How To Write A Book Review

book reviewWhen I worked on the editorial desk for The New York Times (Washington Bureau), I was living in Washington D.C. at the time and the cost of living was pretty high. I needed another gig and was blessed with the opportunity to freelance as a book reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly. I didn’t realize it back then because I was too young and dumb, but every time I sat down to write a review for a book, I had an author’s livelihood in my hands. I was just one person who was going to write a review for an author’s book in a publication that lots of people paid attention to and respected. And let’s not forget that I was getting paid to do this. Now that I look back on it, it was too much power for one person to wield.

Now that I’m older and the landscape of the publishing industry has dramatically changed,  the “readers” are the ones who collectively wield the power. Sure we may all still read reviews in Publisher’s Weekly or The New York Times, but what really helps us make a decision about a book are the book reviews written by “real people” that you find on places like Amazon and Goodreads. That’s where a book review really matters.

I started writing book reviews online sheerly as a gut reaction to finishing a book that I either loved or hated. What I didn’t really anticipate was the fact that authors would start approaching me and asking me to review their books. I’m not even an Amazon top reviewer or someone in Amazon Vine, but I get approached by authors pretty often. As an author myself, I depend on book reviews, good and bad to tell me if I’m getting it right or if I missed the mark. So I believe it’s good “book karma” for me to write a book review, when I’ve read an especially good book. I just always want to make sure that it’s useful for the reader…

How To Write A Book Review That Is Genuine And That Readers Find Useful

1. I typically write my book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, because I think they are the 2 most relevant spaces for book reviews.

2. I DON’T write book synopses in my book reviews. I find it irritating when a reviewer feels the need to retell the entire plot, and it obviously spoils it for people who are actually reading the review to determine if they want to read the book.

3. I don’t write reviews that contain SPOILER ALERTS. You actually see this a lot on Amazon. In my opinion, if you were so moved by some part of the plot then go talk about in an online forum, Facebook group, etc. Just adding the words “spoiler alerts” to your review is not going to make up for the fact that you have probably just ruined the element of surprise or suspense for someone who has not yet read the book.

4. When writing a positive review, I make sure to include the “why” I liked the book. The reasons why you may have liked a particular book may resonate with someone else who’s on the fence about the book.

5. The ideal length for a book review is between 75-500 words. No one wants to read just a two word “Great Book!” review and no one wants to read a long dissertation either.

6. Because I am an author, I typically do not write bad book reviews. If I didn’t like the book, I don’t write anything at all about it, because I’m not going to make a lot of author friends that way:) and plus I think it’s bad book karma. BUT having said that, I do think it’s important to be genuine when writing a review. If there is something that you didn’t like about a book, then write “WHY” you didn’t like it. Be specific. Be honest. And remember that this is someone’s “baby” so write your words carefully.

7. If you are given a free book to review, it’s essential that you fully disclose the fact that you “received a free book in exchange for an honest review”.

8. The easiest way to write a book review in record time is to write the review in the same way you speak. This means in a conversational tone. Pretend you are talking about the book with a friend, what would you say to convince them to read or not bother reading the book?

What now? Get some practice in by going to Amazon or Goodreads and writing a book review on the last book you read.