Today, there seems to be endless confusion as to what constitutes a proper book review. Though there are no shortage of opinions about the books we read, it can often seem that little care is taken in how to correctly credit an author for the work he or she has produced and promote the book to would-be readers. When bogus reviews can be bought to increase sales of books and boost an author’s profile, then the sanctity of the book review has indeed become tainted. This is unconscionable and should not be tolerated by anyone under any circumstances. This article strives to highlight step by step what constitutes a novice, non-paid review that is fair, objective, and worthy of publishing.
READ THE WHOLE BOOK FIRST!
It seems like a no-brainer but many of the reviewers I have come across openly admit to not reading the book before posting a review. This is not an acceptable practice. It is not! In most cases the review is a negative one, with the reader abandoning the book early because they didn’t care for it. They then feel compelled to write a negative review fueled by their anger over having their time wasted without care, consideration or objectivity. If you choose to read a book, along with it comes the caveat that maybe you will not like it, maybe you will even hate it but that doesn’t give you the right to be cruel. Bottom line: if you haven’t read the entire book, don’t bother reviewing it. You are not helping anyone.
Other times, a reviewer jumps the gun and writes a review while they are still reading the book. This is also considered a non-objective review and it serves no one. In order to write a fair and objective review you must first read the book in its entirety before you can even consider sharing your opinion with anyone.
I once changed my mind about a book about 80% through. I ended up writing a very different review than I would have had I simply stopped before that point. Reviewing without reading the whole book does a disservice to other readers, the author, the publisher, and to yourself.
OFFER A SHORT SUMMARY
A summary is an overview of what the book is about. The goal is to keep it short and concise, a few paragraphs at most should do it. Stick to the overall story and theme(s).Remember to keep any spoilers out to the best of your ability. If you cannot avoid spoilers, then add a disclaimer to the top of the review warning those who haven’t yet read the book that they may want to hold off on reading your review. Write in your own style and avoid overly used and cliché phrases to describe the book.
What did you like about the book and why? What didn’t you like and why? Offer as much detail as you think necessary to be helpful to your audience. Citing specific passages or quotes from the book are key to illustrating your point of view and offering your readers the impression that you are knowledgeable. Always try to consider first what the author intended with his writing. Just because you didn’t like the book doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Always be fair and objective and keep asking yourself if you are being fair and objective throughout writing your review.
What literary classification does the book fall into? This is usually classified with the other book statistics however you can reiterate it here. You can also explain why you feel that the classification may be incorrect or include other non-stated genres that you feel may overlap. You could also make comparisons to other similar titles you have read.
Who is the book best suited for and why. Which audiences do you feel would best benefit from and appreciate this book and why? Reading level and maturity level should be considered.
PROOF YOUR REVIEW AND EDIT AS NEEDED
Just as with anything else you write for publication, even if you think no one will read it, you must proof and edit your review.
USE A TEMPLATE
If you want to write consistent and polished reviews, you need to follow a template. You can design your own in outline form or search the web for others that you like. Read reviews from other critics that you respect. Take their reviews apart piece by piece and figure out what makes them stand out. A couple of reviewers I admire are: John Domini of the Washington Post and Clea Simon of the Boston Globe
MAKE IT FUN
I have read my share of boring reviews. A review should always be written for the reading audience. To attract a bigger audience, make your review engaging and fun to read. Open a dialogue, use your own distinctive voice when writing, if appropriate, humor also works well to engage your audience.
MAKE IT EASY TO READ
Chunk your text as opposed to writing in one solid block. This will make your review easier to read and make it more likely that someone will actually read it. Use stand-alone sentences that are likely to get tweeted and retweeted or shared by themselves on social media channels. Be creative and use your own unique voice as opposed to trying to mirror someone else’s. Also, watch the length. An average length review runs between 250-500 words. Be your own relentless editor if you don’t have one and look for ways to say what you need to in as few words as possible.
There are many components that go into writing a proper review. Taking the time and effort to carefully construct a worthy one goes a long way. Maintaining your professionalism even when you are not getting paid, writing with the author in mind and for the reading audience are ways to ensure writing a review worth reading.