Reviewer guidelines

These are highlights of the guidelines we send to all new reviewers.

Hello and welcome! We are excited you are interested in reviewing for BlueInk Review.

BlueInk Review is committed to providing honest, objective reviews to self-publishing authors in order to help readers find wonderful books within the vast pool of self-published titles. Our deepest hope is that, together, we will discover some great new authors and help get their books into readers’ hands!

We realize that reviewing self-published books presents some unique challenges, so we hope you will find the following guidelines helpful. These are tips we’ve learned through editing more than 4,000 reviews.

Book selection

We try very hard to match the appropriate book with the appropriate reviewer. For this reason, the Reviewer Questionnaire is critical. The more specific you can be on your reading preferences, the more helpful it is in our selection process. (For example, instead of saying you like “fiction,” you might say “literary fiction, mysteries, chick lit” and so on. Instead of saying “nonfiction,” you might note “memoirs, books about religion, politics, and pets.”)

Length

All reviews should be between 250-300 words.  While we aren’t a stickler if the review goes slightly over 300 words, we aren’t very happy trimming a review that is 400 words, either. Conversely, we promise authors the review will be a minimum of 250 words. We have no leeway in delivering anything less, so please be sure you send a minimum of 250 words. NOTE: The heading information (book title, author, publisher and so on) is NOT included in the final word count.

Quotes and unusual character names or places

Please give us the page number in parentheses for any quotes you take from the book, as well as for any names or places that have unusual spellings, so that we can check for absolute accuracy. Keep in mind that accuracy includes the exact punctuation the author uses, even if it’s incorrect. In the case of incorrect punctuation, use [sic] to let us and readers know that you are aware of the author’s misstep.

Keep it truthful!

Your job is to hold these books to the same standards you would any book from a traditional publishing house. To that end, please offer an HONEST appraisal of the book. We are trying to be a trusted resource for readers, as well as the professionals who acquire our titles, such as booksellers and librarians. We appreciate it when reviewers are careful, in terms of avoiding harsh, judgmental words, such as “horrible,” “ridiculous,” “disgusting,” etc., but are looking for an accurate view of the book. We ask that you refrain from thinking: “Well, it’s pretty good for a self-published book.” We want our best books to be as good as any you’ll find on bookstore shelves or recommended by Publishers Weekly. They must be clear, compelling reads to earn your recommendation.

Tone

Keep in mind that the reviews will be offered by the “institution,” rather than individual reviewers. Although your name will be listed on our website along with those of all of our reviewers, we aren’t using bylines on each review, so please refrain from using first person. Try for an official tone that’s accessible, but not too conversational.

In addition, while we encourage you to be honest, we expect all reviews to be respectful. We don’t want to sound smug or snarky. Also, please avoid judgmental words when a book is substandard, such as “horrible,” “ridiculous,” “disgusting,” etc. and refrain from making assumptions about the author (as in: “the author was lazy in proofreading the book”; we don’t know if the author was lazy or simply misinformed about grammar, etc.). State what you know: that the book has lots of typos; not what you don’t know (that the author is lazy). Don’t pull your punches, but offer your criticisms in dispassionate, objective terms. Our goal is to offer honest appraisals, not to humiliate authors who have often put their hearts and souls into their books.

Copyediting issues

If the book has issues with spelling, punctuation and grammar, please note this somewhere in the review. Readers have certain expectations set by traditional publishers and will feel that the reviewer wasn’t paying attention if the book is substandard in this area. (If there are just 3 or 4 problem spots throughout, you can let it go, but otherwise, let’s warn readers – as well as librarians, booksellers, etc. – that the book isn’t up to published standards in this regard. One exception to the 3-4 instances rule: when it comes to children’s picture books, even a few bad instances of grammar, punctuation and spelling should be noted, as books are learning tools for children and we feel they should model the correct tools of the English language.)

Review components

Every review should contain a plot summary, as well as a thorough critical evaluation of the book. Please peruse the reviews that are currently on our website to get an idea of the information needed and writing style.

Some details:

Book Summary:

If the book is fiction, include a brief synopsis of the plot. If nonfiction, include a synopsis of the book’s topic and intent.  Try to avoid generalizations whenever possible. If it’s fiction, it’s nice to work in a brief sample of the writing; if nonfiction, try to include specific details. There obviously isn’t much space to go into great detail in these reviews, but a little specificity here and there will make your review much more interesting and valuable to readers. And don’t give away the ending: Even if the ending is critical to mention, in terms of noting what works or doesn’t with a book, please try to be as cryptic as possible. For example, note that things end happily if you must; but don’t say that John and Mary marry and move to England (for example).

Critical analysis:

Please don’t write a mere book report!

A common mistake reviewers make is writing nearly exclusively about plot at the expense of describing the author’s writing style, character development and so on. Keep in mind that every review should contain much more than a plot description and a one- or two-line wrap-up telling readers the book was “wonderful” or, conversely, “unreadable.” It is our job to explain what the reading experience is like and why something works, if it does, or why it fails, if it does. We want readers to know what makes a book worthwhile (or not) and authors to have a clear understanding of why we are praising or criticizing their books.  Please consider the author, in the sense of giving them something to take away from the review;  think of the review as, in part, a way to teach authors about where they’ve gone wrong and how the book could be improved.

The review is not complete unless you have answered these questions:What was the author trying to accomplish?

What are the basic contents of the book?
What worked well? What didn’t work? And why?
What is the experience of reading this book like? (Author’s writing style, book’s organization and so on.)
Given all that has been said, is this book worth reading? If so, by whom? What is the appropriate audience for this particular title?

Accuracy

Please be very careful that the wording of the review is literally as well as figuratively accurate. If you write, for example, that the character’s name is misspelled hundreds of times when, in fact, it has been misspelled 80 times, you might not think the difference is significant, but the author will. Ditto for something like, “the author was estranged from his mother for most of his life,” when it was technically less than half of the author’s life. Please take a minute to re-read the review and make sure the tiniest detail is completely accurate.

Do I have to read the whole book?

Many reviewers have asked us if they can stop reading a book that’s obviously substandard. We are guaranteeing authors a full read and review of every book. If you don’t feel that you can make that commitment, we ask that you forgo signing up with us to be a reviewer.

Does the book deserve a Starred review?

We ask that you award a “Star” to those titles you believe truly stand out. When thinking of whether or not a book deserves a Starred review, ask yourself: Is this book a cut above your average PUBLISHED (not just self-published) book? These should be reads you feel are exceptional under any circumstances. All Starred reviews will be featured prominently on our site and in our promotions, so be sure and give this some careful thought. (Note that we will take your opinion into serious consideration, though we may occasionally overrule your star suggestion.)

The books to which you award Stars will be reviewed a second time to determine whether they also will be named a “BlueInk Best Book.” If you think a book particularly merits a “Best Book” designation, please write a note to us at the bottom of the review. We welcome this input!!

The editing process

All reviews will be edited to insure that they are clear, both in conveying the plot and in detailing what works and what is in need of improvement. Reviews are often returned to the reviewer with questions, so don’t feel as if you are being singled out if this should occur.

Conflicts of interest

If we happen to send you a book that presents a conflict of interest for you, we will expect to be notified immediately. These conflicts could include: the author is a friend; you have a prejudice against the topic of the book; you’ve helped edit or had a hand in the production of the book in some way, etc. If you see any conflict, we will need to reassign the book to another reviewer as soon as possible, so your consideration in letting us know this quickly will be much appreciated.

Thanks for plowing through all of this information.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let us know.

We greatly look forward to working with you!

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