Friday, September 13, 2013

How To Write A Book Review (for Beginners)

Reading StatueEvery now and then, I decide that my real purpose in life is to review books. I love books. Adore them. I can get so lost in their pages that it takes a supreme effort to drag myself back to reality. But a funny thing happens when I finally turn the last page--I don't know what to say about it. Other than "I loved it, loved it, loved it!" or "Bleh. It was OK."

Even if I find I have something of value to say, a quick trip to amazon or goodreads proves to me that everything of value has already been said by someone much more eloquent than I. By people who eat symbolism and thematic elements for breakfast. People who take the time to deeply inhabit the worlds of their books and yet still manage to read twice as many novels as I do.


It is enough to make a girl crawl back to her computer to churn out another novel, which suddenly seems easier by comparison. And yet, my dear friends, a review does not need to be a twenty page treatise on the class structure in Wuthering Heights in order to be valuable. It doesn’t need .gifs of Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride in order to be accessible.


I'm telling you this for a very important reason. Less than one month from now, my first novel is being published. I hope you read it. I hope you love it. And I hope you review it. I need you to review it. Word of mouth and reviews are an indie author's most important marketing tools. There is no way for a novel to do well without it.


I suspect that most people just peruse book reviews anyway. They are looking for keywords that will tell them if this book will be a good fit for them. So--in case you get as freaked out by writing book reviews as I do, may I introduce Book Reviews 101. This is the simple version. If you figure out you love it and want to go the extra mile, there are definitely resources out there for you. But this is the way to show your support for your new favorite authors without it taking too much time.



How To Write A Book Review


The two main sites where I check for book reviews are amazon and goodreads. Both sites make reviewing a book fairly simple. Since amazon has one extra step (the title) I will use it as the example.

Step 1: 

It will ask you to give the book 1-5 stars. There is no option for zero stars, so 1 is as low as it gets.  This is the easiest part, but it is the most important. Many people look at the cover, read the blurb and look at these star ratings when deciding whether to buy a book.

1 star=I hated it, didn't finish it or wish I hadn't read it.

2 stars=I didn't like it.

3 stars=It is OK

4 stars=I liked it.

5 stars=I loved it!


Step 2 

Write a title for your review. Blerg. I have a hard enough time writing titles for my books, let alone for every single review. But don't let this get to you. Skip to the review, write it, and then pick out the best sentence to be your title. Or use some generic ones, like these:


1 star:

I couldn't finish it.

It was like watching a train wreck. Except boring.

*Except never say this, because it is rude. Always be polite. 


2 stars:

Not my cup of tea.



3 stars:

A good read.

I'm glad I read this.


4 stars:


A great book!

I'm hooked.


5 stars:

Can't wait for the sequel.

I couldn't put it down!

A new favorite.

Good stuff.

Not just for teenagers!


Step 3: 

Write the review

For amazon, the review needs to be at least 20 words. So don't get scared. Just think about what you would want to say to the author, or to another friend who recently read the book. Like:


"Did you finish it? You did! Oh my gosh..." The very next sentence that would come out of your mouth is what you want to write about in your review--minus the spoilers. Instead of "Could you believe it when Jace..." you could write:

"Jace is absolutely the sexiest character ever written. Pain-filled and funny. Isolated but loveable. A hero and yet vulnerable. Swoon."




"I wish I could go to Hogwarts."




"It was pretty lucky that they were the only people on the WHOLE PLANET who thought of going to the grocery store to stock up on food and medical supplies. This finally got so unbelievable I had to give up. I couldn't finish this book."


If you still don't know what to say, write about one of these things:

The characters. Who was your favorite character? Why? 
The setting. 
The imagery. The descriptions. 
The pacing of the plot. Was it so action packed that you couldn't put it down? Was it slow but enjoyable? 
The believability. When did you forget these characters weren't real? Or when did you roll your eyes and think "Oh, for crying out loud"?
How it reminded you of real life. Did it trigger memories for you? Did it take you back to your first kiss or the day you were bullied by that fifth grader? 
Your emotions. Did you laugh? Did you cry? Did you throw the book? Did you forget to pick up your kids? Did you set the book down and forget about it for weeks? 
The next book. Will you rush out and get it? Don't really care? Join the throngs of people waiting for its release? Wish there was going to be a next book? 

If all else fails, read some other reviews and see if they trigger an idea. Give writing your review a shot before you do this though. Your opinion matters, and so do your words.


When you are finished, click "preview your review". It will show you what it looks like. Reread it to check for mistakes and then click "Publish." That's all there is to it. 

You have done a valuable service for mankind. You have helped readers decide whether or not they will enjoy a book. You may have helped them to steer clear of something that would be a waste of their time and money. But hopefully, you have helped pump up your favorite author's sales so they can continue writing. 

Thank you for that.







  1. I have to say, if someone said this was like a train wreck, except boring. on one of my reviews, that would sting like a mother. You know how much work goes into writing and publishing a novel, and if someone said that about our book, it would hurt.

    I love when I get a GOOD bad review. I love when people point out what is lacking in my novel, so I can grow from it. A good bad review is like a good beta reader, it doesn't hurt, it just makes the work better. Criticism just for the point of criticism isn't helpful.

    I think it's better to ignore a bad book, then to try to destroy it. Even the worst book has someone somewhere who will love it, and is still the by product of a thousand hours of work and dreams.

    But I'm seeing things differently a few weeks before publishing.

    1. And it's also important to know that you rate things differently on goodreads than you do Amazon. In my opinion, Amazon ratings should reflect the quality of the product, but should be, in general, higher than a goodreads rating. In my opinion a 3 on goodreads means this was an average, pretty awesome, but not my favorite book. Goodreads reviews are about the quality of the story.

      Amazon reviews should be about the quality of the product.

      On Amazon that good book that isn't your favorite, should be rated as probably a four. Because the Amazon rating also reflects on the quality of the editing, and cover. It referenced that it's a good product. Maybe not for you,storywise, but the product was well made, and someone somewhere could love it and you wouldn't explode. If you wouldn't explode if someone else loves it then it doesn't deserve a three on Amazon.

      Amazon reviews are the last thing people read before deciding to purchase, so a goodreads review about a book you liked, and finished, and helped you, even though it wasn't perfect, on Amazon could stand in the way of a person buying the book that will be special to them.

      Also, never review a book you haven't finished. You can totally say, "I didn't finish", and that's a helpful comment to both reader and author. But to say, "I hated this book. I couldn't get past the first chapter" doesn't mean you hate the book, it means you hated the first chapter.

      It's totally fine to say, "This book wasn't for me." But to say "this book is super horrible and I hate it and it's boring and no one should ever read this," not only is unhelpful, it also can stand in the way of a book finding it's readers.

      You might not be them, but that doesn't mean there aren't readers out there.

    2. You know Sheena, your comment about the train wreck is a REALLY good point. I was trying so hard to make sure I touched on negative reviews that I wasn't thinking much about good manners. It would be lovely if everyone had them.

      That particular title came from a review on amazon on one of my favorite all-time books--City of Bones. I actually agreed with the reviewer believe it or not. She mostly attacked the first chapter, which is pretty poorly written, even if it does come from an awesome book.

      Awesome points, Sheena.

    3. Obviously I need to write a post on this subject. :)

      Oh wait, I think I just did.

    4. I think you wrote two posts, Sheena, which were both very insightful and added nicely to Melanie's awesome post.

      Here's mine. Everyone always says the reviews are for readers not authors which I full heartedly agree, but some reviewers aren't writing their reviews for the readers either. How is a five-page, over-the-top, snarky-to-the-point-of-being-a-mean-girl, spoiling-the-entire-plot review helpful to your average reader trying to figure out if they want to read a book? Honesty they are just rants against a book that they didn't like which is not the same as a review.

  2. I have to admit I hate writing reviews. There are several books I should have written reviews for - I liked the books, I know the authors, in one case the author even gave me a hard copy of the book (dying of shame now) and I never wrote the review. I rated them, but I didn't write it. Because I hate writing reviews. I feel everything Melanie said, plus in the case of someone I know there's the added pressure that they'll know who I am and so I don't want to be critical of the book or write really lame compliments and... ARGH.

    I go more by ratings than reviews when buying, especially on Goodreads, because I don't need an essay with gifs and hidden spoilers and bits of personal narrative. I scan for certain keywords, like "cliffhanger ending" and "nothing happens" and then I take my chances. But I know they do matter to other readers, and therefore to authors, and so I will bookmark this post and try to do better. :)


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.