5 Tips For Writing Book Reviews
I’ve noticed many of my Goodreads friends don’t write reviews for books. Some will give a star rating, but many mark the book as finished and move on without making any comments. When I asked around, the feedback I got is that these readers generally feel they aren’t “qualified” to write a review. Some don’t know how to address a book they didn’t like, or think they aren’t a good enough writer. Most simply don’t know what to say in a review.
I enjoy writing book reviews, though I’ll admit it isn’t always easy. Some days they flow out of me like magic. Other days I write and delete, write and delete, until I have something that roughly resembles my opinions.
I’ve been an avid Goodreads user for seven years now. According to my profile, I’ve rated over 1300 books and written 600 reviews. And while I copy/paste my reviews to other sites, Goodreads is what I’m referencing most in my tips below.
Here’s what I’ve learned from years of reading, reviewing and getting feedback from readers and authors.
5 Tips For Writing Book Reviews
1. Give a summary, and keep it simple.
This is not a book report. You don’t need to summarize the entire story and all characters. Give a little bit of background, including what stood out for you. I’ll use phrases along the lines of, “This is a story about female friendship over four decades.” I often introduce the main characters as well, including their names and a line or two about the journey they’re on or what happens to them.
2. Avoid spoilers.
This isn’t a must, there are plenty of people who put spoilers in their reviews. But more people are going to read your review if it isn’t marked for spoilers. I don’t do it for that reason, I want as many people to read my reviews as possible. I also keep in mind that spoiler can be a subjective term. I’ve posted about books I’m reading on social media only to have people comment along the lines of “I loved that book until the crappy ending,” and that altered the rest of my reading experience.
3. Make your opinion clear. Be honest.
Sure I want to know if you liked a book. But more so, I want to know why you did or didn’t like a book. Why the language or violence didn’t work for you, not simply that you didn’t like it. This is where I include why the book might work for other readers even if it didn’t for me. I like to dig into why we experience books the way we do. For example, a novel might not resonate with me the way it does with my friend Lea, because she’s a mom and I’m not. Or a memoir might be powerful for me because I write the genre and relate to the author on a level she doesn’t. Explain both what you’re praising about the book and what you’re criticizing.
4. Don’t be mean.
You explain why you didn’t like a book without saying, “This is garbage and the writer sucks.” Don’t berate an author. I also want to stress that it’s totally okay to give a book a “bad” review. For the most part, I stay away from saying anything downright nasty about a book, and I never badmouth a writer. Giving an honest review is not the same, and is not only acceptable but encouraged. Constructive criticism makes for better writers.
5. Use a rating system.
I’ve written about this before. The star rating is probably more important than the actual review because it has more sway with readers. Your star rating goes in with everyone else’s to give the average that shows up alongside the book title. Everyone sees that, but not everyone scrolls through reviews.
Some other things to keep in mind…
Consider content warnings. I don’t do this in a formal way. I’ll include any necessary tidbits in my summary and opinions. I’ll say something like, “This book is pure sex,” or give the reader a little advice such as, “There’s a graphic violence in the first chapter, but keep going it’s worth it.”
Proofread before posting. Make sure you have the characters’ names right, or any other facts you reference. Check for spelling and grammatical errors. Repeats of those are going to turn readers off from checking out your reviews.
I’d love to know if this is helpful for you, so let me know in the comments! If you have other tips to add, I want to hear them!