There is nothing more frustrating to an author than receiving an email from Amazon, informing you that “You have a new review for . . . ” and finding out that someone has given away all the details of your best-selling mystery novel. Then, to make matters worse, you discover that the “reviewer” has publicly dressed you down with a very personal attack, thereby adding insult to injury. Sound familiar? If you’ve been writing for a while, it probably does. And, it happens more often than you might think. Unless the review was written by another author with a grudge, the reason is fairly simple: most people do NOT know how to write a book review . . . or a movie review . . . or any other kind of review. Hopefully, that’s all about to change (at least I hope it will for you). For our purposes, I’ll only deal with book reviews.
Contrary to what most reviewers think, the purpose of a review is not to provide potential readers with a complete synopsis of the book. That should be reserved for the author, long before the book has been published, usually while seeking either an agent, or a publisher. So, what are the basic components of a good book review? Or, better yet, why do people read reviews in the first place? The answer is simple: They just want to find out whether or not they would be interested in reading the book. (Hopefully, they will buy it!)
So, here’s “the skinny” on how to write a good book review. A worthwhile review should provide potential readers with four essential pieces of information about a book:
1. Whether or not you liked the book
2. Why you liked the book, or why you did not like the book (be specific)
3. A brief description of the plot—without revealing whodunnit, or to whom it was done, assuming it’s a mystery; in the case of a romance novel, or other work of fiction, without revealing too much of the plot. (If it’s a non-fiction book, try to give some sense of the content of the book.)
4. A rating for the book (usually based on a scale of 1 through 5 stars), and whether you would recommend it, and for whom (again, be specific as to your reasons)
That’s it! Nothing more, nothing less. If the book has a controversial subject matter, such as religion, or politics, you should refrain from offering a personal opinion on the subject—unless you are a qualified expert, and only if you are writing the review for a respected publication—such as a literary magazine, or trade journal that has, as its focus, the subject matter in question. Otherwise, zip it!
Be brief. Remember, you’re reviewing a book, not writing one! Try to avoid personal attacks at all costs. They are not helpful—and they only diminish your credibility as a reviewer.
One last thing (and this is a “Golden Rule,” as far as I am concerned): If you can’t give at least a 3-star rating for a book, on a scale of 1 through 5 (or, in academic parlance, a C), then it’s best not to post a review at all. My rationale for that is that anyone who devotes anywhere from six months to a couple of years writing a book, deserves, at a minimum, a passing grade of C, or a 3-star rating for their effort alone. Anything less is an insult, and that violates the “no personal attacks” thing.
Now, go forth and write a review. And remember, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
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