Thursday, May 26, 2011
Writing a Great Book Review
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.