This article discusses techniques for writing a book review, which can be a daunting task.
If you’ve been asked to review a book you should consider your review structure, work out what audience you are writing for, consider what the average reader might be looking for, strive for objectivity, consider which elements you are going to focus on, make sure you cover the basics, and give it a little personal flair!
I’ve been reviewing books professionally for literary journals for a while, and below share some of the lessons I’ve learned and tactics I’ve used.
Of course there isn’t just one way to write a book review, and ultimately every book reviewer will find their own style.
Hopefully what is written below will be a useful launch pad for your own development as a reviewer!
What to Write About in a Book Review
Sounds scary right? A whole book? Where do you even start?
Start by reading the work and taking notes while you read. This way, by the time you get to the end, a lot of the work is done for you.
What should you take notes on?
Here are some suggestions.
- What is this book about?
- What philosophical and moral problems does the book raise?
- Why is the author writing this book?
- How does this work relate to other books in the field?
- How effectively do you think the author is achieving their objectives?
- Do you personally like the work?
- Are there any moments you particularly like?
- Are there moments you dislike?
- Who is the audience for this work?
- Who should really read it?
- What can a reader hope to take away from the work?
- Is the work worth the price tag?
- What emotional experience can the reader expect? Will they laugh or cry?
- What level of sophistication should the reader have before approaching the work? Is it only for academics and boffins?
From the list above you can see that it is best to just write down any and all thoughts that come into your mind while reading. Reviewing is an artform, and part of any artform is personal expression.
While reviewers should strive for some level of objectivity, the reader understands that ultimately the review is a work of personal preference.
How to strive for objectivity? Temper your praise and criticism. If you have very strong feelings about any aspect of the work, remember to acknowledge that this is only your opinion.
Try to situate your opinion in relation to others who have reviewed the work to demonstrate an awareness of the field i.e. “while others have commented on the profound philosophical themes in this work, I found certain aspects underdeveloped.”
Once you have generated all these thoughts and reflections on the book you are reviewing, now is the time to start to refine your comments, and choose the statements that are the most important and valuable to a reader.
How to Structure a Book Review
First of all, consider starting with a paragraph that introduces all the lowest hanging fruit i.e. give all the factual information so your reader feels comfortable about what is being reviewed. Who has written the work? What is the style and length? Who is it published by and when? Make sure to strive for clarity.
Then consider diving a little more deeply into the facts. Your reader now knows whether this is a work they are interested in, and if they’re still reading it’s because they want more info. Give it to them.
Has the author won awards before? Has this work won awards? Are there any really interesting bits of info about how it was written, or why? Flesh out the context of the work for the reader.
Now the reader knows all the facts, it’s time to get into evaluation. This is where all the notes you’ve taken while reading are important.
First of all, get all your notes in front of you. Then put them into an order that feels logical, and construct the review around them!
Seems simple now right? That’s because it really is.
The trick to book reviewing is to remember that you can’t review each page of the book, and the reader doesn’t want you to. Try to imagine what the reader wants to get out of the review while you are writing it.
Here’s a list of what the average reader of a review might be looking for.
- What’s this book about?
- Will it make me feel happy or sad? Or inspired or curious?
- What genre is it in?
- How long is it?
- When was it written?
- Is it a good Christmas present?
- Is the work good or bad? I.e. does the reviewer think I will enjoy it?
- What are the themes?
- How will it contribute to my life?
Write for the Correct Audience
It’s clear that consideration of what your audience wants to get from the book review should inform what you chose to write about, and the depth you go into. If it is an academic review, you can be very detailed, and really situate the work in the relevant field.
If however it’s a review of a novel for the general public, they might be more interested in whether you think it was actually enjoyable to read.
Final Thoughts on Writing a Book Review
Once you know what you think of the work, and you know what the audience is hoping to get from the review, then you can find a reviewing style that produces a satisfying read for the publisher of the review and the audience, and also serves the wider community of letters by providing a record of the work that is both rich in analysis and factual information.
I hope you enjoy reading and reviewing some books!
Getting Paid to Write Reviews of Books
And remember that plenty of places pay money for book reviews. So consider approaching newspapers and literary journals and asking if they would take you on as a professional book reviewer. It might be worth writing a few book reviews for free to develop your skills, and to generate a portfolio of reviews you can send out to professional publishers to demonstrate your skills!