As a new indie author, I’m acutely aware of the importance of book reviews. They help convince readers to read the story and, more generally, help promote the book.
But here’s the thing. There are lots of people like me who read and love lots of books, yet rarely leave a review. Why? Well, some of us don’t know how, so therefore we don’t. And while I’ve become much better at leaving reviews, I can still use help understanding how to craft a good one and, I suspect, so do a lot of other people out there.
I’m honored to have author Nina Romano share her expertise on crafting reviews:
So remember when you’re penning a review to seek out the good in the book or the author’s presentation of it—use all of the writerly techniques you know to write about in a positive manner and stress those—be kind, because it’ll be your turn soon to be on the receiving end.
Most articles and blogs on how to write a book review begin like this:
- Start with a few sentences describing the book … put it in its category.
- You’re told to discuss what you particularly liked about reading this novel or memoir or whatever.
- You’re encouraged to write about anything you hated about the book.
This above statement is only if you want to kill, murder, or slay by dragon-bites and exsanguination the author of the book you read. (Instead, you can say, you liked less, or disliked … such and such).
- Write some kind of an ending to your review.
- They tell you lastly, which in my mind is the MOST outstanding and important feature of a review, to mark it with a number, meaning stars.
The above to me is hogwash. I’m opinionated and I take full responsibility for this! Only because I’ve worn both hats—writer and reviewer! First rule: be as generous as you can—as if this were your own book!
A customer review doesn’t have to be long. It truly isn’t the number of words, it’s the number of stars that count! A brief sentence or two will suffice—more if you were totally enamored of the text. Mention the author or the title both in your beginning.
Example: “Nina Romano’s novel, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, startled me with many stark yet evocative scenes.”
I once got a five star review that said, “The book was scintillating!” (YEAH!)
On the other hand, kindly do not review a book if you haven’t read it. Many authors have been frustrated beyond belief with a review that says, “I couldn’t get into the book.” Or, “I read one chapter and didn’t finish it” and then that person harshly leaves one star. Well, if you didn’t read it—you shouldn’t review it.
HOWEVER, the sad news is that Amazon does permit these spiteful, vindictive, merciless, vicious reviews. There’s nothing you can do about it, so suck it up and get on to the next thing and hope that some valued readers will counterbalance these miserable reviews with excellent ones.
You don’t have to go into a great deal about the book unless you’re writing it for a website. For customer reviews, which are most important for authors, and will be posted on Amazon, Goodreads, BookBub.com, etc.—you don’t need to go into that kind of detail.
First and foremost you star the review as high as you can.
You can even say at the end of a short review like this: “I award five adventuresome stars to the book.” Or like someone once said about a novel of mine, “If I could I’d give it ten stars!” (Oh, yes—that made my day, week, and month, possibly my year, too!)
You don’t need to discuss the storyline or the plot. Just say it was well-written, or beautifully executed. Perhaps you think there were missed opportunities for tension and risks—say it or don’t! But please, above all, be sensitive to your phraseology.
Example: “I like the poetic writing style.”
Say that you enjoyed the writing style immensely. You’d recommend it. You’d happily read another book by this author because the writing was fabulous.
Example: “Enthralling book, lyrically written. I recommend it for all history buffs. I’d read anything this author has to offer.”
Or this example: “I never read fantasy and was completely blown away by the realistic characterization!”
If you want to write more, write about the book’s presentation, or if you liked the characters, then mention their strengths and/or weaknesses?
Example: “I liked the strong female main character. The author’s use of flaws made her so real.”
Write about the need or lack of flashbacks and/or backstory of the characters. Talk about any writerly aspects and techniques you are familiar with and say which of these brought the author’s writing to the fore.
Example: “The author gave the character’s backstory through the use of dialogue and memory, which made me empathetic to his plight.”
Was it well researched for the period? (This is especially important for historical novels.)
Example: “The writer’s extensive research blended well into the plot and made for an interesting read.”
Did the novel meet your expectations?
Was the dialogue on key? Or stilted?
Were the descriptions unique? Satisfying? Did they make you feel as though you were there with the character? Were the chosen names for the characters fitting?
Again, let me reiterate—a customer review doesn’t have to be long. A sentence or two will suffice—more if you were totally enamored of the text.
What does a book review do for the author? Or for other readers? It gives the author some clout for selling—the more and better reviews—the more a novel gets noticed. Not only fiction—reviews are just as important for memoirs, nonfiction, and self-helps books, etc. Readers will see your review and will become enthusiastic and purchase the book!
A REVIEW for a PERSONAL BLOG or an ARTICLE
If the review is for your personal blog, or someone else’s website, or a review article for a newspaper or magazine, then you may want to go into more detail about the story—give information about the type of book it is and point out, without giving away spoilers to the plot, compelling features for the audience you’re writing to engage with.
If the book was a page-turner—you might want to say that in a more original manner. If you’re writing a longer book review, you might want to start with a “hook,” which is a catch phrase or line that calls attention to itself. Make that hook a declaration that is captivating or thought-provoking. Your hook may even be a kind of inquisitional statement that asks what would happen if such and such occurred instead of what really did?
If it’s an older edition of a book, you might mention the year it was released. I recently finished reading the third book in an out-of-print trilogy by Thomas Eidson, which was written many years ago. I never bothered to mention the year in my review, although I did say it was the third book of a series. It’s a choice and a style.
If you are an author, then you’ve most likely written a synopsis. If you have, then you’re certainly capable of revealing a sophisticated plot summary so that the audience will get the key points of the story without revealing any spoilers.
You can say there’s a “surprising twist” rather than divulging what truly occurs. If, for example on some Goodreads groups reading the same book, you’re obligated to include spoilers, ask if the review sites will allow hiding the spoiler sentences, so that the reader may select whether or not he/she wants to read it.
Anybody can regurgitate the plot, but your evaluation of complimenting or criticizing the work is of utmost importance and the reviewer should devote more time to this section of the review than any other. Whether you liked it or not isn’t helpful to the reader who is about to plunk down good money to purchase this book. The reviewer should say why it was a great or a so-so read.
Example: “The use of foreign words was off-putting as there were no explanations of what those words meant.”
Or this example: “While the story was a rehash of so many, the writing was solid.”
Give your recommendation to let readers know who might enjoy this book. Give it a star value, and be as kind as you can—put yourself in the author’s shoes.
Read over your review for errors in grammar and punctuation, or have a friend proofread it for you. Remember to keep it short and sweet—concise is better than long and sprawling.
Good luck and please review books!
Nina Romano earned a B.S. from Ithaca College, an M.A. from Adelphi University and a B.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. A world traveler and lover of history, she lived in Rome, Italy, for twenty years, and is fluent in Italian and Spanish. She has taught English and Literature as an Adjunct Professor at St. Thomas University, Miami, and has facilitated numerous Creative Writing and Poetry Workshops at Writing Conferences throughout the States.
Romano has authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, and has had five poetry collections and two poetry chapbooks published traditionally with independent publishers. She co-authored a nonfiction book: Writing in a Changing World, and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry.
Nina Romano’s historical Wayfarer Trilogy has been published from Turner Publishing. The Secret Language of Women, Book #1, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist and Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publisher’s 2016 IPPY Book Award. Lemon Blossoms, Book # 2, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist, and In America, Book #3, was a finalist in Chanticleer Media’s Chatelaine Book Awards.
Her Western Historical Romance, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, a semifinalist for the Laramie Book Awards, has been released from Prairie Rose Publications.
Her novel, Dark Eyes, an historical thriller set in Soviet Russia, is forthcoming in 2021 from Speaking Volumes, LLC.
Amazon Author: https://amzn.to/2SUamoF
The following three books are in hard cover, softcover print, and Kindle
Amazon: The Secret Language of Women https://amzn.to/2MQZpNC
Amazon: Lemon Blossoms https://amzn.to/2TWqzYt
Amazon: In America https://amzn.to/2Hl2VzT
The following book is available in softcover print, and Kindle
Amazon: The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley https://amzn.to/2Mawrvv