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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How Working With Publishers and Publicists Can Work For You!

by Sarah Miniaci, Smith Publicity

In not-so-ancient history, Amazon was best known as a jungle in South America and the closest thing that existed to an influential book blog was The New York Times Book Review.

Smith Publicity acts as a “publisher” on NetGalley offering the books of our wide-ranging clients to reviewers through NetGalley. We celebrated 20 years in book publicity in 2017, and have seen countless changes in the business of promoting books over that time. But from 1997 to today, one thing has remained constant: the importance of book reviews.

Between the indie publishing boom, the advent of e-books, and the emergence of incredible platforms like NetGalley, there has arguably never been a more interesting and exciting time to be a reader, writer, or publishing industry professional. The so-called ‘gatekeepers’ like The New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly certainly haven’t been rendered irrelevant – but they’re no longer the only game in town, either. How do we reach the new generation of bloggers, bookstagrammers, Goodreads influencers and Amazon power reviewers? Through NetGalley, of course!

Whether you’re a journalist, book blogger, librarian, retailer, or someone who simply loves to read and offer your unique perspective on the latest and greatest titles, know that every single request and bit of feedback you remit on NetGalley is as precious as gold to book publicists, authors, and publishers. At Smith Publicity, we couldn’t be more appreciative of and enthusiastic about your passionate, dedicated, and diverse community – and as we enter a new year (and look to expand our auto-approval list!), wanted to share with you all some of our favorite NetGalley community reviewer practices:

Love a book you found on NetGalley? Shout it from the (digital) rooftops!

 For book publicists, there is no better feeling than helping an author get their book into the hands of a reader who deeply connects with their story / ideas / characters / themes / etc. If you love a book you found on NetGalley, please do share your feedback on it within – and outside of! – the NetGalley platform. Cross-posting your review to Amazon, Goodreads, and any other social media platforms or sites you regularly use is extremely valuable – and sure to put you on the “Nice” list of any publisher whose books you’ve requested.

To review or not to review? That is the question…

While of course we book publicists (and the authors and publishers we represent) would love a steady stream of glowing, 5-star reviews for each and every book we’re working on, we’re also realistic – and sincerely grateful for any title feedback at all so long as it is thoughtful, cleanly written, and fundamentally respectful. If you’re in doubt as to whether or not you should post your feedback on a title that perhaps you weren’t over the moon about, never hesitate to write to us directly. We love hearing from you, and are always happy to hear diverse opinions!

 Mark your calendar and give your favorite authors a little gift on their “book birthday”

Anytime, anywhere, any way – we absolutely love getting new reviews in, and don’t tend to be particularly fussy about when, where, or how they happen (unless otherwise noted by way of an embargo, of course). If you want to go the extra mile, however, do pay attention to the “book birthday” – otherwise known as publication date! – and, if it’s not too much trouble, try to either review the book by that date, or give your previously remitted review a little “boost” by promoting it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Amazon — or even by mentioning it to your local library or bookshop! Tip for those Type A’s among us: some of our NetGalley BFFs even mark their calendars with the book birthday right when they get approval notification.

DNF? File issues? Other questions, issues, or requests? Get in touch!

We are always, always but a brief email away – and not to sound too much like a broken record, but we truly do love hearing from you! If ever you have questions about a title, predict that you’re not going to be able to finish a book you started, or have any other questions or requests whatsoever, please, don’t hesitate to write to us. We know we speak for every single publisher, author, and other industry professional on NetGalley when we say that getting to engage with other passionate readers is one of the very best parts of the job, and that you are so, so important to this wonderful industry of ours. In the case of file issues, always reach out to NetGalley support to help you troubleshoot the problem and they will work with us to improve the file or formats available whenever needed.

We know your TBR piles are mammoth, we’re readers too – we get it! You’re not going to be able to review every book you download and not every book is going to be a fit. But please be aware that when you download a book, it does open a relationship with the publicist and author behind that book. Seeing a download sets certain expectations. We start checking in often because we’re excited about your feedback. If you don’t think you’ll get to a book, just let us know. If you don’t have time for a full review – consider leaving a star rating on NetGalley, Goodreads and Amazon. It only takes a couple minutes and is getting even easier with NetGalley’s new “share” buttons.

Tell us – what do you wish publishers and publicists knew about how YOU use NetGalley? Tell us on social media @smithpublicity.

 

Need more recommendations for your TBR list?
Be sure to check out Smith Publicity’s upcoming titles & wish them a Happy 20th Anniversary!

 

 

 

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News from NetGalley

Webinar: The Author’s Path

On May 10, two authors – one from the UK and one from the US – hosted a webinar for an insightful, behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing, publishing, and promoting their work.

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be a published author, what the options are when you’ve finished your book, or how to go about finally finishing your book, this webinar offered some real-life experiences that enlightened and inspired.

  Stuart Evers – former commissioning editor and now author of two collections of stories and a novel.
&
Myfanwy Collins – author of a novel for adults, a collection of stories, and a novel for young adults.

These two authors took writers like you through the possibilities and the pitfalls, the joys and lows of pursuing the author’s path. Listen to the recording here to hear more about their journey!

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Publisher’s Perspective: Why Reviews Matter

 

DBG-Logo-2014Dina Sherman is the School and Library Marketing Director at Disney Book Group and joined us during our live-webcast (which you can watch here) to give a few examples of how you help books succeed.

Reviews matter because they. . .

Help convey the content of the book

First, and on a very basic level, you help convey the content of the book to potential consumers (this can inspire an initial interest, or create another impression). Perhaps your interpretation is different from the publishers, and resonates with your followers.

Help build excitement in-house

Your reviews can help build excitement for a book within the publishing house (which may influence more marketing or sales efforts)

Foreign book rights
It can influence rights, like Movie & TV rights and foreign book rights

Influence award nominations
Your enthusiasm can influence award nominations and inclusion on lists

Encourage relationships
They can help foster relationships between reviewers, publishers and authors

Influence book purchases
Which is fairly obvious, but always important

Influence cover designs

Galley covers are rarely the final cover, and publishers do look for what response they are getting.
Does it reflect the book’s content/tone/theme? Does it feel too young or old? If there are consistent comments that come up, they can be brought to meetings with designers and editors.

Inspire sequels and spinoffs
Maybe a lot of reviewers were really drawn to a supporting character, or subplot that that publisher now wants to build off of.

Identify new audiences
You can help identify new audiences for the book – maybe the publisher wasn’t aware that this book resonated with a particular group of people who share the same interest.

Your reviews can also influence what acquiring editors will go on to publish – they can look at key themes or values in reviews of new books to help decide what readers want to see next.

Success Stories

With the sometimes overwhelming amount of information and media available today, you are breaking through the noise by reaching out to publishers directly to tell them what is important to you, as a reader. Your reviews are certainly influential, but perhaps you don’t always see what that influence looks like. Here are some concrete examples of books where NetGalley reviewers’ quotes played a big part in building excitement, buzz, and sales.

Code Name Verity

“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

 

 

Every Last Word

 

 

Every Last Word was an in-house favorite YA novel. The team decided to put together a preview mailing to help build buzz. They were able to reach out to NetGalley reviewers and take quotes from their NetGalley reviews to put together a sheet of rave reviews. This praise really helped get people excited for the book!

 

 

These Broken Stars

 

These Broken Stars was voted “most likely to be hand sold” on NetGalley. It was a new author team, and some bookstores were unsure about stocking it. Reviewers on NetGalley loved it, which helped a buyer convince an account to carry the book, and the whole series, in their bookstores.

 

 

 

All-in-all, publishers want to know what readers think and respond to, and you’re helping them do that. Your reviews and constructive feedback can help a publisher and/or author make adjustments to the cover or content before on sale (we’ve personally seen this happen as a direct result of reviews from NetGalley members, and it changed the course of the books for the better.)

Publishers know that reviewers on NetGalley do not hold back – you are honest, and constructive and very thoughtful when sharing your opinions with them. You take your book advocacy very seriously, and in turn, publishers are more inclined to take you seriously as early influencers.

You can view Disney Book Group titles on NetGalley here to request and review. Check out the webcast for more tips and sneak peeks of some of Disney Book Group’s upcoming fall titles.

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The Power of Reviews

During our annual NetGalley Challenge, we’re focusing on our how our members help books succeed by writing and sharing reviews. We thought we’d back up a bit and look at how authors and publishers can first gain the attention of book advocates and then how to earn reviews for their titles.

By now, you’ve heard that book reviews matter. They are one of the linchpins that retail sites use to  create algorithms that can increase a book’s visibility,. “Effective frequency” is the concept that consumers are more likely to complete a purchase after having seen the product a certain number of times. There is no magic answer about what that number might be, but the point is that name -and visual-recognition is powerful. The more your title, book cover, and author name are out in the world, the better, and reviews contribute to that saturation.

So, how do publishers and authors break through the noise of the crowded space that is book publishing today? Not every author has a major budget to promote their book, so it becomes important to strategically focus on the most effective outreach possible. By soliciting reviews in a targeted way, an author will begin to see buzz increase—the more reviews out there, the more likely it is that the book will continue to be reviewed as new readers discover the title. As with any product, when readers are looking for a new book or author to discover they will crowd-source their decision by talking with friends and family, and by reading reviews.

Before you start, it is essential to determine your goals and temper your expectations.

Where would you like your book reviewed, and why?

Where is your target audience going for book recommendations?

What is your budget for offering review copies (whether print or digital)?

There are a few different types of reviews you may look for, all of which offer a different type of visibility:

Continue reading “The Power of Reviews”

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The 2015 NetGalley Challenge ended last week – thank you to the 7,400+ members who participated! Your input and enthusiasm directly influence the resources and activities that we create, which hopefully aid you in being Book Advocates.

In case you missed it, the 5-week Challenge was a blitz of activity and curated resources, such as the live webcast with review tips from experts, guest blog posts, Scavenger Hunts, and daily activities on Facebook and Twitter. You can catch up with the weekly recaps and activities here.

It’s been so rewarding and inspiring to see our dedicated community reinforce their love and support of books. THANK YOU and stay tuned for more good things to come!

Tarah Theoret
Community Manager, NetGalley

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Feedback, Beyond the Review

Did you know that as a NetGalley Member, you can submit other forms of Feedback, besides a review? Essentially any information that is relevant to the title and author can be submitted to the publisher, particularly in the Notes portion of the Feedback section. Submitting extra information will help you stay relevant and engaged with that publisher, and for some member types, where your primary objective isn’t to write a review (like making purchasing decisions, for example) this is where you will focus your time when communicating with the publisher.

Librarian
Did you purchase the title for your collection?
Are you including it as a book club or advisory board pick?
Are you holding an event where the title/author will be featured?
Did you nominate the title for LibraryReads?

Bookseller

Did you purchase the title for your inventory?
Are you including the title as a staff pick?
Did you nominate the title for this month’s Indie Next List?
Did you create any in-store display materials, such as a shelftalker or local author display?
Are you holding an event where the title/author will be featured?
Do you plan on hand-selling it?

Educator

Will you be incorporating the title in your lesson plans?
Are you going to adopt the title for your classroom library?
Are you interested in classroom materials created for the title?

Media

Are you including your review in a printed publication?
Are you interested or have already scheduled an interview with vthe author or editor?
Do you want to include the title in a themed or seasonal roundup?
Would you like more information, a final cover, or verify a quote?

Reviewer
(Including Bloggers!)

Are you interested or have already scheduled an interview with vthe author?
Are you interested in joining or perhaps you already joined the blog tour?
Are you using the title or author in any way that the vpublisher would be interested in?
Would you like to verify a quote and/or the final cover?

For more Feedback tips and suggestions for writing reviews, watch our recent webcast, and read our Recipes for Success articles!

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Review Tips and Preferences, From the Publisher’s Perspective

Jessica Brock is an Associate Publicist at Berkley/NAL and has provided us with some great tips to keep in mind when writing reviews & for your NetGalley profile. Jessica also joined us during our live-webcast (which you can watch here) to speak directly to our members, expand on her suggestions below, & give us a sneak peek at Berkley/NAL’s top Fall titles! Berkley_logo1

Keep your profile current with links to your blog and social media accounts:
We really prefer reviewers with multiple platforms, so that the reviews are reaching a wider audience.

The most relevant information should be at the top of your profile:
What is most relevant is your blog stats (hits, followers, page views per month etc.) followed by genre preferences/favorite authors, which is all great information to have upfront. If you keep all of the relevant information towards the top of your bio, then your request may be approved more quickly. All things to keep in mind when building and updating your profile.

Reviews on NetGalley:
Constructive and thoughtful:
Comments like “omg this was so good!” are fine, but tell me why you liked the book and what you enjoyed about it. If it wasn’t your cup of tea, then thoughtfully explain why. This is very relevant information to have, and we want to know what our readers are thinking and what is being said about the book – good or bad, that is thoughtful, and covers multiple points.

Try and have an “overall thoughts” part or pull quote at the top:
Try to give us an overall idea of your review and your general takeaway of the book. It could be something like “This is my new favorite hero – he so loyal and I will follow him for the rest of the series.” Then, when we pin your review to the page on NetGalley (super helpful!) readers will see this first and think “oh, this person really liked the main character” “or this sounds like something I would be interested in.”

Link to the review on your blog:
It is very helpful for publishers to include the link to where the review will appear publicly when you submit your review. It’s good to get a sense of where else the review is posted elsewhere.

Click here to watch the full webcast, where Jessica is joined by other review experts & read our other informational Recipes for Success articles!

To connect with Jessica and Berkley/NAL visit their Publisher page on NetGalley, and their Twitter: @BerkleyRomance (romance titles), @BerkleyNAL (general fiction/women’s fiction/thrillers/non-fiction), @AceRocBooks (sci-fi/fantasy/urban fantasy)

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Review Tips, From the Librarian Perspective

We’re happy to welcome Amanda Buschmann, a Middle School Librarian and reviewer for School Library Journal. Amanda has provided tips for writing reviews, which were also included in our live-webcast (which you can watch here). Read on for her tip 5 tips!

Organize
Briefly sketch out an outline before you begin. A helpful review is one that is organized; begin with an eye-catching introduction that entices and intrigues. A quote, a statement of the narrative situation, and your “thesis” lead the way.

Share
Summarize the plot, sure, but spend most of the review discussing your personal commentary. What did you like/dislike, and why? What makes this book different than others of its ilk?

Insert
Quotes are helpful and give the potential reader an idea of the verbiage–something you found interesting, something that confused you, a cool line that makes you pause.

Entice
Identify a theme/key idea and introduce it to entice the reader. Does the book touch on whether or not it’s morally acceptable to terraform another planet, or covet your friend’s promotion, or so on? Discuss it without spoiling the “answer”!

Recommend
Include “If you like this, then you’d like…” recommendations, as well as recommendations on age group (if applicable) and applications.

Click here to watch the full webcast, where Amanda is joined by other review experts & read our other informational Recipes for Success articles!

To connect with Amanda, follow @thegoodread on twitter. 

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The Book Smugglers Present… Tips for Writing Reviews

We asked trusted experts to share with our community their top tips when it comes to writing book reviews. Thea James, co-founder of The Book Smugglers, was generous to contribute her tips and join us during our live-webcast (which you can watch here) to speak directly to our members about writing reviews. Continue reading for Thea’s tips, and make sure to watch the webcast at your convenience to hear Thea expand on her suggestions below, and to hear from other experts!

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1. Be Genuine
Your natural tone is your most powerful tool and signature as a reviewer

2. Vomit ALL THE FEELS
Genuine emotion builds your voice and audience (see #1)

3. Make Yourself Write (aka Be Consistent)
There aren’t enough hours in the day, but setting up a routine will help keep things on track.

4. Figure out your ideal template (and replicate it)
Summary + Characters + Things that Worked/Didn’t Work + Overall Rating

5. Experiment with structure/format/syntax
Playing around with the key elements or traditional representation of reviews can engage readers in a major way

6. Use Examples
Use quotes or other examples directly from the text to back up your review—it makes your review stronger, and gives readers a first-hand opinion

7. Know Yourself 
Sometimes the review just isn’t there (yet)—know when to step back, or push onward

8. HAVE FUN
Because who wants to read something laborious and  written out of obligation!?

Click here to watch the full webcast, where Thea (co-founder of The Book Smugglers) expands on the tips above, and is joined by other review experts & read our other informational Recipes for Success articles!

To connect with The Book Smugglers visit their website, twitter, facebook, and tumblr!

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