Have you ever wondered what specifics a book reviewer looks for in a book? Or, what makes the difference between a one-star review and a five-star review? You're in luck! Fantasia Reviews has graciously written a guest post for The Golden Cricket about what makes a good book.
The Art of the Review: What Makes a Book Good?
Three components go into writing a work of fiction: creativity, skill, and a message. Creativity comes from the mind of the author, in a work of fiction, particularly speculative fiction, this is where the world is built, characters are born, and a story is made. The skill of the author comes into play as they construct their prose, it is those words, those lines, which breathe life into a work; they give the author’s thoughts form. Finally, there is the message; the intent and the worldview of the author that inevitably and indelibly mark any work that they create. These forces together give us a work of fiction, but rating such a work can be tricky, as mastery of all of these elements is difficult, but credit should always be given when it is due.
The story is the narrative of a book, and of all three components, is the easiest to assess. When looking at any story, we look at originality, plausibility within the bounds of the world, and cohesion. Originality is easy to judge. We ask ourselves, have we seen anything like this before, and if so, where? If the answer is yes, and it often is as there is little new under the sun, we try to see how the author made the story their own. What did they add? What did they remove? How do the characters grow and change? The more original ideas the author puts into a story, the better it will be. Multiple plotlines can add depth and complexity, combining old and worn-out stories into something new and exciting. A good story is original and interconnected. It does not rely on tired tropes and instead forges boldly forward, unapologetically, giving us something to enjoy and love over and over again.
An author’s writing style can be a matter of taste, but certain fundamentals can be followed. Now, this is not a tutorial on how to write, so we will not delve too deeply into good writing practices, but we can tell you what we look for in a well-written book. It should be spelling and grammar error free. Nothing breaks immersion like a misspelled or misused word. That being said, nobody is perfect. The occasional error is expected, but repeated mistakes will annoy readers. You should have a developed vocabulary that is appropriate for the target audience. Juxtaposition is a great word but probably does not belong in middle-grade reading. Of course, simple and repetitive language can and will bore readers. If you frequently find yourself repeating words or using the word ‘thing,' you may want to consider breaking out the thesaurus. Readers want to be entertained not frustrated or anesthetized.
The most subjective of all of the components is the message, i.e. what does the book say to the reader? Whether the author means for it or not, a bit of their worldview makes it into their work. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as it does not come across as if the work was meant to proselytize. Themes will also often come through, whether intentional or unintentional. Now, some of this will be lost on some readers, because not everyone reads books for the same reasons. As reviewers, though, we love robust themes, compelling conflicts, and the ability to relate aspects of a book to our lives and world events. When properly executed, you can expose readers to ideas that they had never considered before, or make them see an issue from a new perspective. Now, this does not need to be a goal for the author; it is up to the reader to make these interpretations, but inspiration can be added with a deft hand. Interpretations may even vary from reader to reader, and that is fine too. What matters the most is that the author is bold enough to inject this kind of material into their narrative. Often, the strongest messages can be controversial or even upsetting to some. Examples of issues worthy of exploration are racism, misogyny, and the dichotomy (or lack thereof) of good and evil. Now, not all authors set out to send a message, and that is fine too, but a well-crafted message can only serve to enhance the experience of a strong narrative.
When we write reviews, we take all of this into consideration. To rate a work on one metric would be disingenuous since so much goes into writing a book. Authors have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are great storytellers, but their writing skills are lacking. Others may have degrees in literature, but lack the creativity to make something great. We should congratulate these people on their strengths, but their weaknesses should be exposed, as reviews are as much for the author as they are the reader. In the end, we all just want to read a good book.
Thank you for sharing this informative article. I've had my books reviewed by various book bloggers and it's always surprising when they don't list what/how they are evaluating your work. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you're trying to determine if they would even like your book in the first place. That said, I really think that other authors out there will greatly benefit from your post. I know I certainly did!
Fantasia Reviews is comprised of a group of fantasy authors, and readers who love to give reviews to works they find are undiscovered, underappreciated or just the books they love. If you think your work is appropriate, you can contact them here.