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How to Write Book Reviews Online

Updated on April 1, 2011

Writing a Book Review with a Purpose

Before writing a book review, it's best to give some thought to your purpose and mission. Why are you writing a book review? While it's all fine and good to write book reviews just to share your favorite books, the effort will prove itself much more worthwhile if you tie it to a strategy to achieve a specific objective of some kind. As an entrepreneur, I tend to think this way automatically.

Here are some possible goals for writing book reviews:

  1. To compel your friends or family to read a book that you've been dying for them to read. Have you ever read a terrific book and found yourself frustrated that you couldn't have a conversation with anyone about the topics it covered? Book reviews will help this situation. I recently received a Facebook post from someone who told me that my review of Man's Search for Meaning had inspired her to pick up a copy of the book. That's my top goal with every review I write.
  2. To help a new author get out the word about their book. Caveat: the review must be authentic and genuine. Whenever an author asks me to review a book, I stipulate that I will give it the review I feel it deserves. If they don't like what I say, I don't publish the review. I once had someone offer me a free copy of their book if I would give them a 5-star review on Amazon.com. I told them I would only give them a 5-star review if it earned one - and that most books don't. "Never mind" was the response I got.
  3. To generate ideas when you're fresh out. I would like to say that I never run out of ideas for blog posts, but once in awhile I hit a dry spell. Reviewing a book is a great way to get the creative idea pump running again. The advantage to reviewing a book is that you already have a place to start. The blank page is sometimes a creativity-killer.
  4. To reinforce your opinion or position by citing an authoritative source. If you're writing to influence or persuade, citing a recognized expert can take the pressure off. This is particularly useful if you're writing on a subject where you don't have a lot of credibility with your audience.
  5. To digest material for people who don't have time to read the whole thing. If you know someone who is busy and doesn't like to read books, but you really want them to hear the message in a book, this is a neat trick. You can try saying, "Just read chapter three." Pick a chapter that is likely to create the most "sizzle" and intrigue that person to read further. Also, some books aren't worth reading in their entirety. It might be helpful to tell people which chapters to skim and which ones to ignore.

Your goal may be entirely different - in any case, take a minute to think about what your purpose is before beginning to write.

Define Your Audience

Who's going to read the book reviews you're writing? Why should they be interested in reading them?

This depends largely on where you will be posting the reviews. It's helpful to think in terms of the target environment. Here are just a few:

  1. Amazon or another bookseller. In this case, the audience for your review is most likely a prospective buyer of the book. This person wants to figure out if they should read the book or not. I generally don't post reviews on Amazon, just because most books already have a large number of reviews. As someone who has read through the reviews for a lot of books on Amazon, I don't find that writing another review adds any value when there are already 500 of them to wade through. This might be different, though, if you're reviewing a new book or a self-published author without a large following.
  2. A community site like HubPages or Squidoo. In this case, the audience's motive to read the review might be social or conversational in nature. Other community members who follow your postings might be interested to hear your take on a particular book. I just posted a comment on a movie review for The Social Network before writing this hub. I'd already seen the movie twice, but I found the hub interesting anyhow. I have heard a lot of different perspectives on that movie, and I may see it a third time.
  3. Your blog. This could be a blog that you create just for the purpose of book reviews, or it could be a blog that serves multiple purposes. You might post reviews on your personal blog from time to time. This all depends on who reads your blog and why they read it. Your audience might benefit from reading a book on a subject that might not have occurred to them. If you're recognized for your expertise in a given area, your audience might be curious about your views on a popular book.
  4. Someone else's blog. Late last year, I started writing monthly reviews on my friend Alice's blog. Guest posting helps blog owners to keep their blog populated with fresh content without having to write it all themselves. This might be the way to go if you don't want to start your own blog yet. If you don't know anyone with a blog, you can search the internet for blogs that speak to the audiences you want to talk to. E-mail the blog owner and ask if they're interested in guest posts.
  5. LinkedIn. If you have a LinkedIn profile, you can add the Amazon Reading List application to your page. The benefit to this: peers in your professional network can follow along with the books that you're reading. People who are connected to you will see an update in their news feed whenever you add a new book to your reading list. These can be very short reviews.

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