Great! Wanting to write a review is the first step! I’ve been doing this for over 6 years and I think one of the hardest parts about writing reviews is being motivated enough to actually write them and not just start a new book.
Now there’s no right or wrong way to review a book because it’s your thoughts but if you’re looking for a few general tips to amp up your reviewing game, allow me to offer a few:
DO be honest. That might seem like common sense but when you’re reviewing a book, readers want to hear what YOU thought, not what you THINK you should write. And writing all 5-star reviews will not get you more ARCs if you have an agenda (I’ve seen it before, unfortunately). Trust me, I’ve written plenty of 1 & 2-star reviews and I still have connections with publishing houses. But that’s for another post. ANYWAY, don’t worry about what other people thought about a book. Readers want to hear what YOU thought, not the rest of the herd.
DO review critically. This doesn’t mean you have to pick the book apart, but I mean that you want to state your opinions and support them with WHY you have those opinions. What elements of the book made you think that way? Why did you like the writing style? Was it engaging? Conversational? How so? Tell me why Mary Sue was your favorite character.
DON’T repeat the synopsis. I can’t tell you how many reviews I’ve read where the reviewer rewrites the synopsis of the book for the first half (or more) of their review and then you get some vague mentions of “I liked the characters and the story was good” at the end. Readers can usually see the synopsis on Goodreads, Amazon, or wherever you’re likely reviewing. This becomes unnecessary review fluff.
DON’T review the author. When you’re reviewing a book, remember that it is the author’s WORK, not the AUTHOR. What they’ve written may not necessarily reflect their own beliefs. This is especially true when it comes to problematic books. It is NOT okay to attack the author. Critique their work. Not them as a person.
DON’T be afraid to change your reviewing style. The more you review, the more you’ll figure out your critiquing style and it’s okay to change things up! Do what works for you!
How I Review Books
Since reviewing is highly subjective and everyone has their own style, I obviously can’t tell you what the “best” way to review is, but those are five pieces of advice I would give to any book reviewer.
But to give you an example of a reviewing style, I can at least talk about my own. It’s evolved over the last few years but both of my main styles are just two different ways to talk about books.
The Early Years
When I started out, I had no idea how long a review should be, what I should include, or how to organize my thoughts. I tried taking notes while reading but it started detracting from the actual reading experience so I stopped doing that. I learned it was better if I wrote the reviews soon after finishing the book instead.
I remember seeing these MASSIVE reviews on Goodreads and thinking that not only did I not want to write that much, but I didn’t (as a reader) want to read a review that long either. I aimed for something shorter, around 200-300 words and I broke the post down into 4 parts. I picked 3 elements from the book that I felt strongly about (good or bad), wrote a few sentences about each, and then finished the review with a fourth, shorter paragraph summarizing my thoughts.
I reviewed this way for a few years, but the more I reviewed, the more I realized I had to say. Once you start doing this regularly, you’ll see that you think more critically about what you’re reading and that can mean that maybe those shorter reviews just aren’t enough words to say what you want to say.
I started setting a goal of hitting around 500 words for a review. As a reader and writer of reviews, I felt like that was a sweet spot where I could say what I want to say about a book without putting the readers of my reviews to sleep too. Some reviews went a little longer, some a little shorter. It was a goal but not necessarily a necessity to hit that 500 mark.
I took the categories I would talk about in previous reviews and looked at them more closely, and I realized that they all fell into one of 4 main groups. Combined with the new length, I had a different way of talking about books.
You’ll see that my reviews today consist of my thoughts on:
Plot. Did I enjoy the story? Did it flow well? Were there a lot of plot holes? Did it fit the synopsis provided? Was the world-building in-depth or barely scratching the surface? And so on…
Characters. Which characters did I like (and why)? Which characters did I dislike? Did they work well together? How did the characters fit in with the world the author created? What kinds of relationships did they have?
Writing. Did I like the writing style? Were there a lot of technical issues (spelling, grammar, etc)? Tone? (Character) voice? Is the writing descriptive and dense, or light and quick?
Overall Thoughts. Would I recommend this to other readers? Is the book like other books I’ve read (and which ones)? Who would enjoy this and why? Did I like it or not?
I also added another category for my rating system which is strictly about the book’s aesthetic, the Cover. The saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but if you’re anything like me, the cover is the first thing you see when you go online or into a bookstore. It’s what will make you pick up a book without knowing anything about it first. So while I don’t generally talk about the covers in my reviews, I do include them in my rating report.
You may have been expecting a detailed guide on how to review books but I don’t believe one exists. Reviewing is all about how YOU want to express your thoughts, whether it’s through a couple sentences or an essay, a series of gifs or photos, a video, word of mouth, however you want to share it. But I hope that this post at least gives you a starting point if you’re unsure how to go about reviewing books.