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How to Write a Book Review

If you find yourself reading more than usual these days, here’s how to put your opinions to good use when writing a book review.

By Jessica Dukes

When you finish reading a book, especially one you love, it’s only natural to want to tell other people about it. Writing book reviews is a great way to share the highlights of your reading list with the world. On a practical level, authors and publishers appreciate the feedback and word-of-mouth promotion, and savvy readers look at reviews for guidance on what to read next. If you find that you’re reading a bit more than usual these days, here’s how to put your opinions to good use when writing a book review.

1. Read the Book

This may seem obvious, but we’ve all read online book reviews that make us think, “Did they even read past Chapter 2?” In fiction, non-fiction, or in any genre, the most helpful book reviews have one thing in common: a big-picture opinion of the book as a whole. What if you are near the end of the book but you find it impossible to finish? It’s still okay to write a review, but be honest about how much of the book you read and why it stopped working for you. Most importantly, be thoughtful. Remember, other readers may love a book for the very same reasons you didn’t.

2. Describe Why You Chose the Book

If you’ve never read a Historical Fiction novel before, it would be helpful for people reading your review to know this. Likewise, if you’ve been running a Mystery lover’s book club for 20 years, your review of the latest bestselling mystery may carry more weight than other reviews. Even if you chose the book because you love the book cover, that’s a legitimate reason to give it a chance and fair to mention in your review. And of course, if you’re reviewing the book because a publisher sent it to you for free in exchange for an honest review, it’s important to disclose that, as well. Don’t let your review get derailed by personal stories, though. One or two sentences should be enough to give readers some context for what drew you to the book in the first place.

3. Generalize Plot Points, Characters, and Themes

A quick recap of the general story arc lets readers know whether a book has a clear beginning, middle, or end or if it’s a meandering, stream-of-consciousness narrative. Cover the basics of setting and character. Does the book take place over the course of a century, or a single day? Is the main character someone to root for, or is she the ultimate anti-hero? Offer some insights about the major themes of the book, too. Is this a revenge story, a coming-of-age novel, or a comedy of errors? Describe the book in broad strokes, just enough for readers to know what to expect, but no more.

4. Comment on the Writing

Good reviews also include a thoughtful reaction to the reading experience itself. Is the book a fast-paced page-turner, or is it more of a slow burn with dense language? Does the author excel at dialogue, or is she a master at describing settings and character traits? Are there similar books you can compare it to? These are just a few ways to comment on the author’s writing style. Which leads to an important distinction: Try to focus on the writing, not the author. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but remember that you’re writing a book review, not an author review.

5. Do You Recommend the Book?

Many websites and publications give you the option to rate books with stars, hearts, or thumbs-ups, but it’s still important to say clearly whether you recommend the book in your review. Add a few personal touches here. Did you stay up until midnight because you couldn’t put it down? Did the ending truly surprise you? Whether you ultimately recommend the book or not, mention which type of readers would enjoy the book the most.

6. Last But Not Least: No Spoilers!

Whatever you do, don’t ruin the experience of reading the book for other people. If you mention plot points or character traits, don’t give away any information that reveals the book’s secrets. Saying “Spoiler Alert!” followed by a few spaces and “I knew all along that the Captain was the killer!” isn’t going to cut it. Spoilers are spoilers, no matter how you try to cloak them. Before you click the “Post” button, give your online book review a final spoiler-free edit. Future readers will thank you!

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