What a Writer Can Learn From Reading Book Reviews

On the premise we can learn about an author’s audience from reading book reviews, I studied reviews for a Christian contemporary romance I had read. I became more intrigued by the relationship between reviewers’ issues and their star-ratings than the author’s audience.

The book had 262 reviews with a 4.7-star average.

  • 5 stars = 202
  • 4 stars = 42
  • 2 to 3 stars = 18
image by mcmurryjulie

Gabriela Pereira advises us to read 3- and 4-star reviews only (“Alpha-Blog Soup” Writer’s Digest May/June 2018). Pereira says, “5-star reviews are often too glowing to be useful, and people who leave 1- or 2-star reviews have an axe to grind.” She thought seven was the “magic number” of reviews to read to know an author’s audience.

I read sixteen 4-star reviews, breezing through story descriptions and slowing to a sloth’s-pace when the reviewer gave opinions about anything.

I’ve compiled stats below of what reviewers said about different aspects. Remember, these sixteen reviewers rated the book as “very good.” I believe the reviewers genuinely explored the story in honest reviews.

About the Author

  • Writes good banter, humor, and dialogue
  • Willing to introduce risky subjects

About the Reviewers

  • Loyalty to series/author. Regardless of whether they had problems with the story, twelve reviewers (75%) said they’d read the first book in the series, one or more of the author’s other books, and/or planned to read the next book in the series.

Opinions About the Story

 

image by mohamed_hassan

 Theme. Seven reviewers (44%) mentioned a theme. Five went with Theme 1 and two chose Theme 2.

 Plot. Eight (50%) shared their opinions on the plot. Four labeled the plot, and they gave the same plot name. Four mentioned they liked the fresh story twists; three weren’t impressed with the plot, and one gave no opinion on her plot feelings.

 Authenticity. Six (38%) said they were pleased situations and characters were realistic.

 Morality. Seven (44%) voiced concerns over moral issues in the story.

Lessons learned. Six (38%) remarked they appreciated learning from the situations.

Spiritual thread. Ten (63%) mentioned this aspect and gave positive opinions.

 Opinions About the Characters

 

Likeability of Main Characters. Eight (50%) cited problems with liking them. Some warmed up to them later in the story, and two said they enjoyed the story in spite of not caring for the main characters.

Secondary Characters. Seven (44%) mentioned liking the secondary characters. For one secondary character, three loved him and one disliked him.

Character arcs. Seven (44%) mentioned seeing the growth in the main characters.

What struck me was that seven reviewers respectfully voiced their concerns with moral issues, three disliked the plot, and eight had problems liking the hero and heroine, yet they gave the book four stars. These opinions came from ten reviewers (63%), some having concerns in more than one of these three categories.

My exercise showed at least 75% of the sixteen reviewers were loyal to the author/series. And 63% said they were happy with the spiritual thread. This may suggest the importance of

  • authors gaining loyal readers in their genre and receiving a loyalty “mulligan” when one book disappoints, and
  • writing series.

Try reading several 4-star reviews for a book and learn from the commonalities. Click to tweet.

What thoughts can you add to this exercise?

COOKING UP KISSES – has earned an Amazon #1 bestseller ribbon in two categories!

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!

HEARTS ON THE HARBOR BY ROBIN BAYNE

Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?

 

 

HIS VALENTINE PROMISE BY DORA HIERS

Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…

Non-Fiction: Novel Ways to Spice It Up

image by OpenClipart-Vectors
image by OpenClipart-Vectors

I’m working on a non-fiction book based on my blog’s writing posts and more. The book’s purpose is to help writers transform their manuscripts into editor-friendly books in 32 steps.

Here’s what I learned about introducing novel ideas into non-fiction books from Debbie Harmsen’s article, “Straight Up Non-fiction With a Twist” (Writer’s Digest March/April 2015).

Framework 

 

image by Deedster
image by Deedster

Harmsen talks about how we present our thoughts, ideas, and information. This involves the title, chapter titles, headings, and running themes. She suggests the that framework add fun, make the content memorable, and provide lightness.

I want my title to communicate the benefits the book provides. But I also want readers to anticipate fun as they work on their manuscript.

 

 

When I brainstormed titles, the first seven revealed my book’s benefits, using lofty but tired words. Then I pictured what my book would help writers do to their manuscripts. With the resulting simile, I wrote a title that sported creative words. I brainstormed other images, similes, and creative titles.

Once I choose a title, I can work the theme of the simile into the chapter titles and headings.

Contrariness

 

image by OpenClipart-Vectors
image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Next, Harmsen mentioned the novelty of exchanging the normal cheerleader approach with helping readers realize whether the work involved is right for them.

In my introduction, perhaps I’ll ask whether performing 32 steps seems too much work to improve their manuscript. Writing a sellable novel is much work, and getting one into shape may not be worth their time. That’s okay. Another choice may be to pursue forms of writing that require less editing.

Scenes and Dialogue

 

In this section, Harmsen discusses using stories to show how a principle works, e.g. characters in business situations.

My book will have plenty of fiction examples to support the principles.

image by eslfuntaiwan
image by eslfuntaiwan

Supplemental Material

 

Here, Harmsen talks about the importance of such things as sidebars and subheadings. She stresses adding novel materials that interactively engage the reader, such as quizzes and fun extras at chapter endings.

So, I’ll include simple, humorous drawings, text boxes, and worksheets to help readers work on their manuscripts.

 

 

“Flashback” 

 

Harmsen suggests a flashback could work well in non-fiction books. She mentions opening with a failure story about a person who hadn’t used the book’s principles and then closing with a success story for a person who had.

My book is for:

  • the unpublished writer, whose manuscript needs work, has been rejected, or received low contest scores;
  • the self-publisher, who knows his manuscript needs work or has received poor sales and reviews; and
  • the published author who wants to improve her manuscript.

Therefore, my targeted audience should identify with my opening failure story, and my ending success story.

Testimonials

 

Testimonials can make information and principles stronger. Dave Ramsey sprinkles in testimonials in his Financial Peace books.

At the end of each chapter, I might add a testimonial about how a writer improved his manuscript by applying a technique or principle.

(If you’re interested in possibly having your testimony in my book, contact me at zoehgwp@gmail.com with “Testimony” in the heading.)

Try these novel ideas in your non-fiction book. Click to tweet.

What technique made a non-fiction book you’ve read enjoyable to read?

 

Point of View: Deepen Your Scene as You Employ It

image by geralt
image by geralt

Through two examples, I’ll show how employing point of view can enrich a scene as readers experience the setting, characterization, plot, and story theme.

I’ll use the same elements for each example.

   Character: Clara Hill, a twenty-three-year-old woman.

   Theme: A first-time teacher learns to reach and help her students.

   Setting: Classroom.

   Scene Plot: How Clara handles her first day of class.

Example 1 

Principal Edwards introduced Clara to the class then headed for the door.

He was leaving her so soon—with the black boy wearing unlaced combat boots and sitting in the last row, tying knots in the blind cord? And with the white pregnant girl, sitting in front chewing gum? Or was that tobacco?

Clara scurried to the teacher’s desk, putting the bulwark between her and the class. Seven columns and six rows of one-armed student desks. And all of them filled with lounging teens. Eighty-four eyes bearing down on her, sizing her up, following her every movement.

image by PublicDomainPictures
image by PublicDomainPictures

She grasped the English textbook with both hands. Anything to steady her trembling fingers. As she opened the book, her number-two pencil fell from its pages, rolled off the desk to the filthy terrazzo floor, and stopped at the mud-encrusted wader of the boy with one lazy eye.

She glanced at the boy. Wasn’t he going to pick it up?

“You dropped your pencil,” he said, one eye on her and the other on the pencil.

What happened to raising one’s hand to speak? And since when was a teacher expected to handle a class of forty-two miscreants? [Scene continues.]

Example 2

Principal Edwards introduced Clara to the class then headed for the door.

Clara ran her gaze over the students as she waited until the metal door clicked shut. A motley bunch, but they’d do.

image by tdfugere
image by tdfugere

She strode to the wooden desk, plopped her rump onto the spot where a lovelorn teen had engraved, ‘LILY LUVS AL,’ and crossed her legs.

“My name is Clara Hill. Ms. Hill to you.” She nodded at the teen in the back. “You who can’t decide whether to open or shut the blinds, what’s your name?”

Sniggers rippled through the students.

The boy released the blind cord. “Emmett Crowe.”

“Thanks, Emmett.” Clara’s clog nearly touched the knee of the rosy-cheeked young lady on the first row. She smiled at the girl. “What’s your name?”

“Annabel Grubbs.”

“How far along are you, Annabel?” Maybe Clara should have taken a birthing class instead of CPR.

More sniggers.

Annabel giggled, displaying brown teeth. “Thirty-four weeks.”

“My guess is you’ll miss the first unit test.” [Scene continues.]

 

Through point of view:

  1.  Clara is fearful and judgmental

OR

    is bold and direct.

2.   Clara sees 42 occupied chairs, skin color, filth, and miscreants

OR

     sees individual students, fidgeting, pregnant, and infatuated with “AL.”

3.   The way Clara handles her first day drives what needs to happen to satisfy the novel’s theme that Clara will reach and help her students (plot).

Perhaps, Clara changes her outlook and relationships with her students

OR

fights the community for the students’ good.

Put point of view to work for characterization, setting, theme, and plot. Click to tweet.

How have you put point of view to work in a scene?