How to Write a Book Review

January 21, 2016

I love reading books, but sometimes the review process can seem a bit tedious. When I first started reviewing books back in 2009, I had a book review template that I filled out for each book. It went above and beyond what normal reviewers did, and it didn’t really work for every book I read. I’ve since learned that a good book review doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs the right information (and a touch of good writing).

Book reviews can be as different as the people writing them. There are positive reviews, negative reviews, and so-so reviews. But there are also well written reviews that are helpful, and short, non-helpful reviews tacked up by reviewers. If you want other readers to find your reviews helpful, I recommend including the following information:

1. A Short Summary

Each review should start with a short summary of the book in your own words. This doesn’t mean copying the description from Amazon and pasting it within your review. It means thinking about the book you read, and writing what you got out of it, or what you think the author set out to portrait to the reader. You might also include facts about what point-of-view it was written in, why the author was qualified to write the book, or other interesting or important facts that you think will help readers.

For fiction, you can summarize the plot, talk about the main character and what he or she faces—just be careful not to give too much away. Good reviews don’t contain spoilers. If your review does contain a spoiler (sometimes an ending changes your entire view of the book) just make sure to put “SPOILER ALERT” before giving anything away. That way readers know not to keep reading if they don’t want to know something important. Some review sites will have a box to check if your review includes a spoiler, others won’t. Either way, I recommend including that warning within the text of your review.

For non-fiction, book reviews can include an outline of the book (in your own words, not the TOC), and/or a few sentences on what the book was about or what you learned or the author wrote about. Some people recommend focussing on the author’s key ideas, but it’s really whatever you got out of the book, and/or what you think the author intended you to get out of it. You usually don’t have to worry about spoilers in non-fiction reviews, but you still want to be curious to the author and not give away everything in their book in your review.

2. Your Honest Opinion

After you’ve summarized the book’s content, you should always share things that you liked or disliked about the book (the best reviews contain both). Was there something you learned in the book? What was your favorite part? Sharing short scenes from books is completely okay (as long as you do it in your own words). For non-fiction books you can include a favorite quote or just outline some of your favorite parts (again, be respectful to the author and don’t give away all the book’s secrets).

If there was something you really couldn’t stand about the book, let other readers know. Was it an idea the author had, or did they get something wrong? Maybe you don’t understand how the MC could be so dense or why the guy didn’t show up to the dance. Maybe the author had great ideas, but didn’t expound on them enough. Negative reviews can be a huge help to readers—and sometimes authors. Sometimes something you hated might be just what someone else is looking for in a book.

You might also think there is something other readers need to know that doesn’t necessarily count as a plus or minus. The more information you can give readers (again, without giving away too much of the book’s content) the better. But remember that readers don’t want to read a book about the book. Good reviews contain powerful statements, but still remain succinct.

3. Recommendation Status

Usually by this point in your review, readers will know whether or not you would recommend a book or not, but it’s still important to say it. Type out whether or not you would recommend the book to someone else, and why or why not if you haven’t already been clear. You could write, “I would definitely recommend this book to my friends, because…” or simply put, “I will not be recommending this book.”

Some of the best reviews throw a curveball here and say, “Surprisingly, even though I disagreed with the author’s views quite a bit, I would still recommend this book because…” or, “Even though I enjoyed this story, I wouldn’t recommend spending $20 on a novella.” Or whatever catch, plus, or minuses weighed your decision one way or the other.

4. Review Notes

If you received the book free in exchange for an honest review, you are legally required to note that in your review. Some reviewers state it at the very beginning, but it’s usually best to include a disclaimer at the very end with that information. Here are a few options you could use:

Note: I was provided this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.”

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. All ideas and opinions expressed within this book are my own.

Full Disclosure: ___________ provided me with a free copy of this book for review.

Or you can also use a disclaimer provided to you by the publisher, author, or review company or even write your own. It is just important to note your relationship with the books publishing/marketing team.

You should also note if you downloaded the book on a free day, got a copy from a friend, or anything else you think is relevant. But the only thing you are required by law to note is your connection with the publisher or author, or if you got a free copy in exchange for a review.

That’s it

So there you have it. A really good book review that will help readers doesn’t have to 10 pages long, it just needs to have the right information.

All that said, I still don’t have time to write a shining review of every book I read. You can find out more about my review process and check out some of my reviews here.

Have you written a book review that’s worth reading?

If you have a book review you’d like to share with our followers post a link to a review on your blog in the comments below!

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