At SPR we’ve been reviewing books for nearly a decade. Here, we talk about how we review a book, and answer some of the most burning questions authors have.
When a book comes in for review, the first thing we check is that it meets our book policy. We do this by reading the synopsis and then scanning it for keywords that might flag up any issues against our guidelines. Since 2013, we have rejected books that titillate using triggers, such as harsh violence, hate crimes, religious or political hate, or child abuse outside of a survivor account. If a book does not meet our guidelines, we talk to the author to get more information, and rarely we will make a refund and reject the book. Luckily, this happens maybe once a year. We’ve found that for the most part, authors are aware of what is appropriate to submit, and the quality of books remains pretty high relative to self-published books on the market.
The next step is looking at the book online, and working out which of the review team should receive the book. This is done mainly on genre, but also what kind of review and deadlines feed into this process as well. We endeavor to get the best match possible for the book so that the reviewer will be fully versed in that sort of work, and will be able to review it comprehensively. Once a book is assigned, we have a commitment to pay the reviewer, and have already spent time researching the book, therefore we cannot give a refund from this point on, unless the book does not meet our policy, or two reviews were purchased in error for the same book.
We have a policy that a book must be read in its entirety. We have fired only two reviewers who did not do this, first book (if this ever happens we immediately expedite the review to a senior reviewer). Only two, but we do have a zero tolerance policy on it. When you are an experienced reviewer, it’s clear to see when another reviewer has not read the book, although it may not be clear to the readers. This is something we have kept out of our reviews by giving all potential reviewers a very difficult test to complete with a test review before we accept them into the team. Only one or two reviewers a year are accepted from hundreds who apply, thinking it’s easy money. It is not. You need stamina, and a strong stomach for reading ANYTHING.
Professional reviewers read very fast. Some of us have to read four or five books a week. It’s easier than it sounds! If you review professionally, then your job is reading!
Imagine how much reading you would do if you didn’t go to work or watch TV – that’s basically how we are. Four or five hours at a time reading and note-taking, with flexible hours.
You will find often that book and media offices have comfy sofas in them. You will see readers lying down on them. In my office, I have a reading “nook” and an armchair facing the window for reading. Some of our reviewers work at home, and you can bet your life they also read like this! You have to love devouring words. There is no point in being a reviewer if you have “work” reading and “leisure” reading, although most of us have our own books running parallel to our work reading too!
Your book has to be read in an environment that matches the reader’s experience. Books are read in sections, and notes are taken. Ending up with something like twenty sentences about the book by reading completion, we move onto our writing platform and start putting together the review. Note-taking looks at aspects such as how enjoyable the book was, and if it met its premise as advertised on Amazon or the author’s site. Sometimes books think they are one thing, and end up as another, and readers need to know what sort of book they are picking up, so this is important. We tend to write about the quality, and whether we think readers can relate to the story and characters. A book review isn’t so technical, but there is a formula to it.
All our reviewers are degree-educated, and are trained at regular intervals. Most have been professional writers for years, and know how to write critique already. We have three senior reviewers, who review the expedited books, and then a further team of five reviewers who work within the month deadline, plus occasional specialist reviewers we ask to review if a book is of a certain niche. Most of our reviewers stay on for years because it’s a flexible and varied job once you get into it, and a lot of fun if you are good at it. We do train in house style, described in the next section.
Synopsis and pitch – We use the first paragraph to give the reader a quick look at the story and genre, and what they might get from the book. We use a punchy sentence or two here, called a “pull quote,” so they have quotable lines for publicity purposes, to “pitch” their book.
The book experience – The second part of the review is usually a few paragraphs of how enjoyable the book is to read, followed by quality concerns, such as comments on the design and editing. This is because a review is a product review, and we owe it to our readers to give honest, unbiased opinions. This is the first-hand account of the book experience as a reader.
Review style – At SPR, we avoid double negatives, such as ” the plot wasn’t the worst” in favor of positive words, “the plot was quite interesting” so that in online search, we avoid negative words appearing in searches on Google. We also like to use punchy sentences here and there, for quoting purposes.
Summing up – In summary, we like to give a rounded summary of our points, and reasons to buy and read the book, along with what sort of reader might enjoy it. We also try to encourage the author here too, especially if it’s a first book.
Star Rating – At SPR we star all our Classic and Lead Story Reviews. This is because it’s nice for readers, and authors, to see a visual award for the work. Our starring system is generous, but fair, and is relative to indie book standards. The way we grade books is on personal opinion, but we do check star ratings at proofing to make sure that there is governance across all book reviews in relation to each other, and that criteria have been marked accordingly on Design, Content, and Editing. A bad book cover may only rate a 2, but if the rest of the criteria come up on a 5 each, the review will be an overall 4, and the reader will be able to see the book is entirely readable apart from that issue in the itemized star rating box. We encourage authors to publish a review, even if it’s negative, because we always have something good to say, and all publicity is good publicity.
Amazon Edit – We provide a shorter version of the review for Amazon Editorial Reviews. This includes “best bits” and can be used anywhere that you want to cite your review. This is important to most authors, who want a version that is less critical and focuses on the positives.
Recommendations – Occasionally, we write “recommended” next to a book. When we do this, we might ask the author if they would like us to recommend the book to one of our professional contacts in the book or movie world. This year, two books have been sent to Hollywood producers!
Timing – A review takes about a fourteen working days for a Jump Start, and a working month to create if it’s longer, and if the author upgrades to a higher quality or longer review, we go back to the beginning of the process. You cannot always rely on deadlines in case there are proofing issues or reviewing issues, so we say allow three days extra if you have a deadline to meet. Proofing may take up to a week. We proof once as a sweep before reviews are sent out for approval, and then another check at publication.
Books We Love To Review
Professional reviewers can always find something good to say about a book, but it’s nice if you have followed the 3 basics:
- Great book cover
- Professional editing
- Synopsis and genre are relevant to your book
Remember we cannot edit out the nasty bits from a genuine review, so getting your book the best you can before sending it out to be reviewed is of course the best way to get those five golden stars!