Sometimes a book really just speaks to you, and other times it doesn’t. Book reviews detail honest opinions about a book – most commonly a recent release – to let the readers know more about why it is worthy (or not worthy) of reading. A review is not objective, but it does have to be fair; let the reader know the reasons why you have certain opinions about this book.
So, you want to write a book review. Before starting, think about why you’re writing the review. Is it to encourage others to buy or read the book? Has the book recently been adapted into a television show or movie? Is the book problematic in some way, or does it speak to a current social issue? When submitting to a publication, it is important to read their other published reviews to get a feel for what they want.
Here are some guidelines to follow when writing a book review:
1. Read the book
This seems pretty obvious, but make sure you have (recently) read the book and can remember some of the finer points. When you’re reading, it may be useful to take notes by highlighting passages or quotes that feel meaningful, making a note of significant plot points, and keeping track of moments that you loved and that you hated. Try to read the book critically so that you have good notes to work from, or read it twice—the first time for enjoyment, and the second time for analysis.
2. Find your voice
You can put your own style into reviewing. Reviews don’t have to be dry; if you tend to have a humorous writing voice in other pieces, you can use the same style for a review. You can also be snarky but remember not to alienate your audience by overdoing it, and don’t be cruel—give solid reasons for why something doesn’t work for you. That said, if you are writing for a specific publication (or you want to send them a review) they may want you to conform to their style. If that’s the case, make sure you read their other reviews and see the kind of tone and structure you should use.
3. Know your audience (and the book's audience)
Are you writing for adults or younger readers? Does the book appeal more to fans of a specific genre or does it have a wide appeal? Think about who will be reading your review and, therefore, who you are recommending the book to. Keep in mind what the readers will already know about a book or genre if they are a fan, and what you will have to explain to a general audience. Most importantly, think about what the readers want to know about the book.
4. Discuss the strongest points
Discuss the strongest points
Talk about what you liked and didn’t like. These are your opinions, so it’s ok to be more subjective; if you felt strongly about the book, justify your like/dislike with some of these points:
Were the characters three-dimensional and complex? Did they feel real?
What was the pacing like? Did the plot feel too slow at some points or did things happen to quickly?
Did you have a favourite scene or moment? How about a favourite quote?
What was the writing style like? Was it poetic or fairly simple? Did the dialogue feel natural?
Was it a page-turner or did it take some time to pull you in?
5. Never give away plot twists or endings
It’s a big no-no to spoil a book without giving others the opportunity to read it, regardless of your personal opinion about it. You can say whether you enjoyed the ending but be careful about revealing an unexpected plot twist (they will be more common in some genres than others). Book reviews are generally a spoiler-free zone—save those discussions for a book club!
6. Think about the content
Content indicators or warnings can be used if the book deals with difficult subjects. Let potential readers know if the book tackles a topic that may affect them in an extremely negative way because of their personal experiences. If you’re unsure about the type of content that should be indicated check out this blog post. Remember that you don’t need to shy away from reviewing books that talk about real issues, but have empathy for readers who need to think about how content will affect their well-being.
7. If relevant, give the book a rating
Some publications provide starred ratings (out of five) or scores (out of ten). If they don’t specify, it’s up to you whether to you want to give the book a rating or merely summarise your opinion and give a recommendation!
Writing book reviews can be a great way of refining your critical reading skills and better understanding what it takes to craft good written material. Publishing book reviews can also lead to finding an audience that enjoys your unique writing style, allowing you to promote more of your other writing, whether it’s creative or feature writing. Book reviews don’t have to appear exactly as I’ve described here—ponder how a book affected you in a personal essay, delve into the history of a genre or the modern understanding of a classic, play with structure and style—you can even make a booktuber style vlog.
If you’re inspired to write your own book review, remember you can submit it to Curtin Writer’s Club and have it published on our website!