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Mother Horror’s Essential Book Reviewing Tips & Tricks

Want to review horror books professionally or as a hobby? Listen to mother.

horror book reviewing feature
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  • Photo Credit: freestocks / Unsplash

Horror books save lives and horror authors are essential. The last few years have been traumatizing enough to punch big holes in the fabric of my sanity but the ability to escape into the pages of a good horror book spared me.

Literally a sanctuary. A place of refuge.

I show my gratitude in two ways: Buying and promoting books.

Buying books is a little self-serving because I will likely never read everything I own but I don’t just buy them with the intention of reading them. Sometimes, it’s a contribution to the author’s finances in order to show support; sustainability. I would love for all my favorite authors to be able to stay home and write full time (for me) if that was their desire. 

Stay home. Write books.

Sometimes spending money on books is a luxury when filling up your tank with gas costs a billion dollars. So when buying books isn’t an option, the next best thing is promoting them. It costs nothing—and this is how I found myself reviewing horror professionally.

Related: 32 Horror Authors Every Scare-Chaser Needs to Know

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  • screenshot of Sadie Hartmann's Instagram feed (@mother.horror)

    Photo Credit: Sadie Hartmann

I started a dedicated “bookstagram” account about six years ago but only really started focusing on horror fiction in 2017—just taking pictures of the books I own, book hauls, and reviews/recommendations.

The month of October was my “Season of Horror” but I realized in 2017 I needed more time to accommodate all the books I wanted to read. Eventually, “Season of Horror” became a three-month event that other readers were joining in on for the months of September–November. 

One day in 2018, I  gave up the ghost and became a genre reader—and I’ve never looked back. All horror, all the time.

Every book I read was photographed, shared on social media and then reviewed on Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

My accounts started growing as people became more and more interested in the books I was reading and enjoying.

I got an invite to review for both Scream Magazine and Cemetery Dance. I started a horror fiction monthly subscription service with my best friend (Night Worms) and honestly, the opportunities to promote horror haven’t stopped. 

Now that my career path has provided new ways of promoting, I am reviewing less but I think that it is one of the most essential things readers can do to help sustain the book industry. Word of mouth advertising keeps the wheels of business turning. Just telling a friend about a good book you read is a review in my opinion. Anything that motivates someone to buy a book is a review; a shared reading experience. Even if you didn’t enjoy the book, that experience might be the reason someone buys the book.

I’m a firm believer that every book has an audience, so if someone reads a review where the person shares how uncomfortable they were with the violence or the gory details, that might encourage sales.

The way I review books and the way I feel about reviewing has evolved a great deal in the last three years or so and change is good. My intimate involvement in the horror industry has informed my opinions and shaped the way I promote over time. I’d like to pass some of this on as I step away from reviewing to move on to other professional ventures.

Related: The Evolving Tides of Modern Horror Fiction's Resurgence

Accessing book review copies.

Let’s start at the beginning. BOOKS. Do you want a free book you’re interested in reading with the intention of reviewing it? Great. Get it.

Read it. Maybe don’t read it. Maybe start reading it and realize you don’t like it and stop reading it. Donate it. Lend it to a friend. Let it sit on your bookshelf and gather dust. It’s your book now, do what you want. Don’t let anyone dictate what you do with that book once it’s in your possession. It doesn’t matter where you got it. The publisher, a publicist, the author, a giveaway, the understanding is that a certain amount of books are made available to readers for free as part of an advertising budget and the risk is that some of those books are counted as a loss. That’s the truth. Some books will provide a return on the investment, others will not and that is not the reader’s problem. It’s nobody’s problem. That’s business, baby.

Related: 5 Horror Book Excerpts You Can Read RIGHT NOW

books by window
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  • Photo Credit: John-Mark Smith / Unsplash

Resources for review copies:

Visit the publisher’s website of the book you want to review and look for the email of the publicity/marketing contact. Send them a professional request.

Self-published authors often have a website with a contact page. Send them a professional request. I would avoid using social media messages as this fosters casual access and it’s best to maintain a healthy boundary between reviewers and authors.

I love promoting books so as soon as I get a review copy in the mail, I photograph it and share it on social media. I tag the publisher and the author. I’ve seen readers express how tagging people makes them uncomfortable so just understand that it is not something you need to do; it’s optional. If you want to know how authors and publishers *feel* about being tagged in photos of their books, I can assure you it’s quite positive. I honestly don’t know a single person in the book industry that isn’t appreciative of their audience. 

Book reviewing.

You’ve read the book and you loved it and now you want everyone to know. Awesome. Tell the world. You can post your thoughts on social media, Goodreads, Amazon, Reddit, or wherever you please. Call your mom. Tell a friend. Have someone fly a plane with a banner or write it in the sky. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Request it at your local library. Buy a couple of copies and give them away on your Facebook. Put some in a Little Free Library. Whatever you do to spread the word is great. The industry thanks you.

What if you only liked it a little bit? That’s perfectly fine. 

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  • Photo Credit: Hush Naidoo Jade Photography / Unsplash

What if you disliked it and want everyone to know? Great! Tell the world how much you disliked it. Share your reading experience. It’s totally valid. But there are some rules of etiquette for hating on books. Obviously, do whatever you want. But I think you can dislike a book without being an asshole.

  • Don’t personally attack the author in your review. You read a book. You don’t know the author so don’t assume you know the person that wrote the book. Period.
  • Don’t tag the author in your negative review. They know how to find reviews of their book, they can choose if they want to read them or not, you don’t need to rub their face in it. You also don’t need to email them or seek them out on social media and tell them how much you disliked their book.
  • DO explain, in detail, what you disliked about it. I actually enjoy reading thoughtful negative reviews from readers that are able to articulate their experiences. I have purchased books after reading some great negative reviews. Words have power. Use them wisely; responsibly.
Goodreads star rating system
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  • Photo Credit: Goodreads

That star rating system. I have strong opinions about the star rating system used to review books but I don’t need to re-invent the wheel. I wrote an article for LitReactor called “DEATH TO STARS: Why I Won’t Use Stars to Rate Books Anymore.”  I still very much feel that way about stars. And just for full transparency on the matter, this was an important evolution in my reviewing journey and I shared it with the hope that others could be having similar struggles and would find my experience helpful but in no way is it a suggestion to change anyone’s mind about star ratings. 

A simple guide to writing a review:

It goes without saying that this is my formula and you’re free to do things your way in your review space but I always feel like I need to say it because people love to see suggestions and act like they were written as directives. If you have something that works for you, scroll on! But if you’re like the folks up in my DMs and emails asking me how to write a review, this is for you.

Basically, I start with something punchy. One line to grab attention and then I move into breaking down my experience. I might give a little context with an extremely brief synopsis but for the most part, I avoid rehashing the summary for two reasons:

  1. The summary is on the back of the book
  2. I try to protect a reader’s discovery as much as possible. Nobody needs someone else to explain any plot details to them *before* they read the book

If I enjoyed the book, I get into all the reasons it worked for me. If there were things I felt didn’t work out so much, I discuss those too. The conclusion of the review is typically where I list who I recommend the book to

“This book would be perfect for readers who enjoy small-town murder mysteries and character-driven storytelling.” 

Something like that. And that’s it. Sometimes I dress things up with a few quotes I enjoyed or previous books the author wrote, but as a basic formula, this is what I use. Hope it helps. 

I think my career in reviewing is coming to an end. I had a good run and I enjoyed it. For me, curating and publishing horror fiction is my real passion and I’m pursuing those career opportunities. I’m an advocate. Even when I read a book I didn’t like, I tried so hard to find good things to say so it would find its audience. I only ever want horror fiction to be successful. I want horror authors to be paid enough money so they can write books full time. I want horror to win all the literary awards. I won’t be satisfied until the book industry at large, recognizes horror as a valid genre and includes it in every, single fucking list. I’m tired of it being the uninvited friend to the party. The “you can’t sit with us” attitude. Go eat dirt! Horror is here to stay and I intended on having a long career in being its biggest champion

And really, readers that also review are pure gold when it comes to this mission. Feel free to find me on social media if you have a heart for reviewing and have questions or concerns that aren’t answered here. I’d be happy to help.

Sadie Hartmann

Mother Horror

June 13th, 2022