Monday, August 2, 2010

In All Fairness to a Synopsis

I can't believe I wrote a header using my least favorite word when it comes to reviewing. But there it is.

I've come to the understanding that some review sites do not do what ours does.  We put the back cover blurb before the review and I think it is a smart and prudent move on the site's owners.  Think about it.

What does a reader do when he/she goes to a brick and mortar book store, or an Ebook site?  They read the blurb.   A blurb is the synopsis of what the book is about and identifies who the main characters are and gives a reader the idea of what time period and/or genre it's about.  Right there at that moment, for some readers, the decision is made whether to buy the book or not. That's pretty powerful  and a daunting amount of pressure for an author because a bad blurb can tank a sale.   And, unless I'm mistaken, the author themselves have to write their own blurbs. As if dealing with exacting editors isn't enough. Sheesh!

There is power and beauty in a review attached to a blurb. And this is what reviewers should be mindful of, ideally.  If a reviewer adored a book, if it resonated with them and if they write the review well, by that I mean their enthusiasm comes through,  then they could potentially save the sale.

With a blurb attached to the review, a synopsis of the book should not be even considered as part of the actual review.  Not only is it redundant but it undermines a review's worth and effectiveness.  In short, it's a non-review.  Add in the affront to an author by adding spoilers and the review and reviewer have lost credibility. But that's another post.

What is a review anyway?  What is being a reviewer all about?  Certainly not to retell the story.  Certainly not to reword the blurb.  Absolutely it's not a synopsis!  Unless, and in all fairness, a reviewer works for one of those sites that does not provide the blurb and a reviewer is forced to include a short recap along the storylines of the actual blurb.  However, that is NOT to say that reciting the story and plot is the ENTIRE review! And therein lies the problem, IMHO. A reviewer from those sites has to spend so much time writing a capsule of the book they then end up using only the last paragraph for sharing anything of value that actually helps a reader. And retelling about the book makes it much easier for a reviewer to fall into the trap of using spoilers.

A review is a sharing. A reviewer is a person that shares with the world what they liked about a book(or even a movie) and what, if anything, affected them or moved them or turned them off.  It can mention certain parts of the story but never the outcome or any series of events, i.e. spoilers. A review is an expression of how the book and elements of the plot/characters/dialogue  made a reviewer feel. Reviewers from those other kinds of sites end their review right were is should actually be starting.  That last paragraph should be the first, or second of quite a few. And doesn't that sound like hard work and a time investment? 

If a reader has a passion for romance books, of which I am one, then it will not seem like hard work. I find pleasure in sharing what I like and I became a reviewer because I had no one else to talk to and gush with about a particular book that really hit my happy buttons. Being a reviewer gives me that opportunity but with it comes responsibility.  It's a job. It's a real position of importance and is worth doing well.

A well written review is not one that glosses over and ignores issues like poor editing or stilted and/or unrealistic dialogue (A medieval knight saying, "Come here babe, I'm gonna rock your world") but neither does it attack an author ("obviously the author was too lazy to do research and clearly has no concept of her genre").  A review mentions issues in a constructive, objective manner and avoids like the plague the last example.  That's hurtful and unprofessional and has no place on a respected review site.

A better way to address it is varied and options abound for a creative reviewer.
"I have to warn fellow readers that they'll find some inconsistencies in the dialogue for the time period but the relationship between the main characters makes it easy to tolerate."
"This review had the potential to have a higher score but the editing department let the author down by not catching some glaring misspelling of too many words to count.  Even with that issue, the plot of the book is tight and the creative use of ....."

These are examples of how to approach writing a review about a book that wasn't up to par.  If all a reviewer does is write a synopsis then there'll be no room for this type of information for a reader to see. If a reviewer glosses over any major issues, and parrots the blurb, then a reader is going to get riled up and annoyed because they spent money on a book that let them down.  Yes, a review is an opinion.  But where are the opinions if it's all synopsis? It's a slippery slope.

In closing, yes I hear that sigh of relief, I will state that for those reviewers who write for sites that include the blurb they have it easier and harder.  They don't have to recap the book but they do then have the challenge of sharing more of themselves and their reactions about the book. They are talking reader to reader and putting more of themselves out there.  But isn't that what they'd do amongst their friends anyway?

For those that write reviews for sites that do not include the blurb I believe their job is twofold and lengthy.  Recap and then that last paragraph where they finally share the components that had meaning will and should be the first of at least three more paragraphs.  They should go on to discuss if the relationship worked between the hero/heroine, if the secondary characters helped or hindered the story, was there a balance between showing and telling, was the villain(s) effective and truly diabolical and did the reviewer sympathize with the hero/heroine and did it make them laugh or tear up. If all reviewers took those questions and answered them within a review, (without spoilers) then we all could wave synopsis reviews a heartfelt goodbye and good riddance. 

I bet I'm going to get flack for taking this stand but again, these are my opinions and I feel strongly enough to put it out there. I believe in what I do as a reviewer and it's worth doing well.


Marianne Arkins said...

Well said.


Sherry Gloag said...

I've come across those reviews that are nothing more than a synopsis with a one-line comment tagged to the end and empathise with authors' frustrations about reviews.
But equally, I note how often authors respond - on one site particularly - to reviews on those sites that insist on quality information after supplying the full synopsis first.
I look forward to following this discussion.

Chrystal said...

I am saving this blog post to remind me once in awhile how to write a good review. Sometimes I find myself writing more of a synopsis than an actual review and I have to completely edit it and do a rewrite.

Your tips will help greatly. :)

Nancy G said...

I fall into the trap occasionally of putting too much into one of my reviews, thankfully there's an editor at the site I review for who doesn't hesitate to slap me around and wake me up when I do.

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Marianne.
I wasn't sure if this post would be well received or not.
Thank you for the applause.

Xeranthemum said...

Welcome, Sherry!

Thank you for your comment.

I'm glad that authors are finding out that there ARE quality sites out there. It makes sense that they'd visit and comment, if only to show those reviewers that do put in the effort that it's noticed and appreciated. I think a pat on the back goes a long way - on both sides.

I hope people do find this post helpful. :-)

Xeranthemum said...

Hello, Chrystal!

Ahh, now that's music to my ears. Or in this case, eyes. Thank you for letting me know you found the post useful. Anything to help shake up the complacency in the reviewing industry and alert them that synopsis only reviews are no longer enough. Authors deserved better. :-)

And I want to read more books.

Xeranthemum said...

Nancy G, Welcome!

That is excellent that you have an editor. I think many reviewers would benefit from having access to an editor. Especially new reviewers who start off as passionate book readers but have never written an actual review.

I'm curious. How did you feel when you first receieved feedback that your review needed tweaking? I often wonder if there is a huge difference between how an author reacts and a 'civilian'. ;-)