I posted this in 2016, and am reposting it now, since a nice young man feels he is not qualified to review a book on depression, because he has no clinical training.
One of my rules is, I can ask anyone anything, as long as I accept a no. So, it is fine for him to decline. All the same, if he misunderstands what a review is and does, there must be many other people who will benefit from an explanation.
A review is a recommendation from a reader. It gives your assessment of the worth of the book for its intended purpose. An instruction manual should be an effective teaching device. An inspirational book should inspire. A novel should entertain. People sometimes tell me, “I have no qualifications for writing a review. Wouldn’t know how to go about it.” Others do write something, but put in all sorts of unnecessary and even counterproductive details, while leaving out essentials. The qualification for writing a review is that you have read the book. That makes you a reader, and a review is a reader’s opinion. So, you qualify.
What should go into a review?
- Enough facts about the book to demonstrate that you have in fact read it.
- How well it fits to your expectations, given its genre or type. For example, if it was a detective novel, did the detective become a real person? Were there cues that in retrospect should have enabled you to solve the crime? Did the ending surprise you?
- Unexpected aspects that enhanced your reading; or ones that spoiled it. For example, an otherwise inspiring story may have descended into cruelty and savagery that put you off.
- Was there some way that reading this book has improved your life, made you think differently, taught you skills, gave you new understanding?
- Did the book have annoying aspects, such as poor spelling, grammar or punctuation, awkward sentences, two-dimensional, stereotyped characters, endless description, dialogue without a setting (word ping-pong)?
- Above all, did you enjoy the experience? What were the best things that gave you enjoyment? What if anything got in the way of it?
What should not go into a review?
- A review is not a synopsis. You should not have an account of “what happened,” merely enough snippets to show you’ve read it.
- Spoilers. If there are elements in the book meant to surprise the reader, it is bad manners for you to disclose them.
- Criticism that applies to all books of this type or genre. If you don’t like romances, then it’s unfair to be negative about a book because it is a romance.
- Content irrelevant to the book, for example a plug inserted to promote your writing.
Some nonfiction books are for a specific readership. I once edited a wonderful book, which was basically about Buddhist Economics, Sufficiency Thinking: Thailand’s gift to an unsustainable world. Although I am not an economist, I understood it all, and when the book was published, I posted a 5-star review for it. Another person rated it at 1 star. He’d started, and got stuck in chapter 1: Harry Bergsteiner’s explanation of the model, which is complex. The right thing for this reader would have been to not post a review. He could have contacted Harry, who would certainly have helped him, and then he’d have benefited from the book.
In the case of my From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide, the target audience is anyone who can read in English. The subtitle makes it clear. The book is a failure if you need clinical training to assess it.
In today’s publishing world, writers depend on having their work reviewed. So, please, when you’ve enjoyed a book, post reviews in places where it will benefit the author. If that’s one of my books, I’ll happily print your review in Bobbing Around, and send you a list of other places. And if you bought the book, I’ll thank you with a free copy of one of my other titles.