use from time to time:)
Dec. 29th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
Re: On ratings...
It's fun!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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