Thursday, May 26, 2011

Writing a Great Book Review

It's fun to write a book review.  It's fun to share opinions, to hear what others have to say, to find books that we otherwise might not know about, and it's also a great way to bring traffic to your blog.  No matter your reason for writing book reviews (it might even be for school, and not for the Internet at all), these tips should be helpful.  (I say "should" because, really, I can hope that they are, but I can't know for certain.)

I've been a media reviewer for about five years now, and I've developed a style that works for me.  I'll outline it below, and then you can tweak it to fit your own needs and parameters.  It's all right if you copy it step by step, too - whatever works best for you.

1.  After I've read the book, I let it sit for a day or two and let it percolate in my brain.  I think about the plot, the characters, the things I wondered as I was reading, the questions I felt were left unanswered.

2.  When I sit down to write the review, I give a synopsis of the plot in my own words. Yes, you can use the text off the back of the book, but I personally prefer to write one of my own.  It presents my interpretation of the book, rather than what someone else wants me to think about the book.

3.  After I've written the synopsis, I will make a criticism sandwich.  That is to say, I share something I liked about the book, something I felt could have been stronger, and then I close with another thing I liked.  I rarely just praise without mentioning something I would have improved - I am a critical reader, and so I spot things.  That's just what happens when you work as an editor.  You see stuff.  I think it's important that a potential buyer know for certain what they are buying.  I also feel that the author can grow and strengthen their talents as they hear what they might have done better.  But I also feel that writing in and of itself is a huge accomplishment, and I don't ever want the author to feel slammed or harshly criticized.  If I can't be helpful, constructive, and edifying, then *I shouldn't be critiquing.  Simple as that.

4.  And that moves us on to my fourth point.  I try hard to keep my comments helpful and edifying. If I totally hate a book and can't find anything good to say about it, I will contact the author or the publicist - whoever sent it to me - and I will explain to them that the book didn't quite fit me, and that I'd like to pass it on to another reviewer.  This is the most fair way for me to handle it - I don't believe in ripping people up, but instead, I believe in allowing them to learn and grow from their experiences.

5.  I always like to talk about how the book made me feel or the things it made me think about.  That's what makes the review unique to me.  Anyone can post the text from the back of the book, but it's hearing what the reviewer felt while they were reading that will sell the book.  

6.  I always, always include a purchase link to the book.  The book review should tell about the book, it should tell how I feel about the book, and it should give my reader a way to buy the book when they are done reading my review.

In a nutshell, those are my tips for writing a great book review.  Some reviewers like to include the author's bio, or interview questions with the author, or book club-style questions.  All of that is great.  The main thing I can offer is this - be yourself and share how the book impacted you.  When you do that, you will rarely go wrong.

*I do want to make one clarifying statement - there are some book reviewers who do like to mention all the negatives and things they didn't like, and I'm not saying they shouldn't do that. It's their choice. I'm explaining what works for me, and every reviewer will have their own philosophy and their own take on what makes a review great. 

12 comments:

Tina Scott, the writing artist said...

Tristi,
This was the perfect post for me. I've heard not to be "snarky" when reviewing a book, but I haven't felt totally honest just giving "happy, loved the book" reviews when sometimes there were things that bothered me. This is a nice way to handle that. Thanks.

Rachelle said...

Excellent! I love your review style Tristi, and I trust your opinions. I'm going to link to this post from my blog. Great job!

Shanda said...

Our reviewing processes are remarkably similar. I know some reviewers won't include the critique aspect because they feel they are "reviewers" & not "critics." For me, I read both positive & negative reviews of anything I'm considering buying or reading because I want to know both sides. As a reviewer, if there is something that I kept "tripping over," as I call it, I feel obligated to share that (in a nice way) or I don't feel like it's an honest review. As a dedicated reviewer I think that if people can't trust that I'm giving my honest (and balanced) opinion, what's the point? Like you, though, I don't like to give negative reviews and would rather pass the book on.

Shari said...

These are excellent suggestions. Thanks for posting them! I've struggled doing reviews before and this actually cleared them up for me. So thanks!

Kristi Bernard said...

These are really great tips. Thanks for sharing.

Rebecca Irvine said...

Thanks for sharing this post. I like the way you handle books you do not like. I try not to review books I dislike as well.

Alice Wills Gold said...

Thanks Tristi. I have always wondered if I am doing my book reviews right. :) I think I may have done a decent job without even knowing what I am doing.

Now that I live in Utah does it mean I am not going to get any more books to review. I have all kinds of time on my hands for reading and I still have a lot of readers outside of Utah, so don't forget about me.

I love reviewing books and I love your book reviews. Howz this comment for a sandwich of good bad good. I think you are such a great teacher. And I so hope I can get a book written and let you edit it someday.

Lisa ~ Bookworm Lisa said...

I can't let a book sit for a couple of days. I have to write it all down right away, because I'm off and running on the next book. Excellent post.

Cindy M Hogan author of Watched said...

Great post. Thanks Tristi. I always learn so much from you

Celeste Estes said...

Thanks for this helpful post! I am planning on starting a Book Blog soon, and so I have been researching how many people write their reviews. I prefer reading reviews where the synopsis was the reader's summary, not the one from the back of the book. I really like that. Also, I find myself losing interest when the review is too long. I guess that might depend on your audience. One question I have though is how much are you allowed to give away from the actual story? How much do you prefer to keep to yourself so as not to reveal spoilers? Is it ever okay to reveal spoilers? What is your opinion??? Oh, one other thing I've seen that I like is a quote from the book followed by a commentary and review of that quote's part in the story. It draws my interest. Thanks again for your helpful post!!!

Nisa said...

That is great! I love letting books percolate. Some stay in my brain for weeks after I've read them. I just can't seem to stop thinking about them. Ah, those are the best!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Great information here.

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