#BookReview Etiquette: Write Your Own Damn Summary!

Posted by in Writing Tips | 17 comments

Why do so many book blogs post the complete Amazon description of a book before their review? The book summary belongs on its Amazon page, not on the review post. A book reviewer’s job is to entice or warn potential readers of the book’s readability and likability rather than regurgitate what’s already been posted elsewhere. In short, write your own damn summary.

Book Review Etiquette Tip #3: Offer readers a concise and original plot summary.

My blog’s evolution has now spanned nearly a year, and it’s only been the past two months that I’ve decided to focus more on books. Maybe it’s just the relentless English teacher inside of me, but pasting in a lengthy description of a book’s plot would never cut it for a school assignment, so why are such tactics acceptable in the book blogging world?

 

jeriwb, jeri walker-bickett, book reviews, book description, book synopsis

 

At the very least, large chunks of borrowed material should be set-off from the left-margin by 10 spaces to indicate a block quote. Shorter quotes should be encased in quotation marks. Better yet, a good review will offer a brief plot summary (ideally a paragraph or less) before delving into evaluating the literary merits of a book.

However, when I do blog posts on cool book covers, I readily include the book’s Amazon description. Given the context, doing so makes sense. When a cover catches a reader’s eye, the logical next step is to read the book’s summary. The cover and book summary are the book’s calling card, not yours.

Let’s be clear, a summary merely retells what happens in a book. Judgment of quality will be put forth in the review. That’s why a review should be able to stand on its own apart from its summary.

Lesson Learned: When in doubt, leave it out. The more original content a review contains the better.

But then again, what do I know? I would like to think the painstaking time spent learning MLA, APA, and CMS guidelines should count for something.

If case you missed it, be sure to check out the previous posts in this series:

 

What’s your take on reviews that re-post lengthy book descriptions verbatim?

 

 

Image Credit: Old Books by Petr Kratochvil

Jeri Walker-Bickett
JeriWB writes short stories, creative nonfiction, and psychological suspense. The rough Idaho mining town she grew up in populates her literary landscape. She also works as a freelance editor.
Jeri Walker-Bickett

@JeriWB

Author of short stories, creative nonfiction, and psychological suspense. Blogger of writing tips and lit chat. Freelance editor. http://t.co/sfCsmQ5hyM
PRINCESS OF THE LIGHT Guest Post: The Story Reading Ape Blog http://t.co/ZhPXf85yB4 via @NNP_W_Light - 42 mins ago
Jeri Walker-Bickett
Jeri Walker-Bickett
Jeri Walker-Bickett
I offer a variety of freelance editing services. Previously, I served as an editorial assistant with The Idaho Review, Boise State's literary journal.

17 Comments

  1. I agree with you. Not much more to add. :)

  2. Agree with you completely that you cannot copy and paste into a review. And it’s not OK, Google Analytics will punish you for doing so. Most likely the copy and paste reviewers you are talking about are just lazy – or believe nobody will notice?

    Reading is how I get by in life and I read a lot. Recently read Aristotle’s Rhetoric written approx. 367 B.C. He and Plato taught Caesar and Cicero to become two of the best orators throughout history.

    That’s a really difficult book to review. Have a go at it. The good news is that you pick up some aha experiences but if you try reading when you have gone to bed it will be very difficult for you to concentrate. However, it’s a book that’s essential to read since it’s a must when it comes to rhetoric.

    • In a noticeable number of book blogs I’ve encountered, I’ve noticed that many of them put the Amazon summary first before jumping into their own review. More often than not the reviews are decent and could stand on their own. It perplexes me to no end. Now a book blog that reviewed texts on the art of rhetoric would be a rare bird indeed!

  3. I think you’re right on. It’s easy to regurgitate. It’s not so easy to really do a review that you are committed to, is your opinion and it’s in your own words. In ohter words it’s authentic.

    • Authenticity is definitely key, no matter the context.

  4. Well, some of the Amazon summaries are direct replica’s of the back cover of the book. 8-)
    In fact, in the last two or three posts on my blog, I’ve adopted this style of using a Barnes and Noble Summary or Amazon summary before my review post, clearly indicating that it is an Amazon/B&N summary because quite a few readers specifically stated that this helps them and pointed me to several blog sites which use this format.
    Earlier I didn’t provide such summaries, now I do. However, I clearly distinguish this summary from my own book review.

    • I can see how some readers would prefer having the book’s summary up front before the book review, but I usually just gloss over those summaries when I see them on book blogs. I want the review to sway me to hop over to check-out the book’s Amazon page, not deliver the summary to me beforehand. To me it’s much more interesting to read the author’s unique summary. As with all texts, multiple formats will persist. I guess it’s a matter of personal preference.

  5. You rock for taking on this position as a teacher! Duh–if you can’t do it in school, why SHOULD it be ok on our blogs? I often wondered the same thing when I saw people doing this. I really like this series you have going–it adds great content for other reviewers and it gives readers like me a sense of what you are up to and up against. It also shows authority. Great addition!!

    • At least as far as I know, there must not many people writing about writing good reviews, so I hope to come up with at least 10 posts that tie into review etiquette. Up next… writing in the literary present tense! Exciting, I know ;)

      • No, actually, I want to read that one. :-)
        Also, I just noticed you have an editing service–which I have unknowingly been telling you to do all along. I feel a little silly that I’m just now noticing this. Oops. :-)
        But I do want to write a book and you would be my number one reviewer, that’s all I can say–I would want you to edit it for story–not for typos or whatever.

        • Thanks so much. Those are good words indeed to hear/read ;)

  6. I am also in agreement. I want originality and a true review. I tend to be drawn to things that are written with integrity and honesty.This applies for book reviews as well.

    • Thank you for stopping by! I do hope you’ll stay tuned for more of my reviews in the future.

  7. I completely agree with this! I am relatively new at reviewing. I review debut authors on my blog. I think giving a book summary is more of a promoting tool. What we say as reviewers should cause them to want to go to Amazon or Smashwords and check out the summary, or even the reviews on there. What we want to do is tell the reader our opinion of the book and why we liked the book, or why we didn’t. We should always be honest, not mean or derogatory, but constructive. The most common problem I have run into is that the author is not ready to publish the book. They need more editing. If that is the case, I will say so. Thank you for this post, it is spot on! :)

    • Lack of editing should always be noted, whether it’s proofreading or more substantial issues, such as point of view. I’ve found POV issues to be most common in self-published books. Even without hiring an editor, it’s so easy to join a writer’s group, whether online or in person. For me, I could never give a four or five star review to a book with a major crafting issue. A good plot can only make up for so much!

  8. I forgot to add, I did post this on my Facebook page and RT on Twitter..

    • Thanks for sharing! Every little bit most certainly helps.

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