10 Tips On How to Write A Meaningful Book Review

I’ve read lots of books. LOTS. And with the internet it is now so easy to leave a review on anything, especially books. There are websites solely dedicated to book reviews. In this blog post, I offer some pointers on how to leave a meaningful, critical book review based on my own experience both as a reviewer, and as one being reviewed.

1.Read the book. I know, this may be a bit of a “duh”, but you’d be surprised how many people leave reviews when they haven’t read the book, or have only read a couple of the first chapters. This means that the review is uninformed, and is really a waste of the reviewer’s time and those who are reading the review. If you just can’t bother any longer with a book, put it down, give it away, whatever – but don’t offer a review. Writing one up based on a couple of chapters isn’t worth the effort. When I’m looking for a book to read and I come across these kinds of reviews, they can be irritating, to say the least as they say very little about the book itself. And as a writer, I’ve had people review my work without having read a single word. One review was a one-star review, which said “bought this for a friend, but I don’t believe in all this witchy stuff”. That review was completely uninformed, and affects the overall rating of the book itself. Don’t be like that person.

2. Offer a critical review, without the ego getting involved. As I read a lot, I also read a lot of book reviews. And some of them are simply ego trips by people who want to try and prove that they know more than the author does about a certain subject. This happens quite often in Pagan non-fiction books. Every book will get at least one review by someone who “knows better” and is showing off that knowledge in their review. When leaving a review, get yourself out of the way first and foremost. The review is about the book, not you. Don’t be tempted to show off.

    3. Offer a critical review. Following on from the point above, don’t be afraid to leave a critical review. If you didn’t like a book, say why and give examples.

    4. Don’t dismiss a book because you didn’t like something the author said. I have been guilty of this in the past, before I wisened up a little. If I came across something that I didn’t agree with, I’d stop reading and give the book away. What a waste of time and money! It is an immature reaction, which means getting your ego out of way. I’ve had to re-buy books I discarded in the past because I had been overrun by my ego. Keep reading, and take what you want out of the work, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Granted, some books can be so badly written, or so factually incorrect that after several of these instances you just give up. If that is the case, and you still want to leave a review, then state this clearly and the fact that you have not read the entire work. Give more than three examples, to show that you have tried your best but just can’t get on with it. Or just leave it be. Remember the second point above when writing that kind of review. Review intentionally, rather than writing a reactionary one.

    5. Review what is in the book, rather than what you would have liked to have seen in the book. This is another bugbear for me when I’m searching for a book and reading reviews to help my decision making. It’s totally unhelpful to read what someone wanted to see, rather than what was actually in the book. Speaking as an author, there are many reasons why some things haven’t made the cut in a book which you may have liked to have included. Word counts are a big thing. What your editors think should be included or not included is another one. What you want to focus on in your own work is highly important, so don’t play to the gallery. Review what is in the book first and foremost, as that is the most helpful to those who are reading the review.

    6. Rate the book appropriately. When handing out stars, be sure you do so correctly, as a single slip of the finger or mouse could mean that you write a glowing review, but only give the book one star. I’ve seen this on more than one occasion.

    7. Personal reviews are great to read, and offering a bit of yourself in the review will endear others to engage with it. Whether you liked a book or not, feel free to write about your own personal experiences with the book, or with the book’s topic without getting too self-involved or showing off. This puts a real person behind the reviewer’s handle, and lets you know that a real human being engaged with this work and is leaving a heartfelt review.

    8. If you must direct others to books other than the one you are reviewing, check your motives first and foremost. I have seen reviews (mostly bad) left by people in the Pagan community who are just ganging up on someone while trying to promote their mate’s work. Don’t be like those people. It’s bad form and is so easy to spot when reading reviews. If you really feel you must direct people to works other than the book you are reviewing, then try writing a blog post or a post on social media about the book or books you would recommend instead of putting that in another’s book review, as that can be so easily misinterpreted for the reasons that I have given above. It makes it suspect.  If you enjoyed the work and can offer similar examples, go for it – those are great reviews to work with, but be clear to state first and foremost why you enjoyed the book you are currently reviewing, before recommending others of a similar vein.

    9. What to include in a book review. It’s always good to start with a short summary of the book. Then move on to the important aspects of the work. Give each of these some attention, if there is more than one. Then give examples, and even short quotes if possible.  Summarise with a concise conclusion, and be sure to title your review appropriately, as well as leave the proper rating.

    10. Be respectful. As Net Galley states: “Be thoughtful and respectful about the work and the author. Aim for meaningful, not mean. Focus on the merits of the book, rather than the author as an individual.” Take your time when writing a review. Don’t rush it, and check your work, ensuring that there aren’t spelling errors, misquotes, etc. as this can make people turn away from your review.

    Happy Reading!

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