When writing a book review, you are evaluating the text. You are making a judgment about it. Here are 10 tips for writing an effective and compelling book review.
1. Don’t be afraid to give your opinion.
Reviewing a book requires you to make a value judgment. Is this book good, bad, or somewhere in between? Think about why a person would want to read a book review. They want to know if it is worth their time and money.
This doesn’t mean your review should be as simple as giving it thumbs up or thumbs down. As described in How to Write Anything, “Even movie critics…don’t offer those verdicts until after they first talk about their subjects in detail.”
It is also important to note that even a positive review can acknowledge weaknesses and still be positive. The reader will likely find it helpful if you point out any weaknesses in the book you’re reviewing. Try to sandwich these weaknesses in between praise so that you don’t begin or end on a bad note.
2. Develop criteria for judgment
Criteria means the rules or standards by which you judge that object. A good pizza, for example, might be measured by how greasy it is, the kind of toppings it has, the quality of the crust, etc. That’s your criteria.
If you were reviewing a restaurant, your standards to judge that restaurant would likely include the service, taste of the food, and the atmosphere. If you were reviewing a movie, you might look at the costumes, the acting, the special effects, and so on.
It all depends on what is important to you as a reviewer.
As you read books, think about what makes a book stand out for you. Do you like books with action packed plot lines? Or maybe the writer’s use of language is important to you. Whatever it is, decide on your criteria to help develop your review. It will give you specific points to make within the body of the review.
And it will help readers understand why you rated the book as “good” or “bad.”
3. Back up your opinion
Having an opinion is great. Having an opinion with nothing to back it up, however, is not very convincing. Readers want evidence and reasons for why you are evaluating a certain book as “fabulous” or “boring.” Even if readers don’t realize they want this, support for your ideas certainly couldn’t hurt.
For example, if you decide to review a Dr. Seuss book and you say it is an amazing book for children (opinion) because of his expert use of language and rhyme (criteria), you’d want to point out a particular example as support for that opinion. Let’s see that rhyme in action.
Quote the book directly. Refer to specific chapters or sections. Supporting your ideas will ultimately help to convince your reader.
4. Consider your audience
Who are you writing for? What do they already know about the subject matter? What do they need to know? How you write depends so much on who you are writing for. You speak differently to children than you speak to adults. You interact with your boss in a different way than you interact with your best friend from childhood who knew you when you had braces and bangs.
Your choice of language changes depending on who you are speaking to or writing for. Your tone of voice changes, too.
As you write your book review, consider what your audience wants to know and what will interest them. Choose words that they familiar with rather than jargon that requires a glossary.
This is really a case of thinking about how you want to deliver your message so that the audience can appreciate it. It takes work, but it can pay off in major ways once you’ve mastered it.
5. Write with authority
Whenever possible, avoid the following words: probably and maybe. Avoid the following phrases: It seems, I think, In my opinion.
These words and phrases make your review sound less authoritative and less confident than you’re aiming for. Even if you aren’t feeling confident, fake it.
Look at the following example:
In my opinion, Dr. Seuss is probably one of the most interesting writers out there, though, maybe others might not agree.
Instead, say this:
Dr. Seuss is one of the most interesting writers out there.
We know it is your opinion; that is implied. No need to qualify your opinions with words like probably. Do not be afraid that others might disagree or get offended by your opinion on a book. Disagreement actually creates some of the most interesting discussion.
6. Avoid writing too much summary
A little bit of summary in a book review is helpful. The reader had not already read the book (most likely) and since you are trying to consider your audience, you want to make them feel like they understand the rest of your review. Summary is a great place to start by making your reader feel at home.
Too much summary, however, is not what the reader needs.
Here’s what you need to know about writing summary:
· When summarizing a book, stick to just the main points. Answer the question: What is this book about?
· Try it limit your summary to no more than one paragraph or two unless it is essential or required to include more.
· Avoid writing about every single thing that happens in the book (And then this happened, and then…, and then…).
· Use summary early in your review to get the reader acquainted. It wouldn’t make sense to suddenly give a summary at the end, after you’ve made your point.
· Use your own words. If the reader wanted to know what the publisher has to say, they’ll visit the publisher’s website or read the back of the book. Give us your unique interpretation.
7. Compare and contrast
Another way to help back up your ideas, as stated above, is to use a very familiar tool: compare and contrast. It may have been a while since you were in school, but you know how to do this. You do this every day.
For example, you compare your hamburger to every other hamburger you’ve ever had (even if only in your head, even if it happens so fast you barely register it). When someone asks you how Robert Downey Jr. preformed in Due Date, you might compare his acting to other films like Iron Man.
Comparing and contrasting helps the reader to understand. It gives you and the reader a common ground. Look at the book you are currently reviewing. Can you compare it to other books by that author? Or maybe you could compare it other books in that genre.
Or maybe this new book is incomparable. That would be worth telling your readers, too.
8. Organize your review
Organizing your review in even the slightest way can help your reader make sense of your ideas by giving them a structure. Even the best written story will be less remarkable if the chapters are out of order.
The basics of organization include a beginning, middle, and end. It’s that simple.
Start with an intro that gets the reader warmed up and maybe even summarizes the book. Then, use the middle of your review to give your opinion and support it with quotes and examples. Use this chance to elaborate on your ideas. Then, wrap up your review with a brief conclusion rather than ending abruptly in the middle of your ideas.
It might not come naturally to you, but that is what revision is for. As you revise, consider moving information around and making it sound as effective and clear as possible.
9. Provide helpful information
This one doesn’t apply to everyone, but is worth mentioning. If I read a book review, I want to know where I can buy the book. Where can I find it? Who is the publisher?
A link could be even more helpful. In fact, Amazon can work as an affiliate program for many blogs by linking directly to the texts you mention so that the reader can buy them. And you get a commission. Learn more about making money with Amazon here.
And this should go without saying, but don’t forget to mention the author and title early in your review. Never give the reader a chance to feel confused about what you are talking about. The title of your review isn’t enough. Mention the title and author in the review, as well.
10. Set yourself apart
Depending on the amount of freedom you are allowed in writing your review, consider trying something new to set yourself apart from others.
So many book reviews follow a similar format, which seems to work well, but why not try a different approach? To inspire you, here are a few ideas for reviews:
· The Top 10 Reasons You Must Read __________
· 5 Ways ______ Will Blow Your Mind (In a Good Way)
· The Similarities Between ______ and Harry Potter (or some other well-known piece of literature)
· Why ______(author) is the Next Stephen King (or another famous author)
In all of these examples, it is the title that is attention grabbing. Also, the title implies a certain organization (such as a top ten list). Mostly, though, the above examples don’t look exactly like every other book review.
If you can find a new angle, explore it and see how it works.
Overall, writing a book review doesn’t have to be complicated. And it can be fun! If you are willing to put in the time to make it compelling and convincing and helpful to your readers, the results could be worth it.