The Beginner’s Guide to Book Reviews

Writing book reviews can seem like a daunting task at first. When I first started reviewing books, I found it pretty stressful because I didn’t know what to say or how to convey my thoughts and opinions on a story in a way that was helpful to other potential readers. They would either be long, drawn-out ramblings that were clunky and lacking in structure, or they were extremely short and completely devoid of anything other than, “This was a good book and I’m really glad I read it.”

While my reviews are far from perfect and I still have a long way to go before I master writing the “perfect” book review, I have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. If you’re struggling with writing your reviews or you’re looking to start writing but simply aren’t sure where to begin, then this is the perfect guide for you!

Why Write a Review?

Book reviews serve many purposes and are extremely important in the literary world. Personally, I enjoy writing reviews because it gives me a chance to talk about a book in depth: what I liked about it, what I didn’t, if I’d recommend it, etc. On many occasions, my reviews have opened up opportunities to talk to and bond with other readers who’ve read the same book. Many people look to reviews written by other humans with similar reading tastes to figure out whether or not a book is a good fit for them. 

Reviews are also important for authors because it helps determine how their customers feel about their work. Authors look to the feedback in reviews to find out what readers enjoyed about their stories, as well as aspects of their writing that can be improved upon in future works. Furthermore, self-published authors don’t have the marketing base that large publishing companies do, and they rely pretty heavily on reviews and word-of-mouth to help drive sales to their books. Writing reviews can help spread the word about a book that may not otherwise get much publicity.

Rating System

Online review platforms like Goodreads and Amazon use a star-rating system to allow users to express how satisfied they were with a specific product, with one star being the lowest rating and five stars being the highest. However, if you’re writing on your own platform, you can create your own system if you want, or skip the rating entirely.

Your rating of a book answers one question: How much did you like the book? Your review gives you the chance to elaborate on your rating, so make sure they make sense together! If you state in your review that you loved the book, it’s your new favorite, and that you’re going to recommend it to everyone you meet, then it wouldn’t make sense to only give it two stars.

Writing Your Review: The Structure

Like most things in life, a little bit of structure and organization can help your review flow more smoothly. I also find that having a consistent structure for my reviews makes them easier for me to write because I know what needs to go where, and they don’t end up all over the place. Here’s how I structure my reviews:

Section One: Synopsis

What’s the book about? Give a brief synopsis of the book you’re reviewing. You can use the blurb on the back of the book, or you can summarize it in your own words. 

Section Two: Your Opinion

This should make up the bulk of your post. Use this space to convey your thoughts about the book. If you’re utilizing a rating system, explain why you gave the rating you did. Did the story meet or exceed your expectations, or did it fall short? Perhaps you loved the author’s writing style, but you found a plot hole that kept you from being able to fully immerse yourself in the story. Whatever it is you want to talk about, you can do so here. I personally like to address what I liked about the book first and save the negative aspects for the end, especially if I enjoyed the story. Any points that you find particularly important should be addressed at the beginning of this section.

Section Three: Conclusion

Conclude your post by summarizing your review. Would you recommend the book? If so, what kind of audience would you recommend it to? Take a few sentences to wrap up your post and give any final thoughts you may have.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Don’t Over-Summarize. Your summary of the book should be short and sweet—keep in mind that you’re writing a book review, not a book report. You don’t have to outline every single detail of the plot. 
  • No Spoilers. Please don’t post any spoilers in your review! This ruins the fun for future readers and could not only deter them from buying the book, but they may also steer clear of your reviews in the future. If you feel you absolutely must post spoilers, be sure to disclose them before you do so. Goodreads also has a great feature that will warn users that your review contains spoilers before they read it. 
  • Be Honest, but Respectful. No book is a great fit for every reader. Be honest in your review! It’s okay to say that you didn’t like a book, but do it in a way that is respectful and helpful to both the author and potential readers.
  • Trigger Warnings. Some books are centered around or go into detail about graphic or traumatic events. While this doesn’t mean that they’re bad books, it does mean that they may not be suitable for all readers. If you come across a book that may be triggering for some people, consider putting a warning in your review (preferably at the beginning), even if it doesn’t personally affect you. 
  • Cover art. We all know not to judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest—judgment is simply human nature. While it’s okay to have an opinion on the cover of a book, don’t let it impact your review. Many authors (especially traditionally published authors) have little to no say over the cover of their books. Your review should be focused on the story inside, not the art on the outside.
  • Endorsements. If you received a book for free in exchange for a review, it’s always a good idea to disclose it. Though you don’t have to, transparency will help build trust with your potential audience. However, if you’re in a paid partnership with a company or receive any financial compensation for featuring a product, or if you’re using affiliate links, you’re required by the FTC to disclose this fact.

Writing Reviews for Social Media

There are a few differences when it comes to writing book reviews for a blog post and writing a review to post on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Many social media sites have a character limit, which means you have a limited amount of space to accurately and eloquently convey your thoughts. This is something that I personally struggle with as I tend to be a bit long-winded.

Aside from the character limit, social media also poses the added difficulty of grabbing people’s attention and keeping it. Blog posts and review sites are easier in the sense that if the reader makes their way to your post, there’s a good chance they were looking for it in the first place. Social media, on the other hand, is a bit different. While you do have a better chance of gaining more traction and being exposed to a wider audience, you’ll only have a few seconds to captivate your readers before they get distracted and scroll on to something else.

When I curate a review for social media, I start by writing my review the same way I always do using the structure above, the only difference being I keep the summary to one or two sentences. Once I’ve written my full review, I highlight the key points and cut out the rest. I also tend to put my star rating at the end, giving readers more incentive to read the full review to see how I felt about the story.

What Are You Waiting For?

Writing book reviews doesn’t have to be a stressful activity. Don’t psych yourself out about writing the perfect review; you don’t have to be a phenomenal writer, you just have to be able to provide good feedback. Writing of any kind is a learned skill, and with time and practice, you’ll be reviewing like a pro in no time. You don’t have to review every book you read, either. Pick out the ones that will be the most fun for you to write, and go for it! 

Do you have more tips for writing good reviews? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Guide to Book Reviews

  1. Awesome post! As a writer, I know how important book reviews are, and I’m sure all the authors you left reviews for are super thankful! Book reviews are especially appreciated by self-published authors who rely on reviews to sell their books! I’m not currently self-published, but I know if I ever am I’d love a review as detailed as this 🙂

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