If you’re reading this article, I’m going to guess you’re a book lover.
Few people even think about book reviews if they don’t seriously love reading books. Whether you are the voracious and gluttonous reader who finds themselves with Kindle queues a mile long, audible apps stuffed with titles, and a nightstand overflowing with hardbacks all fighting for your attention every day or the kind of reader who insists on reading a single book start to finish before starting another, it is likely that you also read at least a few book reviews.
Many avid readers are eager to share their deep love of books with others. How often do you get to the last page of a fantastic book and immediately want to tell everyone you know all about it? Do you gush to friends and family about how great it was and give them all the reasons why they should read it too?
How many books have you read solely because someone you trust and like recommends them to you? For me personally, this number is very high.
Writing book reviews is a great way to spread your love of books and your favorite authors, not only to those you already know but to the rest of the world as well. Rather than needing to tell each person what you thought of the book individually, you can send them a link to your review so they can read it for themselves. It can also establish you as a writer of quality reviews which can help you in a number of ways. Perhaps you want to become a paid book reviewer for a particular site. A portfolio of excellently written reviews will help. Or even if you just want to be recognized by friends and family on Goodreads and Amazon for having exceptional taste in books, this is a great way to do it too.
If you aren’t sure quite how to go about writing a great book review, here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Hook Your Reader With a Rocking Title
On platforms like Amazon, some reviewers skip-over writing titles for their reviews entirely, but this is a mistake. If you want people to read your review, you need to entice them with a title that stands out from the rest and makes them click on the “read more” button so they can see the entire piece.
One way to do this is to just get straight to the point. Here is an example of a book review with a title that tells you exactly what the book did for them.
“The first book to get me excited about dictation” is the title and here is the rest of the review:
“I read a LOT of books on the craft of writing. Numerous others have mentioned dictation as a means to “write” faster, but none have made it sound like anything I wanted to attempt. The thought of having to speak punctuation was enough for me to throw my hands in the air, never to try such lunacy.
Then came along THIS book! Not only did Sean convince me that dictation was something I COULD do, he made it sound so appealing that I actually wanted to give it a try. (Actually, I was so excited, I stayed up past my bedtime to finish the book, which I only intended to read the intro.)
He compares dictation to learning to drive, and it’s such a great analogy. At first, it’s awkward and you have to think about every little thing. But with training and practice, it can become as natural as getting in the driver’s seat and heading for your destination when you know what you’re doing.
The best part of this book is that he breaks down the learning into bite-sized chunks. The exercises at the end of the book are perfect. Not overwhelming, and I appreciate that they start small and build up. I’m not at the point of dictating my books YET, but soon I will. And I can’t wait!
Even if you’re unsure about dictation (and maybe ESPECIALLY if you’re unsure) pick up this book and see if you don’t end up as excited as me.”
Often the title of a book review includes the title of the book itself, but you can make a play on words with the title of the book or give your immediate emotional reaction in your title. What’s the first thing you’d say to someone you know who would probably love this book if they gave it a chance, but might not read it if you don’t make it sound interesting enough?
Try something like:
“FINALLY! A book about dictation that actually has me excited about the process and not just its potential.”
2. Make it Personal
Book reviews aren’t supposed to be book reports. Don’t just give a detached outline or cliff notes version of what happened. This is all about your personal opinion. People want to know what you loved or hated, what you thought worked or didn’t work. So, state your opinion upfront.
Use your own voice to write the review. It doesn’t have to sound like a professor wrote it, and shouldn’t. Be casual and conversational. On platforms such as Goodreads, Bookish, and Amazon, readers follow specific reviewers because they love their personal insight.
Think about who might follow your reviews. What will they get out of following you? What would you tell your best friend, or your mom if that’s who you would recommend this book to? If you gave the book 5 out of 5 stars, explain why. If you wanted to give it half a star more or less but the platform doesn’t let you, you can explain that too.
Here is an example of an excellent review that’s written very much in the reviewer’s own personal voice of a book that most of us are familiar with from our high school reading list, George Orwell’s 1984. Notice how it draws you in and makes you feel like you’re sitting across a table in a coffee shop with a good friend excitedly gushing about a new favorite book she just read telling you all the reasons you have to read it too.
This review is on the long side so I will only quote a few paragraphs here, but you can read the entire piece here.
“YOU. ARE. THE. DEAD. Oh my God. I got the chills so many times toward the end of this book. It completely blew my mind. It managed to surpass my high expectations AND be nothing at all like I expected. Or in Newspeak “Double Plus Good.”
Let me preface this with an apology. If I sound stunningly inarticulate at times in this review, I can’t help it. My mind is completely fried.
This book is like the dystopian Lord of the Rings, with its richly developed culture and economics, not to mention a fully developed language called Newspeak, or rather more of the anti-language, whose purpose is to limit speech and understanding instead of to enhance and expand it. The world-building is so fully fleshed out and spine-tinglingly terrifying that it’s almost as if George traveled to such a place, escaped from it, and then just wrote it all down.”
3. What is the book about?
Include the title, author, genre if there is one, and it’s a good idea to also state what kind of book it is if that isn’t clear from the start. Is it a comic-tragedy space opera? Or maybe a crime mystery set in a dystopian sci-fi futuristic world on a distant planet? A historical fiction romance? The reader wants to know.
When reviewing non-fiction, this might be super easy. If the book’s title does its job, you may not need to say much to directly address this, but it’s still good to say what you learned or what made this book different from other books that address the same topic.
If you’re reviewing fiction, tell the reader just enough about the plot to get them interested and sucked in without giving away any of the shocking plot twists or the surprise ending. If the book crosses genres in a surprisingly successful way, let your readers know.
Did you expect to hate it but love it instead? Or the other way around? Nobody likes spoilers, but you can entice your reader with the promise of all those twists and turns.
What if you didn’t entirely love the book? That’s fine too. There are so many books that start out promisingly only to leave the reader a little cold at the end, their expectations not entirely met, their longings not entirely satisfied. You can still write a great review of this kind of book, and it might be particularly satisfying to do so if you are going against popular sentiment in doing so.
Here’s an example of a review written about a hugely popular book that the reviewer felt didn’t quite live up to all the hype.
“Video-game players embrace the quest of a lifetime in a virtual world; screenwriter Cline’s first novel is old wine in new bottles.
The real world, in 2045, is the usual dystopian horror story. So who can blame Wade, our narrator, if he spends most of his time in a virtual world? The 18-year-old, orphaned at 11, has no friends in his vertical trailer park in Oklahoma City, while the OASIS has captivating bells and whistles, and it’s free. Its creator, the legendary billionaire James Halliday, left a curious will. He had devised an elaborate online game, a hunt for a hidden Easter egg. The finder would inherit his estate. Old-fashioned riddles lead to three keys and three gates. Wade, or rather his avatar Parzival, is the first gunter (egg-hunter) to win the Copper Key, first of three. Halliday was obsessed with the pop culture of the 1980s, primarily the arcade games, so the novel is as much retro as futurist. Parzival’s great strength is that he has absorbed all Halliday’s obsessions; he knows by heart three essential movies, crossing the line from geek to freak. His most formidable competitors are the Sixers, contract gunters working for the evil conglomerate IOI, whose goal is to acquire the OASIS. Cline’s narrative is straightforward but loaded with exposition. It takes a while to reach a scene that crackles with excitement: the meeting between Parzival (now world-famous as the lead contender) and Sorrento, the head of IOI. The latter tries to recruit Parzival; when he fails, he issues and executes a death threat. Wade’s trailer is demolished, his relatives killed; luckily Wade was not at home. Too bad this is the dramatic high point. Parzival threads his way between more ’80s games and movies to gain the other keys; it’s clever but not exciting. Even a romance with another avatar and the ultimate “epic throwdown” fail to stir the blood.
Too much puzzle-solving, not enough suspense.”
Here is an example of a short and succinct review written by Roxane Gay of a book of poetry by a poet that she is familiar with so she was able to comment not only on the current collection but the growth of the poet over the course of their career.
“Homie (but really that isn’t this book’s title), is a love letter to friendship, the push and pull of it, the give and take, the good and bad. So many of these poems are unexpectedly moving. Warm. Smith plays with form in several poems. They bring an incredible level of depth and craft to writing about the friends we can’t live without, the friends who are just passing through our lives, the differences that create borders between us, the things we try to make peace with so we might survive. Well worth your time. Smith is, by far, one of the most exciting poets writing today. To watch their creative growth from one book to the next is a real pleasure.”
4. Talk About the Characters
For fiction books, it’s always good to mention a favorite character or two and explain why you related to them, loved them, or hated them. Was it heartwarming to watch the character change and grow throughout the story? Did you worry about what would happen to a certain character in a way that made the book hard to put down?
If this is a memoir or autobiography, you can treat the author as the main character here. Even in non-fiction books, there are sometimes example stories or a fictional composite of case studies used to illustrate the point. If so you can also treat this real person or fictional example as a character.
If the author is one of your favorites, take a moment to focus on them as well. Is this book like their others, or is it a standout in their catalogue for some reason? What is it you like so much about this particular author? Do you want to compare this book to or contrast it with another book by the same author to raise some other point?
5. Who Would You Recommend This Book To?
If the book is written for a specific audience then you should indicate that in your review. You can do this by saying “for fans of” a certain genre or more popular author. Or you can say who in your life you would personally recommend this book to.
Is this a book you want your daughter to read? Would you give it to your mom? Or your boss? Or your ex-wife? Why? What do you think this specific person or type of person would get out of reading this book?
Here is a great example of a review that tells you exactly who the reviewer, Cathy Stucker, would recommend the book to:
“This book is targeted to writers and it addresses not only how to get the “big” ideas for books and series, but also the small ideas that can make or break a book. Things such as scenes, character traits and more.
Each technique is explained and examples are given. The authors also suggest which techniques might be most effective in each situation.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that you are not looking for the one right idea–in any given situation, there are many ideas that can work equally well. Your job as a writer is to find the idea(s) that work best for you and your work.
This book, as with others in the Stone Tablet series, includes a downloadable 60 Second Summary of the main points of the book, and a one-page list of the techniques explained in the book.
Endless Ideas is highly recommended for any writer who could use some inspiration now and then.”
Hit Publish on your review and you’re putting it out there for all the world to see. This is like remembering to check your teeth for bits of spinach before smiling big for the camera. If you use a spelling and grammar app like Grammarly, run your review through the tool to make sure you didn’t miss any obvious spelling or grammar mistakes. Hemmingway is another option that also gives you a grade-level report for your writing.
Numerous studies have shown that being able to speak to your audience at a reasonably low-grade level greatly increases the readability and reception of your writing. Especially if you’re writing on a massive platform like Amazon where not all readers are necessarily college graduates or looking for academic books to read, keeping the grade level low is a great idea. This means using conversational language and vocabulary as well as short, simple sentences and paragraphs. Meaning over cleverness and fancy wordplay.
If you aren’t using one of these apps, at least put your review into a word document and run it through the spelling and grammar function there. Then read it through another time to ensure your eyes aren’t skipping over any mistakes that you could quickly correct. Our brains have an amazing ability to see what they expect to see and to fill in missing words because we know what we meant to say.
Also, be sure to double-check the spelling of character names and fictitious places in the book itself. You don’t want to write a review calling Bilbo Blibo and Middle-earth Middle-derth.
Last of all, don’t forget to have fun with this. Writing book reviews is a labor of love. Think about reviews you’ve read that really drew you in and convinced you to read a book you’d never heard of before. It was probably because the reviewer was able to convey their sincere enthusiasm and joy.
If you get stuck, try reading a few reviews for inspiration!
Happy review writing!
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