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Fans of the uber-popular (original) NCIS know that Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs is a man guided by rules and ruled by his gut.  Taking a page from his playbook, I’ve got 7 rules to get you to a great review:

#1 Always go with your gut.
Your take on a character, scene, etc. is your take, and you should not doctor your feelings to suit anyone.  An honest opinion is better than some recycled platitude.

#2 Do deep background on the author.
I’m not talking security clearance scrutiny, people! But the more you know about the person producing the work currently under your microscope, the better able you are to understand the message they are trying to convey, whether that message is stated or implied.

#3 Don’t give away too much story.
There is a delicate line between teasers and spoilers. Know when to shut up.

#4 Pick good excerpts.
Don’t just drop lines from the Amazon preview. They can read that themselves. Find something new and indicative of voice.  But don’t over-quote.

#5 Read the whole thing.
It is disrespectful to comment on something that an author has put blood and sweat into with actually reading it—ALL OF IT! Besides, your view is limited if you only peek into one window. Do the work.

#6 Find the sweet spot for length.
This will depend on your audience and publication outlet. Some markets only have space for 400-600 words. Others like 800-1200.  If it’s your blog, you still must keep your subscribers in mind.  Try different formats until you find one that works.

#7 Work your yardsticks.
Neuroscience tells us that we process new information by making comparisons to objects and concepts that we already understand. Don’t parade Harry Potter through a To Kill a Mockingbird landscape, unless you have compelling and well-documented reasons.  It is better to strive for relevant, rather than clever.