The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing
By Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards
Publisher: Twilight Times Books; First Edition edition (2008)
Language: English

Have you read a review and wondered whether it is good or bad? Have you ever wanted to venture into writing reviews but don’t know how to begin? Are you wary of writing a review and having publishers think that it might be too amateurish for them to consider publishing? Well, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing answers these questions and so much more.

A website has been created to feature this book: On it, you can view the full synopsis for this book. The pertinent questions asked and the statements made – which are mostly dealt with in Part 1 of the book – give an idea of what this book entails. For instance, the book will teach you:

  • How to differentiate the various types of reviews.
  •  How to prevent amateurish mistakes.
  •  How to tell the difference between a review, a book report, and a critique

The book begins well by teaching you an important skill and that is learning to read critically. The authors say,
‘Though different

reviewers work in different ways, good reviewers usually have a pencil or a highlighter in hand to take key notes or mark important lines or passages they may want to refer to later while writing the review. This is especially true in the case of long, in-depth reviews. If you don’t want to write or mark the book, then keeping a notebook for notes is a great idea. You can jot down clue words as you read along, or write down any page numbers you plant to quote from.’

It is a mistake to assume that the book targets only a person who wants to write reviews. Indeed, Part 2 highlights the fact that The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is very useful for anyone in the publishing industry – from authors, publishers, booksellers to librarians – as ‘this book will also bring to light the importance and influence of book reviews within a wider spectrum.’

It is often said that one of the best ways to teach another person something new is to share with them exact examples of the points you’re trying to make. The authors have done this throughout the book but it is most evident in a section entitled, ‘Types of Reviews’. They have taken the trouble to write a review of a fictional book called, ‘Day of King Rex’. What makes it special is that they use this same book and, thereafter, write a terrible review. The reader, therefore, gets a clear picture of what is the difference between a good and bad review.

Following this, there are more examples of other kinds of reviews, namely:

  • The Sugar-Coated, Overly-Positive, Amateurish Review
  • The Nasty, Overly-Negative, Amateurish Review
  • Long, In-Depth Review and Breakdown.
  • Article-Review and Breakdown.
  • Non-fiction Review.
  • Children’s Book Review and Breakdown.
  • The Anthology Review and Breakdown.

The thoughts, ideas and suggestions shared in this book come from two authors, Mayra Calvani and Anne Edwards, who are clearly ‘veteran’ reviewers – The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is peppered with examples of reviews they’ve written which have been published widely. They generosity in sharing their knowledge comes through, especially in the section about teaching a person just how to start their own book review site. There is also valuable advice given which is this: ‘The bottom line is, if you want to become known as a serious reviewer, charging for reviews is a bad idea. Maybe this perception will change in the future, but this is how it is now.’ Indeed, there is a further warning given (which actually adds a sense of humour to this book): ‘Take it from Jim Cox, editor at Midwest Book Review: “Here is the secret to being financially successful as a book reviewer–marry rich.”’

No doubt, there are times you might wish to write a negative review. The authors have taken great trouble to explain how to write such reviews. They start with explaining how not to embarrass yourself.

‘…When you phrase your reviews tactfully, the authors themselves can learn and profit from your negative reviews.
Avoid statements like “This is a terrible book” or “This is the worst book I’ve ever read.” This screams ‘unprofessional’ and will label you as an amateur. There are other statements you can use to convey your negative reaction to the book. For instance, the harsh phrases mentioned above can be replaced by, “This book didn’t live up to its full potential because …” or “This novel didn’t work for me for the following reasons…”’

The authors’ generosity continues in Part 3 where they give you lists of resources – from print publication to online sites and magazines – that accept reviews. Sharing this set of resources gives this book that ‘wholesome’ feel.

This is certainly a book many a reviewer would wish they had known about before writing their reviews. In all, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is highly recommended for a person who is not only serious about writing reviews regularly, but for anyone who has more than a passing interest in the publishing industry.

The lasting impression of The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is that the information shared has been done so with absolute honesty. It is, therefore, seemly to end with two pertinent passages from this book.

‘… and ultimately, a reviewer’s foremost–and probably only–obligation is to readers, not to authors and publishers.’

‘Thus, if a reviewer would maintain a relationship with any publisher, they must be able and willing to account for negative reviews. Otherwise, that publisher will drop them and in time, that same reviewer might find themselves with a reputation for giving unfair reviews which means online sites that accept outside reviews may not be willing to post them either. While one does not have to give good reviews just to continue reviewing, one must be fair and objective in their reviews.’

20 February 2009

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