How to write a review
Good book reviews are for readers, to tell them the book’s title, author, publisher, year, what this book is about, how it compares with similar books, how well it works as a book, and why.
Get reading, and give yourself plenty of time to read the book, take notes, perhaps read it again, and think, before you begin to write. Read the book somewhere free from distractions and take notes as you read – about the book itself and your response to it. Some reviewers make a point of reading a book twice, once quickly to get the story and a second time to “see how it was done.” Even if you don’t read the book twice, you will certainly need to read bits of it twice. Use post-it notes to mark places in the book you might want to quote from, or bits of information you might need to explain what the book’s about, or pieces that remind you why you responded in certain ways, or where you find an interesting or memorable (or confusing) passage. If you have been sent a new book to review, it now belongs to you, so it is up to you whether you write in it or not.
Shape an argument
There are lots of things to say about every book, and you can’t say them all. Choose the headings and ideas which seem to link together, to help you make an argument about the book, rather than just a list of disconnected points.
Consider your word length and think about how much you can fit in (this gets easier with practise). Make every effort to stick to your required length: it is not an editor’s job to cut your 1200 word review to 500 words, so think carefully about how much you have been asked to write.
If you read reviews by experienced reviewers, you will probably find that their opinion of a book is saved for the last couple of paragraphs. The rest of the review will try to give an account, in as fair a way as possible, of what the book is about – its characters, story and setting (both time and place). It may also discuss the author’s style and the way the story is structured, as well as comparing the book to others by the same author, or to other books of that genre.
Things to consider
- What’s the story? (Avoid plot summaries.)
- Where and when is it set?
- Who are the important characters?
- What are the themes, ideas, arguments?
- Who’s likely to want to read this book – how old, what are their interests?
- Does the reader need any specialist knowledge to understand the book?
- How has the writer put the book together so as to tell the story and get their ideas or themes across?
- How are the different characters shown? (Both fiction and nonfiction can have characters, and they can be human or animal, or even a particular place.)
- Who is the narrator who tells the story?
- What point of view do they use (eg, first person, third person, omniscient, retrospective)?
- What opinions or perspective do they hold that might affect the way they tell the story?
- Do they talk to the reader directly, or tell the story to themselves or other characters?
- How does the story or plot unfold? (Even nonfiction always has some kind of plot.)
- What’s the tone of the book (eg, confident, dreamy, focused)?
- What genre(s) does it belong to? Genre defines expectations against which a book may be measured and judged.
- What is its context (eg, historical, political, cultural, social…)?
- Is it fiction (novel, short stories, fantasy, science fiction, crime…) or nonfiction (biography or autobiography, science, nature, cooking, self-help, politics…)?
- What style is it written in (eg, real and gritty, poetic)?
- How does it compare with similar or related books, or other books by the same writer?
- Is it covering new ground? Does it build on other writers’ ideas, or argue with them, or take a different approach?
As well as or instead of a written review, we'd love you to submit a video review.
Your video will need to be no more than three minutes long, so you'll need to plan what you want to say!
You could write out everything you'd like to say, or talk off the top of your head with only short notes. Practice and see what suits you best.
Think about your background - what will be behind you when you film? Is it too busy and distracting, or does it add character or relate to the book in some way?
It's very important that you find a quiet place to film so that we can hear you clearly. Make sure you listen to the video and check the audio before you submit it.