Monday, February 14, 2011

The Ten Commandments of Book Reviewing with Mayra Calvani

Award-winning author Mayra Calvani, who is currently doing a virtual author tour, was asked to share some tips with us today on doing book reviews as part of her World of Ink Tour. Mayra not only writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She’s a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books, co-editor of Voice in the Dark ezine and a...Mother. I couldn’t think of a better person to motivate and inspire us today. 

1.     Thou shall have no other gods before the reader.
The review is not about the author, nor the publisher, and especially, not about you, the reviewer. Reviews are all about the reader. Don’t try to impress with pompous words in an attempt to glorify yourself or appear scholarly. Give readers simplicity and clarity. They’ll appreciate it. If they want verbose and fancy, they can read Shakespeare.

2.     Thou shall not lie.
Honesty is what defines your trade. Without it, you’re nothing but sell copy. When you give facile praise or sugarcoat a book, sooner or later readers will take you for what you are: a phony. Furthermore, if you give facile praise to a poorly written book, you are perpetuating a bad writer's career, lowering the chances that a good writer may be published instead.

3.     Thou shall not offend the author.
Just as honesty is important, so is tact. There’s no need to be harsh or mean. A tactfully written, well-meant negative review should offer the author insight into what is wrong with the book. Instead of saying, “This is a terrible novel!” say, “This book didn’t work for me for the following reasons…”

4.     Thou shall not eat the evaluation.
Some fledgling reviewers write a long blurb of the book and leave out the evaluation. The evaluation is the most important part of a review. A summary of the plot is not an evaluation. Saying, “I really liked this book” is not an evaluation. The evaluation tells the reader what is good and bad about the book, and whether or not it is worth buying. 

5.     Thou shall not reveal spoilers.
Nobody likes to be told the ending of a movie before having watched it. The same thing is valid for a book. If you give spoilers in your review, not only do you lessen the reader’s reading experience but you also risk being sued by the publisher or author. 

6.     Thou shall honor grammar, syntax and punctuation.
Don’t be one of those reviewers who are more in love with the idea of seeing their name online than making sure their reviews are well written and thorough. Your reviews may hang around on the internet for years to come and will reflect on your level as a writer. Run a spell check, edit, revise and polish your review as if you were posting a short story. Get a good book on grammar and punctuation, take an online course or listen regularly to podcasts such as The Grammar Girl

7.     Thou shall honor deadlines.
If you join a review site where the turnaround for reviews is 3 weeks, then you should respect that agreement. If you promise the author to have the review ready in two months, you should honor this too. Be honest and straightforward from the beginning. If you’re so busy your turnaround is six months, make sure to let the person know. If for any reasons you cannot meet the deadline, contact the person and let him know. It’s your responsibility to maintain a doable schedule. 

8.     Thou shall not be prejudiced against thy neighbor.
Don't assume that a self-published or small press book is poorly written. Give it a fair chance and let it speak for itself. Likewise, never assume a book published by a major NY house has to be good. You'd be surprised by the high quality of some small press books by unknown authors as opposed to those written by big name authors whose titles are often in the bestseller lists. In general, most subsidy books are mediocre, but there are always exceptions. If you've had bad experiences with subsidy books, then don't request them nor accept them for review. If you decide to review one, though, don't be biased and give it a fair chance.

9.      Thou shall not become an RC addict
RC stands for Review Copy. Requesting RCs can get out of control. In fact, it can become addictive. You should be realistic about how many books you can review. If you don’t, pretty soon you’ll be drowning in more RCs that you can handle. When this happens, reading and reviewing can change from a fun, pleasurable experience into a stressful one. If you’re feeling frazzled because you have a tower of books waiting to be reviewed, learn to say NO when someone approaches you for a review and stop requesting RCs for a while. Unless you’re being paid as a staff reviewer for a newspaper or magazine, reviewing shouldn’t get in the way of your daily life. 

10.              Thou shall not steal.
Remember that the books you request are being sent to you in exchange for a review. Requesting review copies and not writing the reviews is, in one word: stealing. You'd be surprised at the number of 'reviewers' who, after having requested several books, suddenly 'disappear.' These people are not legitimate; they're crooks, plain and simple. If you have a valid reason for not reviewing a book, let the review site editor, author, publisher or publicist know. 

The same goes for piracy. Do not risk being fined for posting a full eBook you have received on any site whether for free downloads or resale.  This is theft and the law is quite specific.  When you receive an eBook it is meant to give you the right to read it only, but it does not imply that you have the right to rob the author of future sales by your actions.  This labels you as a thief.  Using electronic transmission is only another way to send a book, like getting one in the mail, which would not give you the right to reprint it for sale or distribution. 

Integrity is part of the code of honor of a legitimate reviewer.

About Mayra Calvani: The author of 12 books, Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults.  Her nonfiction work, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, co-authored with Anne K. Edwards, was a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award winner. She’s had over 300 stories, articles, interviews and reviews published. She reviews for The New York Journal of Books and Visit her website at For her children’s books, visit

Frederico the Mouse Violinist Blurb:
Learn the parts of the violin with Frederico, the Mouse Violinist!
Frederico is a tiny mouse with a big dream: he wants to become a violinist. Each day he watches as Stradivari makes his famous violins. Each night, he sneaks into the workshop to play. But the violins are too big! Then, unbeknown to Frederico, Stradivari sees him playing and begins carving a tiny device. Could it be a famous Strad especially for Frederico?

ISBN Number: paperback 9781616331146, hardcover 9781616331139
Publication Date: December 2010
Publisher: Guardian Angel Publishing
Publisher Website:


Michelle V said...

Extremely helpful tips! Thank you so much for posting this! Great advice! I do my best to do all of these. The one I really struggle with is saying no. I love books and want to read them all and it's really hard for me to say no! I'm learning, though!

Michelle V


Very good advice, and succinctly put.

Cheryl said...

These are great tips, Mayra. Number 4 drives me insane. I don't want to read a recap of the book, I want to know what you think of it.

Kimberly said...

Thank you for this post! I will bookmark it for which to refer my reviewers.

Anonymous said...

Makes sense to me!

Kate Dolan said...

I hope lots of reviewers read these and take them to heart! If I see a reviewer who has nothing but positive comments for every book, I feel I can't take any of it seriously. And as an author, I use reviews to help gauge what is working and most importantly what isn't working in my stories. I really appreciate an honest evaluation. And when I get positive comments, I appreciate it when they're well written so that I can use them for promotion.

Mayra Calvani said...

Thank you so much for hosting me, Karen!

I appreciate all your comments. Thanks for taking the time to stop by!

Karen Cioffi said...

Mayra, great advice. I think the hardest part of being a reviewer is if you do come across a book that is poorly written, or that give a take away value that isn't quite right.

Nik Perring said...

Wonderful and excellent advice here. Thanks for sharing. I just wish all reviewers were this good!


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