Home > Rants > How I review things

How I review things

In 2012, I wrote over a hundred reviews for Starburst Magazine, and plan to write many more this year. Writers often talk about their creative process and the like, so I thought you might be interested in what I do when I get something in for review.

The first thing I do is read the damned press release, if one is attached. Often this is just a fluff piece, and tends to be designed for journalists looking for filler. Some publications will do a ‘new releases’ page, and you can often find the press release slightly reworded in those sort of sections. Obviously, they don’t get used in proper reviews, but they can be a source of useful information, such as when the book is coming out and if the author is available for an interview.1

The next thing is to use whatever it is I’m meant to review. If it’s a book, I’ll read it, if it’s an audio, I’ll listen, etc. The awkward one in this set are boardgames; I prefer to play the game as many different times as I can with as many different people, as it allows for a fairer assessment of the game. With books, I’m blessed with a decent read speed; I don’t speed read, I just read really fast. If it’s an author I know well, I tend to read them faster because I’m familiar with their voice. I have a good memory for writing styles, so it doesn’t take me long to adjust to a known authors rhythm.2 I tend to have two books on the go at any one time, and use novels as a way to fill in the gaps of a day.

Comic books are also different; I can read a 200+ page graphic novel trade paperback very, very quickly. Comics are the thing that got me into reading in the first place, and most of the ones I get these days tend to come to me digitally so the house isn’t littered with the things.3

(c) Charles Monroe Schulz

Review writing is still writing. You can still get stuck, it still requires discipline.

When it comes to writing the review, I have multiple considerations. First, the review has to fit the format of the magazine or blog I’m writing it for. Mostly, this is Starburst Magazine so it has to be a short (500 words or so) piece about something that is Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Horror themed. I can do in-depth analysis and the like, but really, anything over 1500 words is a feature, and should be approached differently.4

The audience are the reason why you are writing the review. You are not writing the review for the publisher or the author, the point of the piece is to function as a consumer guide to help others decide if they want to purchase it. You need to be clear, honest, precise and accurate. Readers rarely want spoilers, but they do want a rough idea of how complex the work is. This often means you have to talk in general terms, but it’s important not to get bogged down in the details. Plot summaries should be concise and explain esoteric concepts in broad terms. Even horribly complicated conceits can be dumbed down; the point of the summary isn’t to show the reader how clever you are in understanding big ideas, it’s to communicate those big ideas in order to help the reader. Your audience does not care about how smart you think you are, they want you to explain the work to them in clear terms.

If the thing I’m reviewing isn’t a book, I tend to talk about production values as well; the quality of the pieces for boardgames, the ease of use if it’s an audio piece, how easy it is to get to the venue, etc. I tend to avoid talking about how a book is put together; the formats for novels are pretty standard and are rarely remarkable. You also have to take care to not be too technical; this is entertainment, not a thesis.

Finally, we have the score. Like many reviewers, I don’t like giving out a score, I want you to read the article I worked hard on rather than just checking the number at the bottom. However, it is a useful tool, but readers should always remember it’s just another part of the overall critique, rather than the aim of the review. I tend to set my standards by similar works. For example, if it’s an urban fantasy novel, then to get a Ten out of Ten, it needs to be as good as Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s a book I’ve read many, many times and I love dearly. That’s my bar, and I set it pretty high, otherwise a ten is worthless.

I also have a short list of books deserving the score of one and again, these are rare. Most of my calibration is done by considering previous works that I consider to be average, and working from there. I tend to be slightly more generous to output from small businesses, but I don’t have any time for vanity work. For example, that means I tend to give small press books a second reading, but if it’s clearly just been thrown out there to appease the writer’s ego, then I will be merciless.

I also love debut novels, and am delighted when a new author is brilliant from the very start. Context is also important to the score; a consistently brilliant five-part series impresses me far more than a rather good one off, though books that just stop rather than end (because they’re part of a trilogy) will never get a ten; each work should stand on its own merits.

Once the review is published, you then need to contact the person who gave you the thing you examined, and tell them it’s online. This is common courtesy, and ensures a good working relationship. I tend to housekeep at the end of every month, which means some suppliers get a boatload of reviews in one go.

So that’s my method, as raw as it is. My approach seems to work and people seem to like the reviews, so I think it’s valid. I am very lucky to have a platform to inflict my opinions on the world and hope to do so for some time.


1: I love interviewing authors. I tend to ask a bunch of specific questions and then a hand full of fun ‘standard’ questions. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that authors prefer truth to beauty but it’s still a nice question to ask.
2: They are some writers who mix it up every other book or so, however. This tends to make it very refreshing and these authors tend to be very prolific.
3: The house has many, many books. We need more shelves.
4: By which I mean more research. I do like research, who doesn’t like learning things?

Advertisements
Categories: Rants
  1. January 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I am amused by the fact that it allows me to rate the review on this page 🙂
    Very interesting insight, Ed.

    • January 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      As the rating thing (that I hadn’t previously noted) has been pointed out, I have rated this post. Now the shoe is on the other foot!

  2. January 7, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Pleased to meet you Ed, and I’m glad you liked my latest blog entry – ADVICE FOR DEALING WITH A BAD REVIEW.

    I was a professional reviewer for Cemetery Dance Magazine and a couple of other venues for a couple of years. It’s a lot harder job than some folks might imagine. Keep up the great work. If you’re ever looking for some e-books to review I’d be happy to pass a copy or two to you.

    • August 29, 2017 at 8:11 am

      é isso aew Hery,a equipe ta crescendo cada dia mais, parabéns para todos.Sandro, a ideia é muito bom em, se esse trajeto for realizado uma vez, ninguém esquece ele mais…kkkkk

  1. February 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: