Knowing how to write a book review that is informative and honest will help those looking to buy a book and can help establish you as an authority on the topic or niche. You may not have written a book review since school, but it is a great way to share your writing with others and give people useful information.
Many times the information on a dust cover or at the Amazon listing for a book does not give enough information for a reader to make a good choice or know if the book is what they are looking for. They will read reviews to get more details about the book and other people's opinions of the way the content is presented. It is important that you are honest without being overly animated positively or negatively about the book.
Book Review Writing: Consider Your Audience
The type of information and the amount of it you place in your review will depend on who is reading your review. If you are writing a review of a book and placing it on Amazon (a general audience), your writing style will be different than if you are writing a review for publication in a trade journal of people familiar with the topic of the book.
Let's suppose you are writing a review on a book about neurological disorders that is informative to both the general public and to other doctors. Where you place the review will dictate your writing style and purpose. For general public reviews you want to focus on why the book is good for average people to read. Maybe the book isn't good for the general pubic, share that information as well. However, if the review is going into a technical journal that is distributed to other Neurologists, then your review audience is very different. They will want to know specifically what types of disorders are covered in the book. They also need you to tell them whether there is enough new information in the book for them to learn from, or if the book only covers basic things that they experience every day in their medical practice.
Book Review Writing: Beginning
To begin the book review you need to give basic information about the book. This includes the title and subtitle of the book and authors name. Publication date is often helpful, but not necessary. That could be at the beginning or the end.
Write a summary of the book in this section. Your summary should be a short one or two sentence summary the book. This is not your opinion of the book, rather a way to give more details about the contents of the book than the title or subtitle provide. It is possible that the subtitle makes the contents perfectly clear. In this case, a summary might not be necessary.
Your opening paragraph can be a summary of one of the stories contained in the book, or can be a quote from the book that will grab the readers' attentions and get them to read further into the review. This is to help the readers understand more of the writing style of the book.
Book Review Writing: Middle
The main body of the review will be further details about the books contents. If it is a non-fiction book, you can use the structure of the book to help write the review. Follow the major sections in the book to summarize and comment on what you thought about each section. If you are writing a review of a fiction book, then giving a summary of the story, without spoilers, and your opinion of the writing is appropriate.
The middle section is the bulk of the review. It may end up being several paragraphs long. People are reading your review to get your opinion. Don't be afraid to write in first person and in a conversational tone. Imagine you are talking with a friend and trying to convince them why this book is one they need to buy.
Be honest but kind in your opinions. It may be that you did not particularly like the book. It is fine to share negative thoughts as well as positive comments about the book. However, there is no need to stoop to name calling or publicly questioning the sanity of the editor and publishing company. They get paid to know what books might sell well. If you are the only one with a 1-star rating of a book you might need to realize that you are probably not the intended audience of the work. Giving a "thumbs down" to a book is permissible, but tell your readers why you think the book might not have been a good choice for you and why they may want to skip it as well. That is exactly why people read book reviews from different sources. They want to know what other people like them (other doctors, school teachers, truck drivers or students) think about a book so they know if the book is a good fit for them.
Your praise or criticism of a book should be tempered. If the book was really good, then giving it a "thumbs up" and a calm, level-headed review is going to be more helpful to the reader than seven exclamation points after every sentence. That is a quick way to get readers to skip your review. The same thing can be said for negative reviews. Readers want a reasoned explanation for why the book should not be purchased, not a whole paragraph of why the book stinks written in all CAPS.
Book Review Writing: End
As you close the review you need to summarize your positive and negative thoughts that were scattered about the middle section of the review. This gives a good place to tie everything together. The end of the review is your time to give a full honest opinion of the book. Your reader should be able to read the beginning and end of your review and know exactly where you stand and why they should or should not buy the book. The middle section is extra information that will help convince them if they are in doubt about the book.
Somewhere in the beginning or end of your review is a good place to talk about the book binding and quality of printing. Not every book needs this information included, but if the binding is particularly poor then your readers will want to know that. There are some things that make a book more enjoyable and easy to read that has nothing to do with the content of the book. If you notice something like this while reading the book, then share that with your readers.
At the end of the review you want to include as much information about the book as a reader might need to find the book in their local bookstore or by searching online. If the publisher has a website that you found enjoyable to navigate (or a nightmare), let your readers know. If you have a direct link to the book where someone can buy, then include that with your review.
Post an image of the book cover if the review is posted at a website that is separate from the book. Some of this closing material is not necessary if you are posting your review at Amazon where all of the information is already included on the page with the review.
Book reviews are not just for school anymore. You can even sign up for InfoBarrel and share your book reviews here.