How to write a helpful book review

Book, notepad, pen and coffee

Thought about writing a book review?

Why write a book review?

How often do you scan through some of the reviews before buying something on-line? By allowing us to write unmoderated reviews, the retailers have put a lot of power in our hands. Third-party reviews tell the prospective customer what they can expect if they purchase the item they’re considering. A series of poor reviews can spell disaster for a product or service. Conversely, a series of genuine positive review is better than paid advertising.

When we buy a “widget” we want to know that it’s going to serve whatever purpose we bought it for. If other people tell us they’ve have a bad experience with a particular widget we’re likely to go with one that works better, even if it costs a little more.

Reviews of creative artistic products are a little different to “widget” reviews. Not only do they speak to other customers, there also speak to the artist. Authors and musicians create for the for the sake of creating. They also love to get feedback.

Writing a book review is, in essence, a way of giving something back to the author beyond merely paying for their work. It is an acknowledgement of your appreciation for what they’ve written. It is an encouragement to keep plugging away at what can be an isolating craft.

When to write a review

It may seem like stating the obvious, but the time to review a book is after you’ve read it. It’s surprising how many reviews begin, “I’ve not opened it yet, but …”. A review like that is not useful to anyone.

What to say in your review

When writing a review of a non-fiction book there are a few things to remember:

  • You review is about the book.
  • The book was written to serve a particular audience.
  • You may not be the intended audience

With that in mind, here’s an idea of what to include in your review:

  1. What is your connection to the theme of the book? If it’s about fishing, are you actually an angler? Novice or expert? Perhaps you’re related to an angler or just curious about the subject? Whatever your connection, it helps put your review in context.
  2. Who is the book was aimed at? Is it very technical or simplistic? Did it give a broad overview of the subject or focus in on a particular field? What was the writing style like and did it seem to fit with the subject matter?
  3. What was your opinion of the material If you are part of the target audience, did the author cover the material well? Was it what you were expecting? If you’re not the target audience, were you still able to get some value from reading the book?
  4. Were there any parts that stood out for you? What parts of the book was most helpful or enlightening?
  5. The final verdict Remembering that you may not be in the target audience, who would you recommend this book for? It may be a very specific group (e.g. pre-teen boys who are obsessed with origami, pasta and football!) or a much wider audience (e.g. amateur musicians).
  6. Don’t forget those stars. Once you’ve written your review, you’ll need to rate the book. If the book has met its stated aims well you should give it top marks. If it has dismally failed to deliver, has masses of typos and is poorly presented, you should give it a low score. Remember, if you didn’t appreciate the book but are not in the target audience, that’s not necessarily a reason to give it a poor rating!

So, now you’re ready to go and share some love with the authors of books you’ve read recently and give some helpful advice to your fellow readers.

Having just written your own review why not take a moment to validate one or two of the reviews written by other people. If you think a review gives an accurate portrayal of the book then mark it as being helpful as this will give more weight to it. If you think the person hasn’t actually read the book and has written a review that is misleading or unhelpful, then mark it accordingly.

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