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Bobbi Ann Duffy

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How to Get a Good Book Review
By Bobbi Ann Duffy   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, February 25, 2006
Posted: Tuesday, February 07, 2006

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This is an article I wrote for a writer's ezine. I hope it helps you.

Every author wants his or her book to get a great review. Every reviewer wants to write a glowing review for every book he or she reads. So you have two people with the same goal, yet great reviews are hard to come by. Why? One reason is that the reviewer is just that. A reviewer is not your friend, your press agent, or your publisher. Her responsibility is to read your book carefully for both content and mechanics and pass judgment on it, whether she gets paid for her reviews or not. Thatís her job.

So what does an author have to do to get a great review? The answer is simple: write a good book. Ha, you say, isnít a review only the reviewerís opinion? Arenít opinions very subjective? The answer to both questions is "YES" followed by a gigantic "BUT."

Many reviewers have degrees in English, either writing or literature. Quite a few have been editors. A large number are or have been teachers. Some are writers in their own right. And most important, over their lifetime they have read hundreds, if not thousands of books. They can spot a split infinitive in a heartbeat; their eyes can scan six hundred words on a page and zero in on the missing "t" on the "no" that should have been "not." Some of them can read the first ten pages of a book and tell you how itís going to end. In two words, they are professional readers. And I can tell you from my own experience, they take their profession very seriously. Their reputations depend on their honesty and accuracy about the recommendations they pass on to their readers.

So how does an author get past all the pitfalls to receive a rave review? These are the basics that will help your book shine.

1. Forget that you ever heard that "there is no such thing as a bad review." While reviewers donít go out of their way to bash a writerís work, they do tell the truth. Whether itís published in the Podunk Press and Fish Wrapper or the New York Times, a bad review, or even a mediocre review, will do you harm whether you want to admit it or not. Everything a person reads has an impact on him. Having seen a review in the local paper that says a book is predictable, cute, or overlong will steer the reader to a book he knows nothing about because he unconsciously assumes it to be more interesting, adventurous, or well written then one he has heard even marginally criticized.

2. Pay attention to the basics. Spell check is a wonderful tool, but it can not and should not replace the authorís eyes. Spell check will not pick up errors in spelling if it recognizes the word present as a viable word. You may mean "knot" and type in "not" by mistake. Spell check will not underline it in green for you. Only your or a proofreaderís eyes will find that type of mistake. When you write you should have a good (and I emphasized "good" for a reason) dictionary within reaching distance. Most book manuscripts range between 45,000 and 350,000 words; do you know how to spell, conjugate and make plurals of them all? I donít.

In the same vein, get your facts straight. Even the best reader cannot suspend her beliefs to make it possible for your character to see the ocean from the east side of the Cascade Mountains, or drive from New York to California in two days. It simply isnít possible. For example, I was asked to review a book that stated a character could see New Jersey and Delaware from western New York. Having grown up in that area, I knew that it wasnít possible to see Delaware because Pennsylvania was in the way. It really turned me off to the book.

3. Have a chart or book of grammar within reach of your writing area. If you have the least doubt, or if the phrasing looks or sounds wrong, look it up. Remember the spoken word and the written word is different. We speak in stream of consciousness, we write with punctuation. I use Painless Grammar. Itís a sixth grade grammar book that's easy to read and understand with really cool examples.

4. Buy and keep handy a synonym finder. Just as there is more than one way to "skin a cat," there are different ways to say the same thing. I just opened mine at random and found 26 subdivisions under the word "head." Using one or two of the synonyms beats saying, "His head hurt," "They x-rayed his head," and "The doctor said he had a head injury" all on the same page. I know many writers, especially those just starting out, donít have a lot of money, but words are your profession, and just as a lawyer needs law books, and a doctor needs a stethoscope, a writer needs the tools of the trade to be successful.

5. While most stories fit into the following five categories of love, lust, greed, power, and revenge there are as many ways to tell the story as there are writers to write them. Be careful-- our ideas come from many places and sometimes we donít realize that the plot twist we just put in our work is little more than a thinly veiled paraphrase of something we just read or saw on television. If you have an original premise, be sure that the way you develop it is just as original, unless, of course, youíre writing for a series such as Star Trek or Dragon Lance, which have specific formulas.

6. Read! Read! Read! And when you get done, READ some more. This is especially important in genre writing. If you donít read horror, donít try to write it! If the only fantasy youíve ever read is Harry Potter; donít try to write a high fantasy. Even though fiction is imagination, it has rules. Even fantasy worlds have rules. Pureblooded elves never have black hair, trolls never smell nice, and dwarves are never tall. Break these rules and the first book a fantasy fan buys of yours will be the last, and every fantasy reader he knows will know why. Does this mean you canít write anything original? No! Until MacCaffery, dragons were almost always portrayed as large, if not huge, beasts. In her Dragons of Pern series, they start out as little more than small bird size and are bred over generations to a size large enough to carry a human on their back and haul cargo. Was it different? Yes. Was it original? Definitely. Did she break the rule about dragons? Not really, because she put them in a world where the rules about dragons as we know them didnít exist.

7. Edit! Edit! Edit! As a writer, you must not only know the words to use, but how many of them to use. The rule of thumb is USE AS MANY AS THE STORY NEEDS, NO MORE AND NO LESS. The best example of the number of words fitting the work is the Gettysburg Address. One more word or one less and the speech would have failed to say what Lincoln wanted his audience to hear and feel. And it certainly would not be the historic document it is, nor would it be the most recited and memorized speech of our early history.

8. Beware of stereotypes. Stereotypical characters are the death of any book or story. Readers, especially reviewers, tune out as soon as the stereotypical "bad cop," "cutesy kid," or "reincarnation of Hitler" shows up in a manuscript. Remember that your readers expect you to be original. Not every inner city ethnic teenager is a drug addict; in fact, more drugs are sold in the suburbs than in the inner city. Even the worst character has at least one redeeming trait, and all heroes have an Achilles heel. Good guys donít always wear white and bad guys donít always wear black. The best example I can give you is Mary Shelleyís Frankenstein. The reader sees the monster as only a monster, until he plays with the little girl. Even though heís a man created without a soul, a man who has killed, he shows a soft and gentle side when offered friendship by the innocent child.

9. Remember that your friends, your mother and your maiden aunt arenít the best judges of your work unless they happen to be editors. They all love you and will tell you that they loved your manuscript so they donít hurt your feelings. Join a writers' group, exchange works with another writer, ask an English professor at the nearest college to read your work, and if all else fails, beg your high school English teacher to read it. Caution; donít let someone who doesnít read the genre your writing in critique the story line. My dad edits my work for grammatical errors and continuity, but never offers an opinion on my content because he doesnít read or like fantasy. If I wrote war stories, or westerns, I'd take his advice on story line in a New York minute.

10. Take pride in your work. Make it the very best you can before turning it over to an agent or publisher. Your manuscript is not only a representative for you as a writer and a person; itís a piece of your soul. Youíve worked hard on it; youíve bared your soul in it. Just as you wouldnít go to a White House dinner with a dirty face and uncombed hair, donít send your manuscript out without giving it every chance to succeed.

11. And finally, once itís in the mail, move on. Youíve done your best, now the work will have to stand on its own merits. Donít dwell on what you should have changed, or should have said. If the work is accepted for publication, your editor will make suggestions for needed changes. Start your next project and give it all your attention. Itís your second chance at immortality and the Pulitzer Prize.

Bobbi Duffy has been a book reviewer for more then twenty years. She currently reviews for three online book review sites. In addition to her reviews, she is busy working on the new book in her fantasy series The Saga of ShaíMung. Magic Prophecy, the first book in the series, was published by Publish America. To learn more about Bobbi, read her reviews on,, or go to her website:,

Reader Reviews for "How to Get a Good Book Review"

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Reviewed by Valdemar (Val) Wake 4/10/2009
Reviewed by Barbara Terry 5/27/2006
This is very good advice Bobbi. That is why my cousin is editing Chrissie right now for publication. Thank you for sharing sis. I will also keep this for quick reference, just in case.

May the Lord Jesus bless you, and those whom you love and be with you always, and at your side constantly. With much love in my heart, joy to the world, peace on earth, & ((((((((((MANY WONDERFUL SISTERLY HUGGGGSSSS)))))))))), your little sister, Barbie

"If I have to be this girl in me, Then I have the right to be."
Reviewed by Janet Bellinger 2/25/2006
Good advice regarding reviews.
Reviewed by Cynth'ya 2/9/2006
Excellent advice my sistah! Saving and sharing with my writing group. We don't talk about things like this often, but we really should.

Reviewed by Tinka Boukes 2/7/2006
Thanks for sharing Bobbi girl!!

Love Tinka
Reviewed by Sage Sweetwater 2/7/2006
Excellent article, Bobbi! It outlines the dynamics of the business. I am now reviewing two professional authors here on Authors Den after they have asked me to read their works. I feel honored to be able to offer my professional review. I have a formula I use when I review. It is a fun, very exciting process. These reviews mean a great deal to a professional author. Fans do read the reviews. It is a wonderful marketing tool for an author. I saved this article in so that I may refer back to it. It is very helpful to me. Thanks Bobbi.

Reviewed by Jerry Bolton (Reader) 2/7/2006
Good, solid advice, that most writers (sadly, myself included) have a tendencey to say, "Yeah, well most of that stuff doesn't really pertain to me, because my book is SO in tune with the dynamics of . . . blah, blah, blah. Again. Good stuff.

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