I’ve been hard-core blogging for around nine months now, and I’m finally mustering the courage to throw some advice out to the vast Internet in case anyone needs it.
Although I’m not the most experienced blogger out there (I’m est. 2017, not 2011, haha), I’m quite prolific in writing reviews and blog posts and I’ve written a solid number in the past nine months (over a hindered) that I’ve kind of nailed it down to a science.
I recently had a friend who was starting a blog ask me about how she should approach writing a book review, and this is what today’s post is all about. (She did a fantastic job, by the way, and you can check out her first review of The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed @ Coolfaria!)
Just as a quick disclaimer, just because this method in approaching writing book reviews works for me doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work for you. You might want to write your book reviews differently or place different things at different levels of importance than I do.
My reviewing style is largely based off of what type of reviewer I want to be–I like to place equal importance in how much I enjoyed reading and how quality the book actually was. So even though I despise a main character with my full being, I can still understand how the book is well executed and emphasizes a point, meeting at an unhelpful 3 stars.
Your reviewing style could be different–you might put more weight in your own enjoyment, or you might want to make your reviews snarkier. I always feel guilty when I add snark to my reviews, especially when I send them to the publishers, so I generally avoid that style, but you do you.
But without further ado, let’s begin! I always find posts are easier to read in bullets or steps, so we’re going to follow that format.
While You Read, You Might Want to Try:
I was writing the steps I take while writing a review when I realized that some prewriting actually goes into my reviews. Which is why I added this pre-step.
For some quick backstory, nine-ish months ago, I read a couple posts about how to write a review well. Some people mentioned adding bookmarks, taking notes, or copying down quotes, and I pshh-ed at that and went on my merry way, absorbing myself in a book and not writing anything down.
Fast forward seven months later, and I began to jot down notes about the book as I read. It wasn’t really a conscious thing, or a pen on paper sort of thing. I added what I did and didn’t like about the book as I read while I updated my Goodreads status.
This has become a valuable tool for me, especially because I read a lot of books at once and some of them are over the course of multiple weeks, and I don’t want to forget anything important. Through keeping notes, I can write a review up to a month after I read a book, while normally I start forgetting things near day 4 (although sometimes I forget the MC’s name as I read the book. oops.).
I keep my notes in two places: in my Goodreads status updates and in my Notes app. This lets me have a record of any concerns I had (I usually only write the bad, oops) while reading and lets me have more time to write a review. If you review immediately after you read, this isn’t so much of a valuable tool for you because everything is fresh on your mind. But if you’re busy or you just take a while and procrastinate, letting the thoughts go stale lessens the quality of your review.
So I definitely suggest trying this out. I usually make 4 or 5 bullets about things I’m iffy on or didn’t like so I have something to talk about in my review. You don’t have to interrupt your reading experience to do this–usually adding a bookmark to the page is enough to remind you of what the problem was. Or, you can jot down any problems for a minute after you finish that particular reading session.
Now onto the actual writing portion:
Step 1: Did you like it?
I find it’s most important to put your personal opinion about the book at the very beginning. Review readers can very much so be flaky or only read certain parts, so establishing your view early on is always a good idea.
I usually start my reviews with something like “I really enjoyed this book!” or “This book wasn’t my favorite” or something that establishes my feelings about the book right from the get-go. I try not to talk in extremes ever, just because my feelings about a book are usually very complex, but if you want to say “This is the worst book I’ve ever read” then please, go for it.
You don’t want to risk someone misinterpreting your thoughts and feelings on this book, which is the whole purpose behind why they’re reading your review, so setting the mood not only dissuades the people who don’t want to read a positive/negative review, but also helps avoid potential conflict.
Step 2: What’s noteworthy?
Anything that stands out to you–positive or negative–is noteworthy (or something that you jotted down is also noteworthy). The body of your review is talking about what worked for you, what didn’t work for you, etc.
I personally like ending my reviews on a positive note, which means I have to squash the negative in the middle of my review, so I talk about the negative noteworthy things first, and then the positive. It could be anything from finding something controversial and disliking it, to disliking a character, to loving a writing style.
Whatever stood out to you should shape this part of your review. My reviews are 500+ words, although yours are free to be shorter, and around 400 of said words are this body section.
If nothing stood out to you, then talk about that. Talk about how the characters are boring and what made them boring. Whatever your mind added to your list of “Things about this book that I did and didn’t like” should go here.
Once you added your topics, try to expand on them. Sure, saying “The story is boring” is sure to let the reader know something, but talking about what made the story boring is where the real tea lies. A lot of the time, writing more helps you organize your thoughts, and you can always go back and edit later.
This is the most important step because without a strong “noteworthy” section, reviews can end up sounding the same for multiple books. They can lack actual substance–how many books can you think of where “The characters were flat. The plot was exciting.” applies? Make sure they’re personalized and touch into the actual text.
Step 3: Re-tie in basic story points.
This is where the more structured elements come in. Things to take into account here are plot, pacing, character development, any themes/social commentary, diversity, how relatable it was, writing style, and any of the more technical elements.
It’s great if you already talked about some of these in Step 2, ideally, Step 2 should cover all of these already, but it almost never happens. To keep a review cohesive, I suggest not slapping your thoughts on these elements at the end, but rather weaving them into what you wrote during Step 2.
You talked about an irritating character in Step 2? Great! Take it a little further and mention the other characters too. Incorporating the “structure” of your review (these are the elements I always tell a publisher I’ll include in my review) into your actual thoughts and feelings makes your review more cohesive, read more smoothly, and balanced between rants and technical commentary.
Step 4: Reestablish your overall feelings.
Ideally, your reader has made it to the end of the post and you might have just ended on a positive note, or maybe a negative note. Whatever it is, I recommend restating what you felt about the book.
Not only does this once again clarify what you feel about this to the reader, but it also allows you a chance to change your opinion. Often times, when I write a review, I end up changing my rating multiple times throughout the process of writing my review. This lets you reevaluate your thoughts and feelings.
You can use statements that contrast each other, such as “Overall, I loved reading the romance between Elliot and Cassiandra, but the writing style was such a hindrance to me that I couldn’t enjoy this novel fully.” Contrasting the feeling and the technical lets the reader clearly know what you liked and didn’t like, and what stood out to you.