By Popular Demand: How to Write a Book Review

Writing a book review is an easily learned skill. That's why I post this how-to article every quarter to help those who are just venturing into review territory. Feel free to pass this post link on to others.

Formal Book Review

This is the structure of a formal book review:

Paperback: number of pages
Publisher: Name of company; 1st edition (date)
ISBN: number
Book Size: Trade Paperback or whatever
The actual review.

Today's Reader Reviews

This formal book review isn't what most readers post online. Now the reader review is seen most often. Many reader reviews are thoughtful and helpful to those shopping for books. Unfortunately, many of them are like snarky cocktail party chatter.

Authors want reviews. We ask for them all the time, yet most readers never post a review.

Why Readers Don't Post Reviews
  • they liked the book but they are aware of the nastiness that some reader reviewers heap on those with dissenting opinions
  • they did not like the book but the author has a huge following and they're afraid loyal supporters will subject them to some of the same nastiness
  • they don't want to hurt the author's feelings
  • they don't know what to say
  • they're concerned that they don't have the writing skills necessary to write a review.
I'm sure there are many other reasons, but I think the above are the most obvious. At least, I get emails from readers who love my books, but they never post a review even when I ask them to leave a few sentences about their reading experience.

So this post is for the average book loving reader:
  • who is new to the review process
  • who may not know exactly what to say or how to say it
  • who is wary of attacks from readers with different opinions
  • who don't see why they should take time to do this.
How To Say What You Think

If your friend next door dropped by to visit you and saw a book, she'd probably ask: "What do you think about that book?"

You'd answer her by telling briefly what the book was about and what you liked about it or didn't like. That's exactly how you should write a review: in a friendly conversational style as if you were telling a friend about it.

Jot down what you think--good and bad--on a notepad or in some computer word processing app if you want to be sure it looks good and sounds accurate. If you're concerned about spelling or grammar, do a quick check for that which is easy if you wrote it in MS Word or something similar. Cut and paste it onto the review form on the book's webpage.

It's that easy.

What To Say

1. Don't worry about summarizing the book. There's already a Product Description on the book's webpage. If you feel you must give a synopsis, use the gist of the Product Description from the book's webpage and just put quotation marks in front of and after the last word of the description you cut and pasted from the Product Description. You can even say:

The Product Description says: "Excerpt from the description." 

Then give your thoughts about the book.

2. In an online review to be posted on the book's webpage, you just need to say how you felt about the book and why.

If you liked the book, say so. Then say why.

Example: If you were posting a review of Gone With The Wind, you might say: "I liked this novel because it's set on a plantation in Georgia as the North and South are on the brink of war, and I love historical novels." Or, you might say: "The heroine of this book is Scarlett O'Hara, a spoiled, head-strong young woman, and I like the kind of conflict created by women like that." Or, you might say: "I like to read anything that is historically based and well-researched."

If you didn't like the book, say so. Then explain why.

Example using the same book: "I didn't like this book because I thought the character was self-absorbed and arrogant. I prefer to read books where the heroine is a likable woman."

3. Never include “spoilers,” elements of the book that are to be surprises, in a review.

Example using the same book: "I wasn't surprised at the end when Rhett left the spoiled, selfish Scarlett."

4. Give your opinion of the book as it is written, not how you think it should have been written.

Example using the same book: "I think the author missed the boat by now writing a happy ending for Scarlett."

5. Do not allow your personal prejudices or attitudes about the author, the premise of the book, the theme of the book, the manner in which it was published, or anything else not related to the writing to intrude in your review.

Example: "I didn't like this book because my cousin said her best friend met the author at a book signing, and the author was stuck up."

When Not to Review

If you normally don't read romance, but you got a free romance novel, and you didn't like it because it had sex scenes in it or whatever, then do not review it. A review should not reflect your personal prejudices. Instead, make it a policy to review books that reflect your reading taste.

Please don't ever make personal remarks about the author, i.e. anyone would have to be a moron to write a book like this. Or, the author must be a pervert to write sex stuff like this.

6. Summarize your thoughts about the book and feel free to make recommendations such as, "if you like southern humor, you'll love this book."

7. Always be respectful of the author and his/her time and effort. This doesn't mean suppress your true opinion. It does mean to present your opinion in a respectful, professional manner as if you were talking in person to the author because they are real people, not just a name and picture on a website. They have feelings just as you do. How do you feel when you're personally attacked or insulted?

To paraphrase what Danielle Steele once said about reviews: "Writing a book, getting it published, and getting bad reviews is like making a beautiful cake and someone comes along and sits on it." The author did not set out to write a bad book, but sometimes all the elements just don't come together.

So be diplomatic and kind in your review if you did not like the book. That's the mark of an exceptional reviewer.

Take The High Road & Ignore Those Traveling The Low Road

If you post reviews, and someone makes a comment on it, for instance, This person is an idiot if he thinks this is a good book. (Or a bad book.) Don't answer back. You are not required to defend your opinion or to answer any detractors. You have the right to your opinion and to state it publicly. For every person who disagrees with you, there is one who agrees.

Simply ignore any negative comments. A fight can't start without 2 combatants.

Why Post Reviews

Believe it or not, writers try to learn from their reviews. If a thoughtful review mentions something the author is doing particularly well, she'll do more of it. If it mentions something she failed at, she'll try to improve. Good reviews boost an author during the long process of writing another book. Bad reviews may bring her down, but if they contain insight, then they too are valuable.

Be responsible. Be objective. Be polite.

I think a lot of the acid-tinged reviews I see wouldn't be posted if someone had to say all that to the author's face and/or would have to sign their real name to the review.

Takeaway Truth

Please keep in mind that no one ever sets out to write a bad book. If you see a book in print, then you can bet the author spent long hours working on that book. Authors know that not everyone will like their "baby," but they expect literary criticism to be handled in an objective, friendly way.

Review: Dogs on the Inside

Ah, rain. How lovely. What a great day to laze on the couch and watch something entertaining. On Netflix, I found Dogs on the Inside, a documentary filmed in a Massachusetts prison about inmates partnered with rescue dogs in a program with the goal of working toward a second chance at a better life for both inmate and stray dog.

If you don't subscribe to Netflix, it's also on Amazon.

Don't Throw Us Away

With more than 2 million inmates behind bars in this country, recidivism is more common than prisoners who build better lives. At the same time, between 6 to 8 million dogs and cats enter animal shelters in a year. Of those, more than half are euthanized each year.

The end result of both of these events are lives thrown away. The goal of Don't Throw Us Away is a partnership between prisons and rescue shelters to give both inmates and shelter dogs a new lease on life.

As a dog lover, I was immediately captured by the premise of the program. If someone can learn to love and unselfishly care for a dog and relate to that dog with kindness, then that person can do the same with people.

Heartwarming and inspiring, the documentary will make you see the inmate dog trainers as people, not as convicts. They learn to love the dogs they train, but then they must give up the dog they love when it is adopted. That's an important part of love: being able to sacrifice one's personal wants and desires for the greater good of the loved one. In this case, "giving up" the dog to be adopted by a family who will give it a good life. This life lesson teaches one to manage their emotions, and that is a lesson that will help them build a better life.

Behind The Story

Dog fostering and training programs in prisons have spread to many prisons in the U.S. One of the best known is New Leash on Life USA, based in Philadelphia. Through their work in prisons, they have successfully showed "prison inmates coming out of the Philadelphia prison system goes down about 50% by comparison to the average." (Read more about this.)

Don't miss this. It will make you think...make you view people differently when they have made mistakes in life rather than lumping them all together as losers. They're people, and they can re-enter society and live rewarding lives when they have the emotional skills needed to deal with life.

Takeaway Truth

Great documentary that shows people can change. Internal change begins with learning to love selflessly and to have a greater vision of yourself and your life.

Book Cover Contest

Do you think your book cover has star quality? Then get it noticed by entering it in the Cover the Words Cover Contest sponsored by Yellow Rose Romance Writers, a chapter of Romance Writers of America.


Entry Fee: $15 per entry

Entry Deadline: June 1 - August 31, 2015

How to Enter: Electronic submission of any romance book or novella's front cover

What kind of Covers: traditional publishing or indie published works of all romance genres

Preliminary Judging: An Overall Winner and Top 3 Finalists in each category to be determined by popular vote.

Final Judging: category winners judged by editors and publishing houses for first, second and third place.

Prizes and Awards

Overall winner and 1st place in each category: gift certificate for free book cover and badge to display on website

2nd and 3rd places receive a badge to display on website

For more information and entry form.

Takeaway Truth

Now's your chance to gain some recognition for your book. Enter today.

How to Write a Tagline

Do you know what a tagline is? In the entertainment industry, a tagline, sometimes written as tag line, is a small amount of text designed for dramatic effect. You know, it's the few words you see on a movie poster, DVD box, product, etc. You know, it's that slogan that sticks with you.

A good tagline is a punch in your consciousness that makes you remember the book, movie, or product.

Tagline or Logline

Some may think a tagline is the same as a logline, but the two are different even though the lines have blurred together as entertainment media have blended. Many authors have adopted screenwriting lingo to describe their books.

A logline is a one-sentence summary of a dramatic presentation, TV program or movie, and encapsulates a synopsis of the characters and plot as well as an emotional hook to grab the audience.


Perhaps the length and the item being marketed are the main differences between taglines and loglines.

A tagline is a few words or a phrase.

A logline is a sentence.

A tagline is used to promote a product of some kind whether that product is a book, movie, charity, video game, or a laundry detergent.

A logline is used to summarize a visual medium usually like a screenplay, movie, TV show, or, in the last few years, a book.

Having said all that, I advise you to not worry much about whether you've created one or the other. The important thing is to express the essence of your book, video, or whatever in as few words as possible.

Good Taglines

I'll talk about loglines another time. For now, I want to give you some examples of good taglines. These are from an analysis I did a few years ago.

American Indian College Fund: Educating the Mind and Spirit

Cancer Research Institute: Advancing immunology. Conquering cancer.

Allstate Insurance: You’re in good hands with Allstate.

Chevy Trucks: Like a rock.

Timex: Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

There's Something About Mary: Love is in the hair.

Alien: In space no one can hear you scream.

Fargo: A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off: One man's struggle to take it easy.

Highlander: There can be only one.

My novella April Fool Bride: Is it a marriage of convenience or something more?

My novel Just One Look: Kids play doctor--these doctors play seduction games.

My latest release Heat Lightning: Secrets, memories, lies--secrets can kill.

Never underestimate the importance of a good tagline. It can literally sell a DVD, book, movie, or social cause.

This point was underscored recently when my husband's latest DVD purchase arrived. It was Season 3 of Cinemax's Strike Back, a series noted for high body count and nonstop action. I read the tagline on the box and thought, "Wow. That would sell it immediately to the target audience."

The world's not saving itself

That made me open the drawer and pull out the box sets for season 1 and 2.

Season 1: Brutal, ruthless, deadly. And they're the good guys.

Season 2: Diplomacy is overrated.

Lesson About Taglines

A good tagline should:

1. Be short and succinct. Less is more.

2. Capture the essence of the book or movie--either the plot, characters, conflict, or tone. Fabulous if you can get it all there someway or other.

3. Speak to the target audience. You must first know your audience. Who are they? Speak to them.

4. Grab attention and hold it. You want them to read the tagline, have an emotional reaction, and then read it again.

5. Be memorable. You want it to stick with the audience so they'll tell their friends about it.

Takeaway Truth

Begin with movies and DVDs that you've seen. Read the taglines. See how they did it. Now, take your books since you know them so well and start writing taglines. Practice until you have made it part of your own skill set.

99cent Sale This Week

From now until Friday, Still The One, a romantic comedy about a marriage of IN-convenience, is on sale for only 99cents.

About Still The One

Burke Winslow needed a wife. But he didn't have his ex, Ally, in mind for the position.

Burke Winslow stands at the altar, ready to marry his business partner in a marriage of convenience. The minister solemnly asks: "If anyone here knows why this man and this woman shouldn't be joined in holy matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace."

A rain-soaked, bedraggled Ally Fletcher limps down the aisle and shouts, "Stop the wedding!"

What follows is a funny, sexy romp that proves when there's love, passion never dies, it just smolders away until you toss some gasoline on it. Burke and Ally provide that gasoline when they find themselves locked in a marriage of--inconvenience.

His cagey grandfather pulls Burke's strings, and her equally cagey grandmother manipulates Ally. Toss in a pretend boyfriend for Ally, and Burke's scorned business partner left at the altar to make for complete chaos.

Can Burke and Ally peel away the layers of the past and discover the truth about their relationship? Will the truth free them or put them asunder?

Still The One is a rollicking good time--Texas style! Sassy, sexy, and funny!

Grab It On Sale Here

All Romance Ebooks * Amazon Kindle * iBooks * Kobo * Nook

Audio Book is also available at Audible and iTunes, but it's not on sale. However, it is WhisperSync with the ebook when you get it on Amazon/Audible so you get it discounted plus you can go back and forth between the book and audiobook.

Takeaway Truth

Review from Cheryl Bolen, NY Times bestselling author: "Reeves had me laughing like crazy in the first chapter. I love, love, love this book. It's funny and very romantic. Romantic comedy at its best."

Maintaining Your Hard Drive: Defrag

It's easy when you Schedule Tasks!
Everyone tosses around the term "Hard Drive," but do you really know much about this piece of equipment that operates your PC? More importantly, do you know how to keep it healthy?

A hard drive, aka hard disk drive, is the device that writes data, that is, stores data on rotating plates with magnetic surfaces. When you issue a command to your computer, the data is retrieved and viewable.

Operating System Fragments Files

Fragmentation occurs when your operating system breaks a file into pieces because there is not enough space on the storage device where the file was originally saved.

Your computer system keeps a record of where the different pieces of the file are stored. This is done by using a FAT or File Allocation Table. A similar file system is NTFS.

When you retrieve the file again, the operating system queries the file system (FAT/NTFS/etc.other) to locate all the different pieces of the file.

Defragmentation, or defrag for short, is the process of scanning the file system and rejoining the split files. It's rather like gathering all the pieces together and lining them up next to each other.

Why Defrag?

Many computer users think you don't need to defrag computer hard drives now—that it's something you did in the days of DOS and earlier versions of Windows. Not true.

Defragmenting your computer system, or defragging as everyone says, is a habit everyone should acquire because it will keep your computer running at peak performance. Defragging regularly will keep your PC from picking up those bad habits like running slow and snail's pace performance.

What defragmenting does is to analyze your hard drive and reorganize the files it finds so they can be accessed faster. It's easy to do, and the software tool used to do this is part of the Windows package. Just open Disk Defrag and select your options and click run. Better yet, schedule it using your system tool.

Takeaway Truth

A well-maintained computer will perform better and generally last longer.

Review: Rise of a Texas Bluesman, Stevie Ray Vaughan

In April of this year, the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Previously, he had been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2014. Rolling Stone ranked Vaughan as the twelfth greatest guitarist of all time.

Appropriately, Rise of a Texas Bluesman hit Amazon Prime recently. Yes, I'm a SRV fan, but I think anyone who loves great music will enjoy this documentary. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a virtuoso with guitar and an innovative musician who married blues with the many musical influences in Texas.

Most people consider his music as blues or jazz with a rock heart or vice versa. Whatever you call his brand of music, it made Stevie Ray Vaughan an international star and created legions of loyal fans. Even today, his music has the power to raise chill bumps on my arms.

The documentary begins at the beginning and shows Stevie Ray's growth from childhood to adulthood--physically and musically. Stevie Ray began playing guitar at the age of seven. Told by the musicians and friends who knew him well, this is a journey that shows his struggle and triumphs and his passion for music that carried him through the peaks and valleys of life.

The focus is on his contribution to the musical world, not on the demons to which he fell prey. In the end, he defeated his drug addiction and came back better than ever. Sadly, he was killed in a helicopter crash after performing at the Alpine Valley Resort in East Troy, Wisconsin.  He was only 35 years old.

On the morning before that fateful crash, Stevie Ray had told his band and crew members about a terrible nightmare he'd had. He was present at his own funeral and saw thousands of mourners. During the dream, he said, he was terrified yet oddly peaceful at the same time.

If you're not familiar with Stevie Ray Vaughan and his music, just listen to some of these tracks.

Pride and Joy * Texas Flood * Cold Shot

Takeaway Truth

If you fancy yourself a music aficionado, you must see Rise of a Texas Bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Emotional Truth in Novels

In fiction, writing what you know means getting the facts correct in your information plot. It also means clearly presenting the underlying universal truth. That universal truth is what I call emotional truth, and it is what makes the story as real for an American as it is for an Italian or a Japanese reader.

Emotional Truth

Universal truth is the honesty and recognizable emotional truth that makes fiction come to life. It's what will make an editor offer you a book publishing contract or a reader buy every book or ebook you write.

One might even say that writing the emotional truth that you know – the emotions you feel when hurt, scared, angry, or happy – is even more important than anything else. Without that truth, your fiction falls flat. Sadly, a story without emotional truth will never succeed because readers won't emotionally invest in the story.

Takeaway Truth

Next time you're stuck in your writing, just write what you know. The emotional truth that makes the story come alive for you will also make it come alive for the reader.

Overcoming Fear

From fighting FEAR each time it rears its ugly head!
Psychologists and other learned folk say only fear of the dark and fear of falling are genetically encoded in humans. All the other fears, we personally and individually create.

Ah, We Suffer for Our Art

With those in the arts, certain fears predominate: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of having our work seen by others--even though that's why we create it. If this goes unchecked, it can be debilitating.

With writers, it's a primary cause of writer's block. If you bow to the Power of Fear rather than fight it, fear will bore into your soul and eventually destroy you.

If you suffer from fear, no matter what that fear may be, act in the face of your fear, and you gain power over it instead of letting it rule over you and your life. When fear rules, you lose all that you might otherwise gain.

Takeaway Truth

Write this on a note card and place it where you can easily see it. Each time I stare fear in the face and act anyway, I win, and Fear loses.

3 Ways to Avoid Burnout

Do you know the song When The Going Gets Tough? I like the Billy Ocean version, but there are other renditions. What do you do when the going gets tough? The way you answer that question may determine your longevity in your career--especially if your career is being a writer.

You've heard the old cliché and seen the inspirational posters: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Right?

3 Ways to Avoid Burnout

1. Take a vacation. Sometimes, you're just too tired to get going. Sometimes when the going gets ever tougher, if you've been fighting the good fight for a long time, maybe you should just relax. Take a few days off and just do things that bring you pleasure and make you laugh. Take a little vacation from the daily grind even if you think you can't afford to take time off. You'll be surprised at how much better you feel, enabling you to return to your work with fresh energy.

2. Change your thinking. When you're struggling all the time, it's easy to slip into negativity. Too often negativity leads to disparaging self-talk. If that describes you, it's time to make a mid-year resolution to stop it. Quit disrespecting yourself--or anyone else. All that negativity and whining takes an enormous amount of energy. Resolve that if you can't say anything good about someone that you'll just keep your mouth shut. That is especially true of your self talk!

3. Plot a new course or update the one you're navigating. Get some perspective on your goals and your life. Figure out where you're going. If you don't have goals, make some. How can you achieve something if you don't have a clear cut idea of what you want? Indecision leads to lack of focus, and lack of focus leads to lack of achievement.

Figure out exactly what you want. You. Not your spouse or your best friend. What would make you happy? Set your goals realistically—high enough that you have to work to achieve them but low enough to be in the realm of real possibility.
Wrong-thinking Goal: I want to hit the NYT best seller list with this book. Or, I want to win Yard of the Month from the Garden Club. (Totally out of your control.)

Right-thinking Goal: I want to finish the manuscript. Or, I want to have a weed-free yard. (Totally within your control.)

Takeaway Truth

Take a vacation, change your thinking, and work on your navigation. Use these 3 methods often to avoid burnout.

Reviews: 2 Films About Revolutions

Recently, I watched 2 films about revolutions. The first was Sons of Liberty, and the second was Texas Rising. I found both of them enjoyable and would like to tell you why.

Sons of Liberty

The History Channel seems to be taking a page from the Skinemax playbook with its mini-series Sons of Liberty. I mean, who thought the founding fathers were such hunks?

There's Jason Omara as George Washington, Ben Barnes as Samuel Adams, Ryan Eggold of The Blacklist as Dr. Joseph Warren, and so many more studly actors portraying swashbuckling founding fathers that you'll watch just for the eye candy. For the men in the audience, there are the lusty ladies of the Revolution.

Toss in a hefty dose of sex and near-nudity and you have a Revolutionary war era for the new generation. That's not to say this film is not highly entertaining. It is. Plus, it whets one's appetite to do a little digging and find out the truth in the story presented by Sons of Liberty.

Watch it. I think you'll find it greatly enjoyable for all that it is--and intriguing for all that it isn't.

Texas Rising

The Texas Revolution is usually considered to have begun with the battle of Gonzales in October 1835 and ended with the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

The History Channel took much literary license in producing its controversial mini-series. It makes one wonder why they didn't simply tell the dramatic, suspenseful true story.

You may want to pass on Texas Rising if you're a native Texan like my husband. He, like many native Texans who reviewed this film, scoffed at it and its portrayal of the Texas Rangers, Sam Houston, and all the historical events near and dear to a Texan's heart.

If you're not a Texan, then you may find this mish-mash of history fact and fiction entertaining. Bill Paxton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Thomas Jane, and Brendan Fraser--just to name a few of my favorites--are superb. It's the story that is sadly lacking in substance and truth that hurts the entire effort. We found the documentary promoting Texas Rising much more effective than the mini-series.

So if you can suspend disbelief and ignore the fact that none of the geographic settings resemble anything like the terrain around San Antonio or any other part of the region that featured prominently in the Texas Revolution and also ignore that the Texas Rangers are portrayed as so much less than they were in real life, then you might be entertained.

The Texas Rangers are a fascinating group. I have a Texas Ranger badge, and it's one of my prize possessions. I don't like seeing the Rangers trivialized. If you want to really learn about the Texas Rangers, visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas. I've been twice and plan to return. It's a great museum.

Takeaway Truth

Even when films about historical events are flawed, they can be good entertainment and, hopefully, inspire viewers to learn more about the true life events they purport to portray.