How to Write a Book Review

Recently, I was asked to explain how to write a good review of a book for sites such as Amazon and Goodreads. This is because Oghma Creative Media is developing a beta reader program. The idea there is to have a group of readers who will receive e-copies of books that we’re promoting, with the requirement that the people write reviews.

So what makes a good review? No, it doesn’t mean that you have to say the book is the best thing you’ve read. I’m talking about an honest and well-crafted piece on the book you’ve read. Here’s what I mean:

1. Read

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You have to read the book. That doesn’t mean skim, and it doesn’t mean the first chapter only. It means the whole book. You can’t say what the author was trying to do or what the story is about until you’ve seen the totality of it. If something was so bad that you couldn’t get past page fifteen (I’m talking to you, Ayn Rand), say that, and have done with the review.

2. Essence

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Once you’ve read the book, write out in one sentence what you believe it to be about. What is the overall impression the book has left with you? This isn’t a summary of the plot. You’re not talking about what happened. You’re saying what is the meaning of the book. For example, Romeo and Juliet is the story of how makes us defy others to be with our beloveds. Watership Down tells of the determination to survive and live well despite what fate and chance do to us. Those are two quick examples. I could refine them from there, but that shows how to get started.

3. Examples

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Now you have to illustrate the main theme that you found. Tell me about the main characters, a few important scenes, and so forth that show how you figured out the essence of the book. If I’m reviewing The Lord of the Rings and claim that friendship is a key theme, I’ll show you passages where Frodo and Sam are talking to each other and supporting each other, or I’ll give you the meeting between Aragorn and Eomir at the battle for Gondor. The point is to give your readers a taste of the book that shows you’ve grasped the essence of it.

4. Spoilers

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Give away as little as possible of the plot. One of the pleasures of reading or watching is surprise. If you must reveal something, tell your readers in advance

5. Conclusion

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Why is this book worth reading? If it isn’t, why not? The conclusion of an essay is where you make the sale to your reader. It’s just like a car dealership. If you tell the customer all the facts about the car and take the customer out for a drive, but don’t ask the person to buy, you haven’t sold a car. In a review, you want to sum up. Tell me, your reader, what I need to do and what I’ll get out of the book in question.

To see examples of a reviews that I wrote, look here or here or here.

But as always, keep reading, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep reviewing.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.

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