Four Steps to Writing a Substantive Book Review

Four Steps to Writing a Substantive Book Review

FeedbackIf you’re on a publisher’s site—like, for instance, this one 😉 —you likely know book reviews matter. Amazon determines your ranking and whether they’ll promote you in part by the number of reviews you have. Readers use them to determine if they want to buy your book. Promo sites like BookBub use them as criteria for acceptance.

Despite their importance, a perusal of Amazon book reviews shows many are virtually useless due to their lack of pertinent information.

Let’s consider these reviews:

  • Great book.
  • I loved it.
  • Not my cup of tea.

Yes, those are actually reviews I’ve found on Amazon. Not really much there to help me make a decision. How about you?

Today, I’m going to give you the four-step blueprint for writing a substantive and helpful book review. This does not mean the review is a five-star recommendation. Helpful reviews can point out flaws just as much as they can showcase quality. But whether you want to sing the book’s praises or express (polite) dissatisfaction, there are steps to follow—steps that will result in a thoughtful and honest assessment of the text.

  1. Introduction
    This is where the title, author, and genre are provided. But there’s more to it. Give the reader insight into your reason for reading the book to begin with. Did the cover appeal to you? Was it a compelling description? A recommendation from someone else? Did you happen to stumble across it when you browsed a favorite genre? Also, consider sharing your feelings here. Did the cover, blurb, or book itself coax fond memories or inspire any desires? Your opinion matters, and it could be the difference between someone reading the book or moving on to a different title.
  2. Summary
    The back-cover copy isn’t long enough to tell people what the book is about. Spend a paragraph or two analyzing the content of the story. Talk about plot, character, setting, and pacing. Give readers an opportunity to know what’s in the book, but don’t reveal any spoilers. That would ruin their experience and could cost the author a sale.
  3. Analysis
    RatingsThis section reveals whether the book followed through on its promise. Did the blurb promise an epic romance, an action-packed quest, a suspenseful mystery? Tell the reader—again, without writing any spoilers—whether it met, exceeded, or fell short of your expectations. And tell them why. This is not the section where you say whether you liked the book. This is about success. If you are someone who only enjoys happily-ever-after endings and the book you’re reviewing ends with death and destruction, you won’t like it. And that’s fine. But was the book successful? Was it well-written? It’s not fair for you to pan the story just because of your personal preferences. Well-crafted stories should be given high marks, regardless of your feelings. And the opposite is true for poorly-written work. It may give you your happy ending, but if the characters were one-dimensional and the work riddled with grammatical errors and cheesy plot devices, it doesn’t deserve five stars.
  4. Result
    This is where you say whether you liked the story. Reviewers often start here, but it should come last because this section is actually the least important part of a review. In fact, it can be left off entirely. If you choose to include this section, consider making a recommendation rather than a proclamation. Instead of “I loved this story,” or “This book wasn’t for me,” maybe you can just say, “Fans of [insert another author name here] will enjoy this book.” It’s much more diplomatic, and it takes the pressure off you to reveal your private thoughts.

Tips:

  • You may not be able to leave a unicorns-and-rainbows review, but you can be constructive in your comments. Always strive to remain objective and polite.
  • If you are an author, be cautious about leaving blatantly negative reviews. Yes, you are entitled to your opinion, but Amazon could consider your review to be a personal attack designed to denigrate a competitor. If that’s their determination, they may delete your books and your account from their site.
  • If you really can’t think of a single positive comment, consider the possibility that it’s your own biases and not the author’s work. Try to give the benefit of the doubt and critique analytically rather than emotionally.
  • Remember, Amazon is the big dog in the yard, but it’s not the only dog. Add your review to Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, etc. You don’t need to write new reviews for each site; just copy and paste the original. It may take you a few extra minutes, but it won’t take too much longer and you could be helping an author gain traction in an overly saturated market.

Did I forget anything? Do my steps vary from yours? Let’s talk about reviews in the comments below.

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11 Replies to “Four Steps to Writing a Substantive Book Review”

  1. I am always disappointed when the only thing a reader gives is stars, even if its four or five, but especially 2-3 (never had a 1 knock on wood). What could I have done better or was it personal taste? On the other hand, anything is better than a vacuum. Thanks for the tips that I can pass on.

  2. I was terrified the first time I wrote a book review. I can write a 90K word novel with more ease. This is a very helpful and informative post.

  3. This is great advice. Thanks for sharing. I did book reviews in a former job, and still do for books I’ve read. This will help the novice reviewer become a pro.

  4. Excellent post. I especially like the tips on how to write an informative review. I think many times readers are intimidated by the thought of posting a review, not knowing what to say or how to go about it. You’ve provided a great guideline.

    1. Thanks, Mae. I think you’re right. I know people who simply won’t write a review because they don’t know what to say or they think their opinion isn’t relevant. I say everyone’s opinion is relevant. But there are better and worse ways to go about it. Maybe this will help some shy readers take a plunge and write a review or two.

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