How To Write a Book Review

Writing a book review is a learned skill. That's why I post this how-to article every quarter to help those who are just venturing into review territory. Feel free to pass this post link on to others.

The formal book review with its formal parameters:

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Name; 1st edition (date)
ISBN: number
Book Size: Format, i.e., Trade Paperback
The Review

seems to have gone the way of daily milk delivery, newspaper subscriptions, and the dinosaur.

Now we have reader reviews. Many of them are thoughtful, helpful. Many of them are like snarky cocktail party chatter.

Many readers never post a review. I think there are many reasons why they shun the review process. Here are a few that might apply:
  • they liked the book but they are aware of the nastiness that some reader reviewers heap on those with dissenting opinions
  • they did not like the book but the author has a huge following and they're afraid loyal supporters will subject them to some of the same nastiness
  • they don't want to hurt the author's feelings
  • they don't know what to say
  • they're concerned that they don't have the writing skills necessary to write a review.
I'm sure there are many other reasons, but I think the above are the most obvious. At least, I get emails from readers who love my books, but they never post a review even when I ask them to leave a few sentences about their reading experience.

So this post is for the average book loving reader:
  • who is new to the review process
  • who may not know exactly what to say or how to say it
  • who is wary of attacks from readers with different opinions
  • who don't see why they should take time to do this.
How To Say What You Think

If your friend next door dropped by to visit you and saw a book, she'd probably ask: "What do you think about that book?"

You'd answer her by telling briefly what the book was about and what you liked about it or didn't like. That's how you write a review: in a friendly conversational style as if you were telling a friend about it.

So just jot down what you think on a notepad or in some computer word processing app if you want to be sure it looks good and sounds accurate. If you're concerned about spelling or grammar, do a quick check for that which is easy if you wrote it in MS Word or something similar. Cut and paste it onto the review form on the book's webpage.

What To Say

1. Don't worry about summarizing the book. There's already a Product Description on the book's webpage. If you feel you must give a synopsis, use the gist of the Product Description from the book's webpage.

2. In an online review to be posted on the book's webpage, you just need to say how you felt about the book and why.

If you liked the book, say so. Then say why.

Example: If you were posting a review of Gone With The Wind, you might say: "I liked this novel because it's set on a plantation in Georgia as the North and South are on the brink of war, and I love books set during the Civil War." Or, you might say: "The heroine of this book is Scarlett O'Hara, a spoiled, head-strong young woman, and I like the kind of conflict created by women like that." Or, you might say: "I like to read anything that is historically based and well-researched."

If you didn't like the book, say so. Then explain why.

Example using the same book: "I didn't care for this book because I just don't like books set in the Civil War. Or, you might say: "I didn't like this book because I thought the character was self-absorbed and arrogant. I prefer to read books where the heroine is a likable woman." Or, you might say: "I don't like books about slavery so this book doesn't appeal to me."

3. Never include “spoilers,” elements of the book that are to be surprises, in a review.

4. Give your opinion of the book as it is written, not how you think it should have been written.

5. Do not allow your personal prejudices or attitudes about the author, the premise of the book, the theme of the book, the manner in which it was published, or anything else not related to the writing to intrude in your review.

If you normally don't read romance, but you got a free romance novel, and you didn't like it because it had sex scenes in it or whatever, then do not review it. A review should not reflect your personal prejudices. Instead, make it a policy to review books that reflect your reading taste.

Please don't ever make personal remarks about the author, i.e. anyone would have to be a moron to write a book like this. Or, the author must be a pervert to write sex stuff like this.

6. Summarize your thoughts about the book and feel free to make recommendations such as, "if you like southern humor, you'll love this book."

7. Always be respectful of the author and his time and effort. This doesn't mean suppress your true opinion. It does mean to present your opinion in a respectful, professional manner as if you were talking in person to the author.

To paraphrase what Danielle Steele once said about reviews: "Writing a book, getting it published, and getting bad reviews is like making a beautiful cake and someone comes along and sits on it." So be diplomatic and kind in your review if you did not like the book. The author did not set out to write a bad book, but sometimes all the elements just don't come together.

Take The High Road & Ignore Those Traveling The Low Road

If you post reviews, and someone makes a comment on it, for instance, This person is an idiot if he thinks this is a good book. (Or a bad book.) Don't answer back. You are not required to defend your opinion or to answer any detractors. You have the right to your opinion and to state it publicly. For every person who disagrees with you, there is one who agrees.

Simply ignore any negative comments. A fight can't start without 2 combatants.

Why Post Reviews

Believe it or not, writers try to learn from their reviews. If a thoughtful review mentions something the author is doing particularly well, she'll do more of it. If it mentions something she failed at, she'll try to improve. Good reviews boost an author during the long process of writing another book. Bad reviews may bring her down, but if they contain some insight, then they too are valuable.

Be responsible. Be objective. Be polite.

I think a lot of the acid-tinged reviews I see wouldn't be posted if someone had to say all that to the author's face and/or would have to sign their real name to the review.

Takeaway Truth

Please keep in mind that no one ever sets out to write a bad book. If you see a book in print, then you can bet the author spent long hours working on that book. Authors know that not everyone will like their "baby," but they expect literary criticism to be handled in an objective, friendly way.


  1. As a writer, a reader, and former librarian who did reviews for a variety of publications, I particularly value this post. I hope more readers will take the time to write informed reviews of the books they enjoy.

    1. Thanks, that's my goal: to help readers share their opinions in the best way possible.