Do you know what it takes to write a book review?
From thinking of formatting to writing style and even to how you should conclude it, reviewing a book takes more effort than you’d think.
It’s a cliche case of “easier said than done.”
Or is it?
At the time of writing this, I have a total of six blog posts, five of which are reviews. I wouldn’t call them the best pieces of writing on earth, far from it, but they are written in a specific format, with a specific style, with the same aim – to tell readers what I think of a book.
I’ve written this blog post to help you with each step of the reviewing process. Starting from introducing the novel to concluding your review, below are the main points you need to consider when writing your review.
I’ve even included a checklist at the end!
Open with a Summary
With every book review, you need to give your reader a brief outline of what the story is about. Sure, some people already have an idea (which may be why they are reading your review in the first place). For others who might have stumbled onto the review through your links, they’ll have no clue what it’s about.
You need to captivate their attention and get them interested in the book. Would you read a review of a book you had no intention of reading?
One easy way of summarising the story is to include a synopsis. Think of it like the blurb. You could even use the blurb. Depending on where you got the book to review, sometimes authors will provide their own synopsis. If they don’t, and you don’t have the option of asking them for one, you can either choose to find one online (citing the source) or create your own.
Using a synopsis already written takes away some effort and makes sure you’ve included every important detail needed before reading. However, if you’d prefer to have your style of writing consistent with everything, writing your own is the better option. Not to mention, if you write your own, you can choose the information to give your reader (which means spoilers or no spoilers).
I’ve written five reviews for this blog so far and none of them feature the book covers. This is simply down to the fact that they clashed with my style. You can see on my submissions page that I have specific guidelines to picture sizes so that they fit with my blog.
You can create your own rule for this!
Many reviewers I know like to include a photo of the cover either as the blog post header image or to put into the post either at the beginning or end. It’s completely your choice if you include one or not.
However, if you take part in blog tours or have requests to review, there may be a requirement to include the cover. This can be agreed with you and the author at the time, so it’s still down to you.
What are you reviewing exactly?
For my reviews, I have a criteria of different aspects to look at. They are:
With every book I read, I review based on each of these aspects.
How do I find the emotion in the writing? Is atmosphere written well? Can I connect to the emotions in the story? What about the characters, are they well-written? 3-dimensional? Is the storytelling done well? Is the plot engaging? Was the ending expected or a surprise?
Questions like these help me frame my review in the most critical and constructive way. If I didn’t have that frame, I’d end up writing a bunch of gibberish with no clear direction and no sense.
That can work for some reviewers, I’ve read plenty from those it works perfectly for. So it’s all down to personal choice. Choosing what to focus on, though, can help create a foundation you can then build on.
It’s important that whatever you choose to do, it fits your style. People might choose to read a review you’ve written because they want to buy the book, but it’ll be your writing and your style that keeps them coming back for more.
To Quote or Not To Quote?
I don’t use quotes. I’m not saying I never will, but as of right now, it’s not what fits my style. I don’t like my reviews containing spoilers and even the simplest quotes can give a lot away. Some people wouldn’t class them as spoilers; it’s subjective and entirely down to the reviewer.
That’s not to say all quotes are forbidden. Quotes are incredibly useful for helping you backup your points and give the reader an example of the story/writing. If a quote stands out in the book, it would be useful to include in the review.
I’ve said it several times already, but it’s all personal choice. I may include quotes in future, especially if they have an impact on me.
It’s great to be able to say all positive things about a book. Sometimes, it’s all you can say. But for most people, a review that’s nothing but positive feels a bit… false.
Constructive criticism is good for both reader and author. It shows that the story has room for improvement as most things do. It also gives you the opportunity to say how you would do things a little differently if it were your novel.
That’s not to say you should write a completely negative review based on different ideas. Your criticisms need to be constructive and as objective as possible. Maybe their descriptions were too long and could’ve been cut back, maybe the way they characterised the protagonist was cliche and including small details could have made them more relatable. These points can help the author in future novels, but also builds trust with your readers that you aren’t just promoting books you like.
Your conclusion is the end of your review and the last chance for you to get them to read more of your blog. That means it should be interesting and encourage them to discover more posts.
The conclusion should be three or four sentences summarising your entire review. Pick out the main points to reiterate and include something new. I’ll often include my points on the ending of the novel in the conclusion if there’s nothing specific I need to comment on (for example, in my last review I made a comment on the happy ending being relevant to the story but there wasn’t anything too specific I wanted to comment on).
So you’ve written the entire review and concluded it, it’s time to actually rate it.
Will you use a star rating, number rating or just a recommendation?
I just recommend books on my blog, stating whether I would recommend them or not and the review is the backup to why I feel either way. I don’t find ratings entirely useful, but that’s just my personal opinion. Most reviewers go with star ratings, from what I can tell.
Now that you’ve got the basics of how to review a book, it’s time to actually do it!
Each of these steps are useful in creating that foundation and framework to build your review on. You can go a step further and even plan your review, either after reading or during your reading, to be able to see what you need to include and how.
I hope this blog post has helped you. As a final piece of advice, I’ll tell you something my university lecturer would say to me: for a good review, you need to “read like a writer”.
Need a hand remembering everything you should include in a review? I’ve created a Book Review Checklist that you can save and use when writing your reviews.
Download it below!