Writing a Book Review

Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. Book reviews are something every writer thrives upon. Reviews can make or break a book. And we all know the more reviews, the chances of the book being noticed increases.

Is there a right and a wrong way to write a book review? There are no magic formulas or specific formats to use. Some reviewers include a summary of the book, while others might quote a passage. However, I think we should adhere to a few simple guidelines.

1) It’s natural that our personal preferences influence our reviews. However, if science fiction or romance isn’t your forte, don’t buy books in those genres, then leave negative reviews based on that fact only. The book may be well written, have a captivating storyline, or fantastic world-building.  Leaving a one or two-star review simply because you’re not a fan of a specific genre isn’t fair to the author.

2) Don’t post a bad review because the shipper didn’t deliver the book in a timely manner or the packaging was damaged. You’re reviewing the book, not the shipper. This is especially important when you’re buying a second-hand book which may not be in the condition promised. There are places to voice those complaints, but don’t take it out on the author.

3) If you don’t like a book, tell others why. I recently came across a one-star review in which a reviewer said, “I didn’t like this book.” To quote Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, “I don’t care!” The reviewer also made derogatory comments about self-published books, saying, “This means that the book was rejected by book publishing companies.” The funny thing? The book in question wasn’t self-published.

4) Keep it brief. You don’t have to write a dissertation. Try to limit your reviews to two or three paragraphs at most.

5) Tell other readers the reason for your rating, whether it’s good or bad.

6) This is a tough one. Many readers are also authors. We’ve built a circle of friends in the writing world and we want to support them. But are we doing one another favors by rating everything four and five stars? Authors who truly want to improve their work will look at the negative reviews (as long as they’re constructive criticism) to see if they can learn from them.

7) Avoid the inclusion of spoilers. Don’t ruin the story for potential readers. If you think you must write something about the book’s ending, preface your review with a warning, “Spoiler Included,” or something to that effect. Goodreads has the option to note that for reviews posted on their site.

These are just a few tips on writing book reviews. What would you add? Please share in the comments.

96 thoughts on “Writing a Book Review

  1. Writing book review blogs are so difficult! I recently wrote a book review for “The Woman in The Window” for my blog, and the feedback I received was in between 2 extremes! Some said they wished I included more information, and others said that there were too many spoilers! To spoil or not to spoil- that is the question!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is difficult and you’ll never be able to please everyone. I think by prefacing your review with something like “contains spoilers” should alert readers not to continue. If they do, and then complain, they can’t say they weren’t warned. For those who want more, we’ll hard to know what to do with them. Best you can do is write your rview as you see fit and if they want more information, they need to read the book! 🙂

      Like

  2. An interesting post, Joan. I write a lot of reviews. I am a very fast reader and I write a review for every book I read. I was interested specifically in your point about keeping reviews short. I don’t write very short reviews, they are usually about 500 words and I like to consider the writing style, characterisation and a brief over view of what I like about the story. If the book in question is poetry, I often quote my favourite passages. I actually try to write reviews so that they will be helpful as a marketing tool to the author, if I enjoyed the book, and contain construction criticism, when I didn’t. I didn’t specifically set out to write reviews this way, they have just evolved like this and it takes me at least one hour to write a review because I go back consider the book and often look up things to check I remember it correctly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for commenting, Robbie. I’ve read many of your reviews and I think you do a wonderful job. You have a reason for what you say and you say it well. My comment is for reviewers who seem to go on forever and don’t say anything useful. Also, some think they need to write a lot when a few short sentences are often helpful. Authors appreciate any positive review, no matter what the length.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Good, helpful advice, Joan. I have found that many people are afraid of writing reviews. They will write me long notes, even letters, to my blog or email, but ask them to write a short review and that’s tougher, somehow. Now, if asked, I advise them to write a one sentence comment: “I like/didn’t like this book because….” Turns out that many go on to write 2 or more sentences and some write what feels like a whole blog post!
    People need to know what is expected of them. Calling it a review is one of the problems, I think.Let’s face it: most of us, even authors, did not go to book review-writing school.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post Joan. Like others, on point six, I usually won’t finish a book I consider below 4 stars, or just won’t review it. I just don’t feel right giving someone a one or two star when I know what’s involved in writing a book.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is a great post, Joan. Reviews are such a touchy subject and with good reason. I once had a 1 star review on a book that said another reviewer had ruined the story for her by giving away spoilers in her review. As a result she had no intention of reading the book and gave it one star. Seriously?? How is that my fault? Grrr!

    #6 is a tough one and if I’m waffling between stars, I always go higher as a result.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I cannot agree loud enough! I’d like to add one. If you’re reviewing an audiobook, don’t take out your narrator frustrations by leaving the author a low star rating. In some cases, the author had no say in choosing that particular narrator and if s/he sucks, it’s not the author’s fault. Simple say the narrator didn’t do the book justice.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi, Joan, these are great tips for writing good reviews. I hate seeing reviews that are nothing more than a recap of the book with nothing about why they liked or didn’t like the book. The book blurb tells what the book is about. What I want to see in reviews is what the reader thought about the book, or how it affected them. Thank you for sharing this important topic!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Jan. I’ve learned a few things along the way about writing reviews. Still learning. But I’m with you. I hate to see just a recap of the book without telling why or why not someone didn’t like it.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Great review writing tips, Joan. I don’t like any spoilers before I read a book. I never give below 4 stars, usually, because I never finish reading a book that gets less. I focus on the good ones:) i have found some really good books through some trusted reviews!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. My pet peeve is when a reader says that they don’t normally read this particular genre but it was terrific and then hit it with a three-star review. Like you, I wish they would just have bought and read something else. Thanks, Joan.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great list, Joan. In terms of #6, I typically won’t finish a book I don’t like. My reviews are dominantly four or five stars, probably because I like to read great indie writers. 🙂 And, like many, I like to err on the side of generosity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do the same, Gwen. If I don’t like a book, I just don’t finish it. I recently bought one from a NYT bestselling author. It came as a recommendation from BookBub. Wished I had downloaded a sample first. I began reading it. and couldn’t get past the first two or three pages. (The fourteen-page section of author notes before the first chapter should have clued me in.)

      Lesson learned. NYT bestseller and hundreds of positive reviews don’t always equal a good book.

      Like

  11. Great post. All good points. I especially have trouble with #6, though. I have a hard time criticizing any other author’s book. I only mention something that bothers me if it REALLY bothers me AND I can still give the book a good review. But I agree with you. A well thought out review can be helpful and I can learn from them. I don’t write reviews for books I don’t like, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Judi. I hate to leave bad reviews or criticize others. A better idea is to contact the author directly (if you know them) and point out what bothers you. (Grammar, punctuation, etc.) Most will be receptive to the suggestions. I know I am. I just won’t leave anything less than three stars these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wonderful post, Joan. Looks like it’s getting a lot of attention, too. For me, I’d rather have a short sentence about the book than no review at all. Too many people harken back to the “book report” days and sweat delivering a good report. If someone simply leaves a star rating and the words, “I liked it,” it will count. I’ve also seen the miserable ones where someone couldn’t download it, or they never read it, and wonder why they went to the effort to review at all.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m with you there. It’s been too many years since my book report days and I wouldn’t want to go back to that. Nor do I have the time. Now, if someone doesn’t like a book, I’d like a brief sentence saying why.

      Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad this is resonating with so many people today.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    There is no way to overstate the importance of reviews to the sale of our books. They are vital to helping readers even find them, after all, and Joan Hall has a wonderful Story Empire post on writing reviews today. I hope you’ll all check it out, even if you aren’t a fellow writer. You are surely a reader, and these are things that can help you support your favorite author’s work. Please consider sharing this one far and wide, if you would, thanks. And thanks to Joan for saying it all so well. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. A terrific post, Joan, and I agree with every single point you made! For myself, I stopped leaving negative reviews at least 8 years or more ago (before I even started writing books, myself), because I didn’t like how they made ME feel. I realized I wasn’t enjoying tearing apart someone’s hard work in public, and decided there were plenty of people out there happy to do so, already. They didn’t need me jumping on that wagon. Now I only review 4 and 5 star books. If, I’m not enjoying a book, I stop reading it. My reading time is too precious to waste on books that don’t work for me, no matter the cause.

    I also don’t read reviews that summarize a book. That’s a synopsis, and personally, I don’t want that much detail. I prefer discovering those things for myself as I read. What I want to know is why did the reviewer give the book 5 stars? Excellent writing? Riveting plot? Characters that pull readers in? Well-edited? Those kinds of things. Others may want a summary, but I’m sure I’m not alone in skipping those reviews in favor of ones that let me know a book was “full of surprises,” or “deliciously spooky.”

    Such an important thing, reviews. You’ve hit on all the reasons why readers should leave them, and the best ways to go about it (or NOT go about it). THANKS!
    Sharing!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I left one negative review (one star) years ago. Way before I began writing. But these days if a book is that bad, I won’t finish it. Don’t have the time or inclination. I still think three stars is good (rather neutral) but I mostly leave four and five.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t have a problem with 3-star reviews, either. I just have such limited reading time that I have to be LOVING the book to finish it. And if I love it, it goes to 4 or 5 stars. If I had more reading time, I’d finish and review the 3-star ones, too. I may get back to some of those one of these days so I can give them their due, as well. I can’t keep up the hectic pace of this writing thing forever, after all. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Amazon’s policies are as bad as some of the thoughtless reviewers. They allow too many invalid reviews and get rid of valid ones.

    This was a great post, Joan. I hope it reaches a lot of readers and they take the information into consideration moving forward.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Can’t think of anything to add. #1 and #3 are practically pet peeves for me. I think these can be extra frustrating for two reasons. One is that it hurts your overall rating on Amazon, which people look at more than actual reviews. So, a potential reader won’t notice that the average drop is caused by someone who wasn’t really into the genre in the first place. The other is that they don’t really help an author grow. I can only stare at those in #3 and wonder what went wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

    • This post came about because of what I mentioned in #3. I was furious and it wasn’t even my book. You’re right, I look at ratings. If it’s a “new to me” author I’ll skim the top positive and negative reviews. I have purchased books based on negative reviews because something the reviewer doesn’t like, I know I would.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I realized a few months ago that Amazon implemented something that might be worse than the one word review. Now you can just do a review-less star rating. I don’t think it even comes up I’m the list, so it’s anonymous.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I noticed the ability to rate without reviewing. I only do that if I’ve finished a book and haven’t had time to write a review. But some people will do anything. And then there are the trolls out there…

        Liked by 1 person

  17. This is brilliant, Joan! Writers have a desperate need for reviews to get their work noticed. What goes into that review is crucial. I read a review recently that described the book as stunning and which held the reader captive late into the night – then gave it 2*. People glance at your statistics and if they aren’t reassuring they move straight on. Like the others who’ve commented here, I don’t post a review or rating unless I can honestly give it at least 4*. I know that many people are frightened to post a review on Amazon for fear of writing something that others might criticise, but very few readers are aware that they can simply leave a simple rating now.
    Off to write a review!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I like that Amazon now gives the ability to just leave a rating. As I just replied to Susan, I think some people don’t understand the rating system, thinking one star is best.

      Thanks for stopping by today, Alex.

      Liked by 3 people

  18. I really dislike the reviews on Amazon that give a detailed synopsis of the plot. Also, the ones that give a glowing review but only one star. And those that give one star and say ‘haven’t read it yet’. Amazon sends emails when you buy for Kindle, asking for reviews, and a lot of people seem to think that they are obliged to write something straight away.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Great post on leaving book reviews, Joan. I would add that if you’re going to criticise the grammar and punctuation, make sure you get your own right in the review. Unless you enjoy looking like a hypocrite, that is, lols. All wonderful points.
    For me, I review to support, so if I can’t be positve, I won’t review.
    Years ago, when I first started out, I was on two review teams that enforced review posting no matter what the rating. I wouldn’t do that any more. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  20. As a reviewer for Readers’ Favorite, one of the things I like best about the company is they only publish four or five star reviews, so I’m free to be honest and try to help authors who are total strangers. Sometimes, I even get a “thank you” in the feedback!

    Joan makes an excellent point about reviewing for authors who are friends..If I don’t like their genre, I don’t buy the book, even though I might wish them well and share a Facebook post for them. If I can post 4 or 5 stars, I also do as Joan suggests and post in as many places as possible. If there is something wrong with the book, I ask the author privately if they would like to know my opinion, and it is only my opinion. Most do, and I certainly say yes. Usually, by the time I publish it’s only the odd missed typo, but I thank whoever told me, correct it, and reload the book.

    I hate repeated blurbs – spoilers – I love Joan’s advice to “keep it short”, but if you can come up with a catchy title for Amazon, they are great to use on advertising banners.

    Another great post from Story Origin. Thank you for taking the time to write it and sharing, Joan.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Good point on contacting the author directly. I would never do anything to publically bash another one. I recently reviewed a short story that was very compelling. It needed a content editor, otherwise, I would have given it five stars. I mentioned that in my review but was cordial about it, and focused on the positives.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. A great post, thanks. I don´t like reviews that repeat the blurb. There is no need. A short review about what you liked about the book, or didn´t like, and why. I personally don´t review books I didn´t like at all. My dad always said, if you can´t say anything nice, don´t say anything at all.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I like your Dad’s philosophy. I think I left a one-star review several years ago. That was before I started writing and had a lot more time to read in those days. Nowadays, if a book is that bad, I won’t finish it, let alone leave a review. I might leave three stars but even that is rare.

      Liked by 3 people

  22. Excellent post, Joan. You make good points.

    As for the comment about self-pub meaning that it’s been rejected by publishing companies…. grrrr! It will take a long time to educate people about the industry in this century, I fear!

    I will add – if expressing your thoughts in words doesn’t come easily, a couple of sentences is fine. Most authors would rather this than no review at all, and all reviews help the visibility of the book on Amazon.

    I have written a much-read piece about author reviewing authors – bit of a taboo subject, because no one ever likes to sat, er, yes, I did read your book but I wasn’t that impressed. I know it is not the ‘done thing’ to leave other links in comments, but if you would like to read it, let me know on Twitter, or something!

    Liked by 5 people

    • That comment about self-publishing made me furious. And you’re right, educating people will take some time. Some will never get it. A popular book from about a decade ago was self-published and went on to be made into a movie. (The name escapes me right now.) I’m sure quite a few publishing companies wished they’d picked that one up.

      Would love to read your article. I’ll message through Twitter. Thanks for stopping by today.

      Liked by 2 people

  23. Reviewing a book you didn’t read…or even purchase, is not a review!

    Drives me nuts when I see reviews that begin, “I didn’t read this book, but…”

    Just rude and unnecessary, and I’ll never understand why Amazon won’t remove them.

    Good post, Joan! 🙂

    Liked by 6 people

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