So You Want to Write a Book Review…

POSTED ON May 28, 2017 BY Austine IN Discussion

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.

General Tips

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!

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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.

Reviewing Now

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.

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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.

Feedback time!

Did you find this post helpful?
Have any other tips/tricks you want to share?

Leave a comment!


Austine
About Austine

Well hello there! I see you've reached the end of the post. Bummer. But perhaps I may interest you in a comment? And in case you were wondering, I'm a 20-something college grad with a piece of paper that says I know about wildlife. Reviewer of books since 2011, amateur photographer by day, and aspiring author by night. I believe animals (and books) are better than people.


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15 responses to “So You Want to Write a Book Review…

  1. I think my first book review was about 4 sentences long. Yeah, things have changed since then. Now my reviews are around 500-700 words. Getting motivated to write the review is the hardest part. They’re not the most fun things to write.
    AJ Sterkel recently posted…The Sunday Post #98My Profile

    • It’s true, sometimes writing them can really suck but once you’re writing you’re already one step closer to being done! And they don’t have to be too long either!

  2. This is such a great post! Reviewing can be very difficult to get the hang of. Even after almost a year and a half of reviewing, I still feel as though I’m trying to figure out the best way to write reviews. And I 100% agree with you about not including a lot of summary in reviews – I read SO MANY reviews where the majority of the “review” is just summarizing the book and it’s a huge pet peeve of mine. That’s what blurbs are for!
    Kourtni @ Kourtni Reads recently posted…June Releases I’m Excited ForMy Profile

    • It’s definitely about finding your own style and what works for you while still conveying your point. Some people find that early on, others take more time but once you find it, it’s great! And yes..down with the summary reviews!

  3. Nice guide, thanks!

    You know, like you said long reviews didn’t work for you so you wouldn’t write yours long, I had the exact opposite experience, I loved long reviews so my reviews got longer as well. 🙂

    • That’s the great things about reviews, they’re so individualized and it means that readers have the chance to experience our thoughts in a multitude of ways!

  4. This is such great advice. I know so many people that are really intimidating about reviewing their books. I used to rewrite the synopsis and after a while I just felt like it was a waste of my time and energy. I just grab the Goodreads excerpt now and link it. My reviews tend to be between 500-700 words – I agree about it being the sweet spot. Thank you for also bringing up reviewing the book and not the author. With all the controversy over a lot of books lately, people have been making very big statements about the actual person. I think it’s really important to just state WHY you think something is problematic, instead of saying the author is a horrible human being. Great article!

  5. This would have been so helpful when I started! This is great. I want to thank you for mentioning about the synopsis. Sometimes I might include a very brief recap of events in my own words, but I am seeing a lot of reviews where 2/3 are nothing more than a summary. I understand there is no right or wrong way, but this doesn’t work for me and usually loses my attention rather fast. I also always live by “Not reviewing the author”. Very helpful advice 🙂

  6. I actually started off with really long reviews, then realized that probably no one would like to read a review that long. I know I didn’t. So I shortened it to three paragraphs. Now, they’re getting a bit longer again, which I feel good about. Every once in a while I write a mini-review, that consists just of bullet points.

  7. My first reviews were almost essay-like haha. I don’t know that I have a word count, just what feels right. I have started breaking my reviews up into sections though, which I’m digging. My sections fluctuate though, depending on the book. Sometimes I don’t have a whole lot to say about the plot, but the romance? Needs an entire post just for it! Haha

    This is a great post! And I really like your Do’s and Don’ts. I can’t tell you how many reviews I skip when I realize their just the synopsis!
    Kelly recently posted…Book Review: The Sun Is Also a StarMy Profile

  8. YES to not including the synopsis. Every time I see a review that does this I tend to skip the whole review, unfortunately. I don’t understand why people do it in the first place, but to each their own I guess. I used to review in categories, plot, characters, writing, overall thoughts. Lately I’ve just been winging it. I’m finding that much easier for me because I don’t feel the pressure to review certain things that maybe I just don’t have a lot to say about >.< Great tips, though!
    Molly @ Molly’s Book Nook recently posted…Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow // The First Book To Make Me Cry This YearMy Profile

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