I read a lot of book reviews. As well as checking out books I may want to read, or finding out what other readers think of books I have already read, I am eager to observe styles of writing and learn from them in order to improve my own review writing.
Sometimes, however, I read a book review and cringe. One that I read last week prompted me to add this to my Twitter feed.
Avoiding spoilers is a basic rule of good review writing, but what else should be avoided? At the request of a fellow writer I have pulled together my thoughts.
How not to write a book review
Every book will have a blurb created by the publisher. Don’t just repeat this – it is already available for the reader to check out. A book blurb is a marketing tool, not a review.
Following on from the above, don’t just summarise the plot or subject matter. Potential readers will want to know what the book is about, perhaps where and when it is set, but they will be most interested in how satisfying the reading experience is. Knowing what types of books they are likely to enjoy, readers will be looking for a match to their preferences.
Publicists love to promote a book as ‘The next [insert bestselling title]’. If a book reminds you of another title in style or content by all means mention this in your review but explain how or why. What elements brought a previous work to mind? Does this work in the wider context of the book being reviewed?
A review is not a set of notes to enable a literature student to pass an exam. Neither is it a detailed critique of the entire text. Both of these serve a purpose and can be of interest but most potential readers simply want an indication if this book could be for them.
Be honest about what you liked and disliked about: the writing style and structure; the pace and accessibility; your lingering impressions. An aspect that you didn’t enjoy may be exactly what another reader is looking for.
Quotes can provide a useful indication of writing style but don’t overuse them. You are not providing a condensed version of the text.
Don’t be afraid to say how the book made you feel. Some readers will want happy ever after stories while others prefer to be educated, challenged or even angered. If emotions are triggered mention this. If a book is bland consider why and explain.
A review is about a book, not an author. It is fine to refer to their other work but don’t criticise them as a person. Some fine literature has been created by reprobates.
If you are writing a review then you are a writer and should be taking care with your craft. Spelling, grammar and punctuation matter as do content, structure and flow. Read your review aloud and rework any sections that jar. Ensure your review says something – adds value – although don’t stress if it is not of the quality you aspire to. We can all improve with practice.
Don’t be put off writing a review by the quality of other reviews you may have read. Potential readers are interested in a variety of opinions. A review is, after all, just one reader’s opinion.