Learn how to write a book review in this step-by-step guide.
A review of a written work is a critical evaluation of it. You can review any written text, but book reviews have become very popular. People looking for the next great read value other readers’ opinions and often turn to book reviews to help them select a reading. A book review is slightly different from a book report.
If you wrote book reports in school, you likely had to outline all of the book’s details, including the main characters, book genre, plot, setting, main themes, and the author’s name. A book report will also give a summary of the book and a concise opinion about what you liked about it and why. You will likely need to share many details about the book, including spoilers.
The primary goal is to summarize the book. Some of these items may be in your review, too, but summarizing the book is not your primary focus. Instead, it is to tell people whether they should or should not read the book. It is also to analyze the book or bring new light to someone who reads it later.
If you are wondering how to write a book review, there are some specific steps to take. Walk through them, and you will end up with a compelling review.
- Materials Needed
- Step 1: Read the Book
- Step 2: Look at Book Review Examples
- Step 3: Start with a Hook
- Step 4: Include Basic Information
- Step 5: Add a Summary
- Step 6: Break Down the Parts
- Step 7: Discuss Artistic Elements
- Step 8: Define the Main Theme
- Step 9: Weave in Similar Works
- Step 10: Make a Recommendation
- Step 11: Write a Conclusion
- Step 12: Give a Star Rating
- Step 13: Provide Author Background
- Step 14: Revise and Shorten
- Step 15: Be Kind
- Step 16: Proofread
- Book to review
- Pen or pencil
- Grammar checking software
Step 1: Read the Book
It may seem obvious, but reading the book is the first step in writing a book review. First, however, you’ll need to read the book with intention. Take notes while you read to see what you liked about it, your impressions, how it made you feel, and what the author could have done better.
Remember, if you are planning to review a book, you do need to read it carefully. You need to know the main points and your opinion of the book. This might require deeper reading than you would need for just a book report. Consider keeping a notebook next to you while you read the book. You can jot down notes as you read through each part of the book, including your opinions and analysis, and use those later when writing a book review.
You might also be interested in learning about position essays.
Step 2: Look at Book Review Examples
Before writing a book review, take time to look at examples of book reviews. Goodreads is an excellent place to look at short reviews from people who have read a title. For example, if you look up Huckleberry Finn on Goodreads, you will find this review:
“Mark Twain tells us the story of Huckleberry Finn and Jim, who attempts to free themselves from society’s restraints in this book. The racism aspect of this novel is one of the most discussed and debated topics. The readers will have to encounter the N-word multiple times, which can be difficult for many people. The beauty of this book is that it can be viewed from various angles. The theme of how black and white people work together in their quest for freedom has inspired many people.
There are many more layers to this book, including the empathy facet, which is not discussed in depth compared to the racism aspect. It is sad to see some people just considering it as a young adult book discussing racism that just high school children should read. This is unequivocally a true classic that all should read due to the author’s exceptional writing skills and multiple embedded themes in it.”
This is an excellent example of a review because it explains potential problems with the book while highlighting the benefit of reading it and addressing who should read it. The reviewer gives the book a five-star rating.
Goodreads is a popular site, but there are other review sites you can look at, including:
Read through these examples, and decide what makes them effective or ineffective. Do you want to read the book after reading the review? Then, try to copy the successful aspects in your book review.
Step 3: Start with a Hook
A book review’s first one to three sentences must capture the reader’s attention. It makes them interested in reading the rest of the review and, ultimately, the book. What makes a statement a good hook? It will bring something new to light and go beyond just a basic theme or summary. It will be provocative and make the reader think again about reading the book. It will be about three sentences or less. This might be a good hook for the book Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling:
“An orphan with an unusual scar thinks there is nothing more to his dreary existence, until one day a letter arrives, not by mail, but by owl. Harry soon learns his destiny is far larger than he once imagined from his room under the stairs. But can this orphan boy really be the hero of the secret wizarding world?”
This hook details the book’s plot enough to make the reader interested. It ends with a provocative question and fits within the length required for a hook.
Step 4: Include Basic Information
Before you go on to the rest of the review, determine if there are any pieces of information the intended audience of the book needs to know. For example, they need to know if the book is part of a series. Let them know if they should read previous books before opening this one.
If the book’s point of view is of particular importance, make sure to call that out. If the book’s date of publication is essential to understanding the book, include this information. For instance, a book published in the early days of America’s history may use words that today are considered racial slurs. Let the reader know this so they understand the author’s reasoning.
Step 5: Add a Summary
The beginning of your review should be a synopsis of the plot. Keep this plot summary short. Paraphrasing the book is not the primary goal of the book review. Use the summary to show that you have read the book. One reviewer writes an excellent summary of Michael Doane’s book The Crossing on Reedsy Discovery. She opens her review with this:
“In Doane’s debut novel, a young man embarks on a journey of self-discovery with surprising results. An unnamed protagonist (The Narrator) is dealing with heartbreak. His love, determined to see the world, sets out for Portland, Oregon. But he’s a small-town boy who hasn’t traveled much. So, the Narrator mourns her loss and hides from life, throwing himself into rehabbing an old motorcycle. Until one day, he takes a leap; he packs his bike and a few belongings and heads out to find the Girl.”
In this summary, the reviewer captures the reader’s attention but does not give away all of the book’s details. The reviewer does not give away any spoilers. Potential readers can still read and enjoy the book. The information provided is a good synopsis but not a full plot summary. Read through your review, especially where you explore the plot, and determine if you have given away anything that readers need to keep hidden while they enjoy the book. Also, the summary needs to be very concise when writing book reviews. The summary should be no more than a paragraph.
Step 6: Break Down the Parts
Now you are ready to break down the parts of the book. Do this in your notes, then decide which ones should be in your review. Some parts to consider include:
- Main themes
- Plot (for a fiction book)
- World-building (for a fiction book)
- Topic (for a non-fiction book)
If you are writing a long review, you could put each of these into its own paragraph. Be sure to discuss how the author handled it and whether or not you thought that it was well done. Give your opinion about these elements and how much you did or did not enjoy them. In the review on The Crossing, the REedsy reviewer covers the characters well when she writes:
“As he crosses the country, The Narrator connects with several unique personalities whose experiences and views deeply impact his own. Duke, the complicated cowboy and drifter, who opens The Narrator’s eyes to a larger world. Zooey, the waitress in Colorado who opens his heart and reminds him that love can be found in this big world. And Rosie, The Narrator’s sweet landlady in Portland, who helps piece him back together both physically and emotionally.”
Step 7: Discuss Artistic Elements
Does the book cover add to the experience of the book? Does the author use a particular writing style or dialect to add to the experience? When reading the book, look for these features and discuss them in your review. These types of artistic elements are worth discussing in your book review if there are any that stand out. This is particularly true for fiction works, where artistic elements significantly impact the reading experience.
Step 8: Define the Main Theme
Next, decide what the central theme of the book is. In the previous paragraph, you may have outlined a few themes, but now you need to hone in on what you feel is the central theme. Remember that what you feel is the main theme may differ from another reviewer. Reviews are based on opinion, so that is not wrong or right. You get to define the theme and then write about how well the author handled that theme and wove it into the story.
Step 9: Weave in Similar Works
Throughout your review, consider weaving in similar authors or books. This tactic will help readers connect with your writing and decide if the story fits their ideal book choice. If they are familiar with the authors you mention, and like them, they may be more interested in reading the book. For example, in her review of The Crossing, the reviewer says:
“Following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac and William Least Heat-Moon, Doane offers a coming of age story about a man finding himself on the backroads of America. Doane’s a gifted writer with fluid prose and insightful observations, using The Narrator’s personal interactions to illuminate the diversity of the United States.”
Here she discusses two writers that the review’s reader may know. Though she doesn’t mention their works directly, naming the authors will make it clear to anyone who knows those authors what writing style she is talking about.
Step 10: Make a Recommendation
Now that you have covered the basics of the book, you are ready to recommend it or not. Keep in mind that work you didn’t like but that was well-written should not get a negative review. Instead, tell the reader why you did not enjoy it but what you did like and why the intended audience would likely find it a good book. For example, if you read Harry Potter and did not enjoy it because fantasy novels aren’t for you, you could say:
“I recommend this book to anyone who loves adventure and magic. Rowling keeps the reader engaged throughout the story and brings in several surprises. The magical world was a bit far-fetched for my personal tastes, but overall it was an enticing read for those who enjoy fantasy.”
Step 11: Write a Conclusion
The final paragraph of your review should be a conclusion that ties together what you have already written. It should be reasonably short, but it should conclude your thoughts. For example, the Crossing reviewer concludes her review:
“Despite his flaws, it’s a pleasure to accompany The Narrator on his physical and emotional journey. The unexpected ending is a fitting denouement to an epic and memorable road trip.” Your conclusion could include your recommendation.
Step 12: Give a Star Rating
If you plan to publish your review on social media or sites, consider adding a star rating. If you do a lot of book reviews, set up a rating system that you can refer to. Otherwise, could you give it a rating of 10 or 5 stars? In your rating, tell how many a perfect book would receive. This will help your readers know if you are saying “yay” or “nay” to the book.
Step 13: Provide Author Background
Sometimes, background about the author is helpful in a book review. Decide if the author’s background makes a difference in understanding the book. If it does, consider adding it as part of your review. You will have to decide where in the review this information best fits. It may be in the first paragraph where you discuss different factors necessary to understand the book, or it may be towards the end.
Step 14: Revise and Shorten
Revising is key to writing a book review. Your review should be as concise and streamlined as possible, and you may find that it’s reasonably long at first, especially if you have strong opinions about the book. When you revise, look for repetition and areas you can cut without changing the meaning of your review. Remember, readers reading your review want to know your opinion and some basic facts about the book, but they do not want to read a lengthy piece.
Step 15: Be Kind
Remember, the book you are reviewing is someone else’s writing and work of heart. Try to be kind, even if you need to give a negative review. Point out what you did not enjoy, but look for some positive points to note if you can find some. Here is an example of a negative book review of My Morning Routine, originally published on the What’s Hot Blog, that still maintains an air of kindness:
“This book is a case of quantity of quality with heaps of accounts of people’s mornings routines but few specifics about how these routines helped these people get to their positions. It’s these crucial specifics that I usually find most motivating so this disappointed me. The most interesting part of My Morning Routine is the conclusion, which neatly sums up the statistics collated throughout. It tells you the average amount of sleep these successful people get, whether or not they meditate or exercise, what they eat for breakfast and more.”
Even though the reviewer did not enjoy the book, they pointed out something of interest that was positive in this review, maintaining a feeling of kindness in addition to honesty.
Step 16: Proofread
Now you are finished with your review and are ready to proofread it. Use a grammar checking program to check the grammar, and read through the piece to see if it has any spots where you could change the wording for better clarity. Consider reading it out loud when you proofread. This writing tip will help you find errors you may overlook while reading silently.
When editing for grammar, we also recommend taking the time to improve the readability score of a piece of writing before publishing or submitting.
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