Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Discussion Post: Blogging 101 - Structuring Your Review Posts

My Discussion Topic This Week - Blogging 101 - Structuring Your Review Posts.

There are as many ways to structure a review post as there are bloggers to post them.  What I'm going to give you in this post is what I've tried in the past that just didn't work, and what I finally settled on and why.  First of all, there are several elements to a good review post.  In my view, they are:

  • Structure of what you say in the review
  • Structure of what you include in the post
  • Physical placement of the post elements

So let's take each one at a time...

Structure of what you say in the review.

When I first started blogging, my reviews resembled nothing more than just nonsensical fangirly rambling than anything else. I oohed, I ahhed, I hopped up and down (virtually), and I shied away from writing anything negative.  If I couldn't write a good review, I didn't review it.  This may be good for some folks but then I realized that, for me, it wasn't the right way to go about it.  Here are some reasons why:

  • Fangirling is nice, and wowing your way through a review is sweet, fun, and probably makes the author feel great.  But does it help sell the book?  People who read book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and BN.com are looking at our reviews trying to figure out if they should buy a book.  A bunch of wowing is nice, but if you didn't add anything of substance into the review, the reader may overlook your fangirly review because it doesn't sound professional and doesn't really tell them anything.  They don't really know why you loved the book. They want to hear your honest thoughts, what you liked and didn't like, so they can see if whether or not the book is to their taste.  So it's better to add some substance in.  (And fangirl also, because sometimes you just have to!)
  • Don't be afraid to post a negative review.  As they say, any attention is good attention. Sometimes a negative review can help sell a book just as well as an extremely positive one because it generates buzz. What I try to stay away from, however, is trashing an author because I didn't like his/her book.  Just because a book isn't to my taste doesn't mean someone else may not love it.  So be honest, but be diplomatic and professional.  Lay out what you didn't like in a professional way, and mention any elements that you DID like.  You don't have to make statements like, "This book was utter trash" in order to make your point.  In fact, if a reviewer has to resort to saying something like that, I'd probably say they're not very articulate. Instead, I would explain the points of the story that didn't do it for me.  "I couldn't connect with the characters," or "the romance was too insta-love," or "the writing seemed too elementary for my tastes," or even "the pacing was so slow to the point of boring me."  Hey, nothing wrong with being honest. Just do it professionally.

Some bloggers include a "What I Liked" and "What I Didn't Like" section.  Some structure their review down to a science with categories like "Characters," "Setting," "Romance," etc...  Some just write paragraphs, and then there are many others. Some rate, some don't rate. In my view, there's no wrong way to do it except perhaps the two points above.  If you like to really structure your reviews, break them into categories where you say something beneath each category, or you just like to say what you liked or didn't like, that works for me as a reader of blogs. I've chosen not to be so structured with my reviews, only because I'm overly structured in every other way.  So what I try to do in my reviews is:

  • Write in small, tight paragraphs that are easy to read and won't be overwhelming to look at once posted.  Fat paragraphs tend to scare people.  They may not read it all if they see a huge paragraph.
  • Set the tone from the beginning of the review as to what the reader will expect from the review in terms of whether I liked the book or not.  So I'm basically writing it somewhat like an essay. An introductory paragraph that sets the tone of, "I liked this", then paragraphs that support it by explaining what made it work for me, and then a conclusion that brings it all together.
  • I try to say something about each of the story elements that stood out to me, good or bad, but I definitely always try to include something about the overall plot, the characters, the romance (if there is one), the actual writing (whether I enjoyed the style and how it came across to me...i.e...poignant, suspenseful, sad, funny, etc..), and then pacing, because I like to let the reader know whether the book plodded along or whether I was able to race through it because it was so engrossing.

Structure of what you include in the post

There are the essential elements that most people use, such as the book cover, the title and author, a small summary, and then their review.  Here's what I used to do, what I do now, and why I changed it:

Used To:

At the beginning, I included the following elements:

  • Book cover
  • Author Title (linked to its Goodreads page) and author name
  • Release Date
  • Publisher
  • Goodreads Summary on a plain white background
  • Review on a plain white background

I'm a firm believer that you MUST include the cover, title, and author.  Everything else I included was just personal preference.  I like including the release date so that if the book sounds really good to someone, they'll know whether or not they can rush right out and buy it then, or whether this is an ARC review and they'll have to wait a while. I also included the publisher because I like giving credit to who picked the book and made it possible for readers to see.  (If it's self-published, I generally just don't include the publisher part.)

What I didn't like about my old structure is that there was really nothing differentiating the text from the Goodreads summary from the text of my review, except for italics. So I had a cover image and then a whole lot of white space.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not a huge fan of multiple colors to the point of inducing seizures.  But I do think it's nice to see all that white space broken up a bit by a little color.

What I Do Now:

Generally, I do the same thing I did before except now I include the Genre category at the top along with release date, pubisher, etc... that way readers know from the start what type of book it is and whether it's a genre they enjoy.  I also include a blockquote background to the summary so that it sets the summary apart from my personal review text.  I think it makes it look cleaner, more sophisticated, but doesn't overwhelm the way changing the color text might do.

Physical Placement of the Post Elements

As far as how I place the post elements physically into the post, it varies depending upon whether it's a regular review, whether it's a regular review with additional information like an author interview tacked on, or whether it's a blog tour review.

If it's a regular review,it's going to look something like this:

If it's a regular review post with extra information like an author interview, or if it's a blog tour post where I know I'll be including other information after the review such as teaser pics, excerpts, author bio, etc... I'll use an additional element to act as a divider between the post elements so that it is segmented and more organized.  

I'll also include buy links for the book, and social media links for the author under their bio.  So the rest of the post will look something like this:

You can get that dividing line by inserting this little bit of HTML code into your blog post code at the point where you want it to appear in the post:

<span style="font-family: inherit;">__________________________________________________________________</span></center>
<span style="font-family: inherit;"><br /></span>
<br />

Bear in mind, I don't believe there's any wrong way to structure a review post.  There are so many different ways and I'm a fan of most of them.  The trick is to find your own style... something that makes your posts look different than everyone else's, and something that fits in with your own sense of style and order.  I tend to be super organized so I love to put lots of physical structure into my posts, although I'm more lenient on how my actual review looks.  Find your own thing, and have fun with it!!

Did this post help you?  How do you like to structure your review posts?  And if there is a particular Blogging 101 topic you'd like me to feature, leave a comment and let me know.

Let's discuss...

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