Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been using the tips in Nevena’s recent “New to the Book Country Workshop? Start Here” post to find tons of great stuff to read on the site, from Regency Romance to Young Adult Fantasy.
If you’re like me, it can be completely overwhelming to be tasked with giving feedback on a whole novel, especially if I am the first person to review. Not every BC member has posted a whole book (nor is that a requirement for posting), but lots of members are posting very long manuscripts that deserve detailed, professional-level feedback. This type of reading takes a large amount of concentration (to explain why certain things in the prose are working for me—or not), and it takes courage to post those opinions online, where others can see them and possibly disagree with you. There’s also the fear of hurting the author’s feelings if you think their work needs quite a lot of editing.
I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on reviewing on Book Country in case they’ll help you to get comfortable giving the kind of feedback that we all want to receive on the site—the kind that will help us write our best books.
DO be specific. This isn’t always easy. But that’s why we built the quoting tool in the online reader. If you think a piece of dialogue is pitch perfect, highlight it to quote and use the space below to tell the author why you love it. Same goes for text that isn’t working, too.
DON’T underestimate your skills as a reviewer. If you are skilled enough to go into a bookstore and start flipping through the books, you can give an author valuable feedback. How would you react if you read this as the first page of a book you were thinking of buying? Would you think twice before taking it to the register? If so, explain why. Even if a book is obviously in its very early stages, try to give feedback that will hopefully help the author see what they can do to get ever closer to that “just browsing in a bookstore” reader.
DO be honest. Respect is a huge tenet of the Book Country community, and it’s always important to honor this. But so long as you give your feedback in a polite tone, you should feel comfortable stating your opinion about a book. As writers eager to develop our skills, we need this feedback. Hearing it now means we might avoid some big pitfalls in our next draft.
DON’T forget to mention what you like! This one is the hardest for me to remember as I am reading. If you get a review from me with long sections that have no notes on them, it means that I was reading too fast and too happily to interrupt myself—a good thing! But I’m training myself to stop and give positive feedback, too. Even just a quick, “Nice scene here!” lets the author know what not to edit out of their next draft. In fact, if a writer sees positive comments right at the beginning of the review, it builds a sense of trust and respect that will be helpful when they are digesting the more critical aspects of the feedback. I actually like to structure my reviews as a “praise sandwich”–starting and ending with positive comments–because that is what I like to receive.
DO take advantage of the “Save for Later” button. I read RCGravelle’s historical novel-in-progress FIRES OF HALCYON in three chunks. I was loving what I was reading, and ideally I would have been able to read the posted chapters in one sitting, but it was a busy week and I had to come back to it. In the meantime, though, I had the chance to think about the book between readings, and I found that I actually liked it even more because I saw how much it stuck with me over the course of the week. This is, after all, how we usually read books in real life, so it’s a good test of a manuscript’s continuity as well.
DON’T be afraid to correct for grammar, typos, and word choice. Yes, these are small things, but as you are reading, they are a good place to start. As you delve deeper into the manuscript, patterns might emerge that you’ll want to have kept track of so that you can give examples of them in your overall feedback. Furthermore, as you’re getting into the swing of the book and writing your review of it, making comments on small things will help you to feel confident remarking on the big stuff.
DO consider more than just the manuscript itself. It’s totally cool to give honest feedback on a cover, a title, or even the “About the Book.” These are all tools that an author uses to find an audience, and you’re providing great feedback about whether those tools are working.
If you have questions about giving feedback on Book Country, please don’t hesitate to email me or private message me on the site! (Lucy AT bookcountry DOT com)
Looking forward to reading everyone’s Book Country books . . . AND their reviews!