Writing good reviews can be tricky, either because you don’t know what to say or you barely understood the book in the first place (In my case, I would encounter this problem with all the scientific journals). Here are a few suggestions that might help you improve your reviews and help the author find other potential readers.
To Clarify: The books/stories mentioned in the writing examples are not real (to my knowledge – wouldn’t it be creepy to find out that they were!)
Brief Overview of the Book’s Premise
Keep this simple and sweet (but not too short). Explain the basic concept of the book. Write about the protagonists, antagonists, the setting and briefly go over the primary conflicts in the story. My personal “rule of thumb” is not to give away any details about the story that are not found in the first third of the book. This should give the potential reader a good “setup” for what the story is about, but without giving away the whole story.
Good Example of Reviewing a Plot
This example would be better:
- The book, “Memoires of a Frog Legs Eater” by E.T. Froggs tells the story of a man named Greg who has a passion for French Cuisine. His quest to find the world’s best-tasting frog legs was born out of a conversation he had with one of his professors at his university. As he travels throughout the world, Greg struggles with his own identity as he feels ill-equipped to be a good culinary expert. He finds friendship and understanding with a chef named Nancy, who begins to travel with him after he visited her restaurant.
This review was more concise and to the point. It gave enough information about the book to help the future reader get the basic gist, but it didn’t bog them down with details either. It also flowed as one thought instead of randomly jumping back and forth.
Poor Examples of Reviewing the Plot
Here are two examples of what not to do:
- The book, “Memoires of a Frog Legs Eater” by E.T. Froggs was a moving tale of a guy who travels to various high-end restaurants to find the world’s tastiest frog legs until he gets struck by lightning at the end.
- The book, “Memoires of a Frog Legs Eater” by E.T. Froggs is about Greg, a charming, sensitive man with gorgeous grey eyes that have just a little hint of brown right at the edge of the iris. He is 27-seven-years old and he has a B.A. in Art History, but his real passion is cuisine – specifically frog legs. In the first chapter, Greg goes to a restaurant called, “The Hungry Pickle” (which, in my opinion, does not sound like the name of a classy French restaurant), where he ordered his first plate of frog legs. The chef at the restaurant is a woman named Nancy. She has blue eyes and a great smile. In chapter five, we find out that Nancy had a traumatic childhood experience that involved a firecracker, three pounds of guacamole, and a toothbrush. It is obvious that she is attracted to Greg, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to chapter one… (and so forth).
What Can Be Improved in the Book Review?
There are two problems with the first example. The first is that it didn’t give enough information about the book to allow future readers to get a grasp on what it is actually about. The second problem is that it gave a spoiler (I’ll get to spoilers in a while).
The writer of the second example gave so much information about the book that it may be too difficult for future readers to “get lost in the story” when they read the actual book. While this can be useful in some cases, it isn’t always appreciated. You don’t have to re-write the book for the author. The book has already been written.
Avoid Writing Spoilers in Your Review
I think we’ve probably all experienced being let down by a spoiler in one way or another (whether it was about a book, a television show, or a movie). We want to savor a story for ourselves, but someone comes along and blurts out a major upcoming event. When you get the chance to dive into the story again, it has been spoiled because you have the ending in mind and you can’t experience the ebb and flow of the plot.
Need an Example of a Spoiler?
- When I finished “An Orchid by Any Other Name,” I couldn’t believe that that the orchid was a thistle all along!
Why Spoilers Hurt Your Review
By stating this, a future reader will not be able to read about how the orchid overcame its obstacles without knowing it is really a thistle. It may ruin the whole theme and impact of the book.
It is good to note that spoilers are not always horrible. There have been times where I have actually looked up spoilers for a book because half-way through I don’t know if it’s worth finishing. If the spoilers look intriguing, I’ll finish the book. If not, I’ve “finished the story” without actually having to live through another 200 pages of a story I just couldn’t get into. If you really want to write spoilers, do it, but please be respectful of others by knowing how and where to do it. If you aren’t respectful of this, you will probably lose future readers of your reviews.
When to Add Spoilers to a Review
First, add the term “SPOILERS” somewhere in your review title. For example:
- My Book Review on “An Orchid by Any Other Name” – Warning: SPOILERS
- My Book Review on “An Orchid by Any Other Name” – SPOILERS at the end.
This brings me to my next point. Try to put your spoilers at the end (after being clearly marked). This will warn readers who are not interested in what happens to stop reading. However, knowing that the spoilers will not be mentioned until the end may still encourage them to read your review.
Understand the Writer’s Target Audience
Believe it or not, the writer may not have written their book with you in mind, regardless of whether or not you enjoyed it. Now, perhaps you are an avid reader of a particular kind of genre and a book “written for that genre” just doesn’t seem to fit. In this instance, you might be able to make a case for any negative feedback toward the story. If, however, you generally read high suspense crime novels, you might not be the best reviewer of a slow-moving epic romance. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write your review. It only means that you should write your review with both the target audience’s reading level and the genre in mind.
How Not to Write a Book Review
Here is an example of what not to do:
- I was outraged when I read the children’s book, “Little Sue goes to the Zoo,” by Emma Dunting-Torington-Brown. When Sue and her mother sees the pandas, the book only mentioned that pandas generally eat various parts of bamboo. The book does not detail the endangerment of the species nor does it give direction in how we can help these creatures survive! In fact, most of the information in the book involves what animals eat. Emma Dunting-Torington-Brown, you’ve lost me as a reader!
How Genre Matters in Book Reviews
Hmmmmm, also attempt to not be so overdramatic. Clearly, the woman who wrote this review is crazy (oops, I forgot that I wrote it. Scratch that). Clearly, the woman who wrote this review is passionate about animals. What she failed to understand was that the book was written for toddlers with the intent to teach toddlers the various kinds of animals that might be found in the zoo. This hypothetical book wasn’t written as an endangered-species pamphlet nor as a textbook.
How to Express Your Feelings in a Book Review
If you must mention your “outrage”, be a little more diplomatic:
- As I read, “Little Sue goes to the Zoo,” by Emma Dunting-Torington-Brown, I couldn’t help but think that just a little added information could go a long way toward training young children to be thoughtful of animals. It would have been nice to see little Sue wonder if the pandas would still be around for her children to enjoy.
Less emotional. More concise.
Don’t Get Bogged Down by Technicalities or Preferences
Don’t let personal preferences get in the way of your review. I personally don’t like reading in the “first person, present” tense (something about it just grates on my nerves). However, there are a couple books that I’ve read in this tense that are definitely high on my list of favorites. Others love this tense and enjoy reading it more than any other tense.
For example, I have a lot of respect for Mozart. I think he was a genius who probably understood the techniques of music better than nearly every other person who ever lived (if not every other person). If given the opportunity to choose between Mozart and Beethoven, I would choose Beethoven every time (because I love his style so much more). I believe that Mozart was the “better” musician, but Beethoven stole my heart. In the same way, don’t judge a writer only by their technique.
Writers are also human and therefore, imperfect. They will make errors that won’t be caught by the editor(s). Just forgive it and move on (you could email the editor to point out the error for future publications, but it isn’t necessary to mention the error in your review).
Keep Your Review Clean
It isn’t necessary to use explicit language or detail explicit content in a review and it could repel several readers.
If the book you read does contain either explicit content or detail, let the reader know in the review. Many people would rather not read stories with such content.
Finally, try to use correct grammar and spelling. You may fail (I often do, but Grammarly helps!), but it is a good thing to attempt. Proofread your work before you submit it and if you find a mistake later, edit it.
Following these simple tips might help the writer find new readers. Keep that in mind when you write your review!
Be Gentle – Even in Criticism
It is sometimes difficult to remember that people we don’t personally know still have heartbeats. Many (if not most) writers pour their hearts into their work. Even if the book is absolutely the worst book you have ever read, try to explain that gently.
Many writers read reviews of their work. Many writers even appreciate constructive criticism, but watching you chop up their work into tiny pieces can be like watching you chop up their heart and soul.
This doesn’t mean that you should praise the worst book you ever read, just watch the “tone” of your review. Write that the book wasn’t to your liking and explain a couple of major reasons why (Do not detail every little instance of why the book was abhorrent. Focus on one or two major points). Re-read what you wrote and ask yourself how you would feel if someone said something similar about your work. If you could honestly listen to someone talk about your work in the overall tone of your review and not be devastated, then publish. If not, rewrite your review until you are able to meet that goal.