Writing a Book Review: 101

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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About AuthorJoePerroneJr

I am a former professional fly-fishing guide, and I write the Matt Davis Mystery Series, which presently consists of four books: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day, Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises. The series is set in the real town of Roscoe, NY, in the Catskill Mountains, where I guided for ten years. I love fly fishing, movies, cooking (and eating), and music. To learn more about me and my writing, please visit my website at: http://www.joeperronejr.com.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, In my opinion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Writing a Book Review: 101

  1. All your points were good, except for your so-called “golden rule”. Sorry, but a book does not deserve 3 stars just by virtue of having been written. It is completely dishonest and undermines any reviewers integrity.On top of that, it takes away from books that deserve a good rating.
    Besides, it’s to be expected that not everyone is going to like every book. Not everyone likes Shakespeare for crying out loud. So it seems very childish to take it personally and insist people censor themselves so they don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. There is no inalienable right not to get offended. If someone doesn’t like your work, just move on.

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  2. Sorry, but I do think it’s important to leave reviews for books that rate below 3 stars so long as I can justify that. And I do sign my reviews and explain why, as a writer and editor. I do not trash books, but I think it’s important readers understand why a book may not be up to their standards. However, even when I rate a book below three stars, if I think the book may still find a specific audience that may find it worthwhile I identify that audience while steering more general audiences away.

    There is a reason sellers and renters have 1 and 2 star ratings and readers need to be aware that not everyone enjoyed a book. Even my books. To control the flow of information by artificially cutting off the reviews is unfair to customers. Writers need to accept the fact that not every reader, or reviewer, will appreciate their book. It hurts, but it’s life.

    If the criticism is legitimate, however, the beauty of eBooks is that discerning authors can take the review and fix the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Random Chat: What Is a Good Review? | Ana's Lair

  4. Cate says:

    Great advice, that I try to follow as a reviewer. However, I do post reviews with less than 3 stars, but always give an explanation in the review as to why. This is never meant to be a personal attack on the Author as, in most cases it is usually down to extremely poor editing and proof reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cate says:

    Reblogged this on Cate's Book Nut Hut and commented:
    Great advice that I try to follow. Thanks Joe

    Liked by 1 person

  6. KiM says:

    That kind of goes hand in hand with my post from July 1 on “Do you read books? Here’s what authors want you to know.” I”m wondering how Amazon notifies you that you received a new review? I try to let unfavorable reviews roll off me with the thought that you can’t please everyone but knowing how few people write reviews for how many books are purchased amazes me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It usually sends an email (if you publish your books through Createspace or Kindle). I, too, am amazed how few people post reviews. I’m always grateful for a well thought out, constructive review.

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  7. macjam47 says:

    These are great tips. As a reviewer, I hate when spoilers are included in other reviews, even when there is a spoiler alert, The Diesel-Electric Elephant Company made a wonderful suggestion to add sex/violence and language notices. As to the three stars. If an author asks me to review their book and I can’t give them at least three stars, I contact them and tell them, I will not review their book and why as gently as I can. Usually it is because it needs more proofing or editing, all things they can fix. In one case, it was because the author listed dates and details of events, but there was no story to tie them together. This was his first attempt at writing and he rushed it. He is now working on his book with an editor. The bottom line is, I want to share books I love and promote some fantastic authors. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on what makes a good review.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks! Shared your post and following your blog. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Bill Ramsey says:

    As usual, Joe, you spoke truth. It seems all forms of review have hit men whose input needs to be disregarded. For example, If a restaurant has 96% 5-star reviews and 4% 1 star, whose reviews are you going to believe?
    Just a couple of things that I look for in reviews (or write into those that I do) are evidence of good editing, story-line pace and plausibility.
    Thank you in behalf of all who write and read for this blog entry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Restaurant reviews are particularly subjective, and can often contribute to the failure of a business. I try to be exceptionally careful when posting them. I like the part about good editing, storyline, etc. Good stuff, Bill!

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  10. I am so happy that you explained this. I agree. I work hard on my reviews to make them seem enticing to read without giving away too much. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. TermiteWriter says:

    I always try to write my reviews as if I was writing a college paper on the book (I’ve done graduate work in English lit), only briefer. I analyze the content and give examples of things I like. And I agree totally with the last point. If the book isn’t good enough to get at least 3 stars, I usually don’t review it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I agree that you should be specific as to the reasons why you like or do not like a book. One person’s reason for hating a book could be another person’s reason for liking it. A helpful review is one that is specific without leaving spoilers.

    As an author, I choose not to leave less than 3 star reviews, but readers and professional reviewers may certainly leave any type of rating they like. Though a one-star review may feel like a personal attack to the author, the reader doesn’t necessarily mean it that way. I’ve received one and two star reviews. Yes, they hurt. But I try not to take them personally. It’s important to remember that not everyone will like your book.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Nicely done, Pal Joey. I’ve always been astonished that most critics who review books, movies, plays and museum exhibits have NEVER accomplished anything creative in those venues, yet are accepted as Solomons by editors, and by too many of their outlets’ naïve readers. I recently had the great pleasure of seeing the final performance of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at the Flat Rock Playhouse, and wonder why the “Times News” reviewer wrote a basically good review but ultimately dissed it (fault goes to the overly-selective headline writer there, too) because of its 1950’s characters and costumes that were so accurately reflected on stage. I guess that reviewer does not understand ‘period pieces’ or ‘camp’ portrayals on a stage. (To him I would just say: duhhh.) An old memory that really sticks in my craw was a visit to the Newark Art Museum and being introduced to the collection by a large glass container filled with the artist’s urine. (That p…ed me off.) Come on readers of Joe, let’s all stand up to that sort of nonsense and protest thusly: art is not art just because the artists says so – there must be some redeeming value (other than shock, if that can be so interpreted). Yeah, free speech and creativity and all of that, but in the eyes of the beholder art in any form should be honestly praised, accepted, attacked by the viewer, not solely but the reviewer. A critic’s judgment (even by a well-informed one) is more often than not merely not his of her slanted view. Just sayin’. Author Jack Prather.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So very accurate, Jack. How someone can go to a play that has as its subject matter a bygone era, and then criticize it for being “dated” is absolutely perplexing to me. You’re right on the money. 🙂

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  14. I agree one should not trash an author’s work as they have, in most cases expended blood, sweat and tears in producing it. However if one has knowledge of a subject and the book contains factual inaccuracies it is fair enough to point them out. For example if a book on Nazi Germany named the leader of the SS as Goebbels rather than Himmler the historian in me would feel bound to comment on this error. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    • Valid point, Kevin, which is exactly why I stressed the “why” part of whether or not a reviewer likes a book. With fiction, that type of accuracy may not always be as critical, although, personally, I do a great deal of research to insure that my “facts” are as correct as possible. Actually, extensive research tends to be a lot fun, and often leads to plot ideas, to boot!

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  15. Fantastic tips! Thanks for sharing the awesome suggestions. If you’re ever interested in some other great book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Agreed! The only thing that I add to that menu when writing a review is some mention of formatting, sex/violence content and language – a gentle hint of great, good, bad or ugly, within the context of the book.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Great advice from Joe 😃

    Liked by 3 people

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