This week The Author CEO, Naomi Blackburn, continues her series on book reviews. Last week, Naomi talked about key things to avoid when writing a book review. This week, she revisits the subject of spoilers.
Naomi is founder of the Goodreads group Sisterhood of the Traveling Books, as well as the Nordic Noir group, dedicated to discussing Scandinavian mysteries. Last year, Goodreads ranked her at #11 on their top reviewer list, in both the U.S. and in the world (based on 2011 rankings). As a reviewer, Naomi is brilliant, insightful, and, as she puts it, “brutally honest.”
Please feel free to leave questions for Naomi, as well as any suggestions you may have for future posts. I hope you enjoy the column!
The Author CEO: Are You A Spoiler Sport?
by Naomi Blackburn
After reviewing my last post, I felt that I had not addressed the dreaded spoiler enough, so today I’d like to expand on that area. As I have stated in previous posts, reviews are written for the reader, so it is imperative that reviewers are diligent in ensuring reviews contain no spoilers.
Let’s begin with the definition of a spoiler.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary one of the definitions for a spoiler is:
A published piece of information that divulges a surprise, such as a plot twist in a movie.
While the dictionary mentions only movies, readers and authors know all too well that spoilers apply to books as well. There is nothing worse than reading a review containing a spoiler, especially for readers who are invested in a story or authors who have requested a review of their work only to see critical plotpoints laid bare for potential readers.
In case you’re wondering, any time you write an opinion of or rate a book you are a reviewer!
So what does a spoiler look like?
1) The reviewer gives away the ending of the story. Yes, I have seen this. The reviewer basically gives a cliff notes’ version of the book – in other words, a long detailed synopsis of the book up to the ending, with one sentence offering his or her opinion of the book. How does this qualify as a book review? A legitimate review is not a synopsis; it is an opinion of the story.
2) The reviewer discusses critical moments of the storyline. Not quite as tragic, but still a spoiler in the end. Remember my comment in the last post: A book should be like a Christmas gift just waiting to be opened. Giving away critical moments in a book’s story line is like tearing little holes in the wrapping to expose the gift. When the gift is visible, where is the surprise?
3) The reviewer gives away critical character flaws or discusses twists involving the main character(s). This happened to me earlier this week with a mystery novel I was listening to. The reviewer chose to include an incident involving actions that fell outside the character’s normal behavior. In my humble opinion, those of us who choose to review mystery novels, more than reviewers of any other genre, must be diligent about how our reviews are written.This is why I limit my book description to no more than 5 lines and emphasize my opinion of the writing.
So how do reviewers determine if they are giving away spoilers?
1) If in doubt, throw it out! If you are questioning whether or not something could be a spoiler, it probably is. Either rephrase it or get rid of it.
2) Have a peer you trust read your reviews until you get comfortable with the process. There is nothing wrong with asking for help in the beginning. This reviewer did it when I first started writing reviews. I had such respect for one of the members of Sisterhood of the Traveling Book: the member had never written a book review, but she knew that one of the prerequisites for signing up for an author-donated book is the necessity of posting reviews on both Goodreads and Amazon.com. This member also wanted to sign up for books on Netgalley and Edelweiss. In the beginning, until she felt comfortable with the process, she asked members who had been reviewing for years to proof her reviews. And you know what? We were glad to do it! At this point, she writes quality reviews that stand alongside those by the best of us, but she wasn’t afraid to ask for help.
3) Writing reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, feeling your review won’t survive without a spoiler? Use a spoiler hyperlink on Goodreads or check the spoiler box on Amazon. The readers of your reviews will appreciate it.
Reviewing books is a privilege not to be taken lightly. Readers depend on reviewers not to destroy the read for them, but to help them decide if a book is for them. Are you being a Spoiler Sport?
So what spoilers have I missed and what do spoilers look like in genres other than mystery?
About Naomi Blackburn
Naomi Blackburn, owner of The Author CEO, a consultation firm dedicated to helping independent authors navigate the development of strategic business plans and the marketing world, holds an MBA and has worked in the field of business development, sales and consulting for 12 years. A former social worker, she has helped hundreds of clients meet their life goals. An avid reader and top Goodreads reviewer, she comes to the world of books from a reader/reviewer’s perspective. She strives to help authors achieve their goals by teaching them to think of themselves as CEO/entrepreneur of a small business and helping them negotiate the business side of selling books.