The Art of Book Reviews: How To Structure One

The basics of a book review is very nearly a throwback to your elementary school days filled with book reports. Except no one is judging or grading you and you get to choose whatever you want to read and it DEFINITELY won’t be Where the Red Fern Grows because the dogs are fine, OK?

Anyway – when writing a book review it’s OK if you’re only able to post a blurb that says “Loved it, buy it, you won’t regret it” or “Hated it, was a waste of time” if that’s all the time you have to offer…  But there’s more to leaving a book review than your opinion. Future readers need to know if your opinion would match theirs based on the type of person you are and so on. This doesn’t mean you have to offer your whole life’s story to clue them in – just a little glimpse will do.

Here are a few main pieces to include in your book review when you’re writing it:

Give your initial reaction to the book – this will grab a future reader’s attention and explain the mood of the story.
Give your own little summary of what the book was about. This is a neat aspect of book reviews because everyone’s summary about the same book will be a little different. You’re going to focus on the pieces that struck you as the most important which will eventually show the diversity and depth of the book to future readers. When writing about the book please do not forget the next part…
Like seriously. Don’t do that. If you think it’s going to be a spoiler, leave it out. Avoid them at all costs because nothing ruins a book faster than someone who blurts out the ending or twists to come in a review. Imagine someone telling you Darth Vader was Luke’s father before you had a chance to watch the movie (and we’re not counting that as a spoiler because, come on, you’ve had over 20 years to see it.) I’m pretty sure friendships end because of spoilers. SO. DON’T. DO. IT.
However, if there are twists coming it’s OK to mention that there is a twist coming. It adds to the mystery and encourages future readers to pick up the book.
Background Information:
Who are you? Do you read this genre all the time or did you happen to stumble across the book? Are you familiar with the author’s other work? How did you end up with the book? How long did it take you to read? How does your profession or the activities you’re involved in relate to the book, if at all? These types of questions give your review credibility. If you were looking to buy a romance novel based on the reviews would you go with the person who doesn’t ever read romance novels or the person who reads them all the time? Exactly.
If you’re reading a book that was authored by a friend be careful about saying that you read it because the author was your friend. Some websites like Amazon are really cracking down on reviews and will delete reviews from people who are closely linked because of the risk of bias.
What you liked:
This is the part that seems like a no-brainer, but it’s super important. Give it substance, though, by telling us what you liked about it; how it touched, inspired, or entertained you; why you connected with it. This sort of depth is great information for future readers who may relate to you on a personal level and brings the content of the book to life.
What you didn’t like (if applicable):
You don’t have to love every part of every book you read, but if you’re going to leave a scathing review or even a so-so review, please let people know why you didn’t like what you read. Give future readers examples of what you didn’t like and even dare to offer ways the book could be improved.
When reading indie-books (books published by independently owned publishers rather than the big names like Penguin and Random House) be prepared to see a typo or two and then get over it. If it’s a lot of typos, then say something. There’s perfection and then there’s neglect.
If you didn’t like the book, take an “it’s not you, it’s me” approach to how you write about it. Your opinion isn’t the same for everyone so be sure to talk about what made it unreadable rather than just simply stating you didn’t like it. More on this in a future The Art of Book Reviews post.
You’ve likely already given your star rating of the book, but there’s more to it than that. Be sure to include who you would recommend the book to. You’re not going to recommend a sci-fi novel to a reader who only reads historical fiction…. so make sure your recommendations make sense. Is it ideal for people who love adventure? Or adults with wild imaginations? If you liked the book then it’s a small leap to say that people like you will also like it.

Bonus Tips:

  • Try to include some sentences that can be used as “sound bites” for the authors to advertise with. For example, if you loved the book because of the pacing and action say something like “Take a deep breath and hold on tight, Book will whisk you away to….” It’s ok to over exaggerate your feelings here. Since we can’t read your body language or see the expressions in your face your words need to do the telling for you.
  • Most review sites will ask you to rate it out of five stars and even tell you what they think each star means. Pay attention to their definitions of stars so that you make an accurate rating choice. If no definitions are given, create your own.
  • Something is better than nothing and we writers will take what we can get, so thank you for your time and energy (no matter the amount) put into sharing your thoughts on our work. We really do appreciate it and your words can make all the difference in our success!

What was the last book review you left?

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Jaymee is the creative director and writing force behind Beaux Cooper Media. She loves to collaborate with other writers and journalists across the genres. Jaymee lives on the beautiful coast of Rhode Island with her cat, Ada, and dog, Bean.

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