There are two basic purposes for writing book reviews: helping potential readers decide whether they’ll read a particular one, and letting authors know what’s good, or not, about their book. It’s an evaluation of the book from the reviewer’s perspective.
Book reviews should be helpful to both reader and author alike, written as objectively as possible. A good rule of thumb is to highlight what the author did well employing the basic elements of storytelling—genre, plot, characters, dialogue, pace, conflict, climax—and to offer suggestions of ways to improve the story, or the writing itself, if need be.
One thing to watch for is if you can’t write a review of the book itself—genre aside,—don’t. You may enjoy books from a genre, or sub-genre, and then read one in a genre you find you don’t like. It’s not good practice to write a review criticizing the genre itself. Most people who read your review are partial to those books. If you read thrillers, historical romance may not be your cup of tea. If you favor traditional mysteries, horror may be too graphic for you. An evaluation of a book is meant to be just that.
Another thing to be careful of is viciously slamming a book or author. A review that reads like a personal attack is not regarded as valid, and will be dismissed as such. It makes readers wonder what vendetta the reviewer has against the author. This is a mildly-written example: “I am glad that this book only cost me a penny. Maybe I’ll donate it to my library…just so I don’t have to look at it anymore.” Or the person who left a 1-star rating on a book then wrote, “This is a book I did not order and have not read. I have no idea how I can review a book I don’t have.” What purpose did she have for rating the book, and posting her comment?
On the other hand, constructive criticism is valuable to both authors and readers. If there are a number of grammatical mistakes or typos, and that is noted in reviews, it alerts the author he needs a better editor, and perhaps a team of proofreaders. An author should know if reviewers think the characters need to be better developed, or if the ending seems to come out of nowhere, or if the pacing was too slow, or too fast. The following review gives the author something to ponder: “The author writes a thriller that is hard to put down, but her sentence structure needs improvement.” It’s not written as an attack. Instead, it is constructive criticism.
If you don’t like a book, but want to write a review on it, you can be thoughtful and honest without being cruel. Think of it as a personal critique to the author. Be respectful, and leave out any personal put-downs. When you evaluate a book and post it on sites, your review is out there for the world to see. People, in general, appreciate honesty served with a measure of decorum.
Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.