The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

An article by Cathy Bryant

A Texas gal by birth, Cathy lives with her husband in a century-old Texas farmhouse, complete with picket fence, flowers, butterflies, and late summer mosquitoes the size of your fist.

Cathy’s debut novel, Texas Roads, a 2009 finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis competition, is now available in e-book format through Smashwords, Amazon.com, and other online retailers. It will be available in print in Spring 2010.

Learn more about Cathy by visiting her website or her blog, WordVessel. You can sign up to receive free chapters of Texas Roads here. In addition, I have the privilege of interviewing Cathy on March 25, so you can return then to hear about her journey to publication.

Cathy writes amazing book reviews on her blog, and I invited her to share the many ways doing so can benefit a writer. Read on to find out what she has to say . . .

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The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

By Cathy Bryant

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I’d love to say I entered this crazy world of a writer’s life armed with a regimented plan of attack, but the truth is I literally stumbled into much of it, including writing book reviews on my blog, WordVessel. There was no way to comprehend how I would profit from something as simple as reading books and writing reviews. Here’s a smidgeon of the benefits I’ve received:

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Analyzing Reading Material As A Writer

Independent study has always been my modus operandi, so devouring craft of writing books was a given when I felt God nudge me to step up my writing efforts.

Then I discovered (still not sure how it all happened other than to suggest divine intervention) the opportunity to receive free books from various publishers/authors to review. The only words I needed to hear? Free books. Sign me up!

As it turns out, studying the craft and analyzing books for review at the same time is a powerful combination! To give examples, I learned early on about the importance of using strong verbs and nouns. Through reading for book reviews, I saw firsthand how authors put that skill into practice in their books. The same holds true for other aspects of the craft: characterization, dialogue, story structure, plot, scene, GMC, and the list goes on and on.

So many of the authors interviewed on my blog have advised newbie writers to read, and read voraciously. I agree. Writing makes you a good writer; reading makes you a better writer.

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How Not To Do It

In addition to seeing good writing put into practice in review books, I’ve also learned what not to do. I don’t like every book I read for review, though I almost always find something in each book to appreciate. Seeing writer “no-no’s” in a book helps me comprehend why certain things need to be avoided.

Here’s an example. One writing “rule of thumb” is to avoid introducing too many characters in one scene. The reason? It’s confusing to the reader. I once read a book—which was enjoyable for the most part—where a couple of scenes had so many characters I couldn’t keep them straight. From that particular part of the book, I learned why the “rule of thumb” existed.

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Writing/Editing Practice

Okay, this may be obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me. As writers we are told to write regularly. Guess what? This includes writing of all kinds, blog posts and book reviews included. My writing skills have skyrocketed through constant attention to craft of writing details in book reviews and other writing. (I’ve even progressed to the point where I edit my e-mails and status updates! Please tell me some of you do this, too, so I don’t feel so…well, um…geeky!)

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Learning the Market

Reading fiction from various publishers in the Christian market gives great insight into what publishers and consumers want. This is invaluable information for writers. If our work is going to be marketable, we need to understand what sells and what doesn’t.

Knowing the market also helps when time to write a proposal. When creating the marketing plan for Texas Roads, I knew from reading review books that my story had some of the sassy humor found in Mary Connealy’s books and the hometown flavor of Kaye Dacus’ Brides of Bonneterre series. When a well-respected agent asked what writers I could compare my writing to, I knew what to say.

Along this same vein, part of the market game is finding a unique story idea. Reading the latest releases can help you see what makes a book or storyline distinctive.

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Learning Your Genre

Every genre contains certain “must-do’s,” and reading within your genre helps cement them in your mind. To illustrate, let’s use the romance genre. In a romance, readers and editors expect the hero and heroine to meet in the first few pages of the book. A happy ending is a must. A progression of the relationship between the hero and heroine is needed throughout the storyline. Without those things, a romance most likely won’t make it. Reading review books in your genre helps you notice and absorb those key elements.

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Learning Through Other Genres

Having mentioned reading books in your genre, I also highly encourage you to read and review books outside your genre as well. I write romance and women’s fiction but learned oodles by reading suspense thrillers, speculative fiction, fantasies, and mysteries.

Want to learn about pacing? Read suspense thrillers. Want to learn about creating your story world? Read fantasy and spec fiction. Want to learn about sequence or plot? Read mysteries.

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Networking With Authors

Not all my review books come from publisher blogging programs or book blog tours. On several occasions, authors have approached me about reviewing their books. I’ve established untold writing friendships this way. In addition, several authors have popped in to leave a comment on a review I’ve written or contact me afterwards to say thanks.

In every business sector, networking is essential. Writing is no exception.

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Cathy savors a story.

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Book Review Tips

I’ll be the first to admit my book reviews aren’t typical. I review books like a writer. I don’t just read them, I dissect them. If you want to see a sample, you can click here to read my review of Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn.

Time doesn’t allow me to go into this much depth on every book review, but when I see an example of really great writing, I just can’t help myself. I have to share my insights. I try to include a background of the story (without spoiling the plot) then delve in like a surgeon with a scalpel. While reading, I take note of the passages that stand out and include them in the post.

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If you’re interested in becoming a book reviewer there are several publishers who have blog book review programs. You can also sign up to receive blog tour information from several blog tour hosts such as LitFuse and FIRST Wildcard Blog Tours. Another way to get review copies is by serving as an influencer for authors.

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I hope you’ve found this post helpful. Happy Reading and Writing! I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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16 Responses to The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

  1. Cathy Bryant says:

    Thanks so much for the opportunity, Keli. I really enjoyed sharing my take on book reviews and writing. =)

  2. Keli Gwyn says:

    Cathy, what a delight it is to have you here. I’ve been impressed by your book reviews for some time now and appreciate you taking the time to share some of your process with us.

    I like the fact that writing reviews benefits authors, since I count many of them among my friends. I hadn’t realized, though, how many benefits there are to the writer serving as a reviewer. Thanks for doing such a great job enlightening us.

  3. Virginia C says:

    Hi, Keli & Cathy! You two ladies are a dynamic duo : ) Cathy, your blog post was so insightful. I appreciate the thoughtful way that you and Keli both review and relate information. You make us more aware of what we are actually seeing when we are reading!

  4. Cathy Bryant says:

    Hi Virginia! Dynamic duo–I love it! Hmmm, Batman gets to drive that cool car, so I hope for that reason alone that I get to be Batman! LOL! (But I don’t like sleeping upside down!) =) I’m glad the reviews are helpful!

  5. Linda says:

    I depend on book reviews to determine what the book is about and if I want to read it. I love doing reviews/blogging on the books I read. My posts are on www dot onedesertrose dot wordpress dot com.

  6. laura frantz says:

    Cathy, Great insights here! So glad you and Keli are friends. You’ve both sure been a blessing to me. You’ve said so many interesting, insightful things here! I, too, read a book as a writer/editor and sometimes that makes me sad as it can get in the way of my enjoying the story. You’ve taught me quite a few things today that I will take with me when I do reviews for friends. Bless you both!

  7. Cathy Bryant says:

    I do, too, Linda. That’s why I put so much time into my reviews. On one hand, I can find so much to enjoy in about every book I read. Unfortunately, because I read like a writer, I also see lots I don’t like. I’m careful not to be disrespectful when writing about the things I don’t like, because reading is soooo subjective. At the same time, I want to make sure that I let the readers know if there’s anything in the story that I think warrants a warning.

    Laura, you’re the one who’s been the blessing. (And Keli, too!) That’s the one part of becoming a writer that I dislike…that I can’t read just for enjoyment anymore. I’m glad you found the post helpful, friend!

  8. Keli Gwyn says:

    I stayed up far too late plotting my story last night, but I’m up now. It’s not quite eight here in California. Still some morning left, even back east, so I’ve got a plate of warm muffins: blueberry, chocolate chip, and, my fave, oat bran. There’s a nice selection of herbal teas as well, so help yourselves.

    Cathy, you can be Batman. I don’t like to drive, and I have a feeling the dashboard of the Batmobile would be every bit as confusing as learning my way around a new cell phone. I’m kinda low tech and have to ask my college daughter for lessons. 🙂

    It’s fun to see some familiar folks here today. Virginia, I’m sure you have some great reasons for writing reviews too. What are some you might like to add?

  9. Cathy Bryant says:

    Good morning, Keli! You may want to reconsider…you haven’t seen me drive! (And I’m technically challenged myself!) =)

  10. Virginia C says:

    Keli, I’ll tell you anything you want to know for a chocolate chip muffin : )

  11. MaryC says:

    Hi Cathy and Keli,

    Cathy, so many points in your post resonated with me.

    Earlier today as I was reading someone’s blog, I was thinking how much I had seen her writing grow stronger just through her frequent blogging. I’ll bet it carries over to her fiction as well.

    You reminded me of a book I have that I’ve been meaning to read –
    Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise on reviewing. I read your review of Gold of Kings and while the story sounded fun, what I liked best were all your examples of voice, characterization, language use, etc.

    BTW, you’re not alone. I edit myself endlessly – emails, tweets, posts – anything that has letters. But invariably I see an error just as I hit send.

  12. MaryC says:

    Keli,
    Staying up late plotting or writing is one of my favorite reasons for being tired the next day. Hope it went well!

  13. Cathy Bryant says:

    Hi Mary,

    Thanks for the heads up on the book. I keep an actual list of books I want to read, and I’ve added this one to the list. As far as the self-editing, just this morning I hit the send button on my tweet just as I caught an error. Arggh! But I must admit, sometimes my goofs are better than what I intended to send. Well…at least funnier! =)

  14. Cathy Bryant says:

    Keli,

    Thanks so much for having me on your awesome blog. I enjoyed it so much! =)

  15. Quilt Lady says:

    Love the cover of your book and it sounds fabulous! I love books set in Texas, can’t wait to get it.

  16. Cathy Bryant says:

    Thanks so much, Quilt Lady! =)

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