Updated: Mar 3, 2020
Writing book reviews is harder than it looks. Sure,you want to support your favorite authors by reviewing their books so they can gain more exposure and more readers will find them, but narrowing down how you feel into a couple of paragraph can be quite a challenge.
It doesn’t matter whether you love or hate a book, getting your thoughts together to coherently write about the good, the bad, and the ugly of a story takes time. But with a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned over two years of book blogging, hopefully, I can help make it a little bit easier.
1. Take notes
Ok, full disclosure: I don’t do this. I wish I did. I get too captured inside the world of the book that I forget to write things down to remember later. But do as I say, not as I do. Taking notes while reading or even right after you finish the book means everything is still fresh in your mind. When it comes time to write the review, you have the major plot points, character names, and your favorite and least favorite moments right in front of you. You don’t have to rely on your maybe less-than-stellar memory.
2. What to Include
This varies from book to book, but there are a couple things that should be in every book review. You’ll want to include some kind of synopsis, either in your own words or one from Amazon or Goodreads (as long as you credit them) as well as major character names and how they fit into the story.
You also want to add in your opinion. That’s the whole point of a book review, right? People want to know what you liked and disliked so they can decide for themselves whether the book is for them or not.
When I read a review, I check out the reviewer's thoughts/feelings and compare them with what I generally like or dislike in a story. For example, I'm not a fan of the star-crossed lovers trope. So if I was reading a review that mentioned that trope was included in the book (even if it was a 5 star review), I would know that book wasn’t for me.
You may also want to include trigger warnings if there's anything disturbing in the story. It’s not vital, but I know it’s one of the first things I look for when reading a review.
Last but certainly not least, you’ll want to include your rating. The norm is usually based on a 5 star scale. 0 stars being the worst and 5 stars being the best.
3. Know Your Tropes
While this is most prevalent when reading romance novels, knowing the tropes for any genre you’re reading and reviewing is important. Do the characters start off as enemies and end up madly in love by the end of the book? You may want to include that in your review. Is there one hero who was chosen from birth to fulfill their destiny in the latest fantasy novel you read? You might want to include that the book has the “Chosen One” trope in it.
But this isn’t just about ensuring the reader knows what types of tropes are in the book, it’s also about you knowing what’s normal for a genre. Has the Chosen One trope been done 4001 times and the book just regurgitates the same old story? Or does it do it in a new way? If you read enough books in a certain genre and read enough reviews, you’ll know what’s popular and what’s out of the ordinary.
4. Book and Author Bashing isn’t Necessary
While stating your honest opinion in a book review is a must, you don’t need to be overly critical or outright mean to get your point across. While there have definitely been books I’ve reviewed in the past that I thought were borderline awful, in those reviews, I never mention the author or insult them personally. It must stay about the writing and where the story failed.
Another strategy is to talk about how the problems in the book work in the bigger scheme of things. I reviewed a book recently that ended with a twist that negated everything that happened in the book up until that point. The main character had been through a great adventure but it turned out it was all a hallucination after they received a lobotomy. It felt a bit cheap and wasn’t the best way to work mental health into the story. When writing this review, I talked about the need for better mental health representation in books. It stopped me from ranting and allowed for a better discussion.
You could also finish a review with something positive or simply state that while you didn’t enjoy the book, others might. That way, you aren’t outright telling people they shouldn’t buy, read, or look for the book. You’re just letting people know, it wasn't your cup of tea. We're writers ourselves, we don’t want other writers to suffer just because we didn’t like their book.
And that’s it! Of course you can include lots of other things like details of the setting, the time period it takes place in (especially for historical fiction), different writing elements the author uses that you like/dislike, and anything else you think a reader would like to know before checking out the book. If you get into spoilers, make sure you note that. No one wants to know a surprise ending before they read a book.
Now that you have a few tips, go forth! And when an author asks for a review for a book you’ve read, write one up. It doesn’t have to be long or go into too much detail, but it really can make a difference in how visible a book is on Amazon and Goodreads.
(You might think about reviewing a Writer's Workout anthology... just saying)
About the Author: Sarah Perchikoff is a freelance writer and the Director of Brand at The Writer's Workout. She writes for NetflixLife, Culturess, and GuiltyEats. She enjoys french fries, reading, and playing with her dog, Gracie. She is (slowly) working on editing her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter: @sperchikoff or read her book reviews at Bookish Rantings.