Writing a book review can be challenging if you don’t know where to start. And what should you even pay attention to when you’re reading a book? And how do you take notes? What do you include in your review?
I will help you answer these questions in this blog post.
Step 1: Choose a book
Naturally, you can’t write a review before you’ve chosen a book to write a review about. So this step might seem too obvious to mention. Still, it pays to think about what kind of book you will read, and for what purpose.
Do you post your reviews on your blog? Does your blog have a particular niche when it comes to genres? For instance, I only review fantasy/sci-fi books, because that’s the kind of books I love and also write. So, keep this in mind when choosing your book.
Or do you have ARCs you need to read for a service such as Netgalley? Or are you writing a review for a website that pays you? Then the book is already chosen for you.
Choosing a more recently released book might also lead to more traffic on your website, as it’s likely that most people haven’t read it yet and are curious to read your thoughts to decide if they should buy the book for themselves.
Take these things in consideration, and if you’ve chosen, it’s time for the next step.
Step 2: Read the book
You want to read the entire book. Don’t just skim, that will cloud your judgement of the book, and you might miss important bits. If you want to write a good and honest review, you need to read thoroughly.
Take notes as you read. How you do this depends on personal preference. Some people write in their books, as it makes it easy to underline and use post-its or sticky tabs to keep track of engaging or boring parts to get back to it quickly when they’re writing their review. If you have a digital copy of the book, underlining and making comments becomes a lot easier.
I don’t like writing in my books or sticking tabs into it. I just want to keep my books clean. So, I use an app for taking notes (I use Notion, but any kind of note-taking app will do). You can also use a notebook if you prefer to take notes by hand.
When you take notes without the tabs, make sure you write down the chapter and page-number corresponding to the note. If you have a more general observation, write down one of the examples that prompted the comment. It’s good to have examples to support your opinion of the book, even if they don’t make it into the actual review.
Some questions to ask yourself when reading
- How is the flow of the story? (e.g., many boring parts, big info dumps, or perhaps too fast, no time to breathe, etc.)
- Are there many tropes used? If so, are they innovated or something you’ve seen before?
- Is the theme of the story clear? And what is the theme?
- Are there good twists in the story?
- Was the ending surprising but inevitable?
- Was the main character realistic and sufficiently developed? And the side characters?
- Did you have empathy toward the main character(s)? Did you care what happened to them?
- Was the world created believable and sufficiently detailed? Any religion, culture, or magic adequately explained)?
- Was the prose readable? Did it have a literary quality? Not too many grammatical errors and typos?
- Was there enough suspense in the story? Did you keep wanting to read on?
Step 3: Determine the format
Before you actually start writing your book review, you should decide on the format. Is it going to be a full-depth review? Or will it be a mini-review, part of a list of books? If you’re writing for a website for pay, they probably already have a specific format. What you choose determines the level of detail you will put in the review.
Step 4: Write the review
And then… you write. How you’re writing your book review depends a lot on the format you choose. In any case, you want to mention the title (duh), the author, and the publisher. It also helps to indicate the genre and the intended audience (e.g., is it Young Adult, Middle Grade, Adult, etc.) at the beginning of your review, so that readers know if it’s a book that could interest them.
Then, you build up your review. It’s always good to give a short description of what the book’s about, but don’t just copy the blurb; people can read that everywhere. Write in your own words a few sentences that you think the book is about, what the theme of the story is.
How you build-up your review depends on your preferences. For my full reviews, I like to divide them into comments on the story, characters, world-building, and writing, to end with a conclusion. But there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. Check out some other bloggers and how they write their reviews to get some inspiration (never just copy). Don’t be afraid to put your voice into it! That’s what will make it stand out!
Write down the things that stood out to you: the good and the bad. And remember: reading is a subjective experience. The things you loved might not appeal to someone else or the things you hated something another person loves. While people read your review for your opinion, it’s good to keep this in mind. That’s why you don’t just say you didn’t like a book or loved a book but explain why. That way, readers can make up their own minds about whether or not they will want a book.
Step 5: Re-write your review
No matter how good you are, there will always be mistakes in the first draft of your review. So look it over, find the typos and grammar mistakes, change sentences that are confusing, too long, or delete unnecessary parts. Don’t aim for perfection.
Let me repeat that.
Don’t aim for perfection. It will drive you crazy, and your review will never be finished. Settle for something close to perfection (aim for an 8 or 9 out of 10). That’s more than good enough.
If you’re very unsure about it, let someone else read it. Nothing is better to improve than getting feedback.
Step 6: Send your review out in the world!
Wherever you plan on posting it, be it another website or your blog now is the time to publish it and let the world read your review.
People can disagree with your opinion. That is valid— we all have different tastes. With the notes you took, you can easily defend your opinion. Just never invalidate someone else’s’ opinion, and don’t let them invalidate yours. Discussion is good, and it can be part of the fun when it’s kept respectful and civilized from both ends.
Go forth and write (and read)
Those are all the steps I think are essential when writing a book review, and do it well. Now, it’s all up to you to write the best review you can. Let me know if this was helpful for you, and if you have any questions or want me to read your review, just let me know. I’m always happy to help.