How to write a great book review

As a reader, we often don’t give much thought to the person behind the book. We enjoy the read, we set it aside and move on to the next one.

But as a writer, I know the extreme importance of reviews. It doesn’t just help sell books. It builds our confidence. It makes us feel proud. And it helps our positioning on Amazon…

All of these are great reasons, but it’s even better when the review means something. If it gives tangible pros and cons to help other readers determine if it’s the right book for them. Not all reviews are created equal. There are some downright ridiculous ones out there. So we’re here today to discuss the making of a great one.

The Basics

Include title and author’s name. Now most people are going to know this already if they are looking at the Amazon or Goodreads page. But if you are reviewing on your personal website or for a journal, someone may have never heard of a specific book. If you feature the cover on your personal blog, that’s great too. A lot of people need the visual.

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I do this in my monthly recaps, writing a review for each book I read and including the covers.

Don’t forget the genre! I hate that this is true, but some people just refuse to read certain genres. It sucks, and you should still make every effort to convince them otherwise. But give them an upfront warning, so you’re not wasting their time.

Give a quick overview. And by quick, I mean one or two sentences – MAX! If a reader wants to know more, they can go to the top of the page and read the full blurb.

Rate it! Most review sites employ a five star method – one star being bad, five being great. But unfortunately, everyone has a different definition for what each star means. If you want to stay consistent, this post from Hannah Heath has the basics on what each rating means (plus some funny commentary on how the author reacts).

Dig a little deeper…

Now we get to the meat of it. When you are considering the bulk of the novel, it can be overwhelming to deduce the strengths and weaknesses. These questions can help narrow your focus and develop an opinion.

Oh! And definitely try to use concrete examples – or even snippets – as you go.

  • Overall story. Does it feel familiar? Unique? Does it deliver on its promise?
  • Pacing. Did you find yourself lost in the story or pausing to check the time? Which portions were your favorite? Did something surprise you? Did the stakes feel high enough? If you stopped reading at any point, tell us when and why.
  • Characterization. Did you feel connected to the characters? Were they likeable? Did they develop over the course of the novel? Were their motives realistic? What about their relationships? Did you fall in love with their love interest

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  • World building/Setting. Could you see the world around you as you read? Was the setting or time period important to the story? Was it well-researched or well-developed?
  • Language. Was it easy to read? Was the voice consistent throughout? Did the tone match the scene?
  • Feeling. Were you emotionally invested? How did you feel when it was over – relieved, devastated, apathetic?

It’s also important to acknowledge your expectations when going into a novel. Never heard of it before? It might be better than you think. Overly hyped? It may fall short. Nothing wrong with acknowledging that before you begin.

Etiquette

There are not really and rules to writing a book review, but a certain amount of care must be taken. There is a person on the other side of the computer – whether another prospective reader or even the author himself. Stay aware with the following tips.

Be honest but polite. If you didn’t like a book, that’s okay. You can say so. But don’t call names, don’t go on and on, don’t rage against the author. We are used to getting criticism. But be kind about it.

Stay balanced between pros and cons. No book is perfect, yet several have a lot going for them. If one outweighs the other, that’s okay. But in the vein of being constructive, be sure to mention the good and the bad.

If it’s a rave review, tag the author. It will make their day! If it’s more critical, maybe don’t.

No spoilers! Or least warn them. There is nothing worse than heading over to Goodreads to pick a new book only to have it ruined in the review section.

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It’s not about you OR the author.

Every reader is going to have specific biases – good or bad. Some hate love triangles, some love them! Some prefer flowery language, some like it straightforward and simple. Recently I read a novel by Paulo Coehlo, and I instantly recognized that it was not my kind of book. But that’s not the authors fault, it’s my issue. So I didn’t punish him for it in my review, instead laying it out there and mentioning who might like it instead.

Same goes for the author themselves. If you know that an author has a certain viewpoint that you don’t share or agree with, don’t let it impact how you feel about the book. Same goes for items outside of the author’s control like the title, the blurb, the marketing strategy. You can mention those things, but don’t take it out on the author by decreasing your rating.

Take your issues and leave them at the cover. (See what I did there?) Keep it wholly about the story. That’s what makes a good, unbiased review.

Sidenote: The same goes for items outside of the author’s control like the title, the blurb, the marketing strategy. By all means, mention those things, but don’t take it out on the author by decreasing your rating. You would be surprised how little is really up to the author.

Make a recommendation.

Here’s the question every review should answer: would you tell a family member, friend, or stranger on the bus to read this? Even better: are you going to hold them down and force them because it was SO GOOD.

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Occasionally, you will have a solid yes or no answer, but that doesn’t happen to me very regularly. So instead I like to be a little more specific. Something along the lines of:

  • Perfect for a light beach read, not so much for those who enjoy deep, literary fiction.
  • An instant favorite for those of you who enjoy the enemies-to-lovers trope.
  • If you prefer more plot-driven stories, this might not be the best option for you.

Not every person if going to like every book. That’s why the ratings are so varied on sites like Amazon or Goodreads. But if you can recognize who would like it, you’ve got a solid recommendation.

What did I miss? Any techniques you employ to write good reviews?

Was this a five star post? Let me know in the comments below!

8 thoughts on “How to write a great book review

  1. cljepsen says:

    I love this post! You have some fantastic advice on writing a book review. All the question prompts you’ve included in your article will make it so simple for me to start my book reviews without stumbling over how to start.
    Good job 🙂

    Like

  2. justonemorepaige says:

    Great points! I think I do most of these things, but appreciate them being laid out. One of my biggest pet peeves in reading reviews is when people lambast the author for something that is clearly a taste thing for them and not actually about the quality of the book.

    Like

  3. Victoria Leigh says:

    Thank you for this post! As i work on writing my first reviews, this will be really helpful. Thanks for also mentioning the author’s point of view, and how a rating shouldn’t be based on choices that weren’t even there’s.

    Like

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