DISCLAIMER (PART I): These rules are ones that I have set for myself. In no way am I advocating that they should be adopted by all book reviewers, except in the sense that – since I have set them for myself – that’s exactly what I’m doing. But hey, you do you.
DISCLAIMER (PART II): I am acutely aware that I have broken every single one of these rules in the past, and will likely do so again in the future. So let’s just think of them as guidelines and move on like adults, shall we?
Read everything you can
Restricting your reading material is a cardinal sin. No matter how much you might favour one genre over another, refusing to take a step outside your comfort zone is a ridiculous stance for any reader or reviewer to take. My genre of choice ia horror, for instance and, in a wider sense, speculative fiction as a whole. That doesn’t mean I’m going to shy away from thrillers, literary fiction, cozy mysteries, romance or whatever. You never know when the next great book is going to come by.
And it’s not just genre, but format too. Put aside your fiction and read some poetry, or non-fiction, or biographies, or graphic novels, or tie-in media, or magazines. Read hardbacks, paperbacks, and electronic formats of every kind. Read books from the Big Six publishers, and from independent presses, and from self-published authors. Whatever it is, get to reading it. You can always put it down again if it’s not to your taste.
Review everything you read
Linked to the above is this other nugget of wisdom. As a book reviewer it behooves me to cover as much material as I can. This is not an exclusive blog – all forms of the literary arts are welcome on my bookshelf, so why not on my blog? I’m not ashamed if someone knows I read the latest Stephen King one week, and followed it up with a Catherine Cookson novel the next.
This is an essential trait in a reviewer. I’ve seen too many bookshelves on Goodreads where everything gets four or five stars. Often, it must be said, this comes from reviewers who are also writers and I wonder how much of that is fear of recrimination. If so, then stop reviewing, for you have no credibility. I cannot believe that your method of selection is so exquisite that you have never picked up a dud.
Being honest is not the same as being a dick
Honesty is great, and if a book is truly dire, you should say so, but that’s where your remit ends. Reviews that say an author should give it up, or that a book’s fans suffer from mental impairments do nobody any favours and make you look like a cock.
Review as if nobody is reading
Of course, in some instances, this is literally the case, but don’t be disheartened. What I mean is, forget the fact that the author, the publisher, or someone else involved in the creation of the book might stumble across your review and place you some kind of blacklist. If your review is genuine, and written from a point of objective criticism rather than grudge-bearing then they should respect that. If they don’t… fuck ’em.
‘Did not finish’ should not mean ‘do not review’
If I get fifty pages into a book and find nothing there that convinces me to finish it, then I’m not going to. However, it is only fair that I post a review of said book, explaining that this is the case. Some writers, reviewers, and readers take exception to this, declaring that you cannot do justice to a book you have not read in its entirety. This is a nonsense. If you can’t convince me to continue with your tome after fifty pages then either you or your editor (or a combination of both) have failed in your duties to create a compelling work.
There is such a thing as objectively bad
Because we read fiction to be entertained, and entertainment is very much a subjective thing, people believe that the difference between a good book and a bad book is nothing more than a difference in taste. I disagree. There are certain fundamentals that make a book bad, beyond the realms of personal inclination. Consistently bad grammar and spelling, poor character development, listless and cliched plots, punctuation applied with a blunderbus… these are things that can be taught, can be learned, and should be utilised by any writer. I’m not saying that a good story can’t compensate for poor mechanics, but the worse the implementation, the better the story needs to be.
Buy your books
We all like freebies, and I myself have received many a review copy in my time. However, the most glowing and gushing five-star review doesn’t necessarily help the author in question. Buying their books does. Not only is it a few pennies in their back pocket, it also increases their rankings and visibility on Amazon and the like. So sure, get your ARCs where you can, but put your hand in your pocket as well, for God’s sake.