I've been writing online book reviews for a number of years now (and yes that is my TBR pile on the left) and thought it would be a good idea to provide a tiny insight into the knowledge and experience i've gained so far. Hopefully this will be a good starting point for anyone who wishes to begin writing the best book reviews.
The review should describe, analyze, evaluate and above all entertain, conveying your own opinion with supporting evidence from the book itself. Don't forget that this is your own personal view so don't be afraid of saying how you feel or what you really thought.
When reading the subject matter prior to writing a review there are a number of points that are helpful to consider, and it's a good idea to make notes as you go (at least to begin with), this will of course depend on how good your memory is as to how much note taking you need to do and it can vary depending on the book being read. With some books I begin to write the review as I go while others I don't even start writing until I've completely finished, depending when inspiration starts.
The first thing you should consider is the field or genre of the novel, does it fit into a targeted market, is it clearly aimed at one but doesn't fit or is it perhaps speculative fiction; a confluence of genres.
From what point of view is the book written, from the third person, from the first person, perhaps it's even an unreliable narrator?
Do you agree or disagree with the author's viewpoints, it's a good idea to make notes about particular passages you find that exemplify this that you can quote later (although quotes aren't always required).
Is there a strong style (also known as the voice) to the authors writing, is it very formal, informal and is it suited to the intended audience?
Are the books concepts well defined with clear and convincing language? Have these concepts been developed well in the novel and how accurate is the information given.
When you have finished reading you should consider just what the book accomplished, does it seem like more work is needed, you may want to compare this work to other authors in the same genre or style. It's important to remember that above all else a book is there to be enjoyed and in many cases to project ideas or even promote discussion and if a story does none of those things then why would we want to read it?
After you've read the book and made sufficient notes, it's time to write the review itself. You should start by including all the relevant information about the novel itself such as title, author, publisher, pages and isbn. Begin the review by hooking the reader with the opening sentence, setting the overall tone. One easy mistake to make is writing a review of the book you wish the author had written, and not the review they had actually written.
It's also a good idea to avoid picking apart the work based on your own experience of the author or trying to examine the author's motives. This often comes across as "elitist" or snobby and the average reader is likely to be put off.
Try to also avoid talking too much about yourself, although small amounts of information create a nice relaxed and personal feeling it's important to remember the review is about the book not the reviewer.
Make sure you are clear about what you liked and what you didn't, you should conclude with a summary and final assessment.
Once written you should read through three times, making corrections after each, and ideally give time between each reading to gain perspective. I usually leave the first draft for at least a day or two before going back and then leaving again for a similar time period for second corrections.
Once read through three times, your review should be ready, away you go!
When asked, "How do you write?" I invariably answer, "one word at a time."
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