3 Easy Steps in Writing a Helpful Book Review

“This is the best book on the planet!!! Stop what you’re doing right now and buy this book! You won’t regret it!”

“Seriously? This author needs to get a job hauling garbage instead of producing it.”

book review

book review

You’ve read these kinds of reviews—on the same book. Not helpful in making a decision to buy (or not buy) the book, are they? The first was probably written by a friend of the author, the other by someone vehemently opposed to the author’s message.

So what do potential book buyers do? Keep reading reviews until they find one that is written from opinion yet tells the whole story. Here’s how you can be one of those reviewers who gets a “thumbs up—yes this review was helpful.”

1. Start with your own summation of the story. Don’t give anything away, and don’t just repeat what’s on the back cover. Write a few paragraphs of the basic storyline, either from the main character’s perspective or just the gist of the story as you remember it.

Often, I find out more of what the story’s about by reading this section in a helpful review. The description given by the publishers is meant to intrigue you enough to buy the book. But sometimes, I’m confused as to what the story is really about.

I have a clue and might like it, but when I read it in a review, I’m sold. Or not. Either way is good for both me and the author. They don’t want me reading something I don’t like and leaving a less than glowing review because of it.

2. Add a space break or >>> and write your own thoughts. This is where your opinion comes in. When possible, pick out a few things you liked (or loved) about the book and give specifics. Instead of, this is the best book I’ve ever read! you can say something like, the way the author brought out the main character’s pain was so real I experienced it.

If it truly is the best book you’ve ever read, skip to steps 3. But some books you just didn’t like at all. That’s okay. Still start with positive, and add your gripe in next (nicely, of course). Authors are a sensitive bunch, but the great ones prefer honesty from a sweet soul like you than for your review to lead to the wrong person buying the book and writing a no-holds-barred review.

Don’t go overboard with criticism. Same as the positive, pick out a few things you really didn’t like and be specific as to why. At that point, your reader can decide whether it’s something that will bother them so much they won’t enjoy the book, or it’s no big deal. Again, don’t give anything away. It’s a balancing act.

3. Finally, end with your thoughts on who might enjoy the book. It may not have been for you, but you know the type person who would enjoy it. If it’s a YA or children’s book, you might give caution for parents to read it first, or that it would make a great family and discussion read.

Don’t be afraid of being honest, and you don’t necessarily have to say “in my opinion.” The potential book buyer knows it is. The smart ones weigh it with others and make an informed decision of whether to invest their time and money into that book, whether you personally loved or hated it.

Question: Has a review ever helped you make a buying decision? Share your experience in the comments.