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 NetGalley members craft the best reviews possible, we’ve put together a list of 12 tips for how to write a book review. Whether you’re reviewing books on 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.
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.
Consider content warnings
Content warnings can help readers be aware of elements of a book that might trigger traumatic memories, cause anxiety, or are generally upsetting. Providing them in a review is a helpful way of giving readers a heads up about what they’re in for so they can make a healthy and informed choice about whether or not they want to engage with that book.
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.
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. Professional reviewing platforms like NetGalley provide readers with a pre-set rating system. NetGalley’s system pairs stars with a likelihood of recommending the book to fellow readers. 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
Browse through NetGalley 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 urban 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.
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.