Thursday, September 16, 2010

Upping the Game on Reviews?

I'm not a writer--at least, I'm not an aspiring author. Do I write things? Yeah, but I don't have a book idea I'm shopping around, and that's not on my radar for the future. To brush up on my editing skills, though, I attended a writers conference this weekend. About half of the presentations I attended were publishing industry-related, and the other half were on things like structuring the middle of one's book  and creating an elevator pitch. It's the last one that I thought might apply to book blogging the most, and a lot of you that I'm following have been talking lately about wishing for more tools in the blogging toolbox.

I'm going to change what I heard in the presentation and combine it with other elevator pitch rules to fit with what is toughest in reviewing books, especially complicated ones, and maybe help push away the writer's block about explaining things. (I do reserve the right to continue to ramble in my own reviews, though! I often go for a steam-of-consciousness review and then try to right it into something readable. I will be trying this with some of the older reviews that I'm bringing to this blog.)

In a pitch, you might say:
  • Who's the main character, and what defines her?
  • What does she want?
  • What does she have to do to get it?
The idea is that you give all of this in one sentence, too. It's hard, though, when a story has a lot of complexity, or it's about self-growth, because that doesn't sound all that exciting when it's boiled down to a sentence. Here are a couple that I made up, for made-up books and real ones:

Headstrong attorney Ann must pass as a cleaning lady to infiltrate the offices of Big Corporation and find out who killed her mentor with a velociraptor.
Harry Potter, a young wizard attending a secret magical school, has to find and destroy the Philosopher's Stone before the evil Lord Voldemort uses it to gain power over wizards everywhere.
Peter Rabbit must dodge Farmer MacGregor if Peter wants to eat anything from MacGregor's garden.

Kinda like that. 

And then, as when a real elevator pitch's recipient shows interest, one might go on--a book reviewer might go on for a paragraph or a few--to flesh out the story. I think it's always helpful to give some personal thoughts on the book's strengths and weaknesses, your reactions as an individual reader, and even whether or not you like or would recommend the book: I'm friends with people who have completely different tastes in reading from mine, and when one of us likes a book, the other generally won't, so sometimes, a negative can sell a book, and a positive won't.

What do you think? How do you approach reviewing, especially if you read a lot of books? I'm thinking this approach works best for plot-based stories, and ones where even if there are a lot of threads, there's still a well-defined central conflict.

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