Saturday, August 31, 2013

My Reviewing Process

Sponsorship disclaimer: I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because everything always sounds perfect until Grammarly shows me it absolutely isn't. Don't let this post fool you; I definitely needed the help to create such a perfect article.

One of the questions I'm most frequently asked is "What's your reviewing process?" so here's a little regimen guide to share the way I read and review books with you guys. I'll try to include all the online and offline tools I use to facilitate my reviewing process, and hopefully these tips will be useful for you.

Mark deadlines in Google Calendar


Google Calendar is a godsend (if you have a Mac, the iCal app is fabulous, too!). A lot of the books I review are for virtual tours, so I'll be given a specific host date and my review needs to be published on that day. Others I work with are pre-releases, meaning I receive ARCs of upcoming titles and am expected to publish the review on or around the official publication date.

I mark all of these dates down in my online calendar so I can always keep track of by when I need to finish a book, and to see what's scheduled for my blog. Here's a screenshot of what September looks like:
All the green boxes labeled "REV" are the reviews I have scheduled. I also use the schedule calendar to keep track of other promotions such as upcoming guest posts or interviews.

The calendar can also help you determine what order you should read books in. With so many deadlines, it's easy to miss a few if you don't prioritize the books that have earlier publication dates, and hang onto the ones that aren't due until later. For instance, here's how I "prioritize:"
I stack the books in chronological order, the book with the nearest deadline at the very top. Above is my actual current stack of ARCs that need reviewing. I seldom stray from this reading order unless there's a book I desperately want to read at the bottom (Jamie Ford!!!!!). It's a good system and is helpful in getting your books read on time!

Read


This one's fairly obvious, but read. Just read. This is the most time-consuming part of the reviewing process because reading takes time, but you have to keep up with it, because it's also the most important aspect! I'm a university student so I know sometimes your eyes get tired, I know your life is crazy, I KNOW you can't afford the time to sit down and read every day. Well, make the time. Read on the bus, on the train, waiting in line at the bank, during your lunch break, fifteen minutes before bed. If you get in the habit of it, reading doesn't take effort at all (even if it's a miserable book). You just need to find a way to incorporate reading time into your daily life.

While reading, take notes


Reading for reviewing purposes is slightly different from reading for pleasure. I always have a pencil in hand when I'm reviewing. The thought of marking up a book may make some of you wince, but I've gotten used to it because I do it so much for school. It's pencil, guys. It'll erase.

Underline, write little notes in the margins, and mark important quotes. If you're like me and your mind runs a mile a minute while engaged in a book, you will need to jot your thoughts down before you forget them. Usually while I'm reading, I'll come up with the perfect opinion or observation to possibly include in my review, but I know I'll never remember it, so I scribble it all down on the title page. By the time I've finished reading, these frantic scrawls accumulate to look like this:
This is what my margin notes look like on a good day.

Some people reread their review titles, but I don't feel the need to do it. (I don't have the time, either). As long as I have my notes, reading once is more than sufficient for me.

For most of my reviews, I also include a favorite quotes section, so if I find a phenomenal quote, rather than writing it down, I just mark it, and write the page number down in the front of the book so I can come back to it later:
These pictures are from my ARC of All Our Yesterdays, by the way. My review goes live tomorrow, but in case you missed my fangirl rants all over Twitter and Goodreads: I. Loved. It. Seriously, don't even wait for my review; just go pre-order it now. You will not regret it.

Prioritize the order in which you need to write


After you've finished reading, you need to get to reviewing, but before you do that, you should have a general idea of what order you will actually write your reviews in. Here's my current pile of finished books that are on queue to be reviewed:
This is pretty mild. When I'm really in a procrastinating mood, my "to review" pile is bigger than my "to read" one! Don't be me! Get your reviews written right after you finish the book!!!

This method is similar to the above one in which the most urgent book to be reviewed is at the top, and the books are in chronological due date order. This is a minor step, but it just helps me be more organized.

Draft


As you can see, my margin notes aren't exactly... legible. They can be a pain in the ass to work off of, so I always perch that title page open and type everything down onto a fresh blog compose page. Nothing is coherent at this point; it's straight from my notes, little phrases here and there and adjectives clumped together.

Then, I have to start using my brain. This is the most difficult part. I have to form sentences—and they have to sound nice, at least to my ears—so that others will be able to actually understand my review. I have Pros, Cons, and Verdict sections just to sum my thoughts up better (as my reviews tend to go terribly off-topic, especially when I'm raving).

Write


Another simple one. If a book has affected you enough, the words—your thoughts, opinions, and personal reactions—should just flow freely. Sometimes, I have a little too much to say and I have to cut everything down so I don't sound like a maniac.

Even if a book hasn't really resonated with you profoundly, there should be a reason why. You don't have to say nice things. Just say reasonable things and always be sure to justify. If you didn't like a certain aspect to a book, don't just punish it with a low-star rating; explain what you didn't like. This will at least help beef up your review if you have nothing else to say.

Edit and revise


This step isn't particularly hard, but it's really annoying. You've already written your review, but now you need to read it again—and again—and hone it down to perfection. I always preview my post because it helps me catch spelling errors better; seeing your words on-screen can be helpful while editing because it looks different from the composition draft page.

Recently, I discovered Grammarly to help me out with this. Grammarly is an computerized "extra pair of eyes" to help catch your writing mistakes. It's not just a spellchecker; it's a proofreader that actually catches grammatical and structural errors, which can really tighten up your review, not to mention make it sound more professional.

It's super user-friendly, and I love how it explains errors, and gives suggestions on correcting them, rather than just slashing through them with a red line:

Check it out when you get the chance!

Include relevant information


Goodreads is my favorite source for collecting book links which I always include in reviews, and it's also great for getting accurate ISBNs, synopses, cover images, series details (if a book is a part of a series), and author information. A one-stop site for all your book specifics!

Publish


I always feel hugely accomplished every time I finally click "Publish." Book reviewing, as fun as it is, is mentally and physically draining—from all the late nights you stay awake finishing just one more chapter to that one sentence you've beaten to a pulp because you just can't get it to sound right—but it's all worth it in the end. The satisfaction of seeing your words published and actually out there is like no other.

Repost


For additional exposure, I like to copy and paste my reviews to various retailer and literary sites. My current ones are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, Goodreads, BookMooch, PaperBackSwap, LibraryThing, and Books-A-Million, plus any others publishers or authors specifically request.

What about you?


I'd love to hear from fellow blogger babes! Are there any techniques from this post that you use or would like to? What do you do differently? I want to know what works for you!