The art of book reviewing

As a regular reviewer, I often get asked about how to review a book so here's a look at some of the most frequently asked questions:

What should be included? 
Some reviewers take their role very seriously and will write a detailed summary of what happens in the book running a fine toothed comb over every character and twist of plot. These are commonly known as spoilers and I personally don't agree with this method. After all why bother reading the book when the review tells you everything?

The summary of what the book is about should read much like that of the text on the back cover. Describe what the story is about using around 4-5 sentences. It should be informative but without giving the whole story away. You don't want to ruin a surprise ending or spoil any major plot twists.

You should then include your reactions to the book. 100-200 words is enough. What did you like/ not like about it? Was it inspiring, amusing, romantic etc...

If it's non-fiction, was it useful? Did it make you think? Was it presented well and easy to read?

And finally, would you recommend this book to others? Who do you think it would be suitable for?

What do I do if I hate the book?
Some reviewers have a policy of only writing good reviews and refusing to write one for books they didn't like. Whilst I've read a few over the years that were hard going to finish I think something positive can be found in most. 

A book review must be honest. If it wasn't a great read, don't say it was or you'll just end up with people questioning your value as a reviewer. I think this quote sums it up nicely:

"A critic can only review the book he has read, 
not the one which the writer wrote".  
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

I always try to find something positive about the book to help balance my negative comments. If all else falls, did the cover look nice? Was the story idea good? (in some cases the actual idea is good it just needs to be written better).

If it really was so bad you can't find anything good about it, write the author a note explaining why you can't offer a review. Be nice and try to suggest ways it could be improved.

How long should a review be?
There is no fixed length but it's best to aim for a max of around 500 words. Long reviews tend to be either boring, give too much away or just take too long to read.

Try to include a sentence or two that can be used as a testimonial for the book. The sort of phrases you see on the back of books as endorsements. As an author I love it when I get a short comment I can pick out and use on the cover and in promotional material.

Writing reviews is an excellent way to give back to other writers and increase your own chances of being able to collect a few when you need them for your own projects. If they use your review they will include your name and should link back to your site where possible. A nice way to gain extra traffic and build a reputation.

Do you review the books you read? Where do you post your reviews? Have you ever had to tell a writer you can't write a review because the book was so bad?

Image source: fahid chowdhury at Getty images


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