This blog post includes a video and a downloadable cheat sheet. You're welcome!
A number of my friends have admitted to me that they do not feel comfortable writing book reviews. “I never know what to say…”
Well, fear no more, friends! I have written an outline for the perfect book review in just 5 easy steps. This review will be valuable to other readers, who might enjoy a book that you have just enjoyed, and it will also be valuable to writers like me, who want to know what is and is not working for readers.
So, here you go:
You know that awesome blurb at the back of a book? Try writing one of those. If that thought puts you in a state of panic, don’t worry: There’s a formula for writing a good blurb. A good summary:
1. Identifies the main character(s) and anything important about them.
2. Introduces the conflict.
3. Makes the reader ask a question.
Say, for example, that I wanted to write a new summary of The Lord of the Rings. It might go like this:
Here’s another one, for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
There you have it. Characters, conflict, question. (“Oh no! What is the terrible price?”)
Did you generally like the book? Hate it? Enjoy it with some caveats? Don’t get into details. Just give a quick summary of your impression.
Why is this important? Because the Cons section comes before the Pros section, and if people don't read through your entire review, they might miss the entirety of your opinion. That's why you should put it here.
A good overview might look like this:
Although the nature of this book's violence was disturbing to me, I enjoyed the fast pace and the suspense, as well as the strong characters. I read it in two days, which is in itself a recommendation for the story.
Now is the time for details. Discuss the things that you felt could have been done better. Here are some ways to start your discussion:
· I felt that the story was weak in the area of…
· The story would have been better for me if…
· I would have enjoyed the story more if…
· I was disappointed/concerned by…
Why put the cons before the pros? Well, because I like leaving on a positive note, and people remember best what they read last. It seems kindest to the author to point out flaws, then follow up with compliments.
Remember, always write with the consciousness that the author may read your review. Writer Jeff Goins tells a story of how he responded to a negative review from a reader, who then wrote back: “I didn’t know authors actually read reviews of their books. If I did, I would have been kinder.” Moral of the story: Be honest but also be respectful.
At first, I was not convinced that I wanted to finish this story because I didn’t understand anything that was going on. The culture is as disorienting as it is interesting; the characters have multiple names, all of which are used interchangeably; and the details of the futuristic technology confused me.
POTENTIALLY OFFENSIVE CONTENT
At the end of this section, include a short note about any additional content that a reader may potentially find offensive. For example, if there was some cussin’, you might say: “Note: This story contains approximately 2 uses of the word D---, one sh--, and three uses of the Lord’s name in vain.”
Try to keep your language objective. Saying, “There were no graphic sexual scenes” doesn’t really tell anyone anything. How graphic is graphic? Sensitivities vary on that type of thing. You’re better off saying, “Two unmarried people have sex in a brief scene that glosses over the exact details with various metaphors.” That’s enough for a potential reader to consider if he/she wishes to read the story. In general, you should make note of any:
If you want to get more involved, you can discuss:
· Writing quality
I counted two D---, four sh--, and one f---, as well as six misuses of Jesus' name. An unmarried couple share a kiss and it is implied that they have sex. This book includes many violent scenes, and one torture scene.
What did you really like about the story? What would make you recommend the story to others? Here are some ways to start your discussion:
· The story was especially strong in the area of…
· I especially enjoyed/appreciated…
· I was captivated/riveted/excited when…
· The biggest appeal for me was…
The world-building is of a level that I honestly have rarely seen in any speculative fiction. This world felt real. Not just so entertaining that I wished that it was real, or so scientifically detailed that it seemed theoretically possible. No, this world was solid like physical reality, and the characters and cultures were not simply the usual homogenous bunch, for both aliens and humans had sub-cultures and conflicts amongst each other, and those cultures adapted and evolved over the course of the story in a very realistic way.
Pick a memorable or favorite quote from the book. Make sure that you remove any spoilers. If you want to quote a large passage but don’t want to use the whole thing, put an ellipse (…) on the parts that you skipped. For example, the full passage might be:
“It doesn’t make sense!” RC exploded. “I saw it. I went over and over it. That’s what the runes said. You think I’d make that up? Who wants to look stupid?”
You can summarize it like this:
“It doesn’t make sense!” RC exploded. “I saw it. I went over and over it… It’s like the runes changed.”
Why should you include a quote? People love quotes because they give them the flavor of the book, more than anything you could say in your review. Wouldn't you like to read a review that included the reviewer's favorite quote?
Some final thoughts
So you might be thinking, “If all of my book reviews follow the same formula, won’t they seem canned?” The short answer: No, they won’t. Why? Because every book will have different things to comment about and because this type of book review includes valuable information to readers and writers alike, no matter how many times you use it. Trust me, even you wouldn’t get bored of reading reviews like this, because it will tell you everything you need to know, without spoiling anything.
I've been using this method unconsciously for years and only recently begun to standardize my reviews. Below are some links to my past reviews. You'll notice that I include all five elements in the review, though not necessarily in the order that I have presented here. My review for BY DARKNESS HID is written using the exact formula.
What part of this post was most useful to you? Do you still have questions about writing a book review? Let me know what you think!