April 24, 2015

How to Write a Review (And Why You Should)

One thing that surprised me recently while working with readers was the idea that writing a book review is scary or difficult. Some people take it for granted if they have a touch of artistic flair, others are happy just to put down their thoughts. For those of you a bit shy of putting a review together, the important thing to remember is that authors need your reviews. Even if you don't consider yourself talented or experienced enough, leaving a review for an author helps show the reading public that a) this book is selling and b) you were impressed enough by it to write down your thoughts. 

There is no right or wrong away to state your opinion about a book at today's online book sites, although there is certain etiquette. Gushing over every novel you read in an attempt to exude positivity can come off as kissing up to the author or worse, being insincere. People may suspect you were paid or encouraged to leave a good review. On the other hand, readers who enjoy leaving controversial negative reviews that exaggerate their opinion of a book's shortcomings are nothing but rude, confrontational, or in desperate need of attention. 

Book reviews are not only a great way to support authors and inform other readers, it can be a great
start to an online writing presence. That's not all. Your thinking and writing skills will grow with each review as you put ideas into an organized format and learn to self-edit.

I started writing reviews close to 20 years ago. My early work led to an opportunity to work with Bookideas.com. This experience led to another writing opportunity, and then another and another. Today, I have both reviewed and edited for some prominent book sites, as well as gone on to edit fiction, judge contests, blog, freelance, and write my own books. Writing a good book review can be an act of kindness or a stepping stone to more writing experiences.

Over the years I have developed my own guidelines for writing a review. The following format can help you brainstorm, organize and write up a review readers will enjoy and appreciate. As for the author, your time and feedback counts no matter your rating as long as it is sincere. 

How to Write a Review

Paragraph One: An average review on a reader site usually runs between 3 and 4 paragraphs. For

your first paragraph summarize the book as succinctly as possible, leaving out any spoilers. It's a good idea to look at the author's cover blurb for inspiration if you are stuck, but make sure not to copy the work in any way. Once you have the bare bones down of what the book is about, you can go back later and add more to flesh out the review.

Here is a first paragraph example from EMP, a book I recently read, loved, and thus reviewed for author, Wilson Harp. 

David Hartsman arrives back home just in time to visit his parents before an apocalyptic solar flare brings the world and society to its knees. His only intention was to check on his mother's Alzheimer's while giving his wife room in their marriage, but now he is trapped in Kenton and must deal with the staggering reality that a lack of food and medicine is only the beginning of their troubles. Besides desperate to know what happened to his wife and child far away, David must deal with lawlessness and survival even as he watches his parents and hometown fall apart.

Now compare this to the Amazon book description I used for inspiration to get started:

Paragraph Two: You have already laid out the plot in your opener. In the second paragraph, focus on the characters in the story. It can be just the main character or both hero and heroine. If you discuss what you liked or didn't like about more than one character, it's a good idea to break this section up into more paragraphs. Other appropriate statements can include more details about the plot and how the characters handled what the author threw at them. Was it believable? Were you riveted?

The following is an example of a second paragraph from my review of EMP:

EMP is a fresh, original, and engaging story about one man's conflict within himself and his family's survival. I did not expect to be as riveted to this book as I was from the opening page. (Main Character) David Hartsman's personal narrative is gripping and heart breaking, making every character as real as our own next door neighbors. He is a multi-dimensional persona with real temptations and upholds his honor and humanity in a way that makes the read satisfying and worth it. This book makes one think, and it is layered with complex relationship obstacles and resolutions that make it seem like the author has lived this experience in another life.

Paragraph Three: In the third paragraph, it's time to move past the story and characters and talk about the author's writing. Did you feel connected to the storyteller? Did the words flow or were they hard or staccato? How did the writing style make you feel? Lost? Immersed?
This section can also include information about the story's point of view. Did it make sense written in third person? Would an omniscient point of view have been interesting? A good, description of an author's writing style is gold for an author. Your heartfelt observations may make it onto some promotional material in the future.

Here is the third paragraph used in the review of EMP:

Author Wilson Harp's writing is tasteful and borders on the uplifting with his avoidance of lewd and provocative details. It is smart. It is realistic. It is bittersweet and a bit sour, even as it acknowledges all we love in this world. This book was completely outside of my normal genres, and I loved it. I have a deep respect for Harp's talent and voice, and I plan to pick up the rest of his books for more quality reading that is so hard to find.

Paragraph Four: If you wrap up your review in the third paragraph with a recommendation to buy the book or state it wasn't for you, you're done. If you prefer, a brief fourth paragraph can sum up your feelings about the book, author, and your purchase. Here's a sample of what I mean: 


Finely written and well-edited, EMP offers a new perspective on the internal and external challenges we may face some day in the event of any disaster. I read it cover to cover in one day only because I could not put it away.

Ready to give it a shot? Check out these additional tips that may come in handy.

*Reviews read easier with short paragraphs properly spaced. Proper online formatting is single spacing sentences within a paragraph and double spacing between paragraphs. Like this article.
*Remember your audience is other readers like you. Speak to them. Use the same language. This review is not a letter to the author.
*Never penalize an author writing for a publishing house for poor in-house editing or formatting. Contracted authors only have so much control over the finished product.
*Always share your review with your friends and on social media, especially if it's positive. Authors love that.
*The best type of advertising is word-of-mouth. Write a review and make an author's day. 

Do you think you're ready to read and review? Then check out some of my reads at Amazon or other online bookstores and show the reading world you can write a review!

Stay balanced,
~Danielle Thorne


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