Friday, January 11, 2019

10 Tips for Writing a Good Book Review

Raise your hand if writing book reviews stresses you out.

Yep. Me, too. It sucks, doesn't it? Book reviews are so incredibly important to authors and readers alike. We reviewers want to be helpful, but instead we find ourselves stressed out (or bored) at the prospect of trying to critique an entire story.

Here are some things you can do to help make you write great reviews in an easy, non-stressful manner:

10 Tips for Writing a Good Book Review

1. Remember a one-sentence review is better than none. Seriously. Leave a review whenever possible. Don't have time to do an in-depth review? Then just slap together a sentence, post it, and make an author's day.

2. Don't feel the need to summarize the story. I think summarizing is probably one of the most stressful parts about a book review. The good news? You don't have to do it. That's what the book's synopsis is for. Just copy it over into your review (or don't, if you're reviewing on Goodreads or a sales site), being sure to give credit. If you want to summarize on your own, feel free. But also know that this isn't necessary.

3. Think about what worked, what didn't, and why. Do this before you start writing. There's nothing worse than getting into a review and realizing you don't know what you want to say. Not only is this confusing for you, but it can also make your readers walk away thinking:

Lego Batman gif: "I'm sorry. I literally have no idea what you're talking about."

Take a few minutes (or a few days) to think about all of the pros and cons of the story. Ask yourself why they are pros, why they are cons, and whether or not you think these are objective or subjective critiques. This will help you write a smooth, balanced review.

4. Mention the two biggest details: Characters and ______. I say characters because basically every reader loves characters and wants to know if they're any good. I left the other section blank because that "big detail" can differ from book to book. The detail may be plot. It may be world-building. It may be writing style. You choose, then delve into it. If you try to focus on too many big details, you may end up getting lost in the review. That being said, you can absolutely focus on more than two big details, but only if you have the time and energy.   

5. Mention a few small, favorite details. This is what makes reviews unique. Anyone can analyze character/plot/writing style. But, generally, people walk away from a story with specific impressions that are unique to themselves. Share that experience in your review. This adds personality to your critique, and can also make the reviewing process more interesting for yourself.

6. Explain. Don't just say "The plot was not well-developed." Explain why you think this. "Batman's motives for wanting to kill Superman are half-baked and not thoroughly explained. If Batman and Superman had simply talked for five minutes like two grown adult people, the entire storyline would have fallen to pieces." See? That's more clear. It instantly makes the review more helpful and trustworthy.

7. Discuss what you didn't like. Leaving a 3-star review and not explaining why you took 2 stars away is not helpful to anybody.

Gif from Lego Batman: "No, that's just weird."

Instead, delve into what you didn't like. This isn't a mean thing to do. It's helpful to readers and (sometimes) helpful to authors....though the authors should not be your main concern when you are leaving a review.

8. No spoilers. Don't be that person. If you feel you must give spoilers, put a spoiler warning beforehand.

9. Put your own spin on it. Your review doesn't have to look like everyone else's. You can review in list format (thing you liked, things you didn't like, things you don't understand, etc), in sections (headings for characters, plot, prose, etc). You can even open (or close) the review with a list of who you'd recommend this story to ("For fans of terribly-made comic book movies"). Some reviewers even give content warnings ("This story has a scene where a horribly-written version of Batman brands criminals with his bat symbol"). This makes your reviews stand out...and can also make them more fun to write.

10. Don't panic! And have fun. Reviews are an incredibly kind and helpful thing to do for the reading and writing community. Because of this, you shouldn't feel pressured to write an awesome review. Instead, feel proud that you are leaving a review at all.

Bonus tip: Place the review on multiple platforms. Put it on your blog, on Goodreads, on Instagram, and on any sales platform where the book can be found. This doesn't necessarily make the review better, but it does increase reach, thus exponentially benefitting readers and writers alike.

Shameless plug: If you'd like to practice your reviewing skills, feel free to leave a review for Skies of Dripping Gold, Colors of Fear, Flames of Courage, or the Antiheroes anthology.

Do you write book reviews? Why or why not? Do you have any tips or tricks of your own that you'd like to share? Let's chat!

Related articles: 
The 5-Star Rating System: What Book Reviewers Mean VS How Indie Authors Take It

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  1. Especially appreciate #7. Be honest, but say why. Not your cup of tea? The love interest is a flat, stereotypical dummy? If many reviews repeat a scene, character, or something specific bothers them or, is great, smart authors can hone their craft for a better experience next time.

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