How To Write a Book Review in 6 Steps

Do you think it's easier to articulate why you DIDN'T like a book over why you DID like a book? I did too until I realized the reasons why I didn't like a book could be the same reasons why I did like a book. Here's how to write a book review that goes beyond "It's good. I liked it."

What we talk about when we talk about books

All books have four main elements: story, character, setting and language. You can't write a book without characters (a character doesn't have to be a person), without words (because that would be a bunch of blank pages), or a setting (because your story has to be set somewhere) or a story (because something needs to happen to move the story forward). If you're really lucky, you'll hit the jackpot when you read books that have all four factors that you like. Nonfiction books also have these same four elements.

An example of why I DIDN'T like a book: I thought the plot felt too slow which made it boring. I didn't agree with some of the character's feelings and thought the characters made bad choices. I wasn't really into the book's setting. The writing seemed forced, like the author wasn't enjoying their book.

An example of why I DID like a book: The plot moved fast and held my interest. I felt myself in the character's shoes and felt their emotions as they made decisions for better or worse. I could picture myself where the book was set. The writing felt fresh and new.

Writing a book review

Step 1: What attracted you to this book? Why did you pick up this book to read? Was it the cover, the title, or was it by your favorite author? Did the setting grab your attention? What about the story or the characters? If the book was a recommendation, why was it recommended to you? 

Step 2: If you think about the book as a whole, what pops out in your mind first? Was it the ending? Was it the plot twist? Was it the characters or the writing? What is your lasting impression of the book? What does your gut say about the book?

Step 3: Give a brief summary of the book while being careful not to give away major plot points, surprises or spoilers. You want people to be intrigued to read the book and discover the surprises themselves. Try thinking about the book in one or two sentences and how you would summarize it.

Step 4: How did you feel while reading the book? Did you laugh, cry, hold the book to your chest or throw the book at the wall? How did you feel when you read the final page? Were you sad it was over? Did you immediately add it to your "I must buy this book" list? Were you excited to tell someone about the book you finished? Think about the book on a 1 to 5 scale, 1 being the worst and 5 being incredible. A 2 might be "okay" or you didn't care for it very much. A 3 might be you enjoyed it because it was "good" and a 4 means you really enjoyed it. And a 5? You'll know it when you read it. But remember that your 5 might be different from someone else's 5.

Step 5: Consider your audience and how valuable their time is. Are you writing a blog post about why you liked a book? Then your review is probably going to be longer. Are you writing a brief comment on the library's website or another reviewing site like Goodreads or Amazon? Your review may be a little shorter. Would you want to read nineteen paragraphs about a book or would you rather read just enough to whet your appetite? It's up to you!

Step 6: Consider your voice and how you want to structure your review. How do you want to portray yourself as a writer? Do you want your review to sound like a conversation between friends or will your review be more polished? You can write your review as paragraphs, as a bullet list, as a "Top 5" list. The possibilities are endless and completely up to you!

Remember that no one writes a perfect book review their first time. Check out popular book bloggers for some ideas, browse Goodreads reviews and see how major retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble talk up their books. But most importantly, be you! Readers want to know what you thought of the book.