June 30, 2021
Do you have tips for writing a great book review?
Wondering Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jessica Baker @ A Bakers Perspective. I came across this meme for the first time on Davida’s blog, so I think I’ll give it a try and join in with bookish topics! I’m also linking up this post with #LetsDiscuss2021 challenge.
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
6 Elements I Look For in a Book Review
Most of the tips I’ve accumulated about writing a book review have come from studying other book reviews. I try to emulate what I love. Whether you love a short one paragraph review or a long form thorough analysis, I hope you’ll join our conversation and perhaps find something useful! When I read a review here are six elements I look for:
I look For a Brief Summary
Challenge yourself to write the briefest summary possible. Ideally, no more than a few sentences. I’m aware that some reviewers do not include a summary at all; however, it’s my opinion that a few sentences provide context for a review. If you send visitors off to find the summary on some other site like Goodreads or Amazon, you run the risk of not getting them back. Of course, it’s important to avoid spoilers in your summary. As an example, here’s my four sentence summary for The Kitchen Front. One of my pet peeves is to read a review that is all summary with a couple of reflection sentences tacked onto the end…..this is NOT a review (IMHO)! In addition, if the summary is too long, it will most likely contain spoilers. Reviewers that substitute summaries for reviews won’t find me hanging around for long.
I Look for How You FEEL About Your Reading Experience…How Do You Connect With the Story?
Rather than a long summary, I want to know if you love the story. How did you connect? How was your reading experience? Describe your reading experience. Was it page-turning? Engaging? Unputdownable? Thought-provoking? Informative? Entertaining? If it was meh, give some examples of what didn’t work for you. I find that the more I love a book, the more difficult it is to find the right words for a review! Sometimes I resort to a list like in this post of Project Hail Mary. Sometimes it’s helpful to me when you compare the book you’re reviewing to another well-known book or movie. I love reviews where I can hear the reviewer’s “voice” and feel the reviewer’s emotion and enthusiasm because that will entice me to pick up the book more than a bland summary.
I Look For Thoughtful Themes and TWs
Please mention themes! Certain themes always attract my attention: forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, complicated family drama, hope, friendship, women supporting women, and second chances are all winners in my experience! I also appreciate trigger warnings…..although these often contain spoilers and you need to warn readers before you include a TW. I wrote a post on TWs here. If you don’t believe in including trigger warnings, I understand. But I (and many others) do appreciate them because they help me choose books I know will fit my reading tastes and help prevent an unexpected and unpleasant reading experience. Knowing is power.
I Look For Honesty (and Kindness)
There are kind ways of reviewing books truthfully. I don’t mind the sandwich method: your honest opinion (what didn’t work for you) can be “sandwiched” between a couple of positives. If the book wasn’t to your taste, who do you think would enjoy reading the book? I think it’s kind to acknowledge what another reader might find enjoyable. No two people ever read the same book. Also, when I’m reading a negative review, I look for specific examples not rants. For instance, knowing that the characters are stereotypical or not well developed is more helpful than expressing a general statement of hatred for the characters. When you tell me in your review that the characters are stereotypical, I can interpret that as negative but it is stated kindly. I like to study and learn from reviewers who can make negative comments in kind ways. (And, please note, reviewing etiquette requires that authors are never tagged in negative reviews). As a side note, I only post 3, 4, and 5 star reviews on my blog, so you are not likely to find a 1 or 2 star review on the blog. For all my reviews and DNFs visit me on Goodreads which is where I rate it all.
I Look For Readability
Don’t want me to read your review? If you don’t want me to read your review, post ONE LONG BLOCK of text with no breaks or subheadings. But wait….isn’t “content king”? I do appreciate great content and I will slog through reading your review if I’m especially curious about the book you’re reviewing; however, if I have to make myself read it, you’ve probably lost many other visitors. I’ve even read reviews where the summary runs together with the review in one long block. Honestly it takes very little effort to hit the enter/return key to start a new paragraph! Separating your thoughts into paragraphs and adding a bold word or two or a subheading for each paragraph greatly enhances readability!
Need more convincing? If you’ve heard about SEO and think you might want to start “somewhere,” heading and subheadings are basic components of best SEO strategies. SEO enhances readability.
I Look For a Star Rating
I realize that some reviewers no longer give star ratings in blog reviews, but I still look for them and appreciate the time and effort it takes to analyze and nail that down.
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Related: How I Write a Fiction Book Review; 10 Elements of a 5 Star Read; Do I Write Honest Reviews?
What is the most important element of a book review for you?
QOTD: Let’s Discuss
What do you look for in a review?
Happy Reading Book Buddies!
“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text
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***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.
Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.
Book Cover and author photos are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.
Good ones! Thanks for the tag and I’m glad you liked doing this one.
Thanks as always for the inspiration! 🙌😍
Excellent tips Carol. I do fall into the trap of over-writing the summary of the review – I’m conscious of that when I read other reviews so am trying to rectify that in my own efforts but it’s hard going sometimes and I end up deleting paragraphs where i feel I’ve strayed too far. Getting it down to a few sentences would be a real challenge.
I have a peeve about long, long blocks of text too. It’s hard enough to read on my laptop but so many people now access content via mobile devices where that lack of formatting would be a serious issue.
Thanks Karen! I’m constantly working towards shorter summaries! Sometimes complicated stories need a bit more context! You always have fabulous reviews!
Well that’s given me cause to smile this evening! Thank you Carol
Some great advice here. I hope I always adhere to your recommendations. I think I am bad with trigger warnings.
Thanks Marianne! Sometimes I forget about TW, too…l.especially if I don’t write the review right away.
And we all are different, one is sensitive to this subject, another one to something else. Sometimes it’s hard to think about it if you haven’t thought something offending that someone else might. Still, I try.
That’s true……you can’t anticipate everything! One time I noted excessive profanity and a commenter said “oh? I never noticed.” 😂
It happened to me a couple of times. It’s often a problem with different cultures. Even Americans feel differently about a lot of things than Europeans. I know plenty of Americans, so I might notice it faster but I don’t always.
Great point about different cultures!
I’ve lived among people from everywhere in the world, comes naturally to think about that, just not always what is a trigger for some and what not.
Great post Carol. I do try to keep my summaries short, but I get carried away sometimes. I have caught spoilers when I reread before posting and deleted them, but I know they sometimes sneak by. I continue to work at changing up my reviews to make them more helpful to others. I agree with your comments above. I have waffled about stars, but I think they are important.
It’s so difficult to avoid spoilers! In my review of Project Hail Mary, I must have deleted half my post!
Thank you for such a great post, I really enjoyed reading your suggestions. I so agree at the summaries masquerading as reviews – just as unhelpful as the “I loved/hated it” reviews for me.
“I find that the more I love a book, the more difficult it is to find the right words for a review” – that comment is so true – I can write pages on why I disliked a book, but can struggle for words on a really good read.
#3 is definitely an area I need to add into my reviews – particularly on my blog – and the themes part in particular.
Thanks for your thoughts Louise! Writing reviews for 5 star reviews is the hardest!
Excellent post, Carol! This is really helpful.
I think condensing summaries takes a lot of practice! But, I agree, long summaries usually lose me.
I really appreciate trigger or content warnings. Especially in regards to profanity and sexual content. I love when themes are included. That is something I appreciate about your reviews. The themes give me a good idea of the overall feel of the book and whether or not it will be for me.
Thanks for your thoughts and your feedback on my reviews Gretchen! I’m happy you found the post helpful! Happy reviewing! 🙌
This was a great post and really helpful! I’m sometimes guilty of writing too long a summary – but I try to include some personal thoughts in the summary. And I’m glad I’m not the only one finds it harder to review good books – it can be really hard to identify what you like about it; you just want to say, “It’s great!” and press it into reader’s hands.
I’m pretty rubbish with technology, and find myself struggling with WordPress sometimes – that’s something I really need to work on!
Thanks for a really useful post!
You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I’m thrilled you found this post about review tips helpful!
This was really useful to read thanks. Carol. I’ve not included a summary or themes before but will start doing so after reading your suggestions, Thanks very much!
You’re welcome! Thanks for your thoughts Deb!
Ha I haven’t wrapped my head around content warnings yet, people could be offended or upset by ANYTHING and I kind of wonder if we need better mental healthcare if we have to list out things in a book that might upset someone? Is it only young people who don’t have good coping mechanisms, this “snowflake” generation? It’s just weird to me, I’ve never been more than casually miffed by something on page even after significant life events. Idk. I got in it with someone one day because they mentioned street car racing incase someone had ever been hit by a street car racer and I just couldn’t stop laughing, where do we draw the line with people just ignoring everything potentially unpleasant? Lots of food for thought I guess but I won’t be including it anytime soon unless it’s pertinent to the review
😂😂😂 good points Athena! I know there are lots of opinions on the subject. One tome I commented about excessive profanity and one person commented “oh? I haven’t even noticed!” 😂 most of it is subjective but there are sone big ones like suicide, abuse, addiction, etc…..
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I agree! However I usually don’t do a summary cause I post the blurb. Great post!
Thanks Kym! I started writing summaries after experiencing frustration with a few misleading and/or spoiler filled blurbs! Some are better than others!
Oh that makes sense. I always worry it makes my review too long!
Yes, some of the official summaries are kind of long! But in a case of not having much to say, that can be helpful! 😂😂😂
Great tips, Carol! I really struggle with writing reviews. I need to try to implement more of these in mine.
Reviews generally get easier with practice…but there are still some pesky ones that threaten to get the best of me!
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Now that I’m agented and trying to sell my own book, I keep my reviews positive, but I totally understand the need for constructive criticism too!
I’m sure there’s another layer of complexity in writing reviews as a author!