How to Write a Book Review

I recently heard the book blogger Kim Nash speak in Leicester and she gave her personal rules for writing book reviews. This is what she said:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Indicate how the book made you feel.
  3. If reviewing on your own blog or website, always include links within the review to where the book can be bought.
  4. Don’t review a book that you don’t like.
  5. Share the review on social media.

Points 1 and 4 might cause some of you to raise an eyebrow. But I agree with Kim. If the book is a full-length novel, someone has sweated blood for months, maybe even years, to write it and the last thing they need is a kick in the teeth from a reviewer. So, if you can’t write something kind then don’t write anything at all. Similarly, don’t choose to review a book in a genre that you don’t like because you won’t give it a fair chance. With the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature it’s easy to get an idea of whether a book is going to be to your taste before you buy. If you notice formatting issues within a book, it’s kinder and more helpful to contact the writer direct so that the problems can be corrected, rather than point them out in an Amazon review that will remain on the site permanently, even after the errors have been corrected.

Remember – when you review a book, especially by a newish indie author, you are treading on someone’s dreams.

Kim also works for the publisher Bookouture and she gave a tip about doing a cover reveal. Apparently the best time for doing these on social media is 4:45 pm – this is when you’ll catch most people. Announce in advance that you’ll be doing the reveal at this time and make sure that the book’s Amazon page is open to accept pre-orders at this time too. If the cover provokes a reader’s interest, you want him to be able to order it immediately rather than have chance to forget about it.

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  1. #1 by susanjanejones on October 15, 2015 - 2:48 pm

    I agree with all those, Sally. Are you preparing (brainwashing) people or hinting for when Bedsit 3 hits the bookshops? I post on my blog, only leave a review if it’s going to be a good one please? Quit polite, you see. Someone left a review on the 70’s book, which is a mixture of people’s stories, complaining about the first two and left a bad review, which really annoyed me as mine is the third story. If they couldn’t ever be bothered to read the book, why be nasty?
    If a title, or cover or genre doesn’t appeal to me, I wouldn’t even read the book, let alone review it.

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on October 15, 2015 - 3:43 pm

      No, I wasn’t brainwashing, Susan, I just thought the post might provoke a bit of discussion. But if anyone wants to review anything I’ve written, they are most welcome (as long as they’re gentle with me!) It is a shame about that review on your 70s book but unfortunately nothing can be done about it. Fingers crossed for a wave of 5* reviews when your short story collection is out!

  2. #3 by Jack Dowd on October 16, 2015 - 5:51 pm

    I’ve just started doing reviews on my blog and was at a loss at what to say. This is very useful!

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on October 16, 2015 - 7:08 pm

      Glad it was useful, Jack. Happy reviewing!

  3. #5 by Alex Gazzola on October 19, 2015 - 12:03 pm

    Have to say I disagree with 4. If we were to all only review books we liked, then only positive reviews would exist – and how can that possibly be fair to the reader thinking of buying? It would not necessarily be representative of the experiences of those who have read the book. I look at several reviews of books when I’m thinking of buying it – and fully expect to find both positives and negatives discussed. Crushing dreams? The dream that one individual likes their book rather than dislikes it? Publication is usually the dream of writers, not absence of negative reviews. Self-censorship in order to preserve feelings is not the answer.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on October 19, 2015 - 4:09 pm

      Point taken, Alex and thanks for raising it. I suppose I should’ve distinguished between a book blogger reviewing a book in a blog post and an Amazon review. Kim was stating how she would go about doing a review for her book blog, where the reader will get only one point of view. Amazon is a bit different because there will be a range of opinions from different people. But I do think that if you are going to mark a book down on Amazon you should include the reason why. On one of my non-fiction books I have a single-word review, ‘rubbish’. It would be more helpful to everyone if he/she had put why it was rubbish, for example incorrect facts?, too few pages for the price? etc.

      • #7 by Alex Gazzola on October 19, 2015 - 9:35 pm

        Yes, that would annoy me too! On one of mine someone complains that my book failed to diagnose her condition – specifically tell her what the problem is – which no book can do. At least I had the opportunity to point that out, but responding to ‘rubbish’ is somewhat trickier ….

  4. #8 by juliathorley on October 22, 2015 - 4:37 pm

    I, too, would say that we should review we don’t like. Just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean we can’t review it fairly and express positive thoughts about the writing style and so on. I would add a further point: that the review should be of interest even if you don’t intend to buy the book. Obviously this doesn’t apply to an Amazon review, but for a blog post or magazine, I believe it does.

    • #9 by Sally Jenkins on October 23, 2015 - 7:28 pm

      Yes, Julia, a fair and positive review is good. And I agree with what you say about making it the review a ‘good read’ in it’s own right.

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