How to Write an Online Book Review

I loved that book, but how do I review it?
Authors are always saying to readers, "If you like a book, please leave a short review."

We say this and ask for reviews because they're very important to an author's career. Good reviews help others find our books.

Many readers would like to do this, especially when they love a book, but, like the reader in the picture at left, they may not know what to say and/or how to say it.

Not to worry. I'm here to help. That's why I post this how-to review blog every quarter. I want to help those who are just venturing into review territory.

I want to remove the anxiety and the fear factor from the process. Trust me. Just read this, and you'll be able to post reviews like a pro. Feel free to pass this post link on to others.

Reviewing: a Learned Skill

Writing a book review is a learned skill, and it's really quite easy to learn.

Most people think writing a review is the same as writing a book report they may have been forced to do in elementary school.  Nope. Not even close.

Some may think it's like the traditional reviews they read in the NY Times book section or in magazines. Wrong again.

The online book review is like having a conversation with your best friend about a book you just read. They're completely different from...

Traditional Reviews

In the past, the formal book review was required by any serious book reviewer. The formal review usually followed this protocol:

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

The Review itself (usually a page or two telling the salient points of the book's plot, the theme, the characters, and then a discussion of what the book got right and what it lacked)

You'll still see formal book reviews, but the review most people are familiar with in today's world is the reader review or user review as seen online.

Let's face it, the world is a lot less formal. Most formalities seem to have gone the way of daily milk delivery and newspaper subscriptions.

Today's Reader Reviews

Many reader and/or user reviews are thoughtful and helpful. Unfortunately, many are like snarky cocktail party chatter. Some are so downright mean you think all the Mean Girls of the world got together for a party.

I think there are many reasons why readers 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 don't know how to say it and they're concerned they don't have the necessary writing skills
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.

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 of that book?"

You'd answer by telling her briefly what the book was about and what you liked about it or didn't like.

That's exactly what you should do in an online reader review.

In a friendly conversational style, as if you were telling a friend about it, write what you liked and what you didn't like.

Step by Step Book Review

1. Make notes.

In a computer document—MS Word, WordPerfect, or whatever is your preference— answer these questions. What was the book about? Did the story pull you in immediately or was it a slow build? Did you like the main characters? Were they people you'd like to know? Did it end in a satisfying way? What was your emotional response at the end of the book? Would you read something else written by that author?

You don't need to summarize the book. That's already been done in the Product Description on the book's webpage. If you feel you must give a synopsis, use the gist of the Product Description.

2. Read over what you wrote.

Keep it simply. Does it convey what you really felt about the book? Is it in an easy conversational style as if you were telling a friend about the book?

3. Check for grammar.

If you wrote it in one of the most common document apps, it's easy to spell check and grammar check.

4. Open a tab in your browser and navigate to the book's webpage.

For example, if you bought the book on Amazon, go to the Amazon page for the book.

5. Copy and paste your review.

Once on the book's Amazon webpage, go back to your document and copy it. Then back to the book's webpage, scroll down until you see Write a Customer Review. Click that. When the form opens, paste your review into the space allotted.

When you're finished, you always have the chance to preview what you wrote in case you'd like to change something.

Points to Remember

1. Give it the number of stars that reflect how you felt. I've read reviews that raved about a book, but the reviewer gave it only 3 stars. 3 = average.

A sentence or two about why you liked the book is always good. What about it appealed to you?

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, headstrong 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 could not identify with the arrogant woman who manipulated and used everyone around her." Or, "I don't like books set in that historical era, and I abhor unrealistic books about slavery."

That's a fair statement because it explains why you didn't like it, but at the same time, your review doesn't personally attack the author or demean him or her for having created such a character/book.

2. Never include “spoilers,” elements of the book that are to be surprises. Chances are the author worked hard to keep something secret until near the end. Don't spoil her efforts by revealing those secrets.

3. Your review should be about the book as it is written, not about how you think it should have been written.

4. 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 do not read romance, but you received 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 likes and dislikes. 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.

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

6. Always be respectful of the author and his or her 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.

Why? Because no author sets out to write a bad book. Sometimes all the elements just don't come together. Besides, what you dislike may be what another reader adores.

7. Give other readers a chance to make up their minds for themselves.

Example: "While this book was well-researched and smoothly written, it just wasn't my cup of tea, but someone who loves brash heroines would probably find it compelling."

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."

Be diplomatic and kind in your review even if you did not like the book. That's probably how you would be if you were talking to the author in person.

Always Take The High 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 the right to state it publicly.

For every person who disagrees with you, there is at least one (probably a lot more) who will agree.

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

What Authors Think

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. Good reviews boost an author during the long process of writing another book.

If it mentions something the author failed at, she'll try to improve. 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. Authors know that not everyone will like their "baby," but they expect literary criticism to be handled in an objective, friendly way.

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