On Book Reviews

On Book Reviews

As an author, why should I review other writers’ work?  Because it makes me a better writer.

About a year ago, I read an article on Writing.com that suggested the same conclusion, so I thought I’d check it out.  After all, reviewing includes reading and analysis, something I’d spent a lifetime doing as an intelligence officer.  So how hard could it be?  Turns out, not so easy.  And how to synthesize several hundred pages into a paragraph, and cram those days of personal reactions into just a few statements?  I’ll offer some suggestions that work for me.

1.   Decide You Are Going To Review the Book Before You Begin Reading

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s one I learned along the way.  I’ve actually written reviews on books that I DIDN’T realize I was going to review until after reading, so it’s not impossible.  However, having reviewed both ways, planning ahead works better (for me).

2.   Find a Formula That Works For You

I start with a basic template because I need organization.

*Book introduction and synopsis, with an enticing first sentence.

*Personal observations and reactions.

*A notable portion, quote, passage, character or plot theme that reinforces or explains personal observations and reactions.

*Formatting, design, illustration, or other items impacting the reader.

*Author details, particularly as they relate to subject matter.

*Conclusion and recommendation.

Bill Ansejo’s article “How to Write a Book Review” at Writing-World.com, provides a useful guide covering technical aspects such as including the book title, ISBN, price, etc., and helpful “Points to Ponder,” for example, discussing the credibility of characters.

3.   Read Book Reviews – Lots of Them

See what you like and don’t like, and what may work for you.  Book reviews appear everywhere – newspapers, magazines, online.  I happen to be a Twitter.com fan, and just searching “Book Reviews,” or #bookreviews, yields great results, too.

4.  Decide What Kind of Book Reviewer You Will Be

Kelly Jensen, Stacked blog, wrote an excellent piece, “On Being Critical.”  I particularly liked her delineation between critical and negative, with the following as a key point:

Critical reviews are not negative reviews.
Know this distinction. Critical reviews involve thoughtful analysis and synthesis of the work at hand. They support their statements — both positive and negative — with what’s in front of them.  They check their baggage at the door.

Negative reviews are not supported by text. Negative reviews don’t tell readers anything substantial about the book, but rather, about the reviewer. It’s self reflective, rather than text reflective.”

My personal choice is that if I don’t like a book, I don’t review it.  Since I’m not a book reviewer for a living, I have that freedom.  Enough negativity exists out there, and I just don’t feel the need to contribute more.  This doesn’t make me a dishonest reviewer, and doesn’t mean I rave about every book I read.  But I’ve thought hard about it, and decided that the kind of book reviewer I want to be is one who offers opinions and advice, if applicable.  It’s a bonus if a book’s author appreciates the review and new readers decide to read a book due to my thoughts on it.

5.   Write Well

Remember way back in the first sentence I mentioned that writing reviews makes you a better writer?  Critical thinking, analysis, clarity of thought, proper word choices, captured in a succinct manner deliver the best reviews.  Book review writing provides an excellent writing exercise.  Try it.

Any other tips out there on writing book reviews?  While much is written on HOW authors can get book reviews, it seems less is devoted to how authors can WRITE good reviews.  Please share your thoughts or links to well-written reviews.


  1. Oh, this is excellent. I think all reviewers should take a look at your points. I especially agree about the critical review vs. the negative review. I often do raise points about specific issues I have with a book and I do try to be as detailed as possible. I think there is quite a range for what passes as a “book review” out there. Some reviews consist of general statements about how they felt about a book, and some are very detailed commenting on character development, setting, plots, themes, writing, and so on. Thanks for sharing your great post in the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Sharing!!!

    • Thank you, Renee – this means a lot coming from you – a serious, respected reviewer. I’m glad I could offer something of interest to the Kid Lit Blog Hop. As an author, I know how important reviews are, but I know that many people do not understand how much writers want to know what readers think. Thank you for stopping by! Oh, and for those who don’t know about Kid Lit Blog Hop or Renee’s Mother Daughter Book Reviews, here’s a great place to stop by: motherdaughterbookreviews.com.

  2. Hi Valerie,

    This is a really helpful article. I’m a gusher myself, and my readers know that about me. If I like something, they absolutely know it. If I don’t quite like something but it was okay, they’ll know that too.

    Good for you for choosing to write reviews on books that you like, that makes writing reviews enjoyable for you and your back log less than mine, I’m sure…lol.

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog to say hello.


  3. Definitely some good points to consider! I particularly like finding reviews where you can feel that the writer really loved a book and is trying to share it with others.

  4. Hi there, a great conversation starter. I used to think picture book reviews were easy till I read this….. http://motherdaughterbookreviews.com/my-guest-post-at-dawns-disaster-what-even-makes-a-childrens-picture-book-good-anyways/
    Check it out and thanks for joining us on the Kid Lit Blog Hop

    • Thank you, Julie, and loved the post. Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words…. Thank you for stopping by all the way from Australia, too (Emma below). Good to “see” you again, and love the Kid Lit Blog Hops.

  5. Hi Valerie,

    A very clear cut post thanks. Reviewing can be tricky, I too have made the decision only to review books I’m passionate about. Not only do I want readers to trust my opinion, but I don’t believe it is up to me to share negativity.

    And the hardest reviews to write? For the books that I have fallen head over heals in love with!!! Trying not to sound artificially over-the-top gushing can be sooooo hard!

    • Dear Emma,
      I know exactly what you mean! I realize I invite criticism by saying I only write reviews for books I like, but it’s a personal decision. I belong to writing groups where I will share my thoughts if I think something could be better, but there are ways to do that without being negative. Thank you for stopping in from My Book Corner all the way from Australia!

  6. Thanks for the ideas on book reviews – and the link! I stopped by from the Kid Lit Blog Hop.


  1. […] and some tips on writing them.  If you are interested in that kind of information, please see “On Book Reviews.”  I wrote that article hoping to encourage people to write reviews – all people – not just book […]