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!
If you like something I wrote here, you are free to share/quote it with credit and a link back to the original page on my website.
I've not had time to read anything on here, but this one post caught my eye and I made time for it. :) Thanks so much Yaasha! At a little "bump" with writing book reviews right now so this is greatly appreciated! Am printing the cheat sheet to at least give a little inspiration. :)
8/3/2015 12:36:13 am
Thanks for finding the time to read and comment; I'm so glad it was worth it to you! Hope that cheat sheet will help you whip out those awesome book reviews in no time!
10/20/2015 12:45:59 pm
This is just what I wanted!!! Thank you so much, you've done a really great job and helped people out...i'm so glad to be one of those people!!! I came across your video on YouTube and was really impressed and so opened your website to just donload the cheat sheet!!! Thank you soooo much!!!
10/20/2015 04:27:14 pm
So glad you stopped by, Mahmudha. It sounds like you will make fantastic use of the cheat sheet. Glad to meet someone else who loves reading!
10/22/2015 04:09:03 am
Here's my new review that I wrote with the help of your cheatsheet on the book 'The namesake' by Jhumpa Lahiri. And here's the link to it www.shukratheblogger.com . I hope you enjoy the review!!!
10/22/2015 04:10:51 am
Sorry, the link is www.shukratheblogger.blogspot.com
10/27/2015 06:51:18 pm
Thanks so much, Mahmudha! I enjoyed reading the review and getting your insights. I have never read "The Namesake," so now I know a little more about it. Keep up the good work!
5/15/2017 09:53:16 pm
It really improved my reviews Thank you
8/7/2017 02:40:44 pm
Thank you for taking the time to write/record this good advice. I will probably share it with my students as a way to introduce writing reviews of their independent reading books. Could I have your permission to use much of the text of what you wrote in a document that I give to my students with a link back to the original blog post?
9/22/2017 07:28:32 am
Book review was always a tedious task for me during my University days and a year after School now (that knowledge sort of faded away). A lady in my office just brought a book review for me to help her with...this simplified tips so easy to roll with
12/11/2017 01:20:52 pm
thanks very much it helped me a lot for my homlearning
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Tom Corson-Knowles, the author who founded Bestseller Ranking Pro, spent six long years trying to get a traditional publishing deal (and failed miserably). He finally decided to self publish his first book on Kindle in February, 2012.
9/21/2020 07:56:56 pm
People love reading books written by skillful and credible authors. If your book has little to zero errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling and is well-articulated, clear, concise, and compelling, then there is a good chance for many people to read and praise it.
1/13/2021 11:02:15 am
Thank you for the video! =)
2/23/2022 05:25:50 am
Thank you for sharing informative content. It means a lot to me hope you do more articles to post.
6/12/2022 06:44:38 am
I listened to your advice on YouTube about book reviews. I really liked the advice and has come to download the cheat sheet. This will help me with my book reviews. Thank you!
12/22/2022 09:56:54 pm
Hi, I was looking for a clear example of how one can review a book. Thanks a lot for the detailed explanation. It really helped.
6/2/2023 12:22:09 am
There are no classifications in contemporary craftsmanship. There are no guidelines. Specialists are given the opportunity to make and make anything they please and call it anything they please. I relate to that framework, or absence of framework, substantially more than I do the scene of contemporary distributing.
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I write YA/adult fantasy & sci-fi that explores fantastic and interconnected worlds, with stories that burn through the darkest realities with hope and redemption.
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