Well, since I’ve written quite a lot of book reviews within the past few months, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write them.
I’ll mostly be focusing on book reviews that are posted online (since this is what I’ve had experience with), but hopefully most of these tips will be general enough to be useful for all kinds of book reviews.
So, let’s get started:
1) Take notes!: Yes, note-taking can be a bit of a distraction when you’re reading, but it will really come in handy when you’re writing your review – especially if it takes you a couple of days (or longer) to read the novel that you’re reviewing.
Having some notes prepared can help you quickly find important parts of the book you’re reading, in addition to helping you gather and clarify your thoughts before writing your review.
Different things work for different people, but my usual approach to note-taking involves taking two types of notes.
First of all, instead of a bookmark, I’ll use a small square of paper that I can quickly jot down page numbers and 1-3 word descriptions on. This means that I have an instant reference if I need to go back and look at any important parts of the book whilst I’m preparing the review. Plus, since I use it as a bookmark, these crucial notes are less likely to get lost.
Secondly, after every reading session, I’ll usually make some slightly more extensive notes in a notebook – mostly focusing on my general impressions of what I’ve read so far (eg: is it what I expected? What does it remind me of? What techniques does the author use? etc…). This is useful for coming up with the more general descriptions in the reviews that I write and it also helps me to remember the experience of reading the book in question too.
Of course, your ideal approach to taking notes might be different. But, nonetheless, it is a very good idea to take notes if you are going to review a book.
2) Watch and read reviews/criticism of other things: One of the best ways to learn how to write reviews is simply to watch and read as many reviews as you can. And they don’t have to be book reviews either – seriously, a lot of what I learnt about reviewing came from watching videogame reviews on Youtube, reading games magazines when I was younger etc..
If you can see how different people review things, then you’ll be able to see the sort of things that good reviews have in common with each other, what you look for in a review etc…
But, it is also a good idea to look at criticism as well as ordinary reviews. Criticism is where someone takes an in-depth look at something and analyses it in detail. Although this may sound boring, it can be fascinating if it’s based on things you love. And it doesn’t have to be about the thing you’re reviewing (in fact, it’s better if it isn’t – since it might influence your review).
So, why look at criticism? Simply put, because it teaches you how to think more deeply about things. If you look at enough criticism, you’ll learn to look for things like themes, motifs, references, literary techniques etc… in the books that you’re reviewing. You’ll be able to think more deeply about the book you’re reading. You’ll be able to look at why the author does certain things and how the story “works”.
So, look at both reviews and criticism. Looking at reviews will teach you how to make your reviews more interesting to read, and looking at criticism will teach you how to add depth to your reviews (so that, even if someone has already read the book you’re reviewing, they can learn something new from your review).
3) Have a template: One of the things that helps me when I’m writing book reviews is to have a general template that I can fall back on if I can’t think of how to structure the review. This helps to keep my reviews more focused, in addition to ensuring that I cover everything important during the review.
The one I currently use is something like: Title graphic, background information about why I read the book, spoiler warning, book cover scan, premise summary/partial plot summary, initial impressions, genre features (eg: why is this horror novel scary?), writing style, length/pacing, how well the story has aged (if it’s more than about 20 years old), a summary and then a rating out of five.
This does change somewhat between reviews, but having a basic template can be incredibly useful nonetheless. So, working out a basic template before you write your book review can really come in handy. Your template doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it’s something to fall back on if you can’t work out how to structure your review.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂