Friday, February 28, 2014

How To Write An Effective Book Review

Sticking with the review topic, I thought I'd flip things around this week and talk about writing reviews. It's been a hot topic of conversation on one of my Facebook groups this week. One person asked what one should leave in a review, and that's what I wanted to focus on in today's post.

It seems there is a lot of confusion out there about what should be said in a review. I've been writing professionally for three years now, and I've received reviews that run the gambit. Positive reviews that say little more than 'I loved it!' and negative ones that simply say 'This book sucked'. The question becomes, how do either of these reviews help a potential reader decide whether or not to read a particular book?

When it comes down to it, book reviews aren't there to boost an author's ego, or made them rethink whether or not they should even be writing in the first place. Reviews, aren't for authors at all. Reviews are for readers…or should I say, potential readers. They are meant to help readers decide if they want to read a book or not. 
With that in mind, what should be in a review?

Let's start with what shouldn't be there. 

First of all, the review shouldn't be a recap of the entire story. If someone is looking at reviews for a book, the last thing they want is for a reviewer to tell them exactly what happens in the story. It's fine to hint at major plot twists or shocking endings, but details should be left out. The vast majority of people don't want to read a review and find out that the heroine finds out she's pregnant at the end of the book. They don't want to read that one of the main characters dies. These are things that should be left out of reviews. Instead, maybe something like, 'I couldn't believe the bombshell toward the end of the book. I never saw it coming'.

Also, any personal commentary on the author themselves should be kept to a minimum, and it should always be respectful. There is nothing wrong with saying you met the author at a book conference, or chatted with the author in a forum. Going on and on about how wonderful the author is as a person when it has nothing to do with the book or the story itself, should be left out of a review. If you want to tell the author how great they are, send them a personal message. Most authors I know would love to get a note from a reader saying how much they love their books, work, or something they've done outside of writing. 

On the flip side of that, a review shouldn't bash an author, either. There seems to be some disagreement on what bashing is, so let me explain what I think it is and what it's not. Saying an author is stupid and has no clue what they're talking about, would fall into the bashing category. Why? Because the reviewer is making it personal. They aren't saying what the author wrote is stupid, they are saying the author themselves is stupid. A minor destination, but important nonetheless. What the author wrote about may be disturbing, but that doesn't mean the author themselves are disturbed. Again, reviews should be about the book, not about the author. 

So now that I've talked about the things a review shouldn't be, let's get to what, in my view, a review should be. 

Let's be clear here. There is no one right or wrong way to write a review. But with that said, a review should have one goal. It should be written with the goal of helping the person who reads it to decide whether or not to read the book. A good review should say what the reviewer liked most about the book, and if there was anything they didn't like. Again, no spoilers, but a reader should be able to walk away from a review with a good understanding of why the reviewer rated a book the way they did. This is important because we don't all care about the same things when reading a book. Whereas some people may be sticklers about editing, another reader could care less. They only want a good story. 

The whole point of a review, ultimately, is to help other readers determine if they would be interested in reading the book. If a review doesn't do that, then, in my opinion, it didn't do its job. 

So what do you think? What do you look for in a review? 


  1. Aside from too much summarizing, the other big pet peeve is when a blog post will include the book blurb and a long excerpt as well. When I read a review, I look for a case concisely stated for or against a book. As much as we all love five stars (thanks to the effects of Amazons algorithms), it should also be noted that three-star reviews are not evil. Most books are just that: average. Nothing wrong with that. I've enjoyed quite a few average books.

  2. Hi, I agree. I don't care what the reviewer thinks of the author as a person, I just want to know what they thought of the book (minus spoilers). And it's true that different people care about different things in a book. I can't read a book full of spelling/punctuation/formatting errors but it doesn't bother me if a book ends with a cliff-hanger.

    1. Thank for your comment, Rhyll. A review full of spoilers is a big pet peeve of mine as well.