Book reviews have been around since the first caveman painted a picture of the big hunt on the cave walls. I guarantee that there was someone just a little further down painting a review describing how they thought the plot was too thin and the characters a little stale.
As an invaluable asset for the literary community, book reviews provide today’s bibliophile an easy way to find great books in an era where both time and money are scarce. Book reviews also supply writers the feedback they need to help them improve their craft which makes them a simultaneous bane and blessing for wordsmiths everywhere.
So whether you are writing a review for a big newspaper or a small community blog for readers, here are a few tips to help you write an effective and informative book review that will give both readers and writers what they need to be successful in the bookstore.
The book’s stats
Start off by giving the reader a quick overview of the book’s metadata such as whether it is fiction or non fiction, the genre or category it is written for, publication date, list price and author’s name. This lets the reader know, right away, if this book is in an area of interest to them.
Generally this information is listed as a subtitle to the title of the book but you can also write up a short paragraph at the opening of the book review.
Summarize the book
Give the readers a taste of what to expect by discussing the main plot of the book, if it is fiction, or the subject it covers, if it is a nonfiction or technical book. Place the book in context by talking about the book’s setting or historical, social or industry significance.
Describe some of the characters and the challenges they run into during the course of the story. Does the book match the genre or category it is listed in? How is it like/unlike the other books in that area?
Whether fiction or nonfiction, it isn’t advisable to tell how the story ends or to give away major plot twists. That’s like hearing someone tell the end of the movie you just paid $8.00 to go see. Focus more on how the story develops, the impact it has on the characters and how the characters interact with each other.
Give your reactions to the book
A good book review not only describes the book but also expresses the reviewer’s opinion about it. This is the whole point of a book review, and why readers and writers flock to the book section of the New York Times. We want to know what you think! Start with what you liked about the story and why. Discuss the characters you loved and the ones you loved to hate. Was the plot compelling enough to keep you reading until the end or did you fall asleep after the first few pages?
Explore some of the book’s themes and ideas. Do you agree with the author’s conclusions? Was their knowledge of the subject matter spot on? If this is a technical book, discuss whether or not you think it actually helps in the solution of a problem. Does the book benefit its target audience or does it miss the mark. For example, if it is a book directed towards novices in the field, would a novice find it useful or more suitable as a door wedge?
You want to talk about both the positives and the negatives of the book. Say what you think the writer did right and what they could improve on. Be sure to stay on topic, however, and critique the work not the writer. While it is perfectly acceptable to discuss the author’s background, viewpoint and influences in the creation of the book, it is a faux pas to launch a personal attack against the writer.
To end the review, you want to wrap up the points you brought up during the review. This is also where you inspire the reader to action, whether to buy or to search for something else. This is also where you can give any additional information that didn’t quite fit anywhere else in the review such as awards the book has won or any controversies it may have sparked.
If you are still unsure about the process, open up the lifestyle section of your local newspaper and read what other writers are pounding out of the keyboard. Writing an effective book review is a skill that can easily be mastered with a little time and practice. So don’t wait a minute longer, review a book today!