On writing reviews…

(image: Mar.tin)

This is a question for other book bloggers. I’ve been curious about this for a while: how do you write your reviews? I know that I can agonize over a sentence or a word, and worry that one paragraph doesn’t flow nicely into the next. I have my system, but it still takes me a while to write a review because I don’t seem to have that ability to sit down and write something for half an hour to an hour and be done. It takes me some timeand I can’t seem to do it all at once.

These are some of the things I do:

  • I type all my reviews into emails and save them in draft form in gmail. I work on them in bits and pieces throughout the day. That “check spelling” option of gmail is awesome. I also like the formatting capabilities there.
  • My thoughts are fresher as I read a book, so starting reviews while I’m in the middle of the book works out really well for me. I fell out of the practice of doing this, but I’m trying to start again.
  • I’m more coherent in the morning, so my best working-on-the-blog time is after my coffee has kicked in.
  • I jot down thoughts I want to remember to communicate. I should do this as I read a book, but I don’t. πŸ™‚
  • If I can’t remember a name or a place I use a placeholder that I bold or capitalize so I can look it up later. I also do this with words that don’t come to me.
  • Sometimes I will just type something quickly, just to get the thought out there before it disappears, and then check back later to fix it.
  • I move sentences around until I’m satisfied.
  • I scan my review looking for parts that are too stilted, have passive voice, grammar problems, and mixed tenses.

I could never have been an English major: writing takes me too long! Focusing and analyzing while reading are no problem. Communicating what I think? Yarg.

What do you find works for you? Do you have tips for getting your reviews done? For writing better? I am very curious what your process is!

43 thoughts on “On writing reviews…

  1. Yes, writing reviews takes me forever too! It seems to get even worse as time goes by since lately it seems I spend a lot of time rereading parts just to try to decide if I really agree with my initial impressions after looking at the book as a whole.

    My process is similar to yours (except for being coherent in the morning – I often lie awake at night with sudden renewed energy wishing I didn’t have to get up in the morning so I could get my review written down right then because that’s when I have all the thoughts about what to say). I usually start with the facts like if it is the first book in a series or if there are other books that should be read first. Then I jot down a few quick thoughts that I want to make sure to include somewhere in my review.

    After that, I usually write something on what the book is about, but sometimes I go on to write my thoughts first if I’m having trouble writing something that sounds good. I also often end up just trying to write something quick to get my thoughts down and then go back to it later. Then I revise, revise, revise – move sentences around, look for parts that sound awkward or aren’t clear, and all that fun stuff.

    Once I have something I think is as good as I’m going to get it, I ask my husband to read it to see if it makes sense to him before I post it.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have tips for getting reviews done quickly. I wish I did!

    • We really have similar review angst, because yessss, my reviews sometimes feel like they take FOREVER. I want to smack myself into just getting on with it, but no. Also I think I’m easily distracted so that doesn’t help.

      I am decent at night, but past say 10pm it all goes downhill. I do the same with starting with the premise and the beginning so I can warm up to the bits where I give my opinion. Although sometimes I just want to say my opinion straight out and then explain it.

      Yes, to the revise, revise, revise! You’d think that this wouldn’t be the case, because eh, my reviews don’t seem like they should have taken so long, but THEY DOOOO. Ahhhhh!

      I just use the Husband to speak out a thought I want to say in my review. He’s my sounding board, but he doesn’t read my reviews before they’re posted.


      • I am also very easily distracted and that doesn’t help me, either! It also seems like there are times when I can really concentrate and write quickly (or, more quickly than other times anyway). Then other times it just takes forever to even write a terrible draft, but I keep forcing myself through it since there are books to review in a pile beside me. I’m actually reading a long book now just to give myself time to get caught up!

        • I think the books I really liked or I that I didn’t like so much are easier to review than the ones I just felt “OK” over. The books that I had a lot to say are the easier ones to write usually. The “OK” reviews are tough. I can really relate to taking forever to write a terrible draft.

          Yes, many distractions! TV and internet are the worst time sucks.

          • It is hardest to review the books that you don’t really have strong feelings about good or bad! Sometimes it seems like I just need to have the “writing mood” strike to really get through a review regardless of how much I liked the book, though. Some days I just stare at the screen and feel like I’m wasting time and others the words just seem to flow much easier.

            Twitter is the worst distraction! Of course I have a browser plugin for it that pops up tweets every few minutes, which doesn’t help with staying focused. πŸ˜‰

            • Exactly! *nodding vigorously*

              Twitter is awesome and yet.. I get very distracted by the links. I must know what’s going on! Also I love having twitter conversations. Darn you twitter.

  2. I tend to write my in half hour to one hour bursts….and then if I have the leisure, I let them sit for a day. This happens maybe once a month. Mostly I am flying by the seat of my pants, cause I seem to be unable to plan reviews ahead of time…

  3. I’ve just accepted that I am a brief reviewer unless really inspired. BUT I don’t professionally review. πŸ™‚ I like the idea of writing partial review while reading, I’ve done that a few times. Makes me follow thru/more productive!

    • *nod*. I think part of writing a review as a blogger is accepting your own style. I love hearing that everyone has a different approach.

      Yup, Reviewing as I read makes me feel more organized and productive!

  4. It’s hard to write a review, even for an English major like myself. I took a critique class in college and it helped, but our readers don’t care about that. I keep my reviews short because I’ve noticed in myself that the short ones that tell me what the reviewer felt about the book is better than a long epistle. I have a form I made in Word and just use it for all my reviews. It helps me stay organized and makes my reviews easier to write.

    • Phew, that does make me feel a wee bit better.

      Interesting about short versus long. I tend to like the reviews that are medium to long length! I wonder what most people like? I DO like having some sort of cliff note too if I’m rushed. Hence the “overall” section at the bottom of my reviews. I think some people just prefer a straight grade or number instead of my review summary, but grading systems don’t work so well for me… I put stars on goodreads then months later I want to change the rating. :\

      A form in Word? I don’t know how to do that, but that sounds like a good system.

  5. It takes me about 1 hour to write a review and have it posted. It’s not a lot compared to others but I find if I dwell on my review too long it just ends up being really stressful. I take notes while I read the book, write my review in about 30 minutes and then go through it a couple time to make sure it makes sense and that I didn’t forget anything. I don’t have a particular structure; it’s just sort of a stream-of-consciousness thing for me. I wish I could write long, meaty reviews that sound fabulous but I don’t think that’s my strength.

    • I think your reviews are great and I wouldn’t guess it took you an hour (I would think it took longer)! I don’t think you need to change a thing. This makes me think taking notes while I read would make reviewing more efficient. I just can’t seem to do that for some reason. I just think “Oh I’ll remember this”.. hohohoho.

      • Wow, thanks! I also structure my notes in sections, like character notes, world notes (useful for fantasy/scifi), plot notes. I tend to forget everything I think about while reading a book and then draw a blank when I sit down to write a review, so it helps.

        I think everyone writes their reviews with a different process and you have to find what works the best for you. When I used to analyse my writing too much I noticed I stopped wanting to write reviews altogether, so now I try to limit how much time I spend doing that. Oh, and I also noticed that my reviews for books I like are always easier. I bet that’s the same for everyone though! πŸ™‚

  6. After I finish a book, I immediately draft a new post in WP with the title, etc. and write down my thoughts. It doesn’t have to be coherent, but I just try to make notes when the book is freshest in my mind.

    I like your method of sitting on the review for a bit to give it time to breathe. I like looking at others’ writing processes too!

    • Getting straight to the review after you finish sounds like a good idea. I tend to be not so good about that.

      It is interesting, isn’t it? πŸ™‚

  7. Wow, I’m so impressed Janice! I am nowhere near that organised – though some of the things on your list are things I often think of doing, and wish I would do, but either I get so absorbed in a book that I completely forget to note down quotes, or thoughts, and no matter how many times I try to catch up with my reviews and even start them while reading, to give myself a hand, I never get there.

    I like to sit on reviews for a day or two, to give my thoughts some time to percolate, but I hate it when two or even three weeks goes by before I have a chance to write a review, which is why I wish I had notes. I often have great thoughts and even compose whole paragraphs in my head at times, only to forget it all later. Honestly, the quality of reviews has been going really downhill and I need to take more action to fix that. A lot of the time I don’t even read back over what I’ve written before hitting Publish. I just don’t have time (or patience – sometimes I just really need to get off the computer!)

    Why do you write drafts in email? Not word or something like that? I couldn’t do that. I need to write them directly into the WordPress New Post template thingie, with html formatting and everything. In fact, I start out the same way every time: insert the cover image, do the publishing details, then rating and challenge graphics, then space for other people’s reviews. I have to have that framework before I start writing my thoughts. Sometimes I add quotes from other people’s reviews first, too, especially because it can be something I’ll forget to do later, but I find they can influence my own reaction to a book so I don’t like to. (And you can check spelling anywhere – or maybe that’s a Mac feature? I’m not sure anymore, but I get the red underline dots no matter where I’m typing!)

    • You’re not organized? I’d have pegged you as organized, the way your reviews are! They are so nice and thought out! What.

      I don’t take notes as I read, I jot down notes like an outline as I start my review so I won’t forget then. When I’m reading, it’s difficult to interrupt the experience with notes. I tried years ago and then sort of gave up.

      I am with you on sometimes a week or two going by before I write a review. This year I was ahead of my reviewing by about 4 or 5 books until around March or April.. now I’m finally caught up, which is why I can try to do the review as I read thing. Must get back into doing that..

      So I use gmail so that if I switch computers I can still have my reviews in one place as long as I have internet. I don’t do it directly on my wordpress account very much (although I sometimes do when it’s not a review, say something with a lot of pictures), because I’m always paranoid I’ll hit “publish” instead of “preview”. I’ve noticed that my browser has a wrong spelling red squiggly line, but gmail will highlight words and when I click them it will have suggested spellings. So I like that, especially when I know a word is spelled wrong, but don’t want to be bothered to look up how to spell it right. πŸ˜›

  8. When I used to write longer, more in-depth reviews I’d always start writing them in Word and then get stuck half way…then I’d copy-n-paste into a blogger post and finish it there. Now that my reviews are much shorter (and more comfortable for me to write out–I used to push myself to really write out nice, coherent reviews), the words flow out better. I tend to write out my reviews a day or two after I finish a book and when I get stuck, I use placeholders like you do OR if I want to get a good sentence out before it flits away, I just type it out and arrange it later on. I’m…not very organized with this. I know some bloggers use post-its and write down their thoughts as they read. While that’s very smart and much more useful, I can never do that…I work better in chaos πŸ™‚

    • So are the reviews you do now straight into blogger?

      I do feel like the reviews you do now are very YOU, if that makes sense — like it’s a style thing that fits you and it works — I understand how you feel about a book from them. We do the same thing with placeholders and good sentences! πŸ˜€

      I can’t do post-it notes either. Just. Cannot do it.

      • Yep, straight to blogger. I feel better writing them out there than Word now; I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the framing of the post? o.O;

        And thank you! That makes me feel better–sometimes I look at my older reviews and while I take pride in seeing how they’re more polished and eloquent, I felt like I was restraining myself in order to be more like a “mature” reviewer. Plus they were long like essays and even MY attention wandered…so bleh, I shortened it and I think everyone’s happier that way, hehe. I get straight to the point now πŸ™‚

        Sweet! We have some similar methods to the madness of reviewing πŸ˜€

  9. My system is not to have a real system. I do not get how people can stop and take notes, that feels like homework and forΒ me reading should be pure pleasure. So I read and when I have finished the book I sit down and write a review in 20 min. I do not think I act. Might be why my reviews are like I am talking to someone but that is how I like it πŸ™‚

    • Haha, I don’t know, I am a nerd so I kind of enjoy working on my review until I’m satisfied. I do think your method is a lot faster and also more conversational. I feel like I am seeing a pure reaction. You get a lot of comments so I think it speaks to people!

      • I think the old student in me just do not want to take notes and such, I read enough books, took notes and analyzed them to death. And now I take the fun road instead πŸ™‚ And I rant and ramble on. It’s fun and I do hope it speaks to people. I want more reviews to be fun πŸ˜‰

  10. It’s interesting reading about the different approaches everyone uses! I’m so far behind with my reviews that it’ll be a miracle if I ever catch up… (which probably explains my rather infrequent reviews).

    I jot down my thoughts (in a Google doc) after finishing a book, but just my key impressions and in a very shorthand fashion. I then refer to my notes when it comes to actually writing it up – this helps me remember what really struck me about the book, and hopefully convey my feelings. And then after I hit publish, that’s when I see all the typos and repetitive phrases πŸ˜‰


    • So many different approaches. Are you going to try to catch up? You could just review the ones that really spoke to you and then go from there. I was behind earlier this year and the pressure of trying to catch up was sucky. I ended up just letting some books go.

      I like this google doc notes method. That’s a good idea. Oh, I have the same issues with finding things after I hit publish!

  11. I think everyone has such a different process that works for them, that I always feel unqualified to give advice on the matter. I will say that my best reviews are those that I start writing mid-way through the book, but this only happens when I also have too many thoughts on a book to not want to talk about it at length. I usually take notes on books using Google Drive/Docs because they autosave and I can access them from either computer. I’ve been worse about doing this lately, which inhibits my review writing, but honestly is a more relaxing reading experience.

    For me, it’s all about finding a balance. There are some books I need to sit on and think about for some time before I feel I can really formulate my thoughts (Daughter of the Forest), and there are others that I know I will forget almost immediately if I don’t get my words out stat (Fever 1793). I do comb over my reviews more than many people, but not as much as some. I probably take 1-2 hours per review, depending how much I really have to say.

    • You’re the second person who uses Google docs! I like the autosave of gmail, so I agree with you on that convenience, although this one time, I had mistakenly deleted something and RIGHT then, gmail autosaved, and I couldn’t undo! There was a scream of anguish. I recreated it eventually. But, argh. Thankfully this is a situation that doesn’t happen easily.

      This is interesting about balance and having books that you feel like you can talk about right away versus the ones you need to sit on. That makes sense, but I never thought about it that way! My approach is more like – right at the end of the book, what is my emotion? — trying to convey that, because I always feel something, even if it is just: mm, I’m OK.

  12. “I think the books I really liked or I that I didn’t like so much are easier to review than the ones I just felt β€œOK” over. The books that I had a lot to say are the easier ones to write usually. The β€œOK” reviews are tough. ”

    ^ yes, a million times!

    One problem I have is that after a few years of blogging I find it hard to find original ways to talk about the books. It might be that the reviewing process is becoming a wee bit… boring… for me. Sometimes. Which might explain why my posting frequency is down so much.

    I don’t have much of a process or format. I like to find one or two things that really stand out about the book or the series or the author’s style, and I pretty much always talk about the characters a little bit. That’s kinda the only “rule” i have. And yeah, it takes me days and weeks to get a review done. I can relate to the “butt in seat” advice for professional writers… but I’m not a pro. I do this for fun. And when it stops being fun, then I kinda stop doing it. So I struggle with that.

    • I know. I want to say “liked but didn’t love” sometimes but that phrase is used a lot. Sometimes that’s the only way I can say how I feel though.

      I think there’s a certain time of year that I feel like a lull in my book blogging. I feel like this happens in Spring and Fall. Winter – I’m on vacation and can just blog and read to my heart’s delight and this picks me up, and in Summer BEA tends to make me feel like blogging again. Seeing other bloggers makes me happy about book blogging. πŸ™‚ I hear you about the time it takes for a review to get done (maybe not weeks for me, but a week, even 10 days from start to end has happened). Yes, when this is for fun, it’s only you that pushes you to blog.

  13. I tend to write fairly short reviews with at least a “recommended for” and then followed by “cozy readers” or “fantasy” or “Urban Fantasy.” My blog has a lot of cozy readers who want to know right upfront: Do you recommend it a lot or a little? And: Are there any paranormal elements?

    Since I also read thrillers, I have to make sure to mark those as such. Some of my most loyal followers don’t like them! For my blog, making sure I ID the genre is very important!

    I usually do a draft right at my blog, let it sleep overnight and then post it the next morning. Sometimes I’ll stop and take notes, but that’s usually when something is irritating me a LOT. The good stuff, I just highlight. I know I’ll come back to the laughs. :>)

    • I like the recommended for “this type of reader” type of thing. I always appreciate reviews that have that. And I agree about making sure that the genre is clear!

      Yeah, I’m not a Thriller reader as much as a UF or Fantasy.

      Interesting about highlighting the passages you want to look at again. I don’t do that. Which is possibly foolish, because I always end up thinking about a certain passage and then flipping pages until I find it again so I can quote it in my review. WHY do I not note the page number somewhere?!

  14. I write my reviews in the WordPress window. Generally I do a half-hour burst where I write down everything I think that I want in my review, and then I come back to it a few hours later and fix the way that it flows.

    I’m behind on reviews right now though. I’m about three or four books behind where I should be, but I’m hoping to fix that soon.

    • Looks like sitting on the review, even for a few hours is something a lot of people like to do. That seems to be the one common thread, but there’s still exceptions there.

  15. With the rare exception, I always begin writing reviews in Word or Pages. For whatever reason, that platform gives me the room I need to play and stumble (and rely heavily on the backspace key) while I try to find the right words, the right combination of articulated thought and emotional response. As I’ve come out of my shell, I’ve been attempting to imbue my posts with a bit of this-is-me humor, but I can never, ever accomplish this in a first draft. Which leads me to my next bit of process…After I write a first draft in Word, I copy it into the WordPress post template and edit it there. This step can be a full revision, practically scrapping every word, or just me tinkering with a paragraph or sentence that isn’t quite right. I never hit publish right away; in fact, I schedule posts out so I have time to revisit them if I want to. So…reviews? Take me hours. Who’s a good judge of quality in their own writing? Not me, certainly, but I think I’ve come closer to producing better quality posts in recent years, and I owe that to the time and distance I allow myself when writing them.

    • I can relate to your process. Reviews takes me hours too. I think my best turn around is maybe 2 hours and that is something that hasn’t happened this year. It almost makes me feel relieved that you put so quite a bit of work into it because if you were one of those 20 min to 1 hour reviewers and THOSE REVIEWS are what you come up with, I would feel incredibly inadequate. I have to go google what Pages is now.

      • Bless you and those two capitalized words. And, no, I’ll never be one of those 20 min to 1 hour reviewers, and not just because I’m too attached to words and how they sound, what they make you feel when written just so, but also because my review writing time is usually my process-what-just-happened time too. Things I maybe missed or didn’t glom onto while reading will sometimes crystallize in my head, or I’ll latch onto a theme and its meaning after mulling over what to say about a book, and so on. So…We’ll just have to start a club: The Revising Reviewer Society. Or something. πŸ™‚

        And whatever your process is, it’s serving you well. Your reviews are wonderful, tempting things.

  16. Your review process is really organized! I usually just put up a draft in WordPress while reading a book or right after I finish it. I start with the cover, synopsis, how I found out about the book and why I’m interested in reading it. Then I move on to my thoughts. I try to write my reviews fresh from finishing the book so it wouldn’t be so hard to explain what I thought of the book but that doesn’t always happen. Usually if there’s a passage in the book that I really liked, I’d include that in my review. I like adding snippets and quotes to give a better idea of what I liked or didn’t like. Reviewing takes me hours too, I could never just write a review in one sitting (I used to do that but I can’t anymore). I usually start on it one day and then will revise in the following days.

    It’s getting harder and harder lately and I don’t know if it’s because I’m in a blogging slump of sorts or because real life has been busy. I kind of feel like I just want to enjoy the books that I’m reading and I don’t want to worry about reviewing them. My “no pressure” policy still holds, if I find that I don’t have much to say about a certain book then I don’t write a review.

    • Nah, it’s messy really. Midway it just feels like a bunch of crazed sentences and there’s a lot of cutting and pasting and rewriting!

      Your outline is also what I do – I start with a little where I got the book and why, then the premise, then it’s on to my thoughts. It helps to have that basic structure! πŸ™‚

      I guess time will tell if it’s a slump or just life. I suspect it’s life and maybe it will settle down into a rhythm again. I know there are certain times of the year where it’s harder than others and it tends to be when I’m distracted by other stuff going on.

  17. For me, it’s way easier to review books i have strong feelings and reactions to, I feel like I can just get started writing the review immediately with the points I want to make.

    What I do is sporadically update my goodreads statuses while reading and occasionally look back to them when writing a review. Beyond that, I have a review notebook and at the top in the margin where you write the title, in that big space, I jot down things I remember from the book, kind of like brainstorming – characters I want to mention, setting, points I want to make, world building, etc. Then below that, where the lines of the paper begin, I actually write the review and in the margins on the side, I do a brief outline where i actually write I. Intro II. Plot III. Main Character analysis IV. Point about thing I hated etc. It really helps me to have an outline to organize my thoughts my coherently and faster too.Then once I have handwritten my review, I type it all out in WordPress and update and expand.

    I do confess to loving reading about how other people review though, it’s good to learn different techniques and attempt to incorporate them every now and then.

    • I agree. So much easier when there’s a lot to say rather than having hardly any feelings about it at all.

      Good point about goodreads. I do that every so often too – it really helps to be able to look up what my reactions were there.

      Wow, handwriting the review and then typing it out! I think you may be a rare breed, but it is working, you get those reviews out on a very regular basis. Maybe I should see how writing it down by hand helps me get my thoughts out? Hmm, maybe one day.

      Yes, it’s really interesting to see everyone’s approaches. πŸ™‚

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