How to Write a Helpful Book Review in 7 Easy Steps
Updated: Aug 25
Guest post by Alexandra Peel
Why Do We Need Book Reviews?
Firstly, it allows prospective readers to get an idea of what the book is about – it may summarise the content, the characters and the underlying themes. It might provide a critique of the ideas within, or the style in which it is written.
Second, it lets the author have an idea of how their story has been received; does it do the job they set out to do? Some writers find this useful to the extent they will solicit reviews in exchange for a free copy of their work.
A good review will weigh up the literary merits of the book – its genre, themes, characterisation, plot, writing competence and entertainment value. In short, it describes and evaluates the story.
I have reviewed many books; for my own and other people's blogs. I aim to provide as honest an appraisal as possible, so when approached by an author, I will direct them to read one or two of my previous ones, and also forewarn that I am not afraid to give a 1-star review if I feel that is what it deserves.
There are growing quantities of books in the market these days. Self-publishing has given more writers free rein to put their work into the public domain than ever before – and you can be sure there is plenty of poor-quality writing.
How does the reader know what to read next? How does one know that their pounds/dollars/Euros, will be well spent? Book reviews, that is how.
So how do I, personally, go about writing a review?
7 Easy Steps to Follow
Include title, author, publisher, publication date, pages, price, ISBN.
You might want to include information about the author.
A quote from the back-page blurb, or a quote from another source.
Review the book you read -not the book you wish the author had written.
Think about the person reading your review. Is the review for readers looking for information about a particular topic, or for readers searching for a good read? As I write most of my reviews on my own blog, I feel free to write in my usual chatty manner for my followers and I primarily review works of fiction – all sorts of genres.
If this is the best book you have ever read, say so, and explain why. If it's merely another nice book, say so. I use a 5-star system which goes like this:
1-star — Read it. Meh. Not recommend.
2-stars — Read the book and found some aspects okay. However, the book had some undesirable qualities and therefore will not be recommended.
3-stars — Read this book and can say I enjoyed it. However, it was simply an enjoyable read. It lacked specific qualities to make it spectacular. I may or may not recommend this book.
4-stars — Read and enjoyed. There were qualities of the book that maintained my interest and kept me entertained. If it is a genre you’re interested in I recommend this book.
5-stars— I read this book and loved it! Every aspect of the story was interesting and contained psychological realism. I found myself unable to put it down. I couldn’t wait to read more and find out what happened next. I would definitely rate this and recommend this book. This is one I would keep on my bookshelf.
7. Your conclusion should summarise, perhaps include a final assessment.
Also, you might want to add images of the book; and other titles by the same author, and hyper-links to wherever readers can purchase the book.
I've Rarely Given a 5-star Review
And this is honestly quite a difficult thing to do, especially if you know the author or are acquainted with them in some way; regardless how superficial that relationship might be. Five stars is reserved for those books that truly grab me, that moved me or made me think. I would guess that most books – including my own, fit into the 3-star bracket. It is a hard thing to write a book, even harder to write a good one. If the writer's aim was to appeal to a huge cross-section, then it will probably fall short somewhere.
I have read books that have fantastic characters, but little plot. I have read books with amazing ideas running through, but the amount of grammatical errors was so off-putting that it ruined the flow of the narrative. And occasionally, I have read a story in which the setting suddenly changes, or a character's name changes halfway down the page. All these issues contribute to a dislocation from the story for the reader. When reading fiction; regardless of genre, what I want is immersion into the world the writer has created.
I want to feel, smell, almost be able to reach out and touch the surroundings. I don't necessarily need to feel empathy for the protagonist – the main character does not have to be someone we like – they just need to have something interesting about them – or something that makes us want to know what happens to them.
Don't confuse a likeable or sympathetic character with a good story!
Your Review is Your Review
Read the book, thoroughly. Make notes as you go if you wish, or read it through then re-read if you are so inclined and have the time. Understand that if you are dishonest in order to praise a friend's title, it could lead to people not taking further reviews seriously. Ask yourself why you want to write this review. If you are a blogger, it might be the prime content of your posts. If you write a review on a site such as Amazon, don't read other people's reviews first – you would be surprised how we humans are swayed by the opinions of others!
Another thing to bear in mind is this – your review is your review – it does not mean it is absolute or correct. All reviews are subjective and you must make this clear. Here's an extract from a review I wrote for 'The Blade Itself' by Joe Abercrombie:
I love how Abercrombie weaves the separate lives across the landscape. There are multiple protagonists in this tale; along the lines of Game of Thrones, but what each of them wants becomes unclear, which I liked. How they will succeed in their initial task is unknown, I will have to read #2 – and I will. Definitely. I think it is hard in these times of Game of Thrones on TV, and fantasy ‘heroes’ on the big screen, to get a book in this genre noticed. Fantasy writing is a massive market, with hundreds, possibly thousands of would-be-authors of the style out there. Abercrombie has grabbed my attention, and that’s a rare thing these days.
See how many times I wrote 'I', or referred to my own tastes? Why did I do this? Because I am not a professional critic and readers must be reminded that this is all my personal opinion.
Remember, whether you agree or disagree with the author's points, whether you love the book or not, be honest, your review is being read so that readers can find books that suit them.
Visual artist turned author, Alexandra has a Degree in Fine Art, Sculpture. Loves meat, hates pulses (except hummus). Is brilliant at beginning new projects, unfortunately, many never reach fruition. Comparisons have been made by various people to Brenda from 'Dinnerladies', and a bad Galadriel,
Has had horror short stories published in The Asterisk Anthology, Game Over and Deadly Bargain. Self-published a small collection of stories on the theme of witches and the craft titled Sticks & Stones. Also, The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler, a Steampunk collection.
Default position – tactless.
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