By Shelley Carpenter (Harpspeed)
I think one of the important components in writing a book review is mindset. One needs to be open minded to reading books that they may not typically read. Professional editors and writers may have the option of choosing the books they review with the added perk of a salary. At Toasted Cheese and many other literary journals the editors and writers review books for the joy of it and to support fellow writers. It is a labor of love.
Revving Up before Reading:
Another practice I follow is to learn about the author before reading his/her book. I visit blogs, social media, and websites. Knowing something about the author makes the reading a more personal experience and may help later when it is time to write the review and the short biography that follows. I also look in the Toasted Cheese archives to see if there are submissions and links to other writing. It is like taking a test drive before driving cross-country.
The task also requires mindfulness. Before I open a book that is slotted for review, I always ask: What makes this a good book? This is a great question particularly if one is reviewing a book that is outside of their writing or reading genre(s). Giving myself an assigned question truly helps to focus on the task. Within the context of the question there are three sub-parts that I consider: What is this book about? This relates to genre, character and plot, the general information that most reviews contain. What do I notice within the text? This refers to style, language, theme, vocabulary, etc. a.k.a. the writer’s toolbox. Lastly, what do I notice beyond the story? Does it relate to the real world in any way? Are there comparisons or contrasts that can be drawn?
Another name for this practice is active reading. Meanwhile, I’m annotating the copy—I’m circling, underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margins. I also attach sticky notes on the pages that answer my question(s). By the time I finish reading, there are usually a dozen or more colored notes sticking out of the copy.
I take my time with every book and collection of poetry and stories and when I’ve finished reading and annotating, I let the words simmer in my mind for days before my fingers touch the keyboard. This is how I begin.
Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr (CC-by)
By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)
Tips for Writing a Review for Toasted Cheese:
- Keep in mind Candle-Ends is our way of connecting the TC community with the literary journal. We’re looking for positive/neutral reviews that support the writers in our community.
- We’re ok with fluffy, but not with false praise. Be honest, but kind.
- We know one of the reasons writers hesitate to write reviews is they’re unsure how to handle reviewing a book they didn’t love unequivocally. Here are some suggestions:
- Describe the book. For a novel, tell readers about the key characters, the gist of the plot, the setting. For short stories or poetry, give readers an overview of the types of stories or poems they can anticipate. Write about the overall theme of the book. Describe the writer’s style.
- Let the book speak for itself. Include representative quotes in your review so readers can see what to expect and judge for themselves.
- Highlight the the book’s strengths.
- Sandwich criticism between praise. If there is a weakness you think is important to mention, put it in the middle. Start with a positive and end with a positive.
- A brief mention of why you personally related to the book is fine, but don’t digress too much. Keep the focus on the content of the book.
- Provide a brief biography of the author as well as links to their website and/or social media accounts.
- Please mention if you have a personal connection to the author.
Tips for Requesting a Review from Toasted Cheese:
- Requests for reviews should be sent to our reviews editor at email@example.com
- Be sure to mention the author’s connection to Toasted Cheese (please note: we only review books by writers with a pre-existing connection to TC).
- Author or publisher must be able to provide a digital and/or print copy of the book to the reviewer.
- Indicate your willingness to write a review. Not only is it good karma to reciprocate, but requesting authors who write a review will be moved to the front of the queue.