starsEveryone who reviews books does so differently, but these are the things I find helpful when I’m reading reviews to decide whether or not I want to pick up a book. I also try to include a lot of the information below in my reviews on Goodreads or the rare review I write on Amazon.

Clearly these guidelines aren’t meant for professional book reviews. My primary goal here is to either decide if I want to read/buy a book based on your review or to remember (or share) my experience reading a book if I’m writing the review.

Here are my four tips for writing a book review:

Tip #1 – Read the book.

You would think this is obvious, right? Except not necessarily.

I’ve seen a couple of situations recently in which people rate a book without reading it. It’s usually very obvious.

The most common is when someone gives a book a really high rating because they know the author and want to help them out by increasing their rating. I think they see it as a nice thing to do, which I suppose it is, but it’s not a very honest rating.

Similar – maybe I’ve read the book, so I log into my husband’s account and have him give it a high rating as well, even though he’s never read it. Not cool. Book reviews/ratings aren’t meant to be an American Idol-esque popularity contest.

The other situation I’ve seen is leaving a negative review without reading enough of the book to rate the book as a whole. This one, I’m more lenient on. For example, I’ve tried to read Life of Pi twice and after making it no more than 75 pages in on the second attempt, I gave it a one-star review. Generally in that case, I’ll leave a review on Goodreads with no stars and skip leaving a review somewhere like Amazon that requires stars.

The worst example, however, is the person who gives a book a one-star review without ever reading a page simply because they’re aware the book exists and they object to the subject matter. Yes, I’ve actually seen this happen. I suppose it’s a passive-aggressive alternative to censorship because they didn’t like the book (which was part of my “read more widely about unfamiliar topics” goal”) I was reading. That one-star rating has nothing to do with the quality of the book or the work the author put into it, which is why it’s so unfair.

Tip #2 – What was it like to read the book?

Did you connect with the characters? Was it hard to put the book down for the night? How did you feel about the writing style and word choices? Did it take you forever to read because you weren’t really interested? Do you think it will still be on your mind a month from now? Why?

I don’t care so much about a summary – I can get that anywhere. Though if you feel the book doesn’t match the summary, that’s worth mentioning because it affects the reading experience. In that case, I want your version of a summary. No (unmarked) spoilers!

What I want to know is how the book made you feel. Was it a light read or was the material really heavy? What worked for you and what didn’t work?

Tip #3 – Address the author as if they’re reading the review. Because they might.

Mentioning the author is fair, especially if he/she has other works available and this book is very different or more of the same. That can definitely affect expectations and reading experience. Addressing the author’s skill and choices in regards to the book are legitimate if done correctly.

What is not reasonable (again, why is this necessary to say?) are personal attacks on the author. If you don’t like the storyline, it’s possible to say the author didn’t develop it enough vs. calling the author a lazy b*tch. Especially in today’s world of self-publishing, many authors must act as their own marketing department and don’t have the luxury of not reading their reviews/comments. It’s hard enough sometimes to accept constructive criticism about your work without seeing name-calling or threats.

Tip #4 – Who would you recommend this book to?

I don’t always include any sort of recommendations unless something specific strikes me. Usually, my recommendations are more for (or a warning for) individual readers. But occasionally a book will lead me to recommend it for a certain group. It’s always a nice touch to see that sort of tag on a book when the connection may not otherwise be obvious.

Bonus: Aesthetics

If I’m reviewing a book I own and I’ve purchased a specific edition, I’ll sometimes mention the look and feel of the book. If the version of the book you’re reading adds to the experience, either positively or negatively, to me it’s worth including that in the review.

Did I miss anything? What do you include that I left out? Let me know if this is helpful to you. It makes me sad to see friends finish a book on Goodreads and rate it but not leave any review. It doesn’t have to be long, but I want to know what you thought. And if I need to add it to my TBR…