How To Write A Book Review
Writing A Good Book Review Takes Practice
Are you an avid reader or writer? While you may come across both brilliant and not-so-great books in your reading, have you ever thought about writing a book review? It's not as easy as you might imagine. Of course, in a book review, you need to say more than "Great book. Buy it! Read it!!"
Just as different authors write in their own voice, reviewers can also portray their own voice in a review. I've been a book reviewer for MyShelf.com since 2005. I love reading and writing, and I guessed that reviewing would be an easy extension of my two loves. I didn't expect it to have rhythm and rules. My book reviews have gotten better over the years, probably because of both practice and developing my writing voice. In this lens, I'll give you my checklist of how to write a book review, including details you may miss.
My Philosphy On Book Reviews
My Personal Process
You have a philosophy?
Yes. I'll tell you what it is and the reason I adopted a general philosophy with all my reviews. I believe every book has a target audience. Can you categorize every interest or subject in the world? What may fascinate me may not even make your take-a-glance list and vice-versa.
Why is this important to know? Because I don't trash authors or their books in my reviews. If the book isn't my new favorite, I know readers exist who will love this work. My job is to make an objective evaluation of the writing and think about what type of reader will enjoy the book.
I won't pan an author, but I also won't lie about the book. I will give my honest opinion on the story and the author's storytelling abilities.
This philosophy doesn't mean I won't criticize certain aspects of a book. I may mention technical problems, like slow pacing, confusing characters, a too simple plot, uninteresting main character, and similar features that are important for the reader to know.
I keep a pen and paper handy, so I can jot notes while I'm reading. Usually, I keep my notes brief and about details I'll want to use later, such as important names, places, dates, or quotes. I try to read when I have a good amount of time to spend reading, as opposed to reading the first page before I need to run an errand.
I've read a few books that I couldn't put down and sped my way through because I loved the book so much. This is a treat for any reader, and it's true for reviewers too. When I've "lost" myself in a story, I usually gather my thoughts when I close the book. What was it that captured my attention? Was it the characters, the story line, the topic, or the author's voice? What techniques did the author use? Why would I recommend this book?
With stories like this, I often go back and re-read chapters of the book. On the second reading, I make my usual notes about details to include in my review.
I start my book reviews with a summary of the book, and I never give away the ending. How unfair that would be to both the author and the reader? You wouldn't recommend someone see a movie and then continue to tell them the end. Why spoil the person's joy in reading the book themselves?
Are you ready to write your book review? Keep reading for more tips on writing book reviews.
Your Job As A Book Reviewer
Is not to trash the published author's work with personal attacks.
Your job is to read a book objectively, give your opinion, and connect stories with readers.
Before Reading Your Book
Consider These Points:
Take note of the title, cover, back of the book blurb, story summary in the flap, the table of contents, the introduction, a page or two of the first chapter, and the back pages (for resources, worksheets, etc., usually seen more often in nonfiction books; fiction books may include list of characters or story maps).
Readers may go through these steps before deciding on buying a book. As a reviewer, it’s helpful to understand the overall theme (you’ll decide later whether the author stays within the ‘promise’ of the book).
Give yourself a good chunk of time to read the book.
I carve out some time before I start reading a new book; otherwise, I’m reading a few pages before other activities overtake my attention. By allowing some free time, I don’t feel disjointed when reading (which could unfairly influence my judgment of the book).
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing - A Great Resource for New and Experienced Book Reviewers
Over past years, I've read many, fantastic articles about book reviewing. This book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by authors Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards, is an excellent resource.
The book explains how to write a book review, avoid mistakes of newbie reviewers, and how to publish your reviews. You'll learn how book reviews affect sales, book stores and more. If you're a seasoned reviewer, you'll also love the resources and in-depth analysis.
It's not often that a book can be a guide to both beginners and advanced writers.
This book will guide newbie and advanced reviewers on the technical how-to's on reviewing, as well as the importance of reviews within the publishing industry.
Sticky Notes Are Your Friends
If you want to save a few pages to visit later, stick a Post-It note on the page.
Notes are great if you have multiple pages to refer to (and especially if you hate dog-earred books). Flip through your notes when you write the review.
Read Your Book
Take Notes with These Questions in Mind:
Keep a pen and paper handy to jot down notes. Focus on a few key points while you're reading the book.
How would you describe the author's style? Is it formal or informal?
Are you turning pages because you can't wait to see what happens next?
Does the author miss important points? What mysteries did not get solved? What questions didn't get answered?
Who is the ideal reader for this book? Is it written appropriately for its targeted audience?
Think about the genre, story's characters, conflict, results, plots, and pacing.
How will I remember all that information?
It may be tiresome to think of all these points while you're reading. Don't worry -- it'll get easier. These points are suggestions for aspects to keep in mind. In your review, you'll want to touch on some or all of these questions.
Major Nonfiction Genres:
Biography / Memoir
Cooking / Food
Miscellaneous / General
Tips for Nonfiction Book Reviews
Nonfiction book reviews need some additional information. While you're reading, consider these points to write in your review.
What is the author’s experience with the topic?
Is the book an overview of a problem? Does it give readers a practical way to solve a problem?
What resources are included?
How are chapters written? Short and easy-to-understand? Long with personal examples?
Would the reader be able to follow the author’s advice?
Is the book written to be a resource, workbook, or beginner’s guide?
Major Fiction Genres:
Major genres are categories found in libraries, book stores, and online catalogs so readers can find selections.
Tips for Fiction Book Reviews
Are the characters believable and fleshed-out?
Is the storyline interesting and believable? Believability applies to all genres, even in the made-up worlds of fantasy, where readers still need to believe the story.
For historical novels, does the book stay within the time period?
For biographies and memoirs, does the narrative sound true? What is the importance of the person's biography? Is it to retell their life, share an experience, or help others?
Is the storyline based on plot? Does the plot progress on the characters' actions?
Describe subplots; mention twists. Don't give away the surprises or story ending.
Write Your Book Review
Finally! I'm going to write the review!
Yes. Let's start with the facts: title of the book, subtitle, author's name, publisher, ISBN, publishing date, format reviewed, genre, target audience, and special things to note (such as author or illustrator awards; warnings on explicit language or scenes that may disturb readers).
Review length depends on the publishing site. A general rule is to aim towards 350 - 500 words, though word count varies depending on the publishing site. Children's books could be even shorter; you wouldn't write a 350-word review on a 36-page story.
Write a first draft with your first impressions. Focus on the list mentioned previously.
Some reviewers start with a summary, then follow with their opinion. Other reviewers reverse that order; some combine summary with their opinion. In other words, develop your own style, but include the book's storyline or premise and include your opinion.
End with your recommendation: Would you recommend this book to others? What type of reader would enjoy the book?
After tweaking your writing, take a break. Go back with fresh eyes, edit your work, and write finishing touches.
That's it! You've written a book review! Congratulations!
It may seem like a lot to keep track of while reading, but it becomes easier with practice. You'll develop your own style and voice in writing reviews.
More Help For Writing Book Reviews
In any new activity, it helps to find a resource. Look for articles, books, websites, and other book reviewers for advice.
Online Book Review Sites
You can find hundreds of book review sites, from individual's blogs to organized sites. I've listed a few that I visit. Check out MyShelf.com (where I review): they have a great selection within most genres. If you're interested in becoming a reviewer, check their review link for possible openings.
Authors, book reviews, reviews, contest books, and discussions. (My reviews are published on MyShelf.com.)
A site dedicated to book lovers and writers. We provide a forum for readers to communicate about the books and authors they enjoy. Author interviews, book reviews, reading group guides and lively book commentary all can be found here. New releases an
- Book Reviews, Author Interviews - BookPage.com
Where readers discover their next great book.
- Midwest Book Review
MBR: Our site hosts monthly book review e-zines for public use, as well as articles of advice, tips, tricks, and techniques for writers, publishers, publicists, reviewers, and book lovers!
- Large Print Reviews - Large Print and Audio Book Reviews, Low Vision Information
Book Reviews of Large print books, audio books, low vision products, articles, low vision links, and other items of interest to individuals who are blind, visually impaired, or who have low vision. Articles on eye health and eye diseases and disorder
- RT BOOK REVIEWS Magazine: Romance, Mystery and Women's Fiction Reviews
RT BOOK REVIEWS Magazine. Reviews romance novels, women's fiction, mystery, romantic suspense, paranormal, multicultural, science fiction, fantasy books. Resource for aspiring authors. Romance readers message boards.
- Jennifer Akers :: Freelance Writer
I am a freelance writer, book reviewer, and editor for online and print media. Since I'm multi-titled (note to self: change to multi-talented), I combined my work into a snapshot of my writer's life. It's not about the glamour (gotta find out when th