Tuesday, February 17, 2015
How to Write a Book Review
Every so often a friend asks me how to write a book review. It's a fairly simple process, but having a few guidelines to help can make it easier and quicker.
1. Give a Book Synopsis
It can be a short paragraph explaining the book's premise and conflict, or it can be a couple of paragraphs that go into detail about the plots and subplots. But there are two golden rules of the book synopsis: (1. Don't give a cheat-notes summary of the book. (2. Don't give away the ending. Keep both of these rules and you'll be fine. My plot synopses have been too long in the past, and I'm working on cutting them down. Short and sweet is better.
You can use the back cover copy for a synopsis if you desire, but be sure to give credit where credit is due and make a note that it is from the back cover. Most times I prefer to write my own synopsis. If it is a complicated book or I find it necessary to do so, I use the Amazon description.
2. Tell What You Love
Did you love the characters? The careful attention to historical detail? The way the descriptions enchanted your imagination? Were the historical details so authentic that you felt as if these people really existed? How did it stir your soul or make you laugh or keep you glued to the pages until you read The End? Authors live and breath for that kind of feedback, so don't be stingy!
3. Tell What You Disagreed With
Don't flatter in your book reviews. No book is perfect. Was the heroine stereotypical? Did the climax fall flat? Were parts of the book draggy or unbelievable? Give a kind and careful summary of the things that didn't work for you. Good authors will consider your points and thank you. They need that kind of feedback.
Be careful. Develop a discerning eye, but don't become impossible to please. Give grace for mistakes. Don't expect every book to be a home-run. Don't think that 'your style' is 'The Style' that must dictate all other reader's opinions.
Be careful never to rant or say hurtful things about the author's intelligence. It is OK to say "This book feels rushed" but never say "the author obviously didn't care enough to take the time to make it right." See the difference?
4. Evaluate How It Agrees With Your Christian Faith
Not all the books you read necessarily need to come from a Christian worldview, though I would suggest developing a healthy dose of discernment before you start branching off. Does it line up with biblical principles? Is wrong punished? Is right affirmed? It doesn't have to be squeaky-clean. The answers don't have to be easy ones. But if the book teaches something that God differs on in His Word, then be sure to make a note of that in your review.
5. Choose Your Star Rating Wisely
Here's the way I work it: 1 and 2 stars are for books I had serious theological disagreements with or in which the writing was terrible. 3 star is for bad books that had a few worthy points or good books that way under-delivered on their potential. 4 stars--where most of my books fall--mean the book was excellent in writing, plotting, characterization, theology, and reader interest. 5 star ratings are only for a few things--if the story left me breathless with awe, if it made me cry, if it made me want to write a book about it.
If you want to be just a casual reviewer, don't stress about the 5 star rating. It's OK to give as many as you want. But if you prefer to be a critical reviewer for the purposes of editing, beta reading, and building up a reputation for your reviews, than be sparing with those 5 stars. You want people to value them when you finally give them out. Either type of reviewing is fine. Not everyone needs to be a critical reviewer.
The biggest problem that keeps people from writing a good book review is over-thinking it. You don't have to write a long review. This blog is a place of discussion, so I write longer reviews because I'm training myself to evaluate a book on many levels. But you don't have to match that length. A couple of well-written paragraphs are just as good as a couple of pages. Also, remember that your opinion matters because it's your opinion. You're not writing a review for The New York Times or Kirkus. You're simply cataloging your own personal opinion. So let your personal opinion shine through. The author wrote that book for you to enjoy. Let them know if you did or didn't, and why.
Be crisp, clean, and professional. Use the best grammar and spelling you can, and don't write in all caps. Don't fan-girl. Give a mature, adult opinion, the same you would give if you were recommending this book to your parent or your pastor or your best friend. Most of all, enjoy the process and the conversation that results.
It's as simple as that.