How to Write a Book Review


I’ve been recently involved in a few discussions about bad book reviews, so I thought I’d address the issues. The basic premise is whether or not a reader LIKED the book, and why or why not. A book review has nothing to do with the author’s character (or lack thereof), so personal comments are not appreciated by said author OR by other readers.

A book review should contain a few sentences (or a couple paragraphs) about the story.

A book review should include commentary on what the reader liked, or didn’t, and why.

A book review COULD, in addition, give a recommendation or a warning to avoid.

Most book reviews follow this format, and most are honest. The storyline is the easy part, especially if a reviewer has read the book – and most have done so. If it’s been awhile, reading the back cover blurb or synopsis should be enough to refresh the reviewer’s memory. If the reviewer liked the book, that’s pretty easy to write about too.

What becomes less clear is why the reviewer did NOT like the book and any additional comments.

Speaking only for myself, reasons why I may not like a book are poor writing, poor editing, unbelievable story, and major holes in the plot. Most books don’t have all of those, but they definitely effect my rating.

If an author is honest – the word “professional” gets thrown around a lot here – he will realize that yes, even though Mom said it was bestseller material, his book may need some work. And, speaking again only for myself, I have no problem if an author wants to comment on my review; as long as he avoids words and phrases like:

Stupid.

Didn’t read the book.

Idiot.

Or, the top rebuttal of all time, “Your just mad that I wrot a bok.” Or something like that!

Problems arise when things get personal, as in author rebuttals, but also when reviewers get personal. Of course authors become angry when reviewers are inaccurate – and yes, there are many tales of reviewers who talked about characters who didn’t exist in the particular book they supposedly read, or who griped about a scene that was never in the book, ever – but authors also get riled up over personal attacks.

Since when is it “unprofessional” to defend oneself? Especially in a calm, professional manner? Are “professionals” supposed to be doormats?

Before I get crucified here, let me clarify:

It’s not okay for an author to call a reviewer names; it’s not okay for an author to gripe about an honest review for a reader who simply didn’t like the story.

But it SHOULD be okay for an author to ask for clarification when a reviewer says “poorly edited” or “lots of errors” or when a reviewer talks about things that never happened or entirely misses something important that could change the tone of the review.

Especially when a review itself contains “many errors.”

And especially when things mentioned in the review are patently false.

But even more so when a reviewer sinks to using personal attacks.

Your name, your brand, your books – these are your business, your livelihood. If someone attacked a company, say P&G because they’re the first to pop into my head, and trashed them online, they likely wouldn’t do a thing. However, that’s comparing apples to oranges.

Look at the size of P&G – one person, or ten, couldn’t damage their reputation if they tried really, really hard. But thousands? Hundreds of thousands? More? That’s when P&G, at the very least, issues a statement. They don’t come back and insult their detractors, but they DO set the record straight. Period.

So if one person, or ten, attacks YOUR business, what can you do? Authors are expected to shut up and take whatever reviewers dish out.

Sounds wrong to me.

9 comments on “How to Write a Book Review

  1. Reblogged this on Charlotte Howard and commented:
    Following my post about the importance of book reviews, I think you may all find this useful too! I certainly did.

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  2. Sharon says:

    I agree that there are many bad reviews that illustrate with amazing clarity the fact that the reviewer patently didn’t read the book, or if they did, they only want to take the author down. However, I don’t know that a rebuttal by the author would serve any purpose other than to feed the reviewer’s over inflated ego. I think it would be better to have other readers rebut instead.

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    • Oh, I agree to a point. But it’s not always about the reviewer’s ego, I don’t think. For example, if a reviewer says the book needs editing, and it has been, an author could – it seems – legitmately ask for an example. Most authors want to fix errors, if they’re truly errors.

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    • Sharon has offered a great observation here too, if the reviewer is only looking to make himself or herself look important by ‘bringing down ‘ an author, rebuttal, depending upon the commentary, could theoretically be more damaging than worthwhile.
      A review is, bottom line, ‘a matter of opinion’, and as they say “to each his own”.
      Personal, vicious attacks on the author are quite a different thing and inexcusable. They really should not be tolerated in the writing community.

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  3. Excellent article, Robin! Informative, interesting, and above all, correct observations of what can and does happen with reviews. Every author should read this.

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  4. Great article, Robin. I have over a dozen good reviews on my book and one BAD one. It was defnitely meant as a personal attack. The reviewer actually gave her real name. Because it was personal, I replied in what I hope was a professional manner. Rather than give a book a poor review, I usually just don’t write a review. When asked to write one, that is a different story.

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