Book reviews are reflections on a book that ultimately make an argument. The argument should persuade a potential reader to pick up the book or leave it behind, based on the reviewer’s opinions.
Book reviews typically aren’t longer than 1000 words, but some can be much longer or shorter in certain situations. For example, the New York Times features book reviews of over 2,000 words, while book reviews in your local newspaper might be limited to under 500 words.
In this article, we’ll show you how to write a book review that grabs readers’ attention, while providing useful information. We’ll also share some common mistakes to avoid while writing book reviews and some A+ book reviews worth emulating.
Why book reviews are important for writers and readers
Book reviews are valuable for writers:
- To develop a better understanding of what they learned
- To hone their own writing skills
- To develop a critical eye in literature
Book reviews are also valuable for readers:
- To learn about potential reading material
- To gain an understanding of what the material covers
- To decide whether or not to purchase or read something
The best way to think about writing a review is imagining you’re writing for one person. You’ll have to answer the most important questions they have and help them decide whether to take the book home or not.
5 essential steps to writing a great book review
To make the most out of your book review, follow these 5 simple steps.
1. Share the most important details
Set the stage for the rest of your review by starting with the most important details of the book. Make sure to include:
- Genre/type of book
- Main character description
- Context of the setting
This is also a good spot to mention any content warnings readers may appreciate. These warnings mention any potential triggering or sensitive topics discussed in the book or your book review. Providing content warnings can help readers choose safe and healthy books for their own needs.
For non-fiction reviews, describe the book’s main theme. Academic journals can include short book reviews that include what special topic the book covers, what questions it answers, or how it approaches the topic. Finally, be sure to mention the author’s name and what relevant expertise they have.
2. Summarize the plot in a few sentences
After explaining the most important details, give readers a brief synopsis. Your summary or synopsis should provide a general idea of what happens in the book.
Ideally, mention the premise, the inciting event, and the protagonist’s dilemma. Summarizing is important, but don’t go overboard — you don’t want your review to include spoilers or reveal the ending! The typical rule for summarizing in book review writing is not to mention things in the plot past the midpoint.
3. Write your praise
A book review differs from a book report in that your review should mainly focus on your evaluation of the book itself. This includes both praise and critiques. There should also be a balance of your subjective and objective opinions.
Your evaluation should answer these questions:
- What did you enjoy about the book?
- Did the characters and setting feel real to you?
- Did the story grip you and hold your attention where it should?
- What were the main themes in the book?
- Does the writing style fit the storyline?
- What did you like about the writing style?
- Did the writer use any unique formats? For example, was it a novel-in-verse or written in epistolary format?
An evaluation of a non-fiction book should focus on whether the author was able to convincingly share their perspective. Did you learn anything new? Were the arguments clear and concise? Did you feel persuaded by the conclusion? Share it with readers in concise sentences.
4. Write your critiques
Critiques are easy for some and difficult for others to write. Regardless of how you feel, it’s important to express your discontent constructively, instead of simply ranting about what you didn’t like.
Some reviewers make a pros and cons list to simplify their points and then justify their list of cons with detailed explanations or quotes highlighting problematic sections of the book.
It’s also vital to be specific about what did not work for you. “It just didn’t work for me” or “I just couldn’t relate to the main character” may be valid, but unhelpful for your readers. Remember, many critiques are entirely subjective, and what one reader dislikes could be the thing that makes the same book another reader’s favorite. So, if you want to write a good book review, mention why exactly you did not relate to the main character or why the story didn’t work for you.
One of the best ways to remember what you like or don’t like about a book is to take notes as you read. Save your thoughts online in a Google Doc or another writer’s tool you like. You can then transform those notes into thoughtful sentences later as you write your review.
5. Offer your recommendation and star rating
The last part of a book review is your recommendation. Think about the key takeaways for potential readers from your review. Would you recommend this book to a friend? Share who you think would like the book but also who might NOT like the book. Readers will appreciate this information if they fall into one of the two categories.
Lastly, how many stars out of 5 or 10 would you give it? Don’t forget to offer your logic behind this star rating as well. Having a book rating system may be useful, so you don’t waste too much time deciding. Many readers include the following metrics in their ratings:
- Overall enjoyment
- Writing quality
- Plot development
- Ending satisfaction
Some readers now decline to offer a star rating — and that’s fine too. The key thing is to tell readers your verdict at the end.
5 common mistakes people make when book reviewing
There are a few common mistakes people make while writing book reviews. Double-check your review for any of these mistakes before publishing or submitting them.
1. Over-the-top claims
Going too far in one direction or another can make your review sound biased. To maintain a professional tone, avoid superlative claims (for example, “this is the best book of all time”). Before you publish, go over your book review or report and ensure you’ve rationalized your claims and that they are appropriate.
Once you’ve made a point and argued it, there’s no need to keep repeating it throughout the piece. Maybe you liked or didn’t like something, but after reading something once or twice, the reader already gets the point. Driving your argument home so hard only takes away valuable space for more critical points in the review. Make your point once and leave it at that.
3. Making it about you
A book review should let readers see your personal opinion but hear objective points as well. Don’t flatter yourself with references that only you would understand as you’ll turn off readers who want a review that focuses on the book at hand. Remember that the review should serve readers, not you.
Also, while you should share a few personal criticisms, don’t turn it into “I would do it better” because if you could, then you’d be writing your book instead of a review.
4. Sharing the whole plot
Avoid giving the entire story away. While you should mention the story’s focus — such as whether it’s a romance or a murder mystery — beware of sharing spoilers. Spoilers are any important plot developments meant to keep suspense or not mentioned in the publisher’s summary. Besides, if you spend too much of the review on the summary, you won’t get around to reviewing the characters, language, structure, or cultural context.
5. Writing too much
A review shouldn’t be an accompanying novel. And while a review is meant to share a little more than a testimonial, the key here is the word “little.” You can’t share every single thought you had while reading — that isn’t helpful for readers deciding if they’re going to read it themselves or not. So, limit your book review to the main points you want to make in about 500-1000 words.
5 good book review examples from around the internet
If you’re still not sure how to write a helpful book review, you might want to check out these examples that we’ve pulled from some popular book review sites.
Goodreads and Kirkus are some of the most common places for people to write and share book reviews. If you’re looking for inspiration for how to write a book review, these two sites are a good place to start.
This short, but telling book review certainly gives readers a clear sense of the main character’s world. But the reasons this book review is especially helpful are the star ratings, the verdict shared, and the age recommendation found at the end of the review.
Roxane Gay’s review immediately mentions the main characters and the theme of The Mothers, followed by her evaluation of what she did and didn't like about the novel. Her criticism is followed by her understanding and reasoning and ends with a positive recommendation. Notice how concisely Gay fits in all aspects of a good review into limited sentences that get her points across quickly.
This review shares a powerful initial reaction in bold — offering enticing expectations and pulling readers in. The summary followed by the emotional impact the novel will make on readers gives a clear sense of what to expect from No Land to Light On. It also mentions the perspective the story is told in, so readers know what to expect.
This review is unique because it is a bit longer, but it’s also conveniently broken up into sections that readers can click on from the top of the page. The personal review can be found between the plot summary and the recommendation where the reviewer describes her experience reading the book. What’s valuable for some is that she compares the book with the author’s previous survival-focused novel, so potential readers can choose between them.
Reading Middle Grade’s review of No Place Like Here conveniently separates sections of the review so readers can quickly find what they’re looking for. It begins with the most important aspects — the main character and plotline and follows with positive feedback and negative feedback under their subheaders. The final section also mentions content that potential readers should be aware of, like parental mental illness and incarceration, and concludes with a recommendation as a summer read.
How Jarvis Can Help Write Book Reviews
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We asked Jarvis to help us review Yaa Gyasi’s best-selling novel, Homegoing. Here’s some of what the Long-Form Assistant template generated.
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