How to Review a Book
After reading the fantastic reviews from our blog contributors, you might think to yourself, “I’d like to give that a shot!” We second that. If you’d like to review a book, but you aren’t sure how to get started, we’re providing some tips. There is no right way to write a review, but this guide should give you some suggestions on how to begin.
First Things First
Before you begin of course, above all, read the book! This may seem like a no-brainer, but it bears noting. Don’t begin a book, decide you don’t like it, put it down and write a review on how bad it was. Obviously, to write an informed review, you have to read the whole book thoroughly.
While you are reading, it helps to make notes. This makes it much easier to remember and reference pertinent information. Even if you don’t go back and read your notes (not that we suggest this), just writing them will highlight in your mind parts of the book that stand out and are most likely perfect fodder for your review.
After you have read the book, think critically about what you’ve read. Brainstorm and develop your thoughts before deciding on the focus of your review.
Outshine with an Outline
As with any piece of writing, you’ll want to anchor your review by creating a thesis. This should be one central perspective, argument, or proposition you intend to support or maintain. Unifying your ideas into one concise thought will help you form the rest of your review and improve brevity. As long as the rest of your review supports your thesis, you will know you are not getting off subject.
After you have created your thesis, consider which points you wish to make to support your thesis. You can use a separate paragraph to support each point; not only will this make your review easier to write, it will be easier for the reviewer to follow.
Create an outline for your review by beginning with the thesis, then each point, and beneath each point record the details that will become the meat of your paragraphs. If you are citing information in the book, save yourself some time by writing the page numbers of your citations next to each detail. When you are ready to begin writing, use your outline as your guide.
When it comes to the content of your review, keep a balance between concrete examples and your opinion.
Stating the facts
You’ll need to give the title of the book you are reviewing, the author’s name, and the book’s theme(s) before the end of your first paragraph. This keeps the reader engaged so they don’t have to look back to the header of your review for this information.
Summarize the plot, but don’t divulge too much detail. This is particularly important for fiction, because you don’t want to give away the story. Keep in mind, your assessment of the story’s delivery should take priority over describing the story itself.
Use citations from the book when they illustrate your ideas. You don’t want your review to feel like reading the book verbatim, but referencing specific quotes where appropriate, will enrich your review. Be sure to cite each quote accurately, and in the appropriate style for your piece.
Aside from the information in the book, you may want to include context that affects the reader’s understanding of the work. This may include the period when the book was written, details about the author, critical reception of the book at its release, etc.
Your Two Cents
Writing a reviews is about sharing your opinion on the book. You’ll want to include your opinion on several aspects of the piece, for instance:
- The author’s purpose,
- The method of development,
- For fiction, this may include the development of plot, characters, themes, etc.
- For non-fiction, this may include discussing how well the author supports the main idea of the publication or how well an account is presented.
- Effectiveness of literary devices,
- The book’s appeal on a logical or emotional level,
- What possibilities are presented by the work.
Of course, you can write about any parts of the book that stuck out for you. Your personal opinion of the book is an asset and is what makes the review uniquely yours. Don’t be afraid to use your distinct voice and be creative!
Feel free to challenge the author’s ideas or approach, but be sure to provide specific examples to back up your argument. Don’t criticize the book for not being something it was never intended to be. Consider the author’s purpose and evaluate how well he or she achieved that purpose.
If you were disappointed with the work, don’t be afraid to express that either. Just note that even if you don’t like a book, that does not mean the book is not good. Keep in mind that one man’s birdcage lining is another man’s favorite book, so even if you did not enjoy reading a particular work, attempt to identify and describe its merits.
Avoid cliches; instead, write plainly and express your thoughts in your own voice. Precise language will allow you to control the tone of your review.
Don’t jump from one vastly contrasting idea to another. Connect your paragraphs logically, thereby mastering the art of the segue.
Correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation are important. It’s easy to overlook these things as the writer of the review, but your reader will appreciate a solid work that doesn’t have the speed bumps these errors will cause.
If you have a relationship with the author – other than as a reader – disclose it in your review. Here are some examples: “The author and I have shared a long friendship, giving me a full appreciation of her anecdotes”, “The author and I met while traveling…”, “The author, my cousin, allowed me to preview the manuscript in it’s infancy…”; you get the idea.
Finish with a summation of your review. Include your overall impression of the book, and the book’s effectiveness. You may want to reword and restate your thesis in the conclusion, to emphasize it and remind the reader of your purpose.
Do not introduce new points in the conclusion. You are wrapping up your review, and the reader should have a clear view of your thoughts after reading. Adding more points that aren’t carefully explained leaves the review feeling unfinished.
The Once Over
Proofread your review. Look for technical errors, but also pay attention to style and flow. Be sure your review is easy to read and follow.
The review should be concise. An average review will be between 300 and 1500 words. If you have more or less to say, that’s fine. Just make sure you have presented all the necessary information so that the review makes sense without straying from the point.
Keep your audience in mind. For example: PBS blog posts, your audience, for the most part, will be PBS members (although nonmembers have access to the blog as well). Members and nonmembers who visit our blog are generally deciding whether or not to order the book through PBS or perhaps if they would like to purchase it new from the PBS Market. Your review will help others make these decisions. You want to be somewhat objective, but you should express whether or not you believe the audience will appreciate the work.
Now you are ready to write your review. Do your best and have fun!
If you are interested in writing a review for the PBS blog we would love to hear from you. Please send an email to Blog@PaperBackSwap.com.