Instructions: how to write a review for books

Reviews are incredibly important for us authors. When you search for a book on the Internet, a book with 72 reviews received inspires more confidence in you than one that has received only 3. Although reviews are very important for us authors, you don’t write them for us, but for readers who are thinking about reading the book as well. In this article, you’ll learn how to write a good review for a book. I’ll tell you once from my book blogger point of view, which topics you can address in a review and how you can build it, but also show you as an author how you can formulate just rather negative reviews.

For whom your review is helpful

A review should help other readers to decide whether they want to read a book or not. With over 70.000 new releases a year, there is a lot to choose from on the book market. Often, even after sifting through the cover, title, and blurb, there are still too many books on the shortlist, so you need another impulse to decide on a book. A review can help at this point.

Tastes are different. The one loves the detailed and extensive writing style of an author. The other would prefer to jump from one event to the next and gets bored with detailed explanations. These are points that have nothing to do with the skill of an author, but are part of the style in which the book is written. And this is exactly the kind of point you can address.

How is a book review structured?

A typical review has Introduction, a Main body and a Conclusion. The main part should be the largest. You can build the three parts as follows:

The introduction of the review

Start with a short description in your own words of what the story is about, without spoilers. You can also write about your personal connection to the story, why you z.B. have read exactly this book. A nice quote or a first insight into your thoughts can also serve as an introduction. It is important that it shows how you liked the story or why the reader of the review should listen to your opinion. For example, if you are reading a book about a boy with an eating disorder, you can report that you have someone in your circle and that the book has helped you to understand this person better.

The main part

In the main part you go into more detail about all the information you would like to give to other readers. How did you like the writing style? Was the book exciting? Has it made you think? Could you relate to the characters’ actions and identify with them? Was the book easy to read or was the book challenging for you?

What topics can I address in a review?

  • Idea: Was it exceptional, simple, individual, cribbed …?
  • Subject: What themes were covered in the book? Be careful here not to spoil and not necessarily give away more than the blurb does.
  • Implementation: How was the idea implemented? How is the book structured? Are there multiple narrators, a particular narrative perspective? What did you notice in particular about the implementation? Were there innovative ideas? What tense was chosen?
  • Characters: Could you identify with the characters? Did the characters have depth? Were you able to follow their actions? Did the plots fit the characters?
  • Writing Style: How do you like the author’s writing style? Is it kept simple and the book was quick to read? Was the writing style poetic and made you daydream? Was it challenging and did it require your concentration??
  • Reading flow: How was the book to read? Did you come across long nested sentences?? Were there a disproportionate number of spelling errors that disrupted the reading flow?
  • Suspense: How exciting was the book for you? Could you hardly put it down or was it a relaxing read for in between??

The ending

At the end of your review, you can briefly summarize your impression again and make a recommendation to whom you can particularly recommend the book. For example: For all friends of exciting literature that doesn’t leave you a second to take a breath.

If you follow the hints and tips for writing a review, nothing else should go wrong. In the following I explain how to deal with a critical review, because the subject is not always so simple. I also have a hard time writing a review if I didn’t like a book. When I receive rather critical reviews myself, I’m happy if the following points are taken into account, because then it’s easier for me to deal with the criticism. So far, I can also say that I have only received well-written reviews where the criticism was understandable. Unfortunately, not all of my fellow authors feel this way, which is why I go into more detail in this article.

How to write a critical review?

It happens that you do not like a book. Even then, don’t refrain from writing a review. I rarely read through 5-star feedbacks myself, because I find the ones with 3 or 4 stars much more exciting. Maybe what bothered the reviewer doesn’t bother me at all? I don’t like to read books with 1 or 2 stars, unless the book has a rather low star average in general. Often reviews with 1 or 2 stars are very far from factual. And that brings us to the most important point, so you don’t perpetuate this image of 1 and 2 star reviews:

Do not rate the author

If you want to write a critical review, detach yourself from the idea of evaluating the author, but evaluate the book. Just because you didn’t like the book doesn’t mean the author hasn’t mastered his craft. Maybe there was just no money to pay for editing, which is why the book contains many logic errors and stylistic gaffes. Instead of writing "The author has absolutely no talent and writes so badly that I had to read the sentences three times to understand what he meant", write better "The book is written in such convoluted sentences that I had to read them three times to understand what was meant". It may be that the author wrote his book this way on purpose and his other books are different, so no judgement about talent should be made here.

Behind the books sit people who have often put their whole heart and soul into their works and to read something like that really hurts. But if the sentence is purely related to the book and not the author himself, the criticism can be better processed and delimited, so that it does not offend you personally.

Things that don’t belong in a review

I didn’t think I’d have to write something like this, but I’ve been asked by several authors if I can point it out. So here I have a few no gos that are discriminatory or offensive and don’t belong in a review:

  • Insults Like grotty, the worst thing I’ve ever read or the book should be banned don’t belong in a factual review. You can say you don’t like a book or were even negatively surprised by the content, but insults don’t belong in a review and hurt.
  • Conclusions based on author names: If the author has a foreign sounding name, don’t conclude that the many spelling mistakes are because the author is not a native speaker. There are people who have learned German as a foreign language and are on a far better writing level than some native speakers. Yes, you’re allowed to report spelling errors in your review that annoyed you, but comments like "The author should probably write books in his native language instead" are completely out of place.
  • Discrimination against marginalized groups of people: An author has written a novel that you like, but sorry the protagonist is not straight, which is why you absolutely could not empathize with him in the love story, which played only a marginal role in the fantasy novel. Therefore the book gets only one star. If you don’t like love stories between queer characters, don’t read a book like this, that’s okay. If the love story is the focus, this can already be seen in the blurb. In a fantasy novel where love plays only a marginal role, you should not deduct four stars for an otherwise flawless book because you didn’t like the love story and you are generally against queer characters in books. If you want to know more specifically what I mean, check out my stream of the Advent Breakfast on Instagram. In such a case, by the way, the review says more about the reviewer than about the book.

The author learns through my criticism!

I hope you’re as shocked by these examples I’ve discovered myself in reviews. Authors are human beings. We regularly deal with what others think about our works and what there is to improve. When my book comes out of editing or test readers have read it in the rough, it is teeming with red comments. At this point, I am grateful for criticism because I can apply it directly and make the book better. Rather the proofreader tells me that the protagonist has no potential for identification, like when readers do that afterwards in their reviews.

By the time my book gets a review, it’s too late to change many things. I’m happy to get individual spelling errors reported so I can improve them in later editions. There is now a third edition of Nach oben fuhrt auch ein Weg hinab, in which some errors have already been corrected. Now, if many readers report back to me that error x occurs on page y, and they all still want the 1. unfortunately this is wasted time. So sometimes it helps to have spelling mistakes reported, but sometimes it doesn’t. It’s much more helpful for me to know if a lot of the reviewers criticize the spelling, so I can really think again about a new proofreading job.

Rewriting the story from scratch is no longer possible at this point. If I notice that the reviews are all going in a negative direction, I might consider reworking the book from scratch, but I’m also bound by contracts on the part of the service providers and can’t just take it off the market.

Please keep in mind the point from the beginning: Write the review for readers to help them make a reading decision and not to help the author with your review. If that’s what you want, then maybe this is the right job for you as a test reader?

Should I inform the author about a negative review?

I have actually already done this with review copies. If I did not like a book at all, I ask the author if I should publish it that way. Often bad reviews do a lot of harm, especially since there is review inflation in the book industry. With movies, reviews often turn out much worse, so a 3-star movie is perfectly good. In the case of books, even those with 4-star ratings are considered bad, because there are a lot of well rated books thanks to purchased reviews (which, by the way, is forbidden, but is done anyway).

I recently got a 3-star review from someone whose taste I just didn’t hit with the book. The person didn’t find the book bad per se, but abandoned it because the story didn’t appeal to them. I thought it was totally sweet that I got 3 stars for a discontinuation review because someone doesn’t see their taste as a measure of quality.

If a book is really badly done, because it is full of mistakes, the characters have no depth, the plot is boring and predictable, actions are not comprehensible and whole sentences stretch over a page, it is quite justified to rate it worse.

Linking authors in case of bad reviews

You have the right to express your opinion freely and you are allowed to do so. For bad reviews on social media, it is considerate not to link the author in it. If the author does not expect you to write him a review, for example, because you bought the book yourself, he should decide for himself when to deal with the criticism. If my dog went to the vet clinic this morning with a broken leg and a friend of mine has been diagnosed with cancer, this is not the right moment to read a 1-star review of my book as well. If I’m doing well and I feel like talking about my development as an author today, I check out the new reviews on the sales platforms and look for the hashtag to my books.

At the end of the day the responsibility lies with the author and not with you. Some authors may also be grateful to you if you provide timely information by linking to them.

Where do I publish my reviews best?

If you receive a review copy, you can agree with the author where the review should appear. I personally prefer the following platforms and post my reviews on some of them as well:

Thanks for your review!

I thank you for taking the time to write feedback on a book. In this way you help an author immensely, but also other readers who are interested in a book. You don’t have to praise a book to the skies if you didn’t like it, you’re welcome to voice your opinion. Just make sure you write your review for readers and are understandable as to what you didn’t like about it. Refer to the book and do not judge the author personally. And remember that there are people on the other end who may find your review helpful, but who will also be hurt if you don’t adhere to some etiquette.

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