Book Tropes: The Grovel in The Novel

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a super specific, really niche trope. It’s like a food craving, where only that certain brand from that one store will do. In this case it’s a good old grovel. Not the little token apology with immediate making-out, ohhh no. I want the real down-and-dirty, sincere, I-fucked-up, oh-my-god-I-was-so-dumb, dawning realization.

It doesn’t particularly matter to me which character (hero or heroine or all three heroes in a reverse harem) is doing the groveling. There just has to be understanding of the fact that whatever they did hurt their beloved. I need to end with the feeling that we are on an emotionally even level and an equal footing. The scales have been balanced, there’s been true remorse expressed, forgiveness has been earned and I can close the book feeling extremely satisfied.

The Immortals After Dark series, by Kresley Cole, has some of the best groveling you’ve ever read in nearly every book, but especially in Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night

Lothaire, also by Kresley Cole, has a journey with the emotionally constipated hero groveling; while Demon From the Dark has both hero and heroine asking for forgiveness. And let us never forget Dark Skye for this list.

The Darkest Secret, by Gena Showalter, also has some heroine groveling, along with deep empathy from both characters.

Barbarian’s Redemption, by Ruby Dixon, has THE MOST emotional scene of understanding and true remorse from the hero I’ve ever read. Period.

To Seduce a Sinner, by Elizabeth Hoyt, has a beautiful, intimate groveling gesture from the hero which makes my heart squeeze every time. It’s just the best.

A Kiss to Remember, by Teresa Meideros, both hero and heroine grovel, plus there’s an amnesia plot. Win-win.

Duke of Pleasure, also by Elizabeth Hoyt, my favorite type of ohhh-I-fucked-up realization from the hero (YASSS).

The Prize, by Julie Garwood, has some old-skool groveling, which might not seem like enough to more modern readers but which I found satisfying coming from a conquering Norman warrior.

Her Protector’s Pleasure, by Grace Callaway, the hero has to confront the definite ways he totally misjudged the heroine AND HE DOES. Humbly. Also the entire plot of Callaway’s The Lady Who Came In From the Cold is structured around answering the question; ‘how much groveling pays for a decade-long lie perpetrated by your wife, and when does that groveling cross the line into all right you need to accept this sincere apology, you emotionally constipated idiot?’

Daring and the Duke, Sarah MacLean, I haven’t personally read but I’m told it contains excellent grovel from the anti-hero main character.

And I don’t read a ton of contemporary romance but I do know Courting Catherine, by Nora Roberts contains a good, sincere apology from the hero.

Love and Other Words, by Christina Lauren is a super emotional second-chance romance spanning literal decades with a little mutual groveling sprinkled in.

Kiss an Angel, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, has an over-the-top gesture involving a tiger.

Too Close to Call, by Tessa Bailey, is more about the sex than the groveling but there is some empathy and understanding going on in-between the dirty talk.

And Dear Author has the awesome article about the reasons for a grovel and why we find it so satisfying which got me started on this whole list in the first place.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Works Hard

The purpose of the IWSG is to share and encourage. To gently prop you up when you’re falling down, and allow you to offer that prop to other authors as we go. The first Wednesday of every month we meet (online) to share stories, air insecurities, and lend a helping hand. Come join by clicking here.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 7 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pitt, Beth Camp, Beverly Stowe McClure, and Gwen Gardner!

And the October 7th question is: When you think of the term working writer, what does that look like to you? What do you think it is supposed to look like? Do you see yourself as a working writer or aspiring or hobbyist, and if latter two, what does that look like?

When I think of the term “working writer”, it immediately makes me picture someone who a) writes regularly and b) is always getting better at writing.

A) Let me clarify, first thing, that by regularly I don’t mean every single day for hours. We can’t all be Stephen King, alright. For various practical reasons, what I mean by ‘regularly’ is ‘as often as possible in as productive a manner as possible’.

B) The main criteria for working writer, in my mind, is someone who treats writing as actual work. Like it’s any other job which requires time and effort. There are always ways to develop the profession, to improve, to stretch and grow. Great Literary Gods, the topic of marketing ALONE is enough to keep me burning the midnight-Google-oil. There is always something new to learn.

Whether I see myself as a working writer depends entirely on how well I think I’m fulfilling these two criteria. Some days I feel like I’m doing pretty good, getting into a writing routine, actually finishing some manuscripts. That’s a good day! On the other hand, there are days I’m pretty sure everyone knows I’m a huge fraud sitting on a throne made of lies. (Everyone including, for some reason, my high school English teacher whom I have literally not spoken to in fifteen years. Go figure.) I’ve fallen out of my routine, I’m doing a terrible job, and NOTHING is getting finished. Those are not-so-great days.

I feel as if writing should go exactly like this:

Everything ticking along, falling softly into place, the words flowing like pure, perfect Writing Clockwork

When a lot of the time, what the writing actually feels like is this:

Yes, including the Ron Swanson mustache. It’s that kind of a day.

Some days go along just like this:

And then there are the days when the ideas are landing like bird splats, the house is filthy, the kids are whiny and hungry, there are 800 errands to get done and it’s just:

I suppose it’s all a matter of balance, and reminding myself that I’m always learning something from my mistakes.

Book Tropes: I’m A Damsel, I’m In Distress, I Can Handle This. Have a Nice Day.

Every once in a while I’m in the mood for a SUPER specific, niche type of trope. In this post, it’s the typical Damsel in Distress situation, but with an atypical damsel. I want the kind of book where:

  • things are going down, it’s getting grim, the odds are against them
  • the hero has literally *just* said something like, “We’ll never make it!” or “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”
  • then the heroine strolls in all unconcerned and takes out the enemy without chipping a nail
  • while the hero looks on with a mix of shock, pride, and awe.
  • the heroine has no time for your doubts, she is here to get shit done
  • the sort of book which makes me pause my reading and make the “YAS, Queen” face.
  • If you’re in that mood too, this list is for you.

Savage Desire, Tiffany Roberts (Or really any of the Infinite City series, please just go read all of them, you’re welcome.)

Any book by Ruby Dixon, Ruby specializes in these types of heroines, but Bound to the Battle God is a fab example.

The Midwinter Mail Order Bride, Kati Wilde

Magic Bites, Illona Andrews

Halfway to The Grave, Jeaniene Frost

ANY KRESLEY COLE BOOK EVER but specifically Wicked Abyss or Sweet Ruin.

I’m sorry I don’t have more contemporary recs for you, but I’m told From Lukov, With Love, Mariana Zapata has this trope

Also Red Lily or Vision in White, Nora Roberts

Yes! Capable heroines do exist in historical romance like An Affair to Remember, Karen Hawkins

Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta Chase, with Jessica, the OG badass heroine

The Prize, Julie Garwood

Her Protector’s Pleasure, Grace Callaway

Forbidden, Beverly Jenkins

The Social Media Beast Requires Regular Feeding from Your Author Toolbox

This is an author toolbox blog post. The toolbox is a group of authors who come together to learn, share resources, and grow. Non-author friends who are in publishing are also welcome to join in. We’re going on three years strong now! Come check our group out and see what you think.

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In this day and age authors have to put ourselves out there, hanging weightless in cyberspace with multiple tentacles dangling into the ether.

We need a platform. We’ve got to have an online presence. It’s necessary to network. Because this day and age is cruel. No? Just me thinking that? Anyways. *nervous cough*

There are websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, podcasts, all asking for your online attention and participation. There are writer’s associations, critique groups, pitch fests, twitter pitch fests, conferences, panels, and countless other writing related events needing your digital or even physical presence (or they will need your presence again when it’s safe and the age of COVID is finally over).

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*quiet internal Beaker screams*

None of it is a bad thing, per se. I’m not railing against social media. Ranting would be pointless, anyway, since these things are the way the world is. There is no real substitute for getting out there and making connections. I’m grateful for the multiple methods available to me when it comes to getting out and being social (internal Beaker screams notwithstanding).

At the same time, I realize that not being a very social person puts me at an automatic disadvantage in the arena. I am social-skills disadvantaged. There needs to be a support group for this. Except, no one would show up. Because-social anxiety. <insert sad deflated trumpet noise here in memorial of my terrible idea>

In summary: the social media beast requires regular sacrifices from introverts like me.

Being an extrovert comes with its own challenges, I’m sure. I just can’t write a post about how to deal with them—I wouldn’t know where to start. What I can do is list some of the ways I’ve found to limit and/or deal with the issues that come from being antisocial in a social butterfly world.

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Sometimes it’s both

Here are some tips, from one introvert to any others, about how to minimize the pain while maximizing your interaction on social media.

  • Learn to love the internet. Online opportunities for networking are nearly limitless, and there are so many different directions you can go. Also, it’s online, so you don’t have to actually put yourself in multiple stranger’s faces all day every day. The Internet is, like, tailor-made for us. We can write, and re-write, and edit every conversation before anyone else sees it. Initiate what contact we like, when we like. All the anxiety of unexpected communication is now gone.
  • BUT! Pick the niche that works best for you, and focus on it. Find the online outlet you love best and become an active, valuable participant.
  • In other words, don’t feel like you have to expose yourself all over every social media outlet, particularly the ones you don’t really like. That’s a recipe for burnout. Also, people can die from exposure. Scientific fact. Quality, over quantity.
  • You don’t ALWAYS have to have something to add/post. Just listening actively and asking good, pertinent questions is valuable.
  • There are a lot of other introverts out there. It’s possible we are now running the internet? Anyway, once you find your tribe and settle into your niche, things get a lot more comfortable, I promise.
  • When it comes to actual social events that need you there, internal screaming and all, pick the ones that you think will have the most value for you. It’s okay to limit yourself to one a year, or ten a year, once it’s safe to attend again. Just don’t give yourself the excuse to stay home and never leave the Internet bubble. Push outside your comfort zone as much as you feel like you can once we’re safely vaccinated, we’ve achieved herd immunity, and these events have started again.
  • Mentally rehearse, ahead of the event, what will be happening and how you might want to react. Example; an online live event. You’ll be meeting other authors, who may ask your name and what you write. Prepare a short biographical speech ahead of time and practice it. (And yes, we the socially anxious do actually practice our “lines” before meeting new people. Otherwise we freeze up and stutter and blurt and spend the next six years beating ourselves up over how dumb we sounded and wincing every time the memory surfaces and we’re a social mess, just go.)
  • It’s easier to interact when it’s something you feel passionate about. You’ve rehearsed your introduction, but now someone wants to improvise. Panic! But if both of you are querying, or hate writing a synopsis, or both love Star Wars (except for Episode III, ALL DEADLY DEATH FIRE TO EPISODE III) you have common ground to retreat to. Rehearse a few questions beforehand that can help you find the common ground so the panic doesn’t shut your conversation down if someone wants to add-lib.
  • Fake it til you make it. The more you act like an extroverted social person, the more confident you’ll get with it. It becomes easier and less scary as you practice. New situations will always be anxiety inducing, but at least the things you’ve done before will become more like comfortable, old, slightly cruel friends.
  • Keep a healthy sense of humor. Your kids will bust into the middle of a Zoom meeting about writing erotic romance. Or you’ll experience technical difficulties. No matter what, something will go tits up. It helps a lot to remember you’re allowed to laugh about it.

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If you’re also learning to navigate a social world, I’d love to hear what strategies you use! Throw them in the comments for me.

 

WIP According to Terry Pratchett

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The process behind writing a novel, as told through the genius of Sir Terry Pratchett and his quotable sayings.

Step one is always to remember:

The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp.” —The Truth

Okay Sir Terry. I will keep my pen sharp, my prose sharper. Let’s do this!

Step two: Receive Idea from Universe. Translate idea into story. Insert plot. This isn’t plotty enough. Add conflict. Stir. I’m only a third done. Possibly . . . a fourth. Oh gods. Any thoughts on the correct attitude for a writer Terry?

“There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: This glass is half full. And then there are those who say: This glass is half empty.

The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! Who’s been pinching my beer?” —The Truth

Step three: I’m not sure I can do this. There’s so much more to it than I ever imagined, and it only gets harder, instead of easier. Sir Terry, this seems impossible sometimes.

“It is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a halfbrick in the path of the bicycle of history” —Equal Rites

Step four: Onward I go then, ignorant of the possibility of failure. Hang a shrine to Dory above my writing space and just keep trying. I’m doing this. It’s flowing! Look at all these neat descriptions!!

“Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.” —Eric

Step five: Right, yes. Sorry, Sir Terry. I’ll tone it down.

“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” —Hogfather

Step six: That puts a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, PTerry. This manuscript might be more rising ape than anything angelic. But I’m doing this. Critiqued and edited, polished, fixed, shined and fixed again. Is this hard work worth it?

“If you trust in yourself . . . and believe in your dreams . . . and follow your star . . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy” —The Wee Free Men

Step seven: It’s done. It’s going to be published, one way or another, and people may like it. Fragments of my soul will rest in their hands while I trust that they will treat them with kindness. Or at least keep their scathing one-star reviews on Amazon where nobody cares. And they might give me money for them, which seems to be a fair exchange. It could even be a success!

Any parting thoughts Sir Terry?

“Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading, People like a show.” —Going Postal

Both succinct, and cruel. Brilliant.

On a related note, Terry Pratchett is everything awesome about worldbuilding, magic, sass, characters, and humor and you should definitely read his books. Although he left us in 2015, his books are already considered classics and he lives on while his name is still spoken. Start here with a suggested reading order from the Discworld Emporium.

 

 

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Beta Reads

This is an Insecure Writer’s Support group post. The purpose of the group is to share, encourage, and express doubts or insecurities without feeling foolish, because believe me, we’ve all been there too. If you’d like to sign up for the hop yourself, click over here. The group is also on Twitter (@The IWSG) and on Instagram #IWSG


The September 2 question is: If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

The awesome co-hosts for the September 2 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, J Lenni Dorner, Deniz Bevan, Kim Lajevardi, Natalie Aguirre, and Louise – Fundy Blue! Don’t forget to stop by their sites and say thanks, and maybe hit a few more blogs on the way. The goal of this group is to visit and spread the encouragement as much as you can.

And the answer to this month’s question is, I’d chose Jane Austen to be my beta reader. And, okay, full honest disclosure, I’d want to be besties as well. But we could work up to that.

Why? Well there are multiple reasons.

  • Austen was a keen observer of humanity. We would have so much fun people-watching and picking out ridiculous traits to caricature in a story.
  • Her sense of humor is exactly my type. #twinning
  • She was also driven, persistent, and effective, to become a paid author during a period when (let’s face it) purebred horses had more legal rights than females. I could use a little of her inspirational stubbornness in my own life, yes please.
  • She was a good writer (craft-wise) and would have many excellent points for me.
  • I’d be able to return the favor and beta read whatever she was currently working on which is a HUGE bonus. I’d finally get to read the ending she envisioned for Sanditon!
  • Whatever critique she’d deliver would be in the flowy, long Regency style, which I think would be a) so convoluted I might not even understand what she was saying at first anyway and b) so beautifully polite I wouldn’t mind even after I parsed her meaning.

(Austen Heroes are always the best heroes, hands down.)

Whose Line is it Anyway? Mixing Dialogue and Action Tags for Your Author Toolbox

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Welcome to another Author Toolbox day! To sign up for the hop yourself, go over to our leader Raimey Gallant’s website

He said, she said, they said, we all said. Especially in fiction, there is a lot of saying going on. Good dialogue can save you from telling, can demonstrate everything about your character’s personality and traits, can be funny, move the plot along, or explain backstory. All at the same time. Dialogue is the best!

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SO much going on here! Movies get lots to work with because they’re visual. Authors have to work HARDER to get all of it across with dialogue and action beats.

Dialogue is also a trap. A big Sarlacc pit, waiting in the middle of the WIP desert to digest you slowly. One of the oh-so-easy ways to go wrong here is when you get caught in the web of dialogue tags. While you struggle amongst the strands of endless options, growing weaker, action beats are standing at a safe distance yelling, “Use me! I’m here! Hallo? I’m showing, not telling!”

Learn to love action in your dialogue. Learn to hate the overuse of dialogue tags. We are writing fiction, my lovelies. Pretty much anything goes, as long as the dialogue flows.


So. What are dialogue tags? Make with the clicks to read this good succinct post on the basics, by The Creative Penn. To narrow it down to a sentence; dialogue tags are anything tagged on to the end of dialogue to indicate that person is speaking.

Most of the time your characters say something, it will be said. It can also be begged, shouted, screamed, hissed, called, cried, implored, protested, and any other of a million different ways to indicate emotion while talking. Available advice, which is based on solid evidence, opines that you should use said most of  the time. It’s an invisible word to readers. They take it for granted that your characters will be saying something and skim right over the word, leaving the actions and emotions to impress in their memory.

To back that up, here is a post on keeping it simple from Writer’s DigestBut! (there is definitely a but.) You can’t use “said” for every tag. There’s simple, and then there’s mind-numbing. It’s a good idea to kick that boring staple up a notch with any of the other tags that express what your characters are going through, while still leaning heavily on said. Think of it as a ratio of using said to using other -ed words, where said is the building block and another tag is used when you want the reader to specifically focus in on what your character is feeling.

An even better way to include some good showing? Mixing in some action.

C.S. Larkin has a good post on this topic over at Live Write Thrive. Action beats (also called narrative beats) are a great way to fill the empty space left around repetitions of “said” or “replied”. They make your writing visual, a scene playing out in the front of your reader’s mind. With a mix of physical action sprinkled generously throughout the scene alongside the dialogue tags, you can create any scenario you can imagine.

  • While your characters are talking, how are they feeling? Add that in with your dialogue tags as they react to the conversation.
  • What are they thinking? Change their non-verbal expressions as they listen.
  • Where are they? They’ll interact with their environment by moving, sitting, standing, touching things, picking them up or throwing them. All of those are action tags.

We’ll finish off with some examples of good dialogue mixes from popular authors:

“Now I want to make love with you more than I want to go on breathing.”

“To make love,” C.C. repeated steadily. “But you don’t love me.”

“I don’t know anything about love. I care for you.” He walked back to touch a hand to her face. “Maybe that could be enough.”

She studied him, realizing he didn’t have any idea that he was breaking an already shattered heart. “It might be, for a day or a week or a month. But you were right about me, Trent. I expect more. I deserve more.”

—Courting Catherine, Nora Roberts

In this emotionally charged scene the main characters are at an impasse. One is in love, one thinks love is something to sell greeting cards and refuses to trust enough to try. All of this is obvious from their words and actions. And the word “said” isn’t used once. Nora Roberts is a great resource to study.

The tortoise subsided. “How many talking tortoises have you met?” it said sarcastically.

“I don’t know,” said Brutha.

“What d’you mean, you don’t know?”

“Well, they might all talk,” said Brutha, conscientiously, demonstrating the very personal kind of logic that got him Extra [Chores]. “They just might not say anything when I’m there.”

—Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

In this tiny slice of dialogue, both Brutha and the Great God Om (currently in the shape of a small tortoise) lay out their respective personalities perfectly. One is immortal, wise, sarcastic, and a bit of a pill. The other is young, naive, extremely conscientious, and about to butt heads with his God. It makes for a very entertaining read.

“I’m not going to run away,” Stanley said.

“Good thinking,” said Mr. Sir. “Nobody runs away from here. We don’t need a fence. Know why? Because we’ve got the only water for a hundred miles. You want to run away? You’ll be buzzard food in three days.”

Stanley could see some kids dressed in orange and carrying shovels dragging themselves toward the tents.

“You thirsty?” asked Mr. Sir.

“Yes, Mr. Sir,” Stanley said gratefully.

“Well, you better get used to it. You’re going to be thirsty for the next eighteen months.”

—Holes, Louis Sachar

One end to one short conversation, and we know without a doubt what obstacles our character (Stanley) has in his way, what the stakes are, and how little help he can expect to overcome any of it. Brilliant.

“I doubt there’ll be a next time,” Olivia said.

“Oh, there will be,” he countered with eyes that teased her own, “and when we do [meet], you owe me something.”

“What?”

“A kiss,” he told her softly.

Olivia tried to speak around her suddenly dry throat. “What on earth for?”

“For letting you keep the rest of your money.”

—Something Like Love, Beverly Jenkins

In this tense scene the main characters are in the middle of their meet-cute, which is a train robbery. The first time the hero meets the heroine there’s an undeniable attraction, but business is business and he needs her valuables. Still, he lets her keep most of her cash money and only takes her earrings, which is something like love coming from an outlaw.

Good luck with your dialogue! I hope this post has enough resources to get you well on your way.

5 Tips for Writing a Book Review That Readers Will Enjoy – Guest Post by Desiree Villena

Today I’m welcoming freelance writer Desiree Villena to the blog. Desiree is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories, as well as the occasional book review!


In the dim and distant past, book lovers scoured the pages of newspapers and magazines for reading recommendations. Today, when they want to discuss the latest page-turner or need a new fantasy series to binge, bibliophiles peruse the endless book review blogs and sites available at the click of a mouse!

By shepherding fellow booklovers toward the latest must-reads, reviewers have become a driving force in the book world. And with more titles to choose from than ever before, authors are always looking to get reviews of their latest releases. So if you’re an aspiring reviewer, there’s plenty of work for you on the horizon!

However, getting into this community isn’t about finding chances to write reviews, but rather about making your work stand out. To that end, this post covers five tips for writing a book review that’s enjoyable as well as informative, for an experience readers will love.

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Tip #1: Whet their appetite

Although there may be those among us who read the last page of a book first (especially those with a purported “dark side”), most people don’t like to have endings spoiled. Enjoyable reviews intrigue the reader without giving too much away. So before you start writing a brief summary if a book, ask yourself: What’s interesting about this book? Why might someone want to read it? This is what you need to highlight, rather than where the plot ends up going.

A foolproof way to pique your reader’s interest is to open with a hook. Try a question or a provocative statement. For example, in her ode to Lucia Berlin’s Evening in Paradise, Patricia Lockwood begins with the irresistible lead: “There ought to be a cult, really, of teenagers with Lucia Berlin’s books in their back pockets, hair combed into black bouffants, imitating her squint against sunlight.”

Another great strategy for grabbing readers’ attention at the start of a review is to compare the book to other titles they know. Statements like “This book is Pride and Prejudice meets 50 Shades of Grey” are often used by authors to pitch their books to agents because they make an unknown book sound immediately interesting and suggest that it has a ready-made audience. They work well in book reviews for pretty much the same reasons: comparative titles instantly summarize the book’s essence and let the reader know whether it’s up their alley or not.

Tip #2: Make it personal

The most enjoyable reviews feel less like prose and more like a discussion with a friend — whether that’s an eloquent conversation over a cup of tea or enthusiastic exclamations over a round of beers! Though you should probably steer clear of cuss-filled takedowns, when it comes to the tone of a book review, the best advice I can give is to be yourself.

A great way to make a review feel natural and intimate is to reflect on personal experiences, especially since your readers will inevitably do the same thing. When approaching non-fiction, think about how reading the book changed or developed your perspective on this topic, and describe personal connections to the central issue(s) where possible. Alternatively, if you’re reviewing fiction, ask yourself questions like these to personalize your commentary:

  • Does the story stay with you?
  • Do you still think about the characters?
  • Did you learn something?

Tip #3: Don’t chase tangents

When writing a review, you’re aiming to encapsulate a whole book in brutally few words — the sweet spot is around 1,000. There’s a little wiggle room, but if it’s too long, you risk losing the reader’s interest. With this in mind, keep things short and sweet by sticking to the bare essentials. If you tend to chase tangents (or even if you don’t!) it’s never a bad idea to familiarize yourself with some universal elements of book reviews and follow them.

The advice from veteran indie critics is almost always to take notes as you read. Jotting down your thoughts as you go will help you to write a much more clear and focused review. Track characters, chronicle the basic contours of the plot, note what works, what doesn’t, and keep a record of your general impressions — especially if they transform as the book goes on!

Highlighting key quotes in your review is another great tactic to demonstrate a book’s themes, or an author’s distinctive writing style. Not to mention they give the reader a tantalizing taste of what’s to come.

Tip #4: Know your stuff

At the end of the day, somebody reading a review wants to know whether or not they should buy the book. If your reader is coming to a review site rather than scrolling through Amazon ratings or simply judging a book by its cover, then they’re looking for an informed review that shows understanding of the genre’s tropes and trends.

So choose a genre you already know well — one that you love to read — and become even better-versed in its recent trends so that you can draw comparisons between hot titles and interesting topics and themes. Before you know it, you’ll be a resident expert!

Also, with any review, it’s important to include something about the author; in the case of non-fiction, the author’s background is especially crucial (and interesting!). If it’s relevant, you can also add a lot of panache to a review — whether fiction or non-fiction — by layering historical, political, or social context into your criticism.

Tip #5: Give your honest opinion

A review doesn’t have to be effusive to be enjoyable. Remember that you’re not selling the book to an agent, a publisher or even a reader — you’re only sharing your thoughts with fellow readers. Most of them will value honesty above all else.

Of course, there’s a difference between being honest and being ruthless. If you didn’t like the book, you don’t need to go on and on about every little thing that made your blood boil. Cover the main reasons and include a few concrete examples, then take the time to really focus on the reader.

Consider what kind of audience will love this book, even if it missed the mark for you personally. You might want to let them know if the book was from a genre that you don’t usually get along with, or if it didn’t meet your expectations, or perhaps if your opinions are based on a personal experience. The reviewer’s job is to help readers form their own impressions, rather than to be an absolute arbiter of taste.

As long as it’s genuine, it doesn’t hurt to throw a little compliment to the author; it might be that you thought they built suspense really well, or had some snappy dialogue. But if you can’t think of a single nice thing to say, maybe don’t say anything at all. George Orwell once wrote that best practice “would be simply to ignore the great majority of books”; to write only about the best. And if it’s good enough for him, it should be good enough for us!