How to Write Riveting Book Reviews

July 21, 2016
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It’s not always easy to know how to approach a book review writing task because you might not be a literary expert. Even if you are, writing a positive or negative review sometimes boils down to your personal preferences, making your task a little stickier.

These tips will make the review writing process easier and provide interesting reviews for your readers.

Types of Book Reviews

First, it helps to know the different types of book reviews. There are critical reviews (you might recall writing evaluations in school or university that involved evaluating the work according to literary standards) and informational or descriptive book reviews. These descriptive reviews are usually published in print periodicals or websites.

The two book reviews might seem different, but at heart they are the same. The good thing is that in descriptive book reviews, you can be a little less formal. Ultimately, your task as the reviewer is to help readers decide if the book will be good for them to buy or download to their reading device, or if something else could be better suited to them.

Before You Start to Write….

1. Do the Work!

A book review loses credibility if you have not read the book. It’s as simple as that. Not only are you doing a gross disservice to the author who spent a large amount of time working on the book, but you are also doing yourself an injustice because your review won’t display your in-depth understanding of the work. And therefore, it cannot be entertaining to readers. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison once said:

Take your time to settle in with the book and make notes as you go along of anything striking that will be good to mention when you write your review. Other than the characters and how the story develops, think about the author’s writing style. Give the book your complete attention so that you will be able to offer readers and the author a fair review.

2. Make it a Bit Personal

The reader is an important part of any book, so as you read make notes about what you like and dislike, both regarding the story as well as the author’s technique or message. To assist you in this process, you could ask yourself questions such as:

  • Did the story make you feel good or upset, or was it an exciting adventure?
  • What was your favorite and worst part?
  • Was the book an addictive page-turner?
  • Which characters did you like the most, and why?

3. Consider Your Readers

You need to know the type of reader who will most likely read this review. Is the reader part of academic circles, a member of an online book club, or the regular reader of glossy magazines? Do a bit of research into the publication for which you are writing to help you understand your audience. For instance, a review written for a humorous women’s magazine could be informal and quick-witted. On the other hand, readers of a more serious academic journal would prefer a more analytical and formal review.

The Introductory Paragraph

As with your regular article writing, an introductory paragraph is important. You want to intrigue readers so that they devour the entire review! What you could include in the lead paragraph is something about the book that makes it unique or interesting; something that catches people’s attention. Ask yourself to describe the book in a sentence, and focus on the most important and alluring description in this opening.

For instance, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde could be interestingly described as, “A painted portrait of Dorian Gray begins to age in accordance with Dorian’s sins.” On the other hand, Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes could be taken from the angle of: “Rachel Walsh is forced into rehab for drug use, but she’s expecting a five-star spa-like establishment in which to recuperate from life’s hardships. She has a surprise in store…

In the lead paragraph, don’t worry too much about explaining the storyline (for instance, detailing why the portrait in Dorian Gray is transforming into something hideous), but just concentrate on the interesting snippet for now. You will elaborate on the story later in your review.

Mention the Author

It helps to write something noteworthy about the author in your introduction, such as that he or she has won numerous awards or this book has been listed as their fourth best-seller.

Genre & Other Tidbits

It is also a good idea to mention the genre and if the book is part of a series, as well as if the reader has to read other books before tackling this one so that they will be able to understand and appreciate the story.

Body of the Review

The body of the review can include a summary or description of the book (without giving away spoilers!) as well as the quality of writing.

1. Analyze the Text

Now’s your chance to dig deeper into the characters. Are they credible and fully realized? Do you feel that you know them personally after reading the book? Also look into aspects of the plot, such as if it is logical and well mapped, as well as if the storyline leaves too many holes or unresolved issues.

2. Understand the Book’s Meaning

Also consider the book’s deeper meaning. Why is the book an important work? What does it say about the world, our society, or the environment, perhaps? Every book has a deeper meaning, even if it doesn’t appear to at first, and this can reflect the author’s life story at times. Did the author grow up in poverty, which could be why they are writing about overcoming difficulties? If the book is a more light-hearted work, and you don’t find any deeper meaning, observe its entertainment value. Is it humorous, fun, and a great escape after a long day at the office?

3. Use Facts and Examples

Always justify your opinion with solid examples. The readers who are considering buying this book do not know what is inside your head and they haven’t read the book. Give them examples from the book to add foundation to your claims. For instance, maybe it is difficult to identify with the lead character because she is a criminal and does horrible things in the beginning of the book.

You don’t have to go into too much detail, however, as you don’t want to give away too much of the storyline. Remember you are not rehashing the book’s sequence of events but merely using snippets of what happens in the novel to explain your impression of it so that it is based on fact.

Rating the Book

In the conclusion of the review, you can offer a bit of your personal impressions of the book. Here is where notes about your likes or dislikes during the reading of the text will come in handy. However, keep this part of the review as professionally written as the others. Now is not the time to warble on about how much you loved the protagonist or disliked the setting. You can supply a rating for the book and then explain in a sentence or two why you have chosen this rating.

For instance:

Be Fair.

Understand there’s a book out there for everyone, so you cannot say in full certainty that the book is either worth getting or not because there will always be readers who will want something you don’t like or vice versa.

A nice bit of reviewer etiquette when dealing with books that you don’t like could be to mention in your conclusion the type of reader who would enjoy this book. For instance, the book might be a good choice for readers who love paranormal stories or mystery books. You could also mention books that are similar to this novel. For instance, perhaps readers who enjoyed Twilight would enjoy this vampire series.

Extra Items to Add

1. The book’s title, author, publisher, date of publication, special features (such as pictures or maps), ISBN, price, and where it can be purchased. Double-check these as you don’t want to make any errors!

2. Don’t forget to write the book review in your own style! You don’t have to stick to a rigid format when writing a book review. However, it could help to have an outline so that you deal with different aspects you want to cover in an organized way.

About the author:

Giulia Simolo is a freelance journalist who has always been passionate about writing. A regular contributor to various websites and publications, Giulia has garnered a lot of experience as a freelance writer and enjoys sharing this with others who wish to enter the exciting field of journalism.

Also by Giulia Simolo:
1. How to Write the Perfect Article Pitch (article)
2. When Words Meet Pictures (article)
3. How to Write Web Copy that Sells! (article)
4. Writing E-Mails to Editors (article)
5. How to Write Gripping Subheadings (article)

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