A Well-Written Investigation Report is Like a Well-Written Book Review

As readers of this blog know, I’m a writer as well as a private investigator. Several years ago, my mystery novel The Zen Man was reviewed on various book blog and review sites. During this book blog tour, I met some fantastic people who write well-crafted, critical book reviews, such as Elizabeth A. White.

During that tour, I also learned a few lessons about what I should have done before requesting a review from certain sites.

Lesson #1: Potential Reviewers Are Like Potential Clients

It’s smart to know ahead of time with whom you are dealing. If a reviewer says, “I don’t have the time to read your book, but how about my husband/cousin/mother reviews it instead?”

Don’t immediately say yes.

Whenever I need to subcontract case work to another investigator, I first discuss it with my client, a conversation in which I also provide the background and skills of the proposed subcontractor-PI. Besides my being responsible for the subcontractor’s work product, I want to ensure my client is comfortable with the new PI.

Just as I want my clients and subcontractors to be a good fit, it’s important for a writer to know if a potential reviewer is a good fit for the story before submitting a book.

Which brings us to the next lesson…

Lesson #2: Books Are About Literacy

Which means a reviewer should have the ability to read a book critically, infer and synthesize meaning, and write about the story and characters in a coherent, accurate and grammatically correct manner. The last thing a writer wants is a badly written, grammatically incorrect book review.

In my investigations business, I write reports all the time — reports to clients, to other investigators if we are working a case together, to attorneys. It is critical that my reports are concise, comprehensible, accurate and well written. Why well written? Similar to a book review, a PI’s report is fundamentally a persuasive document. If it is hampered by misspellings, misused punctuation, awkward word choices, illogical organization, etc., the reader — who might be an attorney or a juror — might have concerns over the intelligence and communicative skills of the PI, which taints that investigator’s credibility.

Same with a badly written book review. If it is riddled with grammatical mistakes and sloppy writing, both the reviewer and review lack credibility.

Lesson #3: It’s Not Your Role to Play Editor

Back to my book blog tour several years back…when a reviewer told me she was overwhelmed with projects and could her husband review my book instead, I said sure. She and I both made mistakes in that conversation. She didn’t offer more information about him, and I didn’t ask questions.

Big mistake.

Really BIG.

Nightmare on Review Street

Ever have a dream when suddenly the skies turn dark and ominous and hideous creatures are creeping around, and you want desperately to wake up but can’t?

Reading a butt-ugly review is like that.

He kicked off his review saying he hadn’t really written that many book reviews (considering he misspelled reviews, I figured he hadn’t written any, ever). There were so many misspellings and slaphappy wordings, I wondered if he wrote it on the back of a cocktail napkin while tossing back another brewski on bowling night.

I considered contacting his wife and asking her to please fix the review, but if she hadn’t looked over her husband’s kinda-sorta review the first time, would she bother to look now? Did she even care? I decided to save myself a frustrating exercise in communication and let it go.

My Lesson

I should have followed lessons #1 and #2 before submitting my book to that site.

If I subcontract work to another investigator, and he/she forwards me a badly written report, I correct the report before forwarding it elsewhere. Afterward, I discuss the changes I made with the investigator so we can set expectations for future reports. But to be honest, if an investigator can’t write reasonably well, I don’t subcontract with that investigator again.

Bottom line: Whether it’s an investigative report or a book review, it all comes down to credibility.

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