5 things you’ve got to know for writing great book reviews

5 things you’ve got to know for writing great book reviews
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Natacha Ramos
Natacha Ramos
Osmary Méndez

It’s been two years since I began writing reviews in exchange for free books. At first, I had no idea what I was doing… well, I’m not so sure I do now, but I’ve learned one or two things about this in that time.

Before anything else, I must say that there are hundreds (of thousands) of websites teaching how to write good reviews (I think I’ve read them all), so, on this post, I’ll share the 4 recommendations that have helped the most when letting other readers know what I thought about a book.

You ready?

Here we go.

1. Trust your own criteria.

I’ve made this commitment with myself: when I’m reading a book, I won’t read someone else’s review, especially from people I admire. Once mine is published, I allow myself to see what others think. Otherwise, I have the tendency to let them cloud my own judgment, and say: “well, they know more than me, if they liked the book and I didn’t, I have a problem, so I’ll make my review look like theirs”. Big mistake!

Allow yourself to have your own opinion. Believe it or not, that’s the point here. The most famous reviewers on Goodreads, Youtube and Amazon are relevant because they speak their minds no matter what others say.

Readers want to know what you think.

We don’t have to agree with “experts” to share what a story made us feel or see. Our opinion is as valuable as anyone else’s, and that’s what people want to read.

2. Please, be honest.

I don’t have a problem with honesty when sharing a good review, that’s the easiest thing in the world for any reviewer; however, when I find myself reading a book I don’t like, writing my thoughts down becomes a nightmare. I’m better at that now, but it’s taken its time.

Especially when I receive a book in exchange for my opinion… boy, there is pressure! At first, I preferred not to say anything, but now I understand that good reviewers say what they truly think (with gentleness, of course). I want those that read my reviews to respect my opinion, and I only deserve that when I let them know what’s really on my mind.

There are some readers that I’m sure I can trust because they say the good, the bad, and the ugly, just as they have them in their hearts, and, honestly, I want to belong to that group, don’t you?

3. Please, be fair.

When we’re writing a review, we are biased by things like our favorite genres and lifestyle in general, and that’s fine, because nobody is treating us as journalists, we are not supposed to be objective, we can show our true colors.

The problem comes when we act as if our opinion were the end of the conversation, which is not. If you didn’t like a book, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, it only means you didn’t like it for some reason that might have nothing to do with the book itself.

For example, I don’t like books on leadership, so I’ll have a hard time giving an enthusiastic review for anything I read on that theme, no matter how good the book is, but it’s not the author’s fault (entirely), it’s partly mine, and I have to own it, and so do you.

Long story short: say what you want to say, but remember you’re not the final judge in this matter; you’re just giving an opinion. Therefore, there is no need for you to be cruel with other reviewers that think differently from you, or to give a death sentence to an author that, by the way, has feelings.

3. You don’t have to say it all.

If your review is too long, I probably won’t go the whole journey with you, I’ll just read some phrases and that’ll be all; perhaps what you wrote is brilliant, but I want to get your opinion as fast as possible and then move on. Especially, if I hadn’t read the book yet, I definitely don’t want to go into your every thought on each chapter.

Also, there is this psychological thing that keeps people from reading something on the Internet when it’s very long. They may try, but it’s not likely they’ll go through everything.

I’m sure authors appreciate a detailed review, but we, readers, are content with good and short opinions.

"Good things, when short, are twice as good." Tom Stoppard

My suggestion is not to share every single thing that crossed your mind while reading, but to be specific on those main points you found remarkable.

I believe 300 words will do the job, but if you insist on writing more, I encourage you to add some images, quotes or stuff like that to make your review look more attractive.

4. Be careful with synopsis.

I’ve read that we should write some lines to describe what the book is about. Well, if you’re writing for Amazon or Barnes & Noble or a place that already shows a synopsis, I strongly suggest you don’t. I don’t find it necessary.

However, if you’re writing for your own blog, I encourage you to make your own synopsis, different from the one provided by the book itself. Otherwise, you’ll have the very same description other blogs have, and I know you want to be unique.

2 or 3 lines where you share in general terms what the story is about will be great, just make sure you are not giving away the whole thing.

5. Always rate your books.

I belong to that very wide group of people that usually decide if to read a book or not based on how many stars readers are giving it. We like them because those stars sum up all the reviewer’s words and put them in the simplest terms possible: “when all it’s said and done, here’s what I think: 3 stars.”.

Sometimes, I just see the stars and don’t read the reviews; other times, I only care for the review because the high or low rate the reviewer gave.

So, rate the book! Always! I know every website gives different meanings to each rating, but we all know 5 stars is “amazing”, 3 is “ok” and 1 is “it couldn’t be worse”, so let’s work around it.

Those are my 5 recommendations! I hope you found them helpful. If you want to see some of my reviews, you can go check them here, and let me know your (honest) opinion about them. You can also see them on Goodreads.

Thanks for reading this, and thanks for reading in general. Trust me, what you do as a reviewer is valuable, and I know it requires all your heart and soul! So, for me, you’re a hero, one of the smartest in the world ;)

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