Monday, August 15, 2011

What reviewers look for...

Awards in the review process have bewildered some of my fellow authors. Be they hearts, cups, cards, books pens or whatever else, bad reviews feel like knee-jerk reactions, decisions made by the formidable finger of fate. Let’s take the mystery out of the process.

Periodically, a plea goes out for “reviewers needed.” The reviewer-in-chief auditions every potential reviewer before okaying them into the reviewer family. Potential reviewers are not always authors or former authors. Some are experienced readers and editors.

As a new reviewer, I’d like to “come out’ and tell you that these reviews are not written randomly. First of all the book must be selected from the review house’s list by the reviewer. The selection is based on genre. A Sci-fi nut is not going to enjoy a historical or Regency period romance. Each writer being reviewed should assume that their book is the kind of read their reviewer prefers when selecting a book for pleasure. Great pains are taken to see that this is the case in well-run, well-organized review houses.

So, what does a reviewer look for before giving an author a high rating? Based on my experience, a good opening hook and consistent pace are the essential firsts. If the hook grabs you and the pace drags, or if it’s too fast to make sense, you will lose your reviewer, and later your reader.

Language appropriate to the time, situation or background of the character speaking is another must-have in a piece of writing. A writer should play fair with the reader – no tricks, such as the protagonist waking up to find the whole mess the reader just slogged though was all a dream. Another valuable trait is a clear voice that supports the place and time of the story.

Nothing bothers me more than to read details about a location or city I’ve been to and know the writer has never been there. Sometimes that section will read like a research paper, or, it can be a washed out, non-distinctive setting that could have happened anywhere between Brooklyn and San Diego or from Cape Town to Edinburgh.

Readers read to escape into the scene and story. They want all the tactile, aromatic, colorful scenic noise of the places they read about. Regardless of length, 3 pages to 28 pages to 500 pages, those details can fit into the tale, even heavily erotic-laden stories. In shorter works, fewer scenes, fewer characters and more distinctive voices will carry the atmosphere. In longer works the writer can go “Gabaldon” on the reader, with details beyond reason or story. Readers of long works love detail.

Writers under review should consider the reviewer as the ideal reader with a penchant for details. The goal is to give an award commensurate with the entire book experience. The reviewer's purpose is to guide other readers to the books they will like. The review is edited through a chain of command to assure that the review is fair and balanced."

The reviewer is also on trial. No one gets off easily once you put your work out there. Keep in mind the review is an opinion.

Julie Eberhart Painter is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, Tangled Web, and Kill Fee to be released in October. See Julie’s Web site at


Big Mike said...

Interesting post, Julie. Also note that even a medium review can bring people to your site. My first novel was a military/political thriller (TAINTED HERO) and received six 5 star reviews, all except one lady that said it was terrible the way I reflected officers and soldiers in a positive light. Seemed she hated the military. Thing is, I still received a ton of visits and buy page hits from that very review.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

Victoria Roder said...

Thanks for sharing this, Julie. I found it enlightening.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Thanks, Mike. Nothing like reinforcement.