Making Book Reviews Part of a Healthy Writing Habit: Tips and Tricks

Last week, I had the opportunity to yak at you all about why you should review books (because it helps you read critically, improves your craft, and helps out the author) and what makes for a good review (be honest but kind). If you missed it, you can read that article here: Making Book Reviews Part of a Healthy Writing Habit: Getting Started. Now, let me give you a few more tools for reviewing books. These tips and tricks will help you save time and write a better review. Let’s talk about getting started.

Plan Ahead

A word of advice: it is extremely hard to review a book you didn’t plan on reviewing before you read. A good book review requires specific details and reactions, both of which can dissipate quickly if you don’t have a means of capturing them as you go. You’ll want to play around and find a method of active reading that works well for you, but have some sort of plan for engaging with the reading and recording your thoughts. I read with sticky tabs, a highlighter, pen, and my phone nearby to voice record longer thoughts or reactions. I love marking my books (stop cringing, it’s an act of love and tenderness) but for those of you who like pristine pages, there are plenty of other methods for keeping track of lines and thoughts. Go into your reading with the intent of reviewing it and your job will be that much easier when it is time to sit down at the computer.

Here are a few useful questions to keep in mind as you read (I will often do a quick write to these as soon as I finish the book):

  • How did the author tell the story?
  • What were the best, strongest features (even if you didn’t like the story)?
  • What were the weaknesses (even if you loved the story)?
  • What choices did the author make that were effective?
  • What choices did the author make that were ineffective?
  • Did you like it? Why? Be specific.

Create a Template

Those of you who have worked with me know that I am a huge fan of templates–template nerd may have been the exact phrase used by one of my guest authors. There’s a reason, though. Templates provide an easy starting point, save time, and increase consistency. I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to say when I use a template, so I can focus more on how I say it (which is the most important piece to engaging your reader, is it not? It follows the adage that there are no new stories to tell, only new ways to tell them). Finally, a template can help prompt me when I feel stuck. Here are a few elements (in order of inclusion) I include in my reviews

  • A paragraph about my experiences reading the book–What were some of your memorable reactions? Where did you read this and how did that setting impact your enjoyment of the book.
  • A paragraph giving my overall reaction to the book–I will often combine this with the first paragraph unless I have a lot to say in one or the other.
  • A summary of the book that includes a brief introduction to the main character and POV, inciting incident, setting and worldbuilding, and theme.
  • Then comes the bulk of my review where I incorporate specific examples and quotes to illustrate my points. I write at least three paragraphs and break my review into three sections:
    • A paragraph on the overall writing: Was it well written? Did they overdo a certain technique (like overblown descriptions or way too much figurative language) or did they use a technique particularly well? Were there parts where you got bogged down or confused? Was the dialogue realistic or well written? Did the style match the story?
    • A paragraph focusing on the plot: What worked? What didn’t? Did the story start in the right spot? Was it engaging from the get-go or did it take a while to get into it? What was the pacing like (did the story move fast or slow)? Did the pacing work well for the story? Did it have a good resolution or end on a cliff-hanger?
    • A paragraph focusing on Narrative elements. Were the characters well imagined, deep, complex, realistic? How well did the author use setting? What about the tone of the story? What was the mood of the story? Did it connect to your emotions or was there distance?
  • I finish with a conclusion: Summarize the main positives and negatives in a couple of sentences. End with your rating and recommendations.

Now there really is no excuse! Get to reading!!

Photo by Fabiola Peñalba on Unsplash