Anatomy of a Book Review: Tips for Writing a Good Book Review

As many avid readers know, book reviews can be magical. Not only are they book recommendations, they’re also bridges to our fellow bookworms all around the world. Reviews offer a chance to share your thoughts with other readers and to keep track of your own musings on the books on your shelf, but many find that writing a review isn’t as easy as it seems. To help our readers craft the best reviews possible, we’ve put together a list of 11 tips for how to write a book review. Whether you’re reviewing books on BookishFirst, Goodreads, NetGalley, or your personal blog, this guide is sure to help take your reviews to the next level.

Describe the plot
First things first: Your readers will want to know what the book is about. But describing the plot needs to be a fine balance in a book review. You want to share just enough to hook the reader without giving too much away and without veering into book report territory. Give a bit more background on the plot outlined on the book’s jacket, and focus on any elements that you feel particularly strongly about or you think that your readers will want to be aware of.

Avoid spoilers
Spoilers—enemy number one of readers everywhere. Most readers take spoilers very seriously, but they continue to pop up in book reviews. Often, spoilers can be tempting to share because they are frequently the elements that gave the reviewer an intense reaction (a sudden twist, a shocking death, a surprise unveiling). But make sure you don’t rob any of your readers of that genuine emotional reaction or discovery. Unless your reviewing platform offers a way to hide spoilers, avoid them completely.

Find the hook
There are two hooks to think about when writing a book review. First, how to make a reader stop scrolling and read your entire review. Second, in cases of positive reviews, how to convince them to pick up the book. Don’t wait until the middle of your review to try to catch the reader’s attention. Try to hook them from the very first sentence. Think about what made you pick the book up, and use that to inspire your own way of writing about it.

Make your opinion clear
This tip might seem obvious, but sometimes a reviewer may get caught up in describing the plot and forget to offer their own insight. We recommend making your thoughts clear as early as possible and throughout the review. As you describe the plot, share your opinion on the things that worked or didn’t when it comes to the writing, characters, and events of the book. Tell readers why they should (or shouldn’t) pick this book up.

Find your voice
Readers choose to follow certain reviewers because of similar reading taste, but also because they enjoy their review style. Celebrate your uniqueness in your book reviews. Provide the insight only you can offer. This is an opportunity to share your passion with other readers, so make it personal. Don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t happen immediately. Rewrite, hone your voice, and keep reviewing. Your signature style will develop as you go.

Rating system
Ratings help to give readers an immediate sense of how you felt about a book. If you review on a personal blog, decide on the rating system that works for you and make sure you clearly explain how it works to your readers. If you review on platforms such as BookishFirst or Goodreads, you’ll have a rating system provided for you. Think about how the way you personally rate books fits into their system. For example, if you give half stars on your blog (or in your mind!) but the platform doesn’t have half-stars as an option, decide if those should be rounded up or down.

Consider the reviews you’ve read
Visit a site where you like to read reviews and find examples that you think are effective. Ask yourself what it is that you like about the review, and find ways to showcase those same elements in an original way in your own. Maybe you’re swayed by great pull quotes, thorough plot summaries, or a review with a strong voice. Do you love reviews that are conversational, like you’re talking with a friend? Do you want a bit of humor in your book recs? Or do you prefer a serious tone, to convey how much thought you’ve put into your feelings about the book? These are all techniques you can use to make your own reviews even more successful.

Explain both praise and critiques
When it comes to book reviews, it’s important to explain both your praise and critiques of a book so that other readers get the whole picture. For example, don’t just say that the book has great characters—explain what makes them great. Don’t tell readers that the book was boring—explain which elements failed to capture your attention. This will help readers to understand your point of view and decide for themselves whether or not this is a book that they might enjoy. Thoughtful praise and critique often can also be a great starting point for a continued conversation about a book.

Think about the audience
Let readers know if this is a book you’d recommend, and to whom. Not every book is suited to every reader, so you’ll want to be specific about who is likely to enjoy it. For example, you’d recommend A Game of Thrones to fans of historical fantasy, not modern fantasy. But it may also be a great recommendation for those who love a good political thriller. Keep in mind that even if a book didn’t fit your personal reading tastes, there’s a chance it may appeal to other readers and your review could help them discover it.

Proofread before posting
The fastest way to lose credibility with your audience is to have a typo-laden review. Give your entire review a final read before posting to catch any spelling or grammar errors, including checking facts you share, the spelling of author and characters names, pronouns used, and any quotes you use. The last thing you want is a reader to stop following your reviews because you accidentally kept calling the main character Harry Patter.

Have fun!
Reviewing can be a labor of love, but it’s a job that should always bring you joy. If you ever find yourself feeling burned out, take a break and remind yourself of why you started reviewing in the first place: to share your love of books with readers all over the world.

Psst: If you like reviewing books, visit us at BookishFirst where you can earn points for your reviews and use those points to win free books!

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The 2014 NetGalley Wellness Challenge has officially come to an end (but you can still unofficially join at any time!)

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During this year’s Challenge we focused on how NetGalley members “book talk,” meaning how members get the word out about books they read on NetGalley. We provided suggestions and examples via email, social media, 2 live webinars, and in-person at BookExpo America.

Did you miss the Challenge? Check out our recap below, and take advantage of the helpful resources anytime!

image Nearly 2,000 members signed the Wellness Challenge Pledge!

image Over 900 members attended the Wellness Challenge webinars where we provided tips for using your NetGalley account, new features available, and tips for leaving Feedback. (Watch the recorded version here!)

image We met with many of our members (particularly bloggers, booksellers, and librarians) in-person at BookExpo America! We walked through their accounts, looked at their stats, their Profiles, and talked about the Feedback they leave and what other information they can provide publishers.

What you can do:

imageBefore you can leave Feedback in NetGalley you need to be approved for a title – to start out on the right foot, look at our Profile examples and suggestions in our Before You Request section. Keep in mind that Publishers make their approval decisions based on your Profile and Bio!

imageWant a quick way to assess how you currently “book talk”? Our Reader Checklist that will provide best practices when leaving Feedback to publishers in NetGalley.

imageNeed more of a visual? Watch our recorded webinar that shows you an actual NetGalley account and how to navigate important sections, submit Feedback, what Feedback you can submit, and what is the most valuable to publishers.

image For tips from other Professional Readers and industry professionals, read our Recipes for Success blog series!

image Follow us! We’re always providing tips, updates on new features, and new titles available on NetGalley. Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest #MyNetGalley

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image We continue to hear first-hand from publishers how word-of-mouth can truly help make or break a book’s success.

Today Dina Sherman, School & Library Marketing Director at Disney Book Group, has some words for our members:

“‘Professional’ reviews are essential as marketing tools, but it’s reader reviews (from teachers, librarians, booksellers, bloggers) that really get us excited about our books. Both staff and authors want to know that people like, or even better, love, the book as much as we do!

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Probably my favorite NetGalley review of all time was for CODE NAME VERITY.  It was an in-house favorite (OK, let’s be honest, an in-house obsession) from the first time we read the manuscript. We talked about it all the time, shared it with every person we met, but couldn’t quite sum up our feelings.

Then came this wonderful reviewer*, who wrote, “Suck it, Hemingway.”  Exactly! It became our rallying cry and we would say it in meetings whenever we were trying to express our feelings about the book. It certainly helped us keep pushing to get it out into the world.”

* Written and submitted by Katherine Montgomery, educator

You can view Disney Book Group titles on NetGalley here to request and review.

Take a peek at our best practices for Feedback here (whether you’re a blogger/reviewer, librarian, bookseller, media professional, or educator), and don’t forget to sign the Wellness Challenge Pledge!

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Recipes for Success: 5 Top Tips for Writing a Book Review

At NetGalley, we’re always looking for new ways to help our members improve their chances of being approved, and give better feedback. So we’ve put together a video of top tips for reviewers – as compiled by Stuart Evers, NetGalley UK. Stuart’s a published writer in the UK and has written hundreds of reviews and blogs for some of the UK’s biggest publications, and these are his top 5 ways to make your blog and book reviews more effective. Let us know what tip you found most helpful below, or via Twitter #NGextras

Recipes for Success aims to give NetGalley members helpful information, tools, and best practices to help facilitate your growth and effectiveness as professional readers. Check back often for tips and tricks from the insiders.

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Recipes for Success: 8 Tips for Writing Good Book Reviews (or, A Neon Sign at the Topless Bar of Literature)

Guest Post: Janice Harayda, novelist, award-winning journalist, and founder and editor-in-chief of One-Minute Book Reviews

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We’re thrilled to welcome Janice Harayda to the NetGalley blog. After being fortunate enough to hear her panel on book reviewing at the 2012 BEA Bloggers conference, we’re so pleased she’s shared this updated version of her remarks as part of our Recipes for Success series. Janice Harayda is a novelist and an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. You can read more of her comments and tips on reviewing here, and follow her tweets at @janiceharayda.

Recipes for Success aims to give NetGalley members helpful information, tools, and best practices to help facilitate your growth and effectiveness as professional readers. Check back often for tips and tricks from the insiders.

A well-known book critic once said that she hoped that her reviews would be “a soft light in the alcove of art.” Some of the books I’ve reviewed have made me feel more like a neon sign at the topless bar of literature. But I share that critic’s view: A reviewer’s most important task is to help you see a book clearly and, especially, to show its uniqueness. A question I ask every day is: How can I show how this book differs from all others? And I’ve tried to develop a few guidelines for answering it. Continue reading “Recipes for Success: 8 Tips for Writing Good Book Reviews”

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