Tarot Review Basics - So You Want To Write A Review?
by Bonnie Cehovet
There is no right or wrong way to do a review, but there are certain elements that need to be included to make your reviews meaningful. When I first started doing reviews, it was for no other reason than that they were one of the steps towards Tarot certification. It was several years before I began to do them on a regular basis.
Before I began writing, I studied other peoples reviews. I wanted to do two things: find a style that I was comfortable with, and find the common elements in the content. In other words, I wanted my reviews to look professional, and I wanted to adequately cover the content of the material that I was reviewing. My first reviews were very basic, but, thankfully, as I did more writing I came to find what was important to me. I found the middle ground between "Just the facts Ma'am", and Bonnie's personal opinions.
I am going to look at book reviewing and deck/software reviewing separately. The elements that need to be included in a book review are: author, full title, publisher, date of publication, edition (if there is more than one edition) and ISBN number.
Mention the author's qualifications, especially if they are not well known, as well as referencing previous work that they have done, if that is applicable. Discuss the theme of the book, what the author's intentions were, and how they developed their material. Some reviewers include the table of contents as part of the review - I generally do not, unless that is the best way to present the material. You may want to compare the author's work to work done by others around the same theme.
Using your best judgment, comment on how the author has developed their material, whether you feel that it would be understood by its intended audience, and whether the author has achieved their goal. Try to keep your review on a positive note - highlight what works in the book, while mentioning what does not work, and why it does not work. In other words, evaluate the book objectively and present your critique. Quoting short passages from the book can be used to develop a point, but try to limit the quotations. I have been guilty of excessive quoting, and when I go back over those reviews, I definitely feel that I could have done the review in a different manner.
There is no reason to do a completely negative review. If it looks like this is where your review is headed, then you might be better served by returning the book and declining to do the review.
The length of a review is very subjective, and depends to some extent on the venue that the review will be placed in. My reviews tend to be longer, in part because that is my style, and in part because that is what it takes for me to do what I consider to be a thorough review. Between 300 and 1,000 words would be a good working range. Check other reviews in the venue that you are submitting to for an idea of the style and content that they require. Remember that you will have a wide audience - readers that may be new to Tarot on one end, and those that are quite knowledgeable on the other end. Write so that everyone will understand what you have to say. Reviews are not a place for "high toned" writing.
What are some of the keys to good reviewing? Read the material - don't skim it, read it. Make notes as you read, so that you don't have to go back and find the references that you need for your review. Review your notes, and make an outline, at least in your head, about how you want to present the book. Write the review, then let it gel overnight. Go back the next day, reread and edit your material. (Some typos will still get by, trust me on this!) Submit your review, or place it on your site, if that is where it is going. If you are submitting a review online, check the site to see when it is up, and review for errors. From my experience, the errors were my own - they were ones that slipped by my editing process. When you find an error, let the webmaster know. I have been blessed in that whenever I spotted an error, and asked to have it corrected, it was corrected, immediately, without a fuss. Make a note to yourself to not be in such a hurry with the editing in the future!
The criteria for reviewing a Tarot deck, or Tarot software, is somewhat different. You still want to include the author, the full name of the deck/software, the publishing company, date of publication, and ISBN number, but in this case you also want to include the illustrator/artist. Either separately, or as part of the review, you will need to include the names of the suits, the titles for the court cards, the numbering for Strength and Justice, and the titles for the Trumps, if hey are non-traditional.
Many decks come with companion books, and the book and deck are included in the same review. The book needs to be reviewed on its own merits, including the theme of the deck, how the author presents the information on the cards, and any spreads/sample readings that are presented.
I include the following information on the cards themselves: size, quality (laminated, sturdy card stock, flimsy etc), a description of the back of the cards, whether the back are reversible (i.e. would the reader know if a card was drawn in the upright or the reversed position simply by looking at the back of the card), a description of the card face, whether borders were used or not, any text that appears on the cards, art style and predominate colors. I have no art background, so I have had to do a lot of research, and ask a lot of questions in the art style category!
I try and discuss a variety of cards from the deck, including one or more from the Trumps, a representative Ace, one or more Pips, and a representative Court card. I talk about style, color, and whether the card truly brings out the traditional Tarot concepts. It is not unusual for some cards in a deck to work, and for some not to. Mention both in your review - it will give the reader a more balanced perspective of the material being reviewed.
For software reviews, the same basic elements are needed: author, illustrator/artist, publishing company, date of publication, and ISBN number. Theme and content need to be discussed, as well as any art styles that may be present. Quality of presentation matters, as well as interface (is the product user friendly). The applications for the software, as well as its limitations, should be mentioned.
There is no such thing as a perfect review. Aim to express yourself in an objective manner, put a bit of your personality into the review, and have some fun! One added thought - if the author has a website, it might be good to mention it in the article, especially if the product is an Indie (independently published). Sometimes the only place the reader can purchase the product will be from the website.
For anyone who wants to start doing review work, my advise would be to begin with a plan as to where your review will be submitted. Then contact the publicity departments for the publishers that you wish to work with, and request review material. Make a note here: some publishers will not send copies of material that is "back listed", meaning that it is no longer being actively promoted.
© Bonnie Cehovet
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.