If you’re an avid reader, writing book reviews is a wonderful way to discuss your reading experience with a larger audience. Whether this is on Goodreads, Instagram or your book blog, many platforms allow you to share your thoughts and discuss them with others. If you’ve ever written (or attempted to write) a book review for one of these platforms, you probably know that writing a good book review is an art in and of itself. To make things a bit easier, I thought I’d share seven essential steps for how to write an engaging book review.
1. Write a captivating heading
I think I’ve lost count at how often I’ve stumbled across book reviews with the title “Book Review: Book Title.” Frankly, if I haven’t heard of the book before, chances are I won’t read on. Give me a bit more. What is the book about? Why should I care? The heading is the first thing your reader sees so this is the moment to shine. Add just a few more keywords. For example, look at these headings I found of Kazuo Ishiguro’s most recent novel Klara and the Sun:
- “In Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, a robot tries to make sense of humanity” (Washington Post)
- “In Klara and the Sun, Artificial Intelligence Meets Real Sacrifice” (Vulture)
- “Klara And The Sun Is A Masterpiece About Life, Love And Mortality” (npr)
See how much difference a few words can make? Even if I haven’t heard of the book, I know just from reading the headline that it’s about 1) robots, 2) AI and 3) it’s a masterpiece. Now it’s much more likely that I’ll check out the review. After all, who isn’t interested in a story about a robot making sense of humanity?
2. Begin your introduction with a hook
Besides the headline, the introduction is the most important part of your review. This is where you need to hook your readers so that they’ll continue reading instead of just scrolling past it. You could start with an interesting question, a quote, an anecdote, a strange fact, anything that’ll catch your reader’s attention. For example, did you know that before writing The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood made a rule to herself that she wouldn’t include anything in the story that wasn’t based on facts? Or that Kiley Reid describes her bestselling debut novel Such a Fun Age as “cringy, uncomfortable and fun”? Well, I guess you have to read on to find out more…
3. Briefly summarize the plot
I guess this is self-explanatory, but a book review should always include a short plot summary. Tell me what the book is about using your own words, but without giving too much away. A good summary should always include: author+title (+if relevant year of publication), setting (where and when does the story take place?), characters (who is the protagonist?), plot (what’s happening), and a short teaser. Keep this part short and sweet.
4. Share your opinion
Your opinion should be at the heart of your book review. Tell us: Did you like the book? Why or why not? Would you recommend it? Try to be as honest as possible without getting mean or insulting. If you didn’t like a book, don’t just say “I hated it” but say what precisely it was you didn’t like. Maybe there were also aspects that you liked? Conversely, if you loved a book, say what made the book work for you and if there were also flaws you recognized. In the end, your review should help readers decide whether they would enjoy reading the book. Optionally, you can also rate the book with a 5-star rating.
5. Include context and analysis
The best book reviewers don’t simply summarize the plot and share their opinion, but they critically evaluate the text. Try to think about the meaning of the story and its relevance to readers. What themes or motifs stand out? How does the author develop his or her themes? How does the novel relate to its cultural context? How does the text interact with other texts/media? Maybe the novel is a retelling of a previous story. If that’s the case, compare the story to the original and think of similarities and differences. Also, if you’re dealing with an older text or a classic, ask yourself why the text might be relevant to readers today.
6. End with a conclusion
The conclusion is perhaps the most underrated part of any text. Don’t forget to summarize your thoughts again and say whether you’d recommend the book and who you’d recommend it to (e.g. fans of this genre/ author/ topic/ writing style will truly enjoy this book). Keep this part short and sweet.
7. Add pictures and quotes
Last but not least, don’t forget to add pictures and quotes to make your review visually appealing. Take a pic of the book to show the cover (I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but if we’re being honest we all do) and add short quotes. These can be great for giving your readers an impression of the writing style and for supporting your points.
It goes without saying that a review is always a highly subjective piece of writing. A good book review should give us a sneak peek of the book and help us decide whether or not we’d enjoy it, but the rest is really up to you. Just be creative, follow your instinct and find your own voice. Because that’s in the end what singles your reviews out from others.
What are your tips? What do you think makes a good book review? Let me know in the comments below!