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How to Write a Book Review

Are you a shy reviewer? Not sure how to write a book review?

When someone tells me they’ve enjoyed one of my books, my general response is to first thank them, then ask if they’ve considered leaving a review. As a relatively new author, I still actively seek out reviews from readers because that’s how most readers are going to find out whether my books are worth reading. The difference between a book with 5 reviews, 10 reviews, and 50 reviews is remarkable. It’s a huge help, and I’ve found that most readers who go to the trouble of telling you they liked your work are also willing to write a review.

However some readers tell me that they don’t know how to write a book review, or afraid that they aren’t qualified.

I’m here to fix those problems.

Who is qualified to write a review?

Have you read the book?

Congratulations, you’re qualified. There are no gatekeepers, no stoplights. Amazon and Goodreads won’t even stop you if you haven’t read the book, but we’ll consider the ethical minimum standard to be reviewing only for books you have read.

How to write a book review

Why are you writing a review? It’s not an essay for a class, and it’s not an addendum to your tax return. It’s a chat among fellow readers, a stamp of approval or disapproval, a note left behind for prospective travelers who might be considering the trail you’ve walked.

With that in mind, what are those people going to care about? What did you care about when you read the book? Every person is unique, but readers are going to want to hear what readers thought about a book. Use your own words; they’re the most comfortable ones. You don’t need to make your review sound like it came from the NY Times or Kirkus. How did the book feel as you read it? Did it zip or drag? Did you feel like you really knew the characters? If possible, tell why you felt the way you did.

Perfectly acceptable book reviews:

This book was great. Kept me turning the pages. I already bought the next one. (5/5)

Something about this one just felt off. I got to the end and wondered why I bothered. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. (3/5)

Ew! Go back to writer’s school! I didn’t even get halfway before I let my dog eat it! (1/5)

(ok, maybe that last one was a little less acceptable than the others)

Better book reviews:

This book was great. The pacing and plot kept me engaged nonstop. The prose was simple, but painted colorful imagery, a joy to read. I felt like I was right there in the protagonist’s shoes, the first person perspective was so vivid. (5/5)

Something about this one just felt off. The characterization was flat, and I couldn’t tell a few of the characters apart. The plot was fine, no major holes or anything, but I felt like it was a movie plot I’d seen a dozen times. I think that’s it; it felt like a rerun movie on cable. Good enough to watch, as long as there’s nothing else better on. (3/5)

Ugh, where to start? First, there were obvious editing errors throughout (or rather, errors from a lack of editing). The plot made no sense, and I think one of the characters changed names halfway through. I can’t be sure, it could have been a different person, but they acted exactly the same. I’ll admit, I was tempted to give up on this one, but I slogged through it like I was getting a merit badge at the end.

As you can see, detail and specifics make a review better, but just offering an opinion adds another voice to the crowd telling people whether the book is worth their time or not. Especially with free or $.99 books, it’s not the monetary cost people worry about, it’s the investment of their time.

Ratings

A rating is a “review lite.” How many stars do you give? Pick a number and move on. While decidedly less helpful to fellow readers, the star rating system does influence people. A high percentage of 5-stars will get people curious. A low overall average might make people question the quality of a book.

Just as an aside, often times it is controversy, not quality, that drops a book’s rating. A book that gets read by 100,000 people will not appeal to all of them. If it touches on sensitive topics (race, religion, rape), you might see rating reflecting the personal beliefs about the content. Without knowing how the reviewers’ beliefs compare to your own, the numerical rating isn’t much help.

For those who are iffy about what ratings mean, here’s what they mean to me (caveat: they can mean whatever you want them to, it’s your rating when you leave it, with no hard and fast rules)

  1. A mess. Not a book anyone should be reading, for whatever reason. Not up to the standards of a book that should be shared with other people. At best, a draft. At worst, hopeless. Normally I would not even bother leaving a review for a book like this, unless I wanted to warn people that it was plagiarized material or a scam of some sort.
  2. A bad book. Something in it rubbed me the wrong way, whether voice, characters, or concept. I probably wouldn’t leave a 2-star review because I wouldn’t finish reading it.
  3. Mediocre. While there may or may not be anything major wrong with the book, I didn’t enjoy it. I probably finished it out of a sense of duty, or to justify the time already spent reading it.
  4. Good book. I enjoyed it, and I might even look forward to the next. Didn’t captivate me, which probably says more about me than the book, but the book didn’t set itself above its peers in any way.
  5. Great book. If it’s part of a series, I’m going to keep reading them. A 5-star book can certainly have flaws, but they didn’t detract from my enjoyment. The minute I find myself thinking “just one more chapter,” I’m on my way to having a 5-star book on my hands.

These are my general guidelines for how to write a book review. Feel free to use them or ignore them. The important thing to take away in all of this is that the review process is all what you make of it.

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