How to Build a Great Book Review
By Lisa J Lickel
Reviews, taken with a grain of salt, reviews can be powerful consumer tools. We all know about the critics with their thumbs up or thumbs down, the critic who either hates or loves everything. How do you read the review in order to understand it?
These are things we'll explore in a helpful review.
What is your review mean to accomplish? If you've agreed to help an author as an influencer (next month's topic), then you are obligated to write a review that is meant to encourage readers to buy that book no matter what you personally think of it (within reason). If you're simply a fan reading a book by an author you love or one who is new to you, then you can write whatever you like; if you are a professional or semi-professional reviewer, then you need to follow your instincts in a way that helps a reader decide whether or not the book is a good purchase.
A helpful review includes:
♥ General information – title, author, copyright date, ISBN, publisher and price. If you are putting this review on a personal site, you may want to include purchase links. If the author or publisher has not supplied them, you can go to an online retail site, look up the product and copy the code at the top of the screen.
♥ The review is written in present tense throughout, except when referring to past events in the story. This is a reflection of your own writing, so make it clear, concise and use your best skills.
♥ Start with a killer hook – bottom line, what did the book do for you?
♥ Short summary of the story – often the back or inside sleeve contains a teaser, but this summary should reflect the fact that you have read the book and may have a few personal observations. If you like the book, you want to entice potential readers to buy it; if you didn't like it, you can be neutral or matter of fact. The summary includes setting and plot and what happens without giving away the ending or major twists.
♥ Comments regarding the quality of writing, style, flow, characters, appropriate research or believability, what kind of emotions it evoked from you. If you like the book, you can say so here, or let a ratings system reflect this. If you did not care for the book, you should say why. Remember, the author has put time into this work and unless entirely self-published, and also has relied on a publisher or editor to stamp the final product. The author doesn't always have final control of everything about the book, sometimes including editing, cover and design.
♥ Summary statement that may include a comment about who would like this book and possible market comparisons.
General, reasonable lengths for reviews runs 250-500 words, but that's simply my suggestion. You should be able to get everything out in that amount of time, and much less than 200 words probably means you couldn't find much to say.
If you write reviews for a particular company or review site, there may be other standards to follow. You should indicate the source of the book in your review, whether or not the author or publisher gave it to you at no or reduced charge. It is not required to say whether or not you were paid. You may be required to give a rating. If you are afraid to hurt anyone's feelings and automatically give the same high rating for each book you review, it will be hard for readers to trust your reviews.
Fan reviews can be a few phrases long, just enough to share what you really thought about the story. Putting reviews like this on Goodreads and retail sites are a good way to connect with other readers and potentially find new authors to try.
If you want to share an occasional personal review or even offer an accompanying interview with the author on your personal site, you are then free to explore what the author might have been attempting to convey. Readers tend to flock to sites that showcase their favorite authors. Of course, offering a free book in a drawing is also a huge draw; usually there are no fees or other issues with this type of activity, although it's easy enough to check state regulations where you live. You must always ask the author ahead of time if he or she is willing to donate a book or other gift; if you give away your own copy, you can do what you like according to regulations in your area.
So, write your reviews according to their purpose, include the basic information and your comments that are meant to influence the reader, and be honest in a helpful way.
By Michelle Griep
c. May 2011
Michelle Griep’s latest novel, Undercurrent, is the adventure of forever. Ancient history lovers everywhere: know ye this, you can’t turn pages fast enough and your heart will ache for more when you flip the last one.