How to Write a Book Review

A few years ago, I was flipping through the Christianbook.com catalogue in search of books. A certain book in the fantasy section drew my eye, and I immediately commandeered the computer so I could research the reviews.

At first glance, the book looked like it had it all. An amazing cover. An intriguing premise. A promising read. Delightful characters. It had high ratings. A plentitude of five-and-four star reviews sung this book’s praises. Few two-and-one star reviews bemoaned issues I never take seriously, like the writer’s style or something minor they disliked about a character. I almost ignored that three star review. I’m grateful I didn’t.

This review addressed issues every single one other of the 100+ reviewers failed to mention. The characters were overwhelmed with lust for each other. Dark, extreme violence filled the pages. And more lust. This was quite unbefitting for a book touted as “Christian”.

The reader in me was disappointed but, as a fellow book reviewer, I was appreciative. That reviewer wasn’t afraid to say what the others overlooked.

That is the power of reviews. They can make or break an author’s sales. They can convince readers they must own a certain book or repel them with dire warnings. If you love a book, write a review or, at the very least, rate it. Good reviews are crucial to authors and sometimes can make or break their writing career.

I’ve been a book reviewer for six years. Early on, I learned book reviews are not necessarily easy to write. There is not one formula, nor is there one specific method. It can be a struggle to put thoughts into that comment box or to put your enjoyment or distaste into a review. How, then, can we write a good review? I can’t offer a white-and-black technique, but I can offer book review etiquette and a few different methods on how to approach this potentially-daunting task.

Review Etiquette Dos

  • Balance positives and negatives. In homeschool speech class, I learned the two/one approach. Two positives for every negative. Depending on the book, this can’t always be the ratio, but try to create a balance of some sort. You may not have liked a character, the plot, or much of anything, but you may have liked the author’s ability to create settings.
  • Be civil. Keep in mind Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer”. When writing a review, write with firmness and conviction, but gentleness in conveyance. Reviews are meant to help the author as much as the reader.
  • Follow the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” definitely applies to writing reviews. I’m not saying to tippy-toe around issues or worry about offending someone. No, this means to write the review in a way you would like a review to be written about your own book or something you’d write – negative opinions and all. You can dislike a book and write a negative review in a kind tone.

Review Etiquette Don’ts

  • Have poor punctuation and spelling. This nullifies your review. If your review is riddled with misspellings, run-on sentences, lack of punctuation, and abhorrent grammar, this tells the person reading your review you don’t know how to write, much less comprehend a book’s issues.
  • Call the author names. This goes hand-in-hand with the civility point above. Remember Ephesians 4:29, which calls us to “let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths”. Name-calling is not pleasing to God, contradicts our Christian witness, and, terrible as we may find the author, is cruel. It also tells the potential reader you have no capability whatsoever of writing a decent review. It’s okay to kindly say the writer’s craft is underdeveloped. It’s not okay to say this writer is plumb awful and should never write another book again. Tact is the key here. Words are damaging. Keep that in mind.
  • Be vague. Annoying to authors and potential readers alike are the reviews that say, “This book was mediocre. I didn’t like it”. And that’s it. No explanation. No details. Nothing. End of review. Don’t do that. It tells the potential reader nothing and is in no way helpful to the author in how they can advance their writing.
  • Give spoilers . On Amazon, I saw a book review’s header which automatically gave a huge spoiler about the characters. When you write review headers, do something like, “Such an amazing story” or “This book wasn’t for me”. Listing spoilers is a big no-no.
  • Write a nasty review. I’ve seen nasty reviews. They are nothing but hateful and vile. Unfortunately, when some people write low-star reviews, they let their mean side unleash. If you write a low star review, be professional. Be gentle, but firm. Above all, be Christlike.

 Methods

Now that we’ve covered the etiquette of writing book reviews, let’s focus on the methods. There are two basic methods from which you can build your review style. These are informal and formal, also known as spontaneous and structured.

Informal, or spontaneous, is the more common of the two. The general way it works is the reviewer doesn’t follow a particular format or structure, instead discussing their feelings regarding the book in a few sentences or paragraphs. If the reviewer loved the book, the first paragraph is usually gushing with praise. The following paragraph, which discusses what the reviewer didn’t like, may be much shorter. The third or last paragraph is another round of praise for the book.

An informal example of a pleased reader’s review looks like this paragraph from my appraisal of The Bear of Rosethorn Ring by Kirsten Fichter:

The MYSTERY! I guessed who it was, but I did NOT see that plot twist coming. The best part, though, are the bonds between characters. The bond between Marita and Diamond is wonderful and well-written, and it really brings their own personalities to shine. And the bond between Felix and Marita is so sweet. Not many would go to such lengths to help their fiancee find her father.

There is a lot of emotion in informal reviews, whatever the overarching emotion (delight, disgust, etc.) may be. They can be paragraphs long or as short as a few sentences.

Formal, or structured, paragraphs follow a certain layout and structure predetermined to the review. Typically, these reviewers do more dissecting than informal reviewers. They dig deep and list certain aspects, like violence, faith elements, positives and negatives, and the level of romance if applicable.

This is the method I use save the rare exception (like the above review). I borrowed the initial layout and concept from PluggedInOnline.com and tweaked it to my style. Formal is more nitty-gritty than informal and comes across as more clinical and unfeeling. There is usually a paragraph where the reviewer sums up their thoughts and feelings, but it is typically a quarter or less of the review. Formal involves little feeling and a lot of analyzing.

Informal and formal are the two basic foundation methods for reviewing. Neither is wrong. Your style depends a lot on your personality, but you don’t have to follow only one method. You can have any percentage of each incorporated into your review technique. Your style could be a perfect blend or it might be wholly one or the other. It might only slightly favor one method over the other or you might develop a method of your own.

It will take some time to find your review groove, but write enough and you will find it. Write the reviews you’d like to read, the one you would find helpful. If you follow the etiquette rules, write enough reviews, and are willing to put a few minutes into it, you’ll find writing reviews is not as hard as it may seem.

So go forth, dear reader, and write those reviews.

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15 thoughts on “How to Write a Book Review

  1. Oo, very cool post!! Thank you for sharing it! As much as I (usually) love writing reviews, it can be so hard when my natural inclination is to go in-depth about all the aspects of the book I loved or disliked, but at the same time I tend to be vague and scatterbrained, so then I have to go back and edit and make things clearer lol. It takes time, but it’s worth it for those future readers and the author! Plus it helps me collect and organize my thoughts on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you!

      Reviews can definitely take time. We have to organize our thoughts before we put them down, and that can take awhile. As long as it’s a positive review, I doubt the author cares whether or not you’re scatterbrained. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, great post! I am still tweaking my review strategy – I am definitely more of the “informal” who just starts rambling on and on about one character or plot twist, but I’m trying to be a little more formal. My endlessly long paragraphs get hard to read without some sort of structure, hahaha!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks!

      There’s nothing wrong with informal! Both types of reviews help. Haha, yeah, long paragraphs probably do need some structure, but I’ve personally never minded reading reviews where the reader raves about one particular event/character. I know if I don’t watch myself, I could write a novel-length review about the novel!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent post! These are things I try to incorporate into my book reviews, and it’s nice to see that I’m not alone in that! I’ve always thought a good negative-positive balance was important, and now as an author myself, it’s even more important. I like knowing what readers don’t care for in my stories, but it’s so much more helpful when it’s written as constructive criticism rather than the basic “I didn’t like it.” From there, I can decide if it’s something I really need to work on for future books.

    Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Constructive criticism (I was trying to remember that term earlier and obviously failed) is so important.

      I want to eventually write a post on why reviews are so integral to authors and their writing–do you mind if I quote you?

      Like

    1. Thanks for reading it! The perfect system can be hard to find. Don’t worry that you haven’t gotten it down yet. It took me several years. The method we select has to feel natural to us so our reviews aren’t stilted, as they are wont to be. Give it time. 😉 It’ll come to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this! Writing reviews can be challenging and I most of the time give star ratings rather than reviews. However, when I do write a review, I try to always remember someone’s heart and soul went into writing that book and to be gentle, even if it wasn’t a book I particularly liked. I personally (and I know this could just be me) would rather not even give a star rating or a review at all if I can’t give at least a three star.

    Additionally, if I don’t like a book, I can be Christlike in my method of delivery rather than hurtful or hateful. Unfortunately, it is too easy to hide behind a screen and as you mentioned, “let their mean side unleash”.

    Writing a book is not easy. It is a huge accomplishment to be able to write that first paragraph all the way to “The End”. Encouraging someone goes a long way in helping them pen that next book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes and yes and yes. I’ll only rate a book lower than a three star if something is wrong with it regarding morals and/or incorrect religious themes.

      Yes! It is too easy to use the screen as an excuse to be cruel. I’ve particularly been noticing that downfall in those who are still in their teens.

      What a wonderful way to put it. I believe we should always have Ephesians 4:29 in mind while writing reviews.

      Liked by 1 person

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