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Writing a book review involves a very different style of writing to anything else you’ll produce for your blog.
Therefore, in order to write brilliant book reviews, you need to consider the purpose of the review itself.
Who is it aimed at and what should (or shouldn’t) be included? And how do you explain whether it’s a book worth reading whilst still avoiding spoilers?
These are just some of the key questions that you need to answer before you even start writing.
Who is a Book Review is not for
Regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, a book review is not for the author. It just isn’t.
Your review is not feedback, nor should it be treated as such. An author knows how to write a book – they don’t need you to tell them how you’d have written it. Nor is it helpful to your own readers who simply want to know whether they should pick up the book in question.
That’s not to say that authors get nothing from reading book reviews! If your review is well-argued, and demonstrates your points clearly and persuasively, they’ll at least respect it.
Plus, a super positive review, where you’ve identified and praised everything the author set out to achieve, can truly make an author’s year!
But the main purpose of your writing is not to give the author feedback on their book. Especially if it’s a less-than-glowing review.
It’s also not for other bloggers. It might be hard to review a book that everyone in your niche loved, and you hated (or vice versa), but stay true to yourself. Whether you enjoyed or disliked a book, jot down some specific notes on why.
Provided that your perspective is well-supported through textual evidence and reasonably argued, nobody can really criticise you for honest commentary delivered in good faith.
It is important, however, that you understand the reasoning for your initial impressions, so try to steer clear of reading other bloggers’ reviews before forming your own thoughts. It’s an easy trap to fall into on platforms like Goodreads, where you’re encouraged to read reviews every time you visit the book’s page.
Finally, a review is not for you! Park your ego firmly at the door before writing and make sure you only communicate the points that the reader of your article needs to know. They’re not interested in how well you write – they want to know if the book in question is worth reading or not.
Who is a Book Review is for
Ultimately, a book review is for readers who are considering buying the book you’re reviewing, but want to know whether it’s worth it or not.
Keep this audience in mind when you’re planning, writing, and promoting your book review.
Obviously, you can add your own unique twists in terms of how you review – after all, you want your review to stand out from the others. Perhaps you have a really unique blog aesthetic or maybe you’re a blogger with greater experience in a particular genre.
But on the whole, your review needs to be focused on that potential reader.
What Should I Include in a Book Review?
General Review Tips
Firstly, always include a brief overview of the book. This can be the blurb, or your own description* based on your reading experience. This gives your potential reader an idea of what to expect, and whether it appeals (or not!)
It’s also worth including a section either at the top or the bottom that contains all the useful information on the book that your reader will want to see.
For example, an image of the book (or a cover image), along with some basic publication details such as the publisher’s name with a hyperlink to their site (this can make a massive difference for indie publishing visibility), and the date of publication are good places to start.
Some readers like to pick up sub-300 page books, so you may also wish to include a page count, whilst adding a link to the book’s Goodreads too makes it much easier for them to add the book to their TBR list.
Make sure you also include a couple of links to places where you can buy a copy of the book. It’s all about adding value to your own readers, making their lives easier, and this shortens the journey for those who are thinking about buying the book.
Plus, if you’re part of an affiliate programme, you can get paid (albeit a little) for each purchase made after clicking through from your site. However, if you do use affiliate links, make sure you declare it somewhere on the page for transparency.
*Do not include a summary of the plot – that is not a review!
Writing your Book Review
It’s important that your thoughts are consistent throughout the review, so consider jotting down some notes before you put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, or quill to parchment.
The way I tend to draft out my reviews is as follows;
- Introductory remarks – I introduce the book/author/publisher, as well some general remarks on how I felt about the book.
- Main body of review – I’ll include an overview of the book, as well as a breakdown of some general themes and how well these translate to the reader.
- Conclusion – I summarise my thoughts in a clear and concise manner, and ultimately recommend the book, or steer my readers away from it.
Planning with this structure, or through your own style, is a great way to gather your thoughts and to plot out your review in a coherent way.
When it comes to writing the review, try to steer clear of simple value judgments such as ‘I liked X because Y’ – it doesn’t really tell the reader anything. You need to explain why the author succeeds at what they set out to achieve and, ultimately, whether the result is satisfactory or not.
Furthermore, if you loved the book, tell your reader why. If it’s five stars, try to impart the magic of the book upon your own reader with persuasive language and, most importantly, passion. Likewise, if you really disliked the book, be prepared to back your disdain up with clear, coherent, and fair criticism – never make it personal!
And always, always try to end on a positive note.
No book is without any redeeming features, so even if you detest it – as I did The Thursday Murder Club – you’ll likely have something positive to say. It’s less about ending on a positive and more about avoiding ending your review on a negative – you’ll be surprised how simply altering this can affect the wider tone of your review!
One thing I’ve seen some reviewers do is provide a couple of links to other bloggers’ reviews that present alternative views to their own. This isn’t something I’ve done (yet), but it’s a great idea. It gives your readers additional perspectives without having to go looking for them.
How Should I Rate My Book Reviews?
There are a whole range of options for book review rating systems, including the Goodreads 1-5 star scale, the regular 1-10 rating, or even the more outlandish (but quite interesting) ‘CAWPILE’ score system.
Some reviewers forgo rating systems entirely, preferring readers to make their decision based on the words on the page rather than be influenced by the score.
5-Star Rating System
This is where things get interesting.
Created by BookTuber, Book Roast, CAWPILE stands for:
Logic / Relationships
Essentially, you assign each attribute a score out of 10, add the numbers together, and then divide by the number of categories (7). The theory goes that by scoring each individual attribute of the book you’re reading, the final score will better represent how you felt about the book as a whole.
I quite like this, in theory. It’s fun.
However, the obvious problem is that it falls apart at the seams if you’re reviewing non-fiction. It also arguably overcomplicates the process.
Still, it’s a creative way to decide whether you liked a book or not, and I know that a lot of YA book reviewers, in particular, enjoy it.
1-10 Rating System
Nothing new to add here – it’s fairly self-explanatory.
1/10 is chloroform in print, whilst 10/10 is the Second Coming in paperback form.
Avoid / Recommend / Essential
Folks who know me, know that I read a lot of Eurogamer in my spare time and that I really like their rating system for video games.
Essentially, they will give one of the following attributions:
Avoid: This is terrible and you should not buy it.
Recommended: This is a really good product, and you should strongly consider getting hold of a copy.
Essential: This is unmissable. Genre-defining. Get a copy right this second.
Applying this logic to books, anything that doesn’t fall into any of these three attributions will depend on whether the genre or style of writing appeals to you.
No Rating System
There is a strong argument that rating systems are redundant and oversimplify the reviewing process.
Some choose to simply write their reviews and let the words guide the reader, rather than conforming to a strictly numerical continuum.
On the other hand, distinctions do exist to be made, and omitting clear indicators could be considered to be vague and non-committal.
Regardless of how you choose to review your books, spend less time worrying about your ‘system’ and more on the writing of the review itself.
Ultimately, none of the rules in this article are absolute. Find your writing style and inform the reader whether the book in question is worth reading or not.
There are, however, ways you can improve book review writing skills which I’ve endeavoured to get across.
In my opinion, a well-written book review interacts with the text in an incisive and critical manner, identifying the purpose of the book and examining how successful it is in achieving that ultimate purpose.
If you’re able to do that, you’re well on the way to writing a fantastic book review!
Got any tips of your own? Post them in the comments below. I’d be interested in reading what you bring to your own book reviews!
3 thoughts on “How to Write Better Book Reviews”
Thank you John, a well thought out piece. I use the 1-5 rating system and keep it the same for Goodreads and Amazon, although they both vary slightly, I can’t be doing with making them different on each one. I do use a half star rating at times, when I think that a book hovers between the wide rating bands. I don’t think I would ever get my head around the Cawpile system.
Agreed – I keep both my Amazon & Goodreads rating systems the same. It’s just easier that way.
Prefer the GR method, as it places more of a positive emphasis on scores IMO.
Thanks for the comment, Rosie – looking forward to reading your content!