Today’s post is a guest post from Desiree Villena, a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories — as well as the occasional book review!
When it comes to reviewing books, there are some essential steps that you should be taking. But if you’re already doing those things, perhaps you’re wondering how to ensure your readers stay entertained? Providing a summary, presenting your evaluation, and giving your additional recommendations is an excellent start, but it’s time to start thinking about enhancing your review with some above-and-beyond thoughts and insights to really captivate your audience.
That may sound daunting, but if you’ve followed Leah’s advice, you know that there are limitless adventures out there if you let go of your fears. To that end, I’ve outlined five steps below that will help you tap into your originality and make your reviews stand out.
1. Read actively
Just like Leah’s hinted, the key to great writing is knowing your stuff! This starts long before you’re ready to put pen to paper. Indeed, you should begin thinking about your book review as you’re still reading.
Plan your review like you would plan a novel and start by breaking the parts down into manageable chunks. This is probably the most time-consuming step but, assuming you love reading as much as I do, also the most fun. Here are a couple action points to get you going:
- Note down your thoughts and reactions and think about how you could formulate them in a review. Some people choose to write in the books, but if you think that’s a deadly sin, you can also invest in some sticky-notes or keep a notebook with you.
- Pay attention to things like quotes that speak to you or say something about the writing style. You might also make a note of strong literary devices or main themes to comment on in your review.
You can take notes about literally anything, pun intended. There’s no right or wrong answer! Take this chance to engage with the book on a personal level so it will be easier to add your signature style to the review later.
2. Consider your platform
Next think about the platform to which you’re uploading the review. This step is often overlooked, but it deserves some attention as it will influence the format, content, and presentation of your review. Remember to put yourself in your readers’ shoes and think about what they want to see on a particular platform.
- Start by checking out reviews on some popular review sites to get a feel for what is expected. Take inspiration from other reviews while also thinking about how you can put your own spin on it.
- Keep it short and snappy if you’re reviewing on #bookstagram to fit the word limit — and pay extra attention to the picture. Goodreads? Spread your wings and write a longer piece. Submitting to a journal? Limit the jokes and write in a more professional tone.
3. Start strong
Now that you’ve taken plenty of notes and understand your platform, it’s time to convert this knowledge into a page-turning review. Use your opening sentence to draw the reader in and keep them guessing, then dive into the essential information and plot summary.
If you find yourself stuck, think of it like writing a book, but on a way smaller scale! And like with books, it’s true what they say — first impressions matter. On that note:
- Make your first sentence(s) count. Something unexpected is great but if you feel like you’re forcing yourself to be witty or outlandish, keeping it simple works too. You can even start with a quote or a question for the reader that is relevant to the plot or main theme, such as “is all really fair in love and war?”
- Convey some essential information about the book, preferably early on. Title, author, publication date, as well as an enticing plot summary (without spoilers, or at least with spoilers marked or hidden, as on Goodreads) are expected. You might also want to comment on the genre or on whether it’s a debut.
- Play around with how you introduce these elements to add a personal touch and avoid simply listing them. Use your notes to contribute interpretations that keep your review fresh and interesting.
4. Praise and critique the book
While giving your evaluation, present your reasons for liking or not liking the book. Your experience of a given book will be unique to you, and that makes for an enjoyable review! Just make sure to validate your reflections with evidence from step 1. For instance:
- Use quotes to show the reader why you thought the writing was superb (or not-so-superb). Did you think the characters were flat or round? Explain why, with examples. Were you bored or confused at any point? Comment on how this could be the result of this book’s specific narrative arc.
- Try to present both praise and critique of the book, even if you’re writing a rave review, because it shows that you’ve considered it from all angles — and again, back your claims up with textual evidence.
5. End with confidence
Your review should ultimately address the question: who is this book for? Give a confident answer by placing it in conversation with other books, both to lend this book some context and to make your review more engaging. After discussing the finer details of the novel itself, conclude your review by zooming back out again and giving your recommendations.
- By this point, make sure it’s clear whether you enjoyed the book or not. If not, you can still recommend it to “fans of so-and-so.” Show that you understand the difference between your personal preferences and bad writing.
- Also show that you know what you’re talking about by comparing the book to others in the genre overall. This gives more weight to your review and can help clarify any questions your readers might still have. For example, since writing nonfiction is very different from fiction, you might comment on the specific aspects of the genre when reviewing a nonfiction book and compare it to others you liked, noting stylistic or thematic similarities.
- Add a final sentence which ties back to your first sentence for a cohesive end product. Perhaps answer the question that you opened with.
- Finally, make sure to go back and edit to streamline your structure and catch any stray misspellings.
By following these steps, you’ll be a pro reviewer in no time. You can even take your new skills to new and different reviewing platforms, like Reedsy Discovery.
In the end, when it comes to writing an enjoyable review, nothing beats knowing the material well and conveying your thoughts on it with original examples. A solid review will give you the good, the bad, and the ugly, but a great review will offer your own thoughtfully considered reflections.