How To Write A Book Review

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In a couple of places now, I’ve seen authors asking for suggestions on how to get readers to leave reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and other book sales platforms. People seem happy to buy and read their books but often feel they don’t have the skills to write a book review that would be useful to either other potential readers or the author.

So next time one of your readers umms and ahhs about posting a review of your book, send them a link to this blog post. I’ve broken it down into a few areas that hopefully make it a lot less scary and hopefully resulting in a lot more reviews. (Of course, I can’t guarantee the reviews will be positive though – that’s entirely up to the quality of your book.)

Start Simple
Most rating platforms, including Goodreads and Amazon, use a five star system. And if you hover over the Goodreads stars it will tell you what they mean.

My personal interpretation of the star rating system means that one star and five stars are the least used ratings because a book has to be pretty bad for me to give it one star (hated the book, couldn’t find any redeeming qualities and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone) and a book has to be pretty good for me to give it five stars (loved the book, as close to perfect as is possible, happy to read it again and recommend it to everyone). If neither of these descriptions fits how you feel about the book you’ve just read, then the rating must lie somewhere in the middle.

I will often give a book a two star rating if, despite its failings, I thought it was a clever idea poorly executed or a ho hum idea executed well. Generally, if a book has significant problems but you still didn’t hate it enough to give it one star, then the two star rating is appropriate.

Three and four star ratings are reserved for books I enjoyed even if I felt they had problems. If the problems were minor (such as I felt the ending could have been better – and endings are hard to do well so I don’t mark down too much because of it – or there was just one thing that rankled), I give a four star rating. Four stars means I really liked it.

Three stars usually means I still enjoyed it but there were more issues – problems that were a little more major than minor but not major enough to be relegated to two stars.

Once you have your star rating decided, then it’s time to turn to writing a few paragraphs of text that explain why you’ve chosen that rating.

Keep It Short
Some people when faced with the prospect of writing a book review think it needs to be War and Peace-sized in order to be taken seriously. In fact, it’s generally the opposite. More people will read your review if you keep it short.

The book reviews on my blog are generally around the 800 word mark but I’m targeting writers who read and they often appreciate something a bit more in-depth. General readers want to be able to quickly decide whether or not to read a book. The average of the star ratings is the first hint and the second is a quick scan of a random sample of reviews. Anything longer than a couple of paragraphs (and sometimes anything longer than a couple of sentences) might be a longer investment than the potential reader is willing to make.

Be Honest
Oftentimes when you’re being asked to review a book, the request is coming directly from a family member, friend, colleague or acquaintance. The fact that you know them personally, even if you don’t know them well, makes you want to be a little kinder than you might about a book written by someone you don’t know at all.

But your only obligation is to be honest. “Kind” ratings and reviews that don’t accurately reflect how you felt about the book won’t do the author any favours. If your dishonest five star review attracts a hundred new readers to the book and they all felt the same about the book as you were too afraid to tell them, then the “kindness” of your original review will soon be lost in a haze of honest reviews from people with no links to the author and no problems telling the truth.

If a reader is anything like me then they will discount most five star reviews anyway because I feel they are handed out in far too willy-nilly a fashion these days. I’m connected with someone on Goodreads who gives every book she reads five stars. It’s impossible that every book she reads is perfect so her ratings have lost all credibility with me.

Credibility is the one thing you can offer the author who is asking you to write a review. Do them the courtesy of honouring that.

Give a Reason
There is nothing more frustrating than a book review that doesn’t tell the potential reader why they should read a book (or why not). Simply proclaiming it a “great read” and urging them to “give it a go” is asking them to trust you for no other reason than you’ve already read the book.

If I am reading a book from a genre I know I don’t usually enjoy, I will always include that in my review. For those who do enjoy that genre, it can be an important clue to the reasons for my feelings and they might choose to give it a go anyway, even if it wasn’t my favourite book.

Here’s an example of something that might accompany a three star review: “Lacks the urgency you might expect of a crime novel but it was well written, as all of this author’s books are. He’s very consistent but that consistency meant I wasn’t surprised by anything. There’s nothing especially wrong with this book but there’s nothing especially interesting about it either.”

Here’s an example of something that might accompany a four star review: “An intriguing idea and an unforgettable ending but it was a little too long and was slow in the middle. If you can get through to the final pages though, it will be worth it in the end.”

And here’s an example of something that might accompany a five star review: “This book was almost faultless and the message was important. Everyone should read this. In some ways I felt like a different person after I read it.”

All three of these short reviews are cut-down versions of longer reviews I’ve posted. But they essentially encompass the same messages. And if you like crime that’s well written, then you might choose to give the three star rated book a go. But if you know you’ll struggle with a long book that’s slow in the middle, you might choose to skip the second one, despite its four star rating. Just a couple of short sentences gives the potential reader the extra information they might need.

What’s It About?
If the plot is relatively straightforward and the description written by the author or publisher on the book’s webpage covers what is going on, then you don’t need to recap it. But often authors and publishers will write a description to hook potential readers that is a bit thin on detail. And sometimes the description is completely misleading. I’ve seen it plenty with Goodreads reviews where the reviewer complains, “I only read this because I thought it was a crime/romance/mystery novel but it wasn’t.” Or, “The plot of this book bears no resemblance to the way it was described in the blurb.” Where this is the case and you want to give potential readers a bit more clarity, a few short sentences explaining what the book is about can also be a welcome heads up.

But beware! Don’t reveal too much. If a potential reader comes across a spoiler (something that is best left unrevealed for the reader to discover on their own when they read the book) in your review, they might then choose not to read it all.

Finish on a High
For three, four and five star rated books and especially if the intention of your review is to encourage others to read what you’ve just read, finish your review on a high. If you can’t wait for the author’s next book, say so. If you’re now inclined to read the author’s back catalogue, say so. If you think the book would be enjoyed by people who enjoyed another high profile book, say so.

Obviously, it’s a little more difficult to finish on a high if you’ve rated a book one or two stars. But there are plenty of platitudes that can help such as “I wish I’d enjoyed this book more” or “Shame it didn’t live up to its potential”, which are a lot better than just saying, “Wish I’d never read it” or “Hated it with a passion.”

Then Post It and You’re Done
And you’ve earned the gratitude of the author and potentially a favour that can be called on when you publish your own book or need someone to babysit when you’re sick or mow the grass when you break your leg. It’s all about good karma. Good reading, good writing and good karma.

*First published in Project December: A Book about Writing

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2 thoughts on “How To Write A Book Review

  1. Thank you *so* much for posting this. I’ve wanted to start a regular book review post series on my blog, but I’ve never been sure of how to do it, how to rate the books. I’m going to print this post and have it handy.

    Like

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