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How To Write A Book Review

Updated on April 15, 2014

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.

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

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

History

How To

Inspirational

Miscellaneous / General

New Age

Religious

Self Help

Writing

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.

Children's

Tweens

Young Adult

Adult

Fantasy

General

Horror

Literary

Mystery

Romance

Science Fiction

Thriller/Suspense

Westerns

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.

Are You A Book Reviewer?

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    • JenniferAkers LM profile image
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      JenniferAkers LM 3 years ago

      @nedumedia: Thank you for the kind comments. I love learning new ways to write too. Have fun with your new book reviews!

    • nedumedia profile image

      Chinedu 3 years ago from Switzerland

      Thank you for this lens, I wish I`d seen it before posting my first book review on squidoo; http://www.squidoo.com/my-small-big-book, but I have learnt a great deal from here which will definitely help in my subsequent reviews....

    • JenniferAkers LM profile image
      Author

      JenniferAkers LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Dave, thanks so much for your visit and comments. I hope my lens helps you. Enjoy writing your book reviews. Once you get into your own rhythm and writing voice, it's quite fun!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I'm so glad I found this page. I recently joined the Squidoo book club and want to learn how to write a quality review. I appreciate how specific you are with the advice you offer. I'm sure I'll be back to visit again.

    • JenniferAkers LM profile image
      Author

      JenniferAkers LM 4 years ago

      @infoprogirl: Thank you so much for your comments. I'm glad you found some helpful information here.

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      infoprogirl 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this great information. This is a very well-written lens that I will bookmark for future references.

    • WNJ631 LM profile image

      WNJ631 LM 5 years ago

      As someone just jumping into the realm of book reviews... THANK YOU! :-D

    • awakeningwellness profile image

      awakeningwellness 6 years ago

      What a well thought out and informative lens...thanks for writing it!

    • JenniferAkers LM profile image
      Author

      JenniferAkers LM 7 years ago

      @Evinda_Lepins: Thanks for visiting, Evinda. I love to hear about emerging authors. Thanks for sharing your lens, too.

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      Evinda_Lepins 7 years ago

      This is a great lens! You provide an amazing amount of very helpful information on how to write a book review. I'd love for you to visit my lens when you have the chance.

    • JenniferAkers LM profile image
      Author

      JenniferAkers LM 7 years ago

      @lakern26 lm: Thank you so much for the comments, lakern26! It can be intimidating at first, but if you think of it as a 'conversation' you would share with a friend, that can make the review a bit easier. I'm glad you found some of the tips here useful. Let me know if you write a book review lens (or post it on a blog) -- I'd like to read it.

      Thank you for the great rating and favoriting the lens. I really appreciate it!

    • JenniferAkers LM profile image
      Author

      JenniferAkers LM 7 years ago

      @MacPharlain: Thanks, Mac! I've read your reviews and thoroughly enjoy your book review lenses. Great work!

    • lakern26 lm profile image

      lakern26 lm 7 years ago

      This is a very thorough and interesting lens. I've often thought of doing a "review" lens, in fact I just finished reading a particularly good book that I'd like to write about, but I've always been intimidated by the prospect. Writing reviews has always been my least favorite type of writing assignment. Reading this lens, however, has given me some hope, especially since you provide such clear guidelines to follow when constructing a review. Thanks so much for sharing your advice! Fived and favorited :)

    • MacPharlain profile image

      MacPharlain 7 years ago

      These are very helpful tips on writing book reviews. Thanks for sharing!