Writing a Book Review

Book reviews are more important to authors than many readers may think. Just a few years ago, I was not an author; I was an avid reader with a completed manuscript. If you had asked me then how important book reviews are, I would have said not at all. I supposed that those reviews went unread, or disappeared into the ether as soon as the reviewer hit ‘post’. I had no idea that most authors read all of their reviews, even when they get up there in numbers; in fact, many artists scour the internet looking for what folks have to say about their work. It turns out most creative people want to hear that feedback, for whatever reasons they might have.

For today’s writer, book reviews can open doors that otherwise stay firmly shut. When I found this out, I made it a point to start reading and reviewing books. To give credit where credit is due, I totally swiped the initial idea from fellow indie author Michael R. Stern. I made it my own, just as I expect you to do if you leave this page with a desire to leave a review. I did my research, one of the reasons I thought this might be a helpful post. My research led me to Adam Dreece’s website, as it often does, and I saw that he had offered his readers a tutorial on writing reviews. What a great idea! I think I’ll swipe that too!

Of course, I’ll make it my own. There are a number of examples out there; hopefully you’ll find this one helpful. Check out Adam Dreece’s wise advice by clicking this handy link, if you want another perspective.

If all you want to know is how to make a difference, and leave a quick review, here’s the easy path: click on ‘leave a review’ on the book’s Goodreads and Amazon page, and give it however many stars you think it deserves; then hit post. There, you’re done! Want to do a little more? Type in a few words before posting, ‘great read’ or ‘I loved this book’ or ‘fun story’. Repeat the process on all the other Amazon sites in English-speaking countries, and you’ve really helped out! It’s way more than most folks do; pat yourself on the back after you hit ‘post’, and know that you’ve helped someone whose work you enjoyed.

For a more thorough explanation…

From what I’ve seen, there are two schools of thought when it comes to leaving book reviews. One says: ‘finish every book, or at least leave a review saying why you couldn’t make it through it. Find something you liked and something you didn’t like about the book, and make sure you mention both. Be honest; if you choose a book that doesn’t suit your tastes, make the review about your tastes instead of the book.’ The list of things to keep in your head while trying to enjoy a story is pretty long for some of the folks who advise writing reviews this way. In case you can’t tell, I am not a fan of this school of thinking.

If I don’t like a book, I won’t finish it. I won’t trash it, either. It might seem a little simple to some folks, but I like the school of thought that I attended when I was very young: if you don’t have anything nice to say, shut up about it. Just as I won’t take the time to read a book I don’t like, I won’t waste my time writing a venomous review either. I have too many happy activities awaiting my attention. The books I love deserve my attention more. I don’t scour them looking for things I don’t like, or try to manufacture something; I read them because I love them. Here’s how I write a review:

Obviously, I read the book. Some things occur to me as I read, and I write them down. Fun example: listening to Chess Desalls’ audiobook of ‘Wrapped In The Past’, I heard my mind pipe up as tears filled my eyes for the first of many times: ‘It’s like a Christmas story wrapped inside a Christmas story!’; I wrote it down, and made sure that was in the review. Most of what I write after reading follows a bit of a formula. It’s a simple one, and I’m happy to share.

The first paragraph of the review is an attempt to sum up the book in one or two telling sentences. I want to make sure that I mention the author’s name, the book title, and one or two things to indicate what kind of book this is. If I don’t do it right away, I do it later; sometimes I’ll do it at the beginning and the end of the review, in different ways. (The formula is fluid.)

For example: ‘Megan O’Russell’s ‘The Tethering’ is an introduction to a tale that promises to be more compelling and interesting as it unfolds, while standing on its own as an exciting and magical tale in modern day.’

That tells the person interested in reading it that it’s the first book in a series, that it’s set in modern day, and that there’s magic in the story. It’s also the kind of sentence you might see on the back of a book; don’t be surprised if your thoughtful reviews result in the author reaching out. We’re often changing the backs of our books, and want good summary lines from public reviews; it’s not the reason to write a review, but it’s a way to help summarize what you want to say. Is this book for a certain audience? Tell that audience that this is the book for them; it’s why they’re reading the reviews, most likely.

Some books are too multifaceted to sum up in one sentence. Say that, or something to suggest it. Writing my first review was a challenge. Christina McMullen became one of my favorite authors as soon as I started reading, and I wanted to do this incredible story justice. I had to do what I try to do in my books, and grab the reader with questions that they needed answers to about the book. I wanted to make sure that if someone read my review, it would make them want to buy her book; that first sentence needed to make them want to keep reading, since I couldn’t sum this multi-level story up in a few choice words. I began:

‘When I started reading “Kind of Like Life”, by Christina McMullen, I felt the comforting landscape of a familiar genre begin to unroll before me.’

That strongly implied that it didn’t end up that way, and hopefully made the reader want to know how and why. If this story had gone like I expected, I would have enjoyed it; when it twisted and turned, I couldn’t wait to write the review and read more of her books. And review them.

The first paragraph is about pointing out the genre, and who this book is written for. If it’s obviously for kids, say so. If it is a great read without any explicit scenes, say it’s great for readers of all ages. If it has strong language or explicit sexual content, like life so often does, you might mention it. Some parents and folks clinging to their innocence like to know these things. I read realistic books when I was a kid, and fantastical ones as well; I think I turned out fine. (Qzrknd?)

The next paragraph or two should be summing up the story, if you want to go further. Think of book reports, only reviews actually serve a purpose. Like the back of the book, a good review tells the reader what kind of adventure this story wants to take them on. Make it as long or as short as you like, and try not to give away the ending; say it’s a good one, if it is, but don’t spoil it. Write about the characters, and the pacing, and things that stood out to you while you read. If it doesn’t come naturally, don’t force anything; skip this section altogether for your first few reviews. The last thing you want to post is an assignment that you struggled with; writing reviews should be fun, and that should be the tone and mood in which they are written.

Finish the way you started, with a few more brief sentences about the book and the author. If you plan to read more of their books, you might say so here. If this is the beginning of a trilogy or series, definitely say so here; some folks are looking for that, and want to know if it’s completed. Let them know, if you know. Wrap up by saying who you would recommend this book to, even if you’ve done so once or twice before. There’s always another way to say how you feel; think about it, and how happy you would be to connect a reader like you with an author that you enjoy. That’s the spell that a review can cast, and the magic benefits readers and authors alike.

We only recently discovered that Amazon does not put reviews from one region on their sites for other regions. Sorry, Adam Dreece; I put reviews for a Canadian author on a US website, at first. Thanks to Dawn, they’re on all English-speaking Amazon sites now, along with all the others I have posted and will post. I’m still learning, even as I pass on what I’ve figured out so far.

If you want to see the reviews I’ve written and Dawn has posted for me, follow the handy link that she will hopefully insert here [handy Amazon link]

Thanks for reading/hanging in there; I hope that helps!

All the best,
Jay
J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Jay@JayNorry.com
Twitter: @JayNorry

8 comments

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