Writing Book Reviews – What I’ve Learned and Observed Online

One of my favorite things to do, aside from writing, is reviewing books for other authors. I love reading a variety of books ranging from children’s picture books and non-fiction to historical romance and dystopian novels. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time writing academic reviews. While I may have some favorite genres, one thing is certain: I take the job of writing reviews seriously. After all, no one knows better than a fellow writer how valuable book reviews are.

What to Include in a Book Review

Each person has their own way of writing and formatting book reviews, depending on whether they are academic or commercial. However, there are a few things that should always be included in a book review: a short synopsis (shows you actually read the book or at least attempted to), the names of main characters, important points found in non-fiction books, things you found interesting in a story, and in some cases, things you didn’t care for.

What to Leave Out of a Book Review

Certain things should not be included in a book review: how you think the book should have ended, why you hate the cover, jokes about the author’s personality, juvenile videos that have been added with the sole purpose to make fun of the author and their writing, advice to an author, and threats. (The last two should be a given, though I’ve seen them with increasing regularity on major book retailer websites).

The job of the book reviewer is to draw attention to a particular book for the author, hopefully in a good way. Even if you don’t like a particular book, you can still write a review that points out both the strengths AND weaknesses without becoming an author basher in the process. Your job isn’t to be the gatekeeper for the publishing process unless you are living in a communist country or a dictatorship. After all, many authors become better with each successive novel or work of non-fiction.

Thoughts on Editing, Formatting and Covers

Thoughts about the book cover, formatting and editing are important, but readers are more eager to know about the substance of the book. Unless you are a professional editor, book formatter by trade or a marketing guru, leave the nit picking to the professionals. In some instances formatting errors (not to be confused with editing errors) are the result of a corrupted computer file, problematic upload, misprint at the publishing level, or formatting error on a book website (which can occur when sampling a book online). If you have any suggestions or questions about these particulars, direct them to the author or the individual who gave you the book to review in private correspondence.

What to Do if You Hate a Book

In some cases you will dislike a book, perhaps even hate it. What do you do when this happens? You have two choices – beg off writing the review and let the author or provider of the review copy know via personal correspondence, or write the review as carefully as possible. Everyone should be able to find at least one good thing about a book, but if you can’t it is okay to simply say you didn’t care for that particular book. Be short and to the point, as potential readers aren’t going to read your lengthy paragraphs that go on and on about why you hate the book. All they want to know if you liked it and why or why not. Keep it short and sweet. Don’t be a bore.

Book Recommendations

Include a personal recommendation when possible. For example include a “If you liked x book, then you might enjoy this book too.”  Comparisons often help potential readers decide whether to take a chance on a new book or not.

Read It Before You Publish It

Read your book review aloud before you publish it. It should have sentences that begin with “the author, the story, the characters,” etc., not numerous sentences that begin with “I didn’t like, I thought, I think”. Remember that it is about the book, not you.

If you wish to be taken seriously as a reviewer, be professional about it. Write a short, succinct review without embellishment. Let potential readers know more about the novel or work of non-fiction and why they should buy it, but remember that the potential readers aren’t interested in how witty and clever you are. Post your review in a timely manner on multiple book retailer websites because reviews drive book sales. Don’t be a reviewer that takes freebies and never delivers because eventually authors, publishers, and book tour hosts will no longer trust you.

Book reviewers that can be fair and balanced are sought out, and if you become one of them you may find that writers and publishers will flock to you. When this happens, you will have more books than you can read each year, and isn’t that a book reviewer’s ultimate goal?


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