Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why Length Matters

Stop it, perverts. That's girth. This is about book reviews.

Reading through my feed reader lately I've been noticing a lot of "book reviews" that are shorter than the blurbs copied from the back of the book/Goodreads/wherever else you happen to get it. This is not a review. It's a half-hearted mention that isn't worth the postage the publisher used to send you the book. I'm not saying you have to go all book report on your site but you're not doing the promotion justice if the number of sentences in your review leaves a few fingers hanging. Not to mention you run the risk of pushing the publisher away with such insubstantial reviews. And let's not forget your readers. I know I personally will not take you too seriously as a reviewer if you can't even round off a paragraph for a review.

We're not professiinal reviewers and thus should not be held up to those standards. But I think we have more than enough mental capacity to substantiate our reviews a little more. No one's asking for a thesis on every book you review but I know I'm not the only one that would prefer to see one or two substantial reviews a week as opposed to 15 half-assed couple of sentences each.

If you're feeling overwhelmed with review copies and feel the need to bang them out, 1) stop taking on so many and 2) slow down. I'm pretty sure the publisher would much rather see a fleshed out review than a dribble fired from the hip.

We are first and foremost book reviewers. That's where our effort should be. Not memes, not giveaways, not rambling posts about nothing. If you don't have solid reviews then you're just someone that likes to talk about books, not a book reviewer. I'm not saying don't have anything else on your blog but just remember where the focus should be: reviewing books and promoting them. Don't bow to some invisible pressure that you need to post 47 times a week. You don't. I don't know about anyone else but when I go into my feed reader and see blogs with 10 posts in 24 hours, I'm less inclined to read them. Go at your own pace, not everyone else's and less substantiate those reviews, shall we? Say WHY you like the book or WHY you didn't. If your review is shorter than the book blurb, it's not long enough. Take a look around at your fellow reviewers and take note on what they focus on in reviews. It won't hurt. Just don't copy them. That'll suck.

How do you feel about super short reviews? What do you think is a good review length? What do you think constitutes a "good" review?

27 comments:

Life After Jane said...

I don't consider what I do "reviewing" books. I rather like being a person that just talks about books. Can we still be friends?

Ailsa said...

I agree about the short ones - I click on some 'reviews' that show up in my feed, and it's only a couple of sentences long. So far as I'm concerned, that's not a review. It doesn't tell potential readers (like me) anything about the book and why I should read it. You need to tell me something in the review, people! *sigh*
Sorry for the mini rant ;-) This is just something that annoys me.

~Ailsa

Lori said...

Amen, Donna!

One of my biggest pet peeves in the blogosphere are reviewers that basically summarize the book description and then give a relatively bland sentence or two that is supposed to constitute a review.

Like you, I'm not looking for a discertation but I'm curious to know why this person did or didn't like the book and why I should or shouldn't pick it up myself.

I agree that it does the author and the publisher a great disservice to write so little. It also makes me wonder whether or not the reviewer actually read the book.

Great post!

Donna said...

Laura, only on weekends and not in public.

Lenore said...

I like concise reviews too - but they have to say something meaningful.

I'd rather read a well-written, well-thought-out 1 paragraph review than 12 rambling, shoddy paragraphs. Edit people!

pirate penguin said...

If a reviewer is somehow able to write a detailed, intelligent review that clearly expresses their opinion in less than two paragraphs, then I applaud them because those are so difficult to write!

I do agree about how disappointing/frustrating it is about how some bloggers don't really give you a review--it's either a recycled version of the synopsis OR a reallyyyy simple "I LOVE THIS" kind of response. There seems to be tons of bloggers but very few REVIEWERS. I'm definetely agree with you about how we all have the capacity to write decent reviews; I doubt that ALL of us have degrees in literature (I certainly don't) but that doesn't mean we can't write a thoughtful response for a book we've read.

For me, a "good" review is one that clearly explains why a reviewer liked or disliked a book. It's the WHY that's missing in so many reviews. WHY did you love this book so much? (Did you connect with the MC?) Or WHY did you dislike the book? (Did the writing style not work for you?)

pirate penguin said...

Yikes, I didn't expect to write so much! And I'm actually not done so.... xD

Anyways, back to what I was saying... I care more about the content in a review than the actual length. Some people are able to write in a shorter, more compact way while others tend to go on and on but not in a totally bad way ;) Hm, all this has me wondering about why some people don't take the time to read longer reviews--I find it kind of ironic since we're all readers! We can get through a 300 page book but we can't sit down and get through 2 or 3 paragraphs?

Miss Bookiverse said...

Amen!
I think people who write very short reviews are lazy. I also don't like reviews that are too shallow. I like it when reviewers really go into the book and talk about certain scenes etc. Spoilers should be marked of course but I usually only read reviews of books I've already read anyway. What annoys me the most are people who write reviews that are actually just retellings of the story and then in the last few sentences they write if they liked the book or disliked it. I think that's ridiculous and shouldn't be called a review.

Miss Bookiverse said...

PS. I really enjoy small paragraphs at the end of a review that sum up the long review though. I read those when I haven't read the book yet and still want a simple opinion on it. Once I've read the book I'm likely to return and read the full review.

Donna said...

I agree that a review can be concise and still really good. I too applaud people that can write like that. I certainly can't! I have to try and curb my rambling. But the majority of really short reviews are insubstantial yeas or nays that tell absolutely nothIng. They're just unsubstantiated opinions without context. Just off the top of my head I know Kristi's reviews run short but she has whys in them. I don't think anyone would accuse her of having insubstantial reviews. She says what she feel needs to be said and she does it well. Unfortunately I think she's in the minority when it comes to bloggers with short reviews. From what I've seen, most of the short one's aren't worth reading.

Granted just because something runs on doesn't make it good and I'm more likely to skip a review that takes a few scrolls to get through (that comes down to Internet style, though, as something of that length has a higher tendency of straining the eyes).

But if you write a substantiated review, no matter how long it is, it'll be good because your opinion is supported. If all you do is gush or bash a book without reason, it's goof to fail.

Steph Su said...

I don't really think length matters. I've read stunning one-paragraph reviews that immediately made me go order a book. I've read 15-paragraph "dissertations" that bored me to death. Say it in however many words you need to say it, and no more. I find that my eyes will often glaze over if the review is longer than, say, 6 paragraphs.

Mary said...

AMEN, SISTAH!! I've read quite a few of these lately that are just a couple of sentences long, doesn't say anything, and it just pisses me off. Come on, you can do better, people!

If you don't really want to review the book or don't like to write strong, detailed reviews (that don't necessarily have to be long--just well written and not pure babbling!), then don't ask for ARC's or review copies or whatever and take them away from reviewers who will give a detailed, well-considered review and actually explain their feelings. It's laziness, pure and simple. (Now, if it's every once in a while, that I can forgive. Everyone has off days. But not all the time!)

*whew* That's been weighing on my mind lately. Thanks for posting about this and letting me get it off my chest!

Melanie said...

I think I have the opposite problem. Sometimes I worry that my reviews are longer than the book and need to make myself shut up.

I mostly get frustrated when the really short reviews are only a couple sentences of resummarizing the book after including the blurb, and not saying anything at all about what was liked or disliked.

Good reviews can come in a wide variety of lengths, but at their core they must be reviews and not just summaries.

Natasha A. said...

I don't read long reviews...so I suppose we will have to agree to disagree.
I want to form my own opinions about books. All I want is a WHY someone liked a book, and would they recommend it.
I think that is GREAT advertising.
I think even the "In your Mailbox" thing that goes around, where people talk about what books they got? THAT is great advertising.
And that is cheaper than the cost of the book AND the cost of the shipping.

Donna said...

I'm like you, Melanie. Sometimes I worry that some of my reviews run too long.

But I'm just as turned off with super long reviews as I am super short ones. They're just for different reasons. If I see a review that's only a couple of sentences, I think it wasn't thought out at all and it was jus fired off, especially if it's surrounded by a bought of other super short reviews. With the longer ones, I don't question their integrity. I just don't feel like reading something that long. When it's that long, I don't think it's a mater of did the reviewer read the book. I think it's just a matter of maybe they should have trimmed out some talking points.

I just think that with shorter reviews, especially if they're just a couple of sentences or a paragraph, the room to question integrity is greater, especially if every review is more book blurb than review. Everyone has their own style and ultimately a substantiated review is a substantiated review regardless of length but for me the prejudice runs higher with short reviews because did you really say more than 'this sucked' or 'this was good' in such a short amount of space? With the reviews I've been seeing, no they didn't.

Library Lounge Lizard said...

I think the length of the review depends on two things: First, if it was a spectacular book mine tend to be longer as I point out all the great aspects of it. Second, the "depth" of the book. Some middle grade and teen books don't really have enough depth to elaborate on. They are simple, well written reads that are just plain 'ole stories that are fun (or painful) to read!
If I do three for four short reviews in one post I usually tell you up front that these are short reviews...these are typically for my fellow librarians who just want to know whether a book is worth purchasing or not. As a librarian I'm constantly on a mission to discover great reads and sometimes it gets tiresome reading super long reviews. Sometimes I just want to know "should I buy it or not??!!" Great topic!

Alisha (MyNeedToRead) said...

Indeed, two or three sentences is a mite short to be considered a "review." Two or three sentences is more...a book-related comment. ^_^ I for one really try to say something somewhat substantial (alliteration alert!)...and I super mega appreciate when other reviewers do so, too. I'm honestly interested in the different perspectives on a book!

That said, I think it's entirely possible to have a review that is not overly long but still gets to the meat of one's thoughts on a book. There's one blogger in particular whose reviews I happen to love for that very fact. She just cuts to the chase! ^_^

I guess the other side of the coin is: is there such a thing as too long of a review?

Alisha (MyNeedToRead) said...

hehe...pirate penguin, I loved your commentary. ^__^ Your "Yikes, I didn't expect to write so much! And I'm actually not done so...." had me in stitches.

I totally agree with you!

Marce said...

Very interesting. I don't consider bloggers to be reviewers, I consider them to be online friends that I respect their opinions for and this can be short or long reviews.

I really think the ultimate issue is the goal of the blogger. I don't think we should be blogging to get ARC's and 'free' books. Publishers and authors have a right to look at blogs and make a decision so if they send it they must already know what they will get.

I personally do not like long drawn out reviews as most of them have spoilers in them. I also don't consider 2 liners reviews either though.

pirate penguin said...

That's another thing: Kristi's reviews may run short but I can usually sense her enthusiasm for a book that she's enjoyed or maybe disappointment for one that she didn't like. Personality's just as important as the writing itself.

Bottom line, it's hard to review books. But if you genuinely love it, it'll show :)

Hah, thanks Alisha!

Mrs. DeRaps said...

I write long-ish reviews compared to some of the ones I read on other blogs. Sometimes, I like a short review that includes less summary and more of what the person liked/ didn't like. I use book reviews to help me choose where I am going to spend my money--both personal and taxpayer. I don't love too much in the way of summary, because I usually already know what the book is about and that's why I'm reading someone's opinion. I read summaries on amazon or goodreads and reviews on the blogs I follow. I love a good, honest opinion.

Thanks for offering yours.

Blueicegal ♥ said...

We have needed this post for a while, love your honesty, i have had my fair share of thoughts on those one liner reviews, it makes me think seriously, how in the world am i supposed to decide if im going to buy this book if you haven't explained anything! gah! i think it is laziness but then again i do envy those who can write a short review and make it amazing, i mean i haven't seen that until now but i would love to.

I have the same problem i write really long reviews, i don't feel satisfied until i have said what i had to say and sometimes that means my reviews can be really really Long, i have just accepted it now i don't think short reviews no matter how awesome are for me, i love plenty of detail, but then again i find myself switching of when i see long reviews that don't instantly pull me in,so it's just one big tough situation!

Books for Company said...

This was a interesting read, l find with some books l can write a long review and other books l don't have a lot to say (mainly if it was a average read) and write a medium size review.
The size sort of matters to me (more than a few lines!) but it's mainly what's in the review for me.
Books For Company

The Slowest Bookworm said...

I personally prefer short reviews that run to a paragraph or two. Any longer and i'll tend to read the first and last couple of sentences, which usually tells me what i need to know ... if they enjoyed it and why. Id rather read the book than have a reviewer 'tell' me the story.

Each to their own. Heh.

Im not even sure which category I come in to. I write short reviews, but am I wasting my time? Id actually be happy to recieve some constructive critisism.

Vicki said...

I completely agree. I like reviews of at least 3 or 4 solid paragraphs (paragraphs, mind you, not page-long text blocks) which tell me their opinions of the book, not just a re-hashing of the summary in their own words (though, that instead of a copy/paste of the book copy is fine). And put some personality into your reviews, I don't want to read a book report. Le sigh.

Zoë said...

I try to make my reviews some sort of happy medium, but it really depends. I mean, I can rave on and on about a book I loved, but if it's something I didn't enjoy that much I tend to be more concise. It just seems like a waste of my time to spend a lot of time focusing on everything that is awful about the book. Of course I'm honest, but I'd rather put more effort into a review of a book I'm supporting rather than one I didn't enjoy so much. I am curious what readers find of my review lengths, and I have an upcoming review that's only 2 paragraphs which this post is making me wonder if I should add to! Thanks for the thoughts.

Donna said...

As long as you feel you've substantiated your opinion of the book you're reviewing, you should be fine. People can tell when it's a short review that says nothing and a short review that says something. If you feel you should add more to it then add more. But don't make it long for length's sake. This post was really more about those two sentence reviews that don't say Jake then genuine yet short reviews.

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