You can totally write an awesome book review. I believe in you!
One of the nicest things you can do for an author you like is to write a positive book review. Seriously, book reviews are a HUGE DEAL to authors, especially indie authors. They not only provide validation (of which we authors are always in the most desperate of need), but also a solid collection of positive book reviews can convince new readers to give the book a try.
Many readers find the idea of writing a book review intimidating. They imagine that writing a book review is akin to the struggle of cranking out the requisite high school literature class essay. Not so! You don’t need to take pains to highlight symbolism or how the protagonist subverts the feminist ideal in your book review. You’re not getting graded. All you have to do is to share your opinion of the book in a thoughtful manner.
Writing an awesome book review isn’t as hard as you think. Trust me. I wrote over 100 book reviews during my tenure as co-owner of Compulsion Reads, a (now-defunct) company that evaluated and reviewed indie books.
If you’ve never written a book review before, then here are a few basic guidelines that might help:
Start with a short setup of the book
Book reviews are written for potential readers, so it is helpful to provide some setup of the story. Consider writing a few lines that introduce the main characters, the setting and the primary conflict. Be careful not to give away too much of the story, or you’ll ruin it for new readers.
Here is an example from a review of my novel, Falling, from the book review blog, Book Marks The Spot:
Maya is living a totally normal life until she gets swept up off her feet, literally. All in one night she gets kidnapped by an angel and learns she has two half brothers oh and the elephant in the room is that is turning into a monster. She now has to survive on animals auras if not she could go on a killing spree. If things couldn’t get worse, her older brother is always looking for an excuse to kill her.
Tell readers what you liked
After the setup, explain what you liked about the book. (Again, you can do this with just a few lines.) Did you have a favorite character? Was the plot fast and entertaining? Did the author have a strong narrative voice that had you laughing and crying? Don’t worry about trying to be particularly witty or finding the exact word. Just be honest, and readers will appreciate your thoughts.
Here is an example from the review I wrote for the very enjoyable book Red Shirts by John Scalzi :
Redshirts is a sweet gift to anyone who has knowingly lapped up the crazy improbability of old (and some not so old) space adventures where drama outweighs plausibility and faceless crew are torn to pieces as a picker upper before the commercial break. Author John Scalzi puts his fingers perfectly on the pulse of these cult shows and breathes life into the poor red shirts that are so often blasted, torn to shreds, and crushed in the background while the heroic officers save the day.
I loved Scalzi’s insight and felt that this book was truly written for me. Scalzi has a gift for witty dialogue and proves himself to be a masterful plotter. The story twists and turns and balances precariously on a crazy premise that does justice to the very genre he unmasks. (See the full review)
Tell readers what you didn’t like.
If you absolutely loved the book, then there might not be any need to point out deficiencies. However, if there were areas of the book that you thought could be strengthened, you can address these concerns in your review. Just take care to mention weaknesses in a constructive and fair manner. (No need to attack or criticize the author directly.)
Here is a short excerpt from my recent review of the book, Beauty is for Suckers by M.A. Carson:
The last quarter of the book picked up some serious speed and a few big revelations piled up. Personally, I felt this part of the book was rushed, and I didn’t like that Nolan (my fav character) faded into the background. Despite these issues, I thoroughly enjoyed Beauty is for Suckers. The book was deftly woven with humor, strong plot points and a good pace. Iris Green proves that death can be the beginning of a meaningful life. (See the full review)
Remember, your book review is written to help other readers decide if the book might be right for them. If you think the book would appeal to a specific audience or that a specific audience would find it offensive, consider adding a caveat at the end. For example, if I review a book that contains graphic violence or sex scenes, I make sure to mention that at the end of a review.
In my novel, Falling, my characters speak naturally, which happens to introduce a lot of F-bombs and other, shall I say, inventive language into the mix. Several of the bloggers who reviewed my book pointed this out to their audiences, including Maria, of A Night’s Dream of Books:
In spite of the book’s dark theme, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole plot, from beginning to end. That was largely due to Bennett’s deft characterizations and brilliant prose. I was even willing to overlook the unfortunate appearance of “the F bomb” every few pages. Believe me, it’s not every day I find myself doing such a thing!
Finish with a summary sentence
Consider capping your review off with one or two sentences that summarize your overall response to the book. A book I read earlier this year, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore absolutely blew me away. At the time I finished the book, I was drowning in other work and didn’t feel that I had the mental resources to do it justice. However, I knew his book deserved my praise, so I managed to cobble together a short review with this final sentence that truly sums up how I felt reading the book:
Biff is a lovable narrator, and through his eyes, Jesus truly does live again. One of the best books I’ve read in the last year! (See my full review – Good example of a short and sweet review that will still make an author over-the-moon happy)
Create a strong headline
Many book review retailors, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, require reviewers to title their reviews. You may be able to just reuse your summary sentence at the end. If not, think of a short sentence or phrase that sums up the book in a positive manner. As you write more reviews, you’ll find that this part becomes easier and easier.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when writing book reviews:
Authors spend a great deal of time and effort writing their books. To an author, their book is like their baby. Even if it’s a very ugly baby, it’s still their baby. Be sensitive when writing a critical review. If you felt a book was not very good, you certainly have the right to air your opinion, but be mindful that hearts and feelings are on the line. Be fair in your judgment and constructive. If you come off as a hysterical hater, then you’ll end up looking worse than the book you’re trying to haze. Many authors read every review of their book, so keep this fact in mind when writing anything critical.
Nobody likes to read spoilers in a review, though they can sometimes be hard to avoid, especially if you want to talk about how much you liked or didn’t like specific plot twists. When discussing later parts of the book, be as general as possible. It’s better to say that, “The surprise ending was disappointing to me.” Rather than, “I can’t believe Krista got hit by a car on the last page after surviving that psychotic stalker.”
If you feel you have to give something away, then make sure you warn readers so they can stop reading. The best way to do this is to write SPOILER ALERT in all caps before revealing any spoilers.
Keep it clean
Writing a book review doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require a little effort and focus. Make sure you write your book review with care, focusing on correct grammar. If your review is all over the place and half the words are misspelled, no one will take you seriously. Again, and I really can’t emphasis this enough, it’s okay to write a short review, but make sure the review is coherent. One of the most frustrating reviews I got from a short story of mine simply stated:
This story wasn’t for me.
Not only does this type of say-nothing review drive authors to distraction (Why wasn’t the story for you???), but it’s completely useless for readers who might be interested in purchasing the story.
Spread your review
If you really want to help your favorite authors, then post your review to multiple websites where readers are likely to congregate. The top websites include Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. If you have a personal blog, consider posting your book review there as well and then be sure to link to your review on your social networking pages to let your friends know about the great new book you just read. If you want to go the extra distance, post a link to the review on the author’s Facebook page. If it’s a positive review, it’ll definitely make their day.
Read other reviews
One of the best ways to learn how to write a review is to read other reviews. Reading a dozen reviews for your favorite books on Amazon will give you some insight into all the different ways a review can be constructed.
Now go forward readers and spread your awesome book reviews across the land!