Size Matters

Long or Short?

I’m not talking dick size – you can head over to Jessewave’s funny post on penis size in m/m romance books for that.

I’m talking review size. Recently some great reviewers I know have shortened their style. I realize in the ADD like attention span of the internet readers want the basics in a quick, easy to read fashion so they can glean the facts and move on. So does this translate to reviews as well?

The average review tends to have a lengthy plot summary that either expounds on the blurb or points out the key tension element. Then usually it goes on to say the reviewer’s feelings on the book, if it worked, if the characters were decent, and if they liked the writing. Some reviewers manage to do all of this in a quick paragraph while others (like my overly winded self) tend to wax on and on ad nausea. I tend to say it is a personal preference about the length of reviews and this is likely true. Some don’t want to write long, involved reviews but want to express their opinions.

Since reviews are for readers, the mix of long and short reviews is likely a key element in deciding on a book. Perhaps for a quick to the point look, short reviews help make a decision but if waffling on a book, longer more in depth reviews can tip the balance.

I’ve noticed that several reviewers tend to summarize their feelings up front then go into more detail. For example I always put a TLDR – too long didn’t read – paragraph at the top of my reviews that sums up my feelings of the book if no one can be bothered to read further. I like this bottom line first kind of summary and other reviewers do it incredibly well.

I like the longer review style and can’t see that changing. Some readers (us included) were frustrated by the brevity on other review sites and wanted to offer something different for those that want more meat to their reviews. Perhaps we are overly bloated at times but reviewing styles are always work in progress.

What about others?
Do you like short or longer reviews?
Do you read both for different purposes?

19 thoughts on “Size Matters

  1. I kinda mistrust the short reviews… but I’ve read so many “I loved this book, it was a heart-wrenching, emotional; read with great characters and great suspense and it was sooooo well-written, too!” reviews at “review blogs” that all sound like the reviewer can’t compile an argument why the book is so great, or has to write a review to justify getting free books (the famous “free book rackets” out there) or is so scared of pissing off writers that their reviews are close to worthless.
    In a way, it’s “show, don’t tell” – why is this book amazing? Why did you love it? Where are the weaknesses? (I kinda mistrust reviews that don’t mention anything about the “dark side of the book” – like it’s too short, too long, they didn’t like a plot point… something. Anything that tells me that there was a critical process involved somewhere).
    That said, good reviewers writing quickies and putting thought and an argument in works for me, but if anything, such reviews are probably harder to write rather than easier.

    • I think you bring up some excellent points on both sides of the argument. I do think there is a bit of a “reviews dont say anything” regardless of length issue that comes out in a lot of reviews. I see what you’re saying about the review blogs but I’d charge that review sites can be just as bad (depending on the site of course).
      I think short reviews being harder to write depends on the reviewer. Sometimes sure, but sometimes they’re easier for some writing styles.
      I guess I should also qualify what “short” is. I’ve seen reviews from one sentence of a few words (ie. one descriptive word… good paranormal, boring historical) and so on versus a paragraph with bullet points.
      Above all you bring out the excellent points that help people make decisions on books and the key aspects to involve in a review.

  2. I like longer reviews, both as a reader and an author. I don’t really care whether someone liked a book or not — ie, the short reviews that summarize the plot, the characters, and then say, “This was a really great book!” — so much as I care about WHY they liked it… or didn’t. I’m well aware that my tastes are strange and every person’s squick is another person’s kink, so I want to know.
    And as an author, it helps me to see what did and didn’t work for people. It might not necessarily change what I do next time, but it might point something out to me that either I just didn’t think of before or maybe that I felt was off in the narrative but couldn’t put my finger on (and neither did any of my betas or editors).
    So basically – the short reviews might work fine for promotional blurbs on a website, but when it comes to what I want to read, I’d rather have detail. (But not so much that it spoils me, of course. Hehe.)

    • I’m with you -grins- I like longer reviews. I got a bunch of shit to say usually so longer reviews suit me. Both as a reader and a reviewer.
      But you know there’s something also to be said for those quick to the point ones that lay out the good and bad and interestingly if you check out the most “liked” reviews on good reads, inevitably they are shorter reviews. Which is interesting I think.
      I do think pulling a blurb from a longer review is harder, that’s certainly easier with a shorter review.

  3. Great topic, Kassa! As you can imagine, I’ll be checking back to see what people say. Looks like we have two for long reviews so far … I’m still struggling with my format, and knowing that I’m going to need to go back to something much closer to the longer reviews I used to do. My short format just feels too shallow, especially in comparison to yours and Jenre’s.
    I think it’s helped me to section off my review into little parts that a reader can skim (like Gripes / Good Stuff) and I like your idea of the TLDR paragraph at the top! Maybe I can keep the sections and just expand the My Reaction part, or have a Short Reaction and Detailed Reaction part.
    Part of what is so time-consuming for me is when I used to write the whole thing up like an essay and I’d feel the need to struggle to write it in an entertaining fashion instead of just filling in information. Well, I’ll be curious to see what reactions you get to this topic!

    • I’d be careful changing your style to suit others Val. While you may feels yours are too shallow (I don’t think so :D) others may enjoy something equally as thoughtful in an easier, more condensed down format. And really it comes down to what you, as a reviewer, prefer. Since you’re taking the time, effort, and energy to write these reviews it has to be in a format you enjoy and want to work with.
      Although I enjoy long reviews and it suits my style to write them, if I ever got sick of that and wrote paragraphs (as in ONE paragraph) I’d probably do that too if its what worked for me at that time.
      I think your idea of doing gripes/good stuff early on lets the readers know the main points that will annoy or stand out and gives them a feel for the book. I do think longer reviews struggle with people getting bored (I always worry about that) but in the end, can only do the style that suits you really. Otherwise it shows.

  4. I would answer that I like them at whatever length it takes the reviewer to sum up their opinions and justify any sweeping statements (both to the positive or negative) that they may put forth about the book. Some people are more adept at packing a lot of information into a short review. Others like to go into more detail, which can work just as well.
    I like them all. Isn’t that helpful? πŸ˜‰ And since I would never make a decision to buy a book based on a single review (unless that person and I are 100% simpatico, which has yet to happen), a mix of short and long reviews can provide a good mix of information.
    I’ll also mention that I hardly ever read any rehashing of the plot that may be included in a review. The blurb is the hook. I don’t like to be spoon-fed how that hook pans out.

    • Woohoo a non-commital! I knew we had to have some fence riders that frankly didn’t care about the length. So actually that is pretty helpful since there are people who just don’t care.
      I agree on the rehashing of the plot. I usually do 1 quick paragraph summarizing the book without giving spoilers because I don’t feel blurbs are always accurate. Sometimes they include extraneous information or exclude other pertinent information ( for example mentioning an ex that is totally immaterial or leaving out that there is surprise sex (rape!) included). So I don’t always trust the blurb to be accurate. I don’t mind a quick summary but longer summaries, paragraph after paragraph so it takes up half the review or more is bothersome for me. Just because it’s a long review, I don’t think that counts when it’s 90% rehashing the book. IMO !

  5. Very interesting post Kassa, as this issue is always on my mind when I’m writing reviews.
    As a reader I tend to look for the longer reviews, as a reviewer I also tend to write longer reviews. But, I have great admiration and really am in awe of those that posses that unique talent for detail in brevity. There’s one reviewer in particular that comes to mind and I always seek out their write-ups.
    Like you I tend to delve into the details when I review in an attempt to provide as much information as possible to the reader without giving away the store (always a concern for me). Equally, I often go for the bottom line first for those who don’t want to read the whole thing. But I’ve found that sometimes the nature of the story itself dictates the length of the review (regardless of actual story length and whether I liked it or not) more so than any personal style.
    Good topic, I hope more folks comment.

    • Thanks for commenting! I hope we get to hear from more folks too. Perhaps I should have done a poll instead, which would help no doubt *grins* something to think about.
      I think those who write longer reviews tend to read such while those who write shorter reviews, tend to read that. Or at least that’s the impression I’ve been getting. No doubt that changes based on book, review, reviewer, site, phases of the moon and so on. But that’s the general trend I think.
      I totally agree that sometimes the nature of the story sets the length of the review so that’s a really great point to bring up.

  6. This comment is overly long
    This post is faaaaaaaaaascinating.
    For a long time, I started each review with a nice juicy quote from the book, for two reasons: one, I love to read quotes from other books in reviews to determine whether I’ll even like a book, and two, for other folks to determine right off the bat whether hearing more about the book is worth their time.
    For instance, there’s precious little that’s going to make me want to read another Harlequin. Now, if a review presents me with a juicy quote that snares me, I’ll at least sit and listen to arguments.
    Reviews that are just someone bouncing in place going squee! I loved this book! It was so magical! Tell me nothing.
    At bare minimum, I want a synopsis with no spoilers, but couched in a way that I’m at least engaged enough to want to find out why Harold thought he could win back Beauregard by assaulting him with a chicken (nb: plot twists may vary by book). There are events in each plot that lend themselves to synopsercizing. Simply saying that Beauregard dumped Harold and Harold hoped he could win Beauregard back, is not enough. It’s not even enough to say that Harold has a cunning plan.
    I swear, synopses are at least 75% marketing.
    I’m also kind of a picky-pants in reviews when it comes to analysis. I want to see that the reviewer has given some amount of thought to how to consider the plot as a whole: whether it was plausible, or moving, or had more holes than a cheese grater, or was misogynistic or overly sentimental or made the reviewer seriously consider the rights of chickens for the first time in their life. Something!
    If the book just glanced off the reviewer and they were like, “Eh, Harold was wronged but it worked out well in the end, except maybe for the chicken lol!” I am likely never going to read another review by that reviewer ever again.
    I have noticed that I am a big sucker for paragraph length, and for this I blame the internet. Short little paragraphs are easier for me to digest than long ones, and I suspect this has something to do with reading text on a screen and the sad, sad state of my brain.
    I really like reviews that compare the book to things outside itself: a history of chickens’ rights, or the author’s first novel, or a novel that was very similar but the wronged dude settled down to raise aardvarks and how that compared to the structure and outcome of this novel blah blah blah fishcakes.
    I will confess that recently I was reading a review and right near the top the reviewer stated: “I have an inquisitive mind. This forces me to analyze every piece of text, television and music without letting anything pass by!” Well guess what? Those statements forced me to hit the Back button because I went into the review thinking the reviewer had an inquisitive mind, what with being human and that being a default state of brain and all. But ymmv.
    I do like longer reviews, because I like to get all involved with a book and really think about what the reviewer is saying, but for that to work, I want the reviewer to realize that every published thing out there is competing for readers’ attention spans, and those commodities are being sliced more and more finely every day. I want something more than a vague handwave, is what I’m saying.
    I’d also love love love to find a way to get a reviewers’ group together to talk about these issues and the review market on a regular basis.
    Great topic!

    • Re: This comment is overly long
      OOO fabulous comment with soo many great points. Thank you for taking the time to write all this out!
      First – I agree, I wish there was a reviewers group to chat amongst ourselves about this and other topics. Perhaps we could make one. Not sure where it’d be unless its on yahell or something insane like that.
      I do agree that the introduction to a review and the tone make a huge difference. The review has to be interesting itself and not just a literary vomit about the book. Your reviews for example are almost more fun to read than the books sometimes with the humor involved and personable commentary. It feels like a real person picked up the book and had a reaction, which is exactly what a book review should be.
      Paragraph length is an important one as I think people see large and lengthy walls of text and run in the opposite direction. This is one thing that I tend to be seriously guilty of and thank you for mentioning that. Definitely something in general (and me specifically) needs to change up and try to alter.
      Oy.. the synopsis. Good and bad. I’ve yet to get a handle on this and still struggling to find the sweet point. Some want plot points and some skip this entirely. Some don’t want a rehash of the book and some do anyway. I don’t think there is a lengthy review in existence that doesn’t rehash the plot in a summary somewhere.
      But also reviews vary with what they cover – is the plot familiar? Especially in romance it seems the same elements are used over and over. Is there is a classic dead lover? Evil religious or family figure? Psycho ex? Are these used well despite being used in books all the time or are they just another cliche?
      These are the kinds of questions I look for in reviews and then beyond that, can you tell if the reviewer liked the book, disliked it, or felt pretty bland about it. If the person can make it engaging and funny too? All the better as long as it’s not mean and snarky at the expense of the book.

      • Re: This comment is overly long
        Thanks for not being annoyed I wrote an essay all over your lovely journal entry. πŸ˜€
        I would love a list-serv or even an lj-comm where reviewers could come together and beta each other, talk about good reviews they’ve seen (I keep a tiny list in a GDoc) or just sit around and throw things. For instance, I am sitting here staring at a blank screen where a review should be and all I have is the unprintable sentence, “Why do we not have a zero-stars button?” Maybe if I could download that and get it out of my system, I’d be able to write this frelling review.
        I think the intro to a review has the same weight as a hook to any other non-fiction story or fiction story: you have to come out swinging. You have to accept your reader has three kids and the dog is on fire and the goldfish just threw up and ze has 2 minutes on the internet, so you have to assert a serious claim to those two minutes and not ramble.
        Synopses are hard, dude. They’re wicked hard. Doubly so for anthologies.
        Your comment about the cliches and how they reflect (or don’t) on the work is a good one. I find that incredibly hard, because I’m always terrified I’m putting my foot in it good, that I don’t know what I’m talking about or that someone’s gone and done their PhD on what I’m talking about and is about to hand me my ass on a platter over how wrong I’m getting it.
        Reviews are hard!

  7. I like long reviews, but I nearly always skip the summary if it’s as long as the blurb. It’s one thing to say, “This is the story of a chicken farmer and his deep affection for the feed lot salesman and their struggles to balance love with a market economy” or something like that, or summary that gives setting or character details, but if it’s the blurb all over again, that I can skip. And usually do. The exception is if the reviewer is arguing “the blurb misses the point” which is interesting, and then I read.
    But I love long reviews. Obviously especially of my own work. I’m slightly sadistic and I love the ones where people carry on and on about every little thing they liked and didn’t like. But that’s because I find it fascinating to see what someone else thought of what came out of my head. And I like to see where I could stand to grow. So the more the merrier.
    In reviews of other people’s stuff, I like it to be an engaging piece if it’s long. Good reviewers have a voice of their own and know how to use it. I appreciate reviews with a bit of humor or which explain why the book spoke to them or upset them or whatever. I LOVE personal reactions. But again, if the reviewer is a good one, I just love whatever they put out, because it’s fun.

    • I agree re. the blurb rehashing. As I mentioned to Libby I usually do that in my second paragraph and ppl can skip or read or whatever. I usually add it because I don’t read a lot of blurbs. Odd I know but I skim blurbs at best since reviews tend to go over all of this anyway. And I’d rather not read it twice. I also don’t think blurbs are very accurate for the most part. Weird I guess but I find most blurbs have too much extraneous information or offer too much or too little of the plot and thus, well I rely on reviews.
      I do agree I love some humor and personal reactions to a review. I think it’s just personable and you can almost nod along with the reviewer when they say something without the pretentious wording. I wish I could do this more often.

  8. Hi Kassa
    Thanks for the pimp on penis size. πŸ™‚
    Seriously, re reviews, it’s really strange that you posted this because I have a post that will upload on Friday (the anniversary of my old blog) asking readers what they look for in a review to help them decide whether or not to buy a book.
    I try to look at reviews from the perspective of the reader. What do they want to know? What worked! What didn’t work! Then I try to limit my reviews to 1000 words, which include the blurb. You can say a lot in about 800 words (blurbs are usually 200 words) but it should be what the reader wants to know.
    I’ve read many short reviews which basically say the same thing about every book – I think these reviewers have a template of about a paragraph that they use for every book. OTOH a long rambling review which says absolutely nothing about the effectiveness of the writing, plot and characterization is just as bad. The key for me is – will the review help the reader make a “buy” decision? Readers don’t read our reviews because they love our writing – I think they read them because they want to know if they should buy the book we revewed.
    I don’t know if that’s helpful but it’s all I got. πŸ™‚
    Re length – I love long and thick. πŸ™‚ Oh sorry, wrong topic.

    • Long..thick…meaty..
      Oh wait.. reviews. Stick to topic.
      I’ll be interested in the response you get from your post. I think review styles are always evolving and changing (at least mine is). I remember when I used to rehash more of the synopsis before I realized thats what the blurb is for and definitely cut down on that so the review is 90% reaction.
      I think it’d be interesting if many readers say going over the main plot points is even helpful or not. Considering most reviews spend time on this to varying amounts – some lengthy reviews are almost all synopsis or at least 50% – and I wonder if that’s just as unhelpful as those “i love it” but no reason reviews.
      I’ll pop by to see the responses. Congrats on the anniversary!

  9. Very late to the party but I’ve been on holiday.
    As a reader I like the longer reviews, especially when I’m in two minds about buying a book. The star ratings at Good Reads and the one paragraph ‘synopsis followed by one sentence of opinion’ have their place but I need reasons as to why a reviewer has given 3 stars because only then can I make a judgement as to whether it will be something which will bother me as a reader or not.
    As a reviewer I’m hopeless at writing short reviews – although I do try every Saturday with a set of short reviews. I have to be very strict with myself as I’ll often get to the end of writing a review and suddenly think of lots of other stuff I ought to have included. At that point I have to force myself not to go adding bits and tell myself that the reader will just have to discover the things I missed out for themselves :).
    I like your reviews, Kassa, because you explain yourself so clearly as to why a book did or didn’t work for you. You always make sure that the review is personal enough for readers to understand that just because a part of the book wasn’t to your taste, there may be readers who would still enjoy it. After all tastes vary so much amongst readers.

    • Hi Jen, thanks for commenting. I hope Paris was wonderful ( no doubt it was and congratulations again!).
      I think short reviews can be hard for those of who like to talk. Sometimes I just have so much to say I really need to better edit things and take your philosophy that the reader will just have to discover for themselves. I’m working on that! I think long and short reviews both have their place but it’s been interesting to get feedback and definitely combine that with the comments Wave’s been getting on her post checking in with readers.
      Writing reviews seem to be an always changing process. I know I’m always changing and refining how I write and looking for better ways to convey the information, although I greatly appreciate your kind comments. Especially since I always value your reviews even if reading tastes do vary. Which is another reason to have a wide range of reviews as well. There are those books that it seems absolutely everyone loves because they’re just that good and then there are those with widely differing opinions. So really, the more the merrier!
      Although it could be nice to see some dueling shorter reviews. Now that’d be a challenge.

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