Friday, May 27, 2011

Armchair BEA How to Write a Review

Today's theme for Armchair BEA focuses on the nitty gritty of blogging. I wish I knew enough Html to come up with an interesting tech-themed post, but alas... I'm going to focus on the most basic element of a book blog - the book reviews.

On a side note, I did a big advice post a few weeks ago about increasing followers. Check it out:
Blogger Advice: How to Gain Followers

My comments about how to write a book review is by no means the only way to do things. There are a million ways to write a great review. I've tried many of them. It's just a few thoughts that come to mind...

How to Write a Review

1. Review Elements: Most reviews have three parts - Cover photo, summary, and review. I think the majority of people paste the Goodreads/Amazon summary onto their reviews. That's what I do. I admire the people who come up with their own summaries, but I'd rather focus on the review (I'm lazy). Then there's the review itself.

2. Time: First off, how long after reading the book should you wait before writing the review? I think my reviews are best 2 days to a week after I've read the book. Too soon and the review is gushy or angry. Too late and I have trouble remembering the book. Lately, I've been waiting several weeks before writing reviews. I don't recommend this. It takes extra long, because I have to comb my brain to remember the book.
Second, how long should you spend writing the review? However long it takes you to write a review you're pleased with. I typically spend 20-40 minutes per review, which is the main reason I procrastinate in writing them. I've spent as long as 2 hours! (for the Twilight Official Guide, which was a super long, detailed review).

3. Style: Here's the big one. How do you write a review? Obviously there's no answer to this. The only "must" is content. You should say something other than just summarizing the book.

Here are some things to think about:

Pacing - Slow start, slow middle, consistent, page-turner?
Prose - Simple, complex, beautiful, lyrical, too wordy, clunky?
Characters - Likeable, relatable, smart, funny, strong, swooning type, agressive, etc.
Plot - Believable, engrossing, confusing, complex, fun?
Romance - Hot, not believable, otherworldly, realistic?

How do you put this down? In traditional five paragraph essay form? That's how the majority of my reviews are. But for books that I really love or have a lot to say about, I often break it down into an outline - splitting elements up by numbers or separating the good from the bad. I think this format is easier to read, but not so much so that I write all my reviews that way.

Here are a few examples of my review styles

Standard Paragraphs: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Numbered Outline: Die For Me by Amy Plum
Good v. Bad: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

4. Consistency: Here's where I don't follow my own advice. I think the best blog has a standard format for reviews, so the reader knows what to expect when she looks at your blog. My reviews are definitely not consistent. As I said above, my reviews range from multi-paragraph essays to numbered outlines to good v. bad. How I write my review depends on what comes to me in the moment.

5. Length: There's an ideal here, although I'm not sure what it is. It's possible to do a good review in a paragraph, but pretty difficult. I think a review should be at least 2 to 3 paragraphs. Probably not too much longer. Here's another "do as I say, not as I do." Many of my reviews are quite lengthy. I don't purposely write them long, but once I get going it's hard to stop. Ultimately, I think the ideal length is however long it takes you to give a thorough discussion of the book.

6. Prose: My only "must" on this front is proper grammar and spelling. I'll excuse one or two mistakes, because we all make them, but people don't want to waste their time trying to decipher poor writing. Now that doesn't mean each review needs to be a masterpiece. Most of my reviews are readable, but certainly not pretty. I have a conversational tone. I admire bloggers whose reviews read like a piece of art, but if I tried to do that it would sound stupid. Each person has her style. I just write in the same style that I would talk about a book with a friend.

7. Negative Reviews: Another tough one. My main suggestion on negative reviews is to be kind and be fair. If you hate a book, you should explain your reasons. In a way that does not turn into a personal insult of the author (e.g. My pet rock could write better than AUTHOR.) I think a good negative review highlights good things about the book as well as bad. After all, if you hated the entire story, would you really finish it? If I can't stand a book, I put it down and then don't review it. If I've finished the story, there are definitely elements I liked, even if my overall reaction was bad.


The most important part of a review is conveying your feelings for the book. There's no right or wrong. If your readers come away from your review having learned something new or gaining a different perspective on a book they're interested in, then you've succeeded. It doesn't matter whether the review is long or short, written in flowery prose or with laugh-out-loud humor. You should write a review in whatever style allows you to best describe your thoughts.


  1. #6 is crucial. Write well. And if you see mistakes go back and edit the post.

    To blog well you need to know: your topic, your audience and your voice. Come learn more.

  2. What a great pst! I agree with the wait time after reading a book. Even with notes, it can be tough writing a quality review if one waits too long to write it.

  3. Great post! Like you I tend to write length reviews, but bottom line I'm writing the way that is comfortable for me and what I feel like gets across my ideas/message. I'm not trying to get a job out of my blog, it is purely a way to take part in a wonderful internet community and to archive my thoughts on the books I read, so I'm not to worried if mine aren't "ideal". I agree with pussreboots that #6 is so important, I often go back and re-edit a post when I realise I made a mistake somewhere

  4. Fantastic post! I'm still trying to find a 'set' reviewing style. I go back and read certain parts of reviews and think "Oh, that's terrible! Stop doing that. Make this part better. Do that differently next time", etc. I'm still finding my feet, but I think there'll always be something I don't like *is difficult like that*

    I really like the different styles in which you review and it's a great way to operate if you don't feel particularly inspired by one style for a certain book. When writing my reviews I usually jot down a few things I want to make note of as soon as I finish reading then try to come back within the next few days and finish it. Although I've been bad lately and still have two reviews from last week that are desperately crying to be written... ah, soon!

  5. Great post! I do have a consistent format for all my review but the length varies a lot. And yes, writing the reviews with good grammar and spelling is important. I am prone to typos, though, so even though I double and triple check before posting I often discover a mistake or a typo afterwards and go back and edit.

  6. Nice post! I like the details you put in about grammar and consistency. I do have a standard style, but from there it is pretty much fair game. I will be checking this post out again when I am not in blogger overload!

  7. I particularly appreciate your comment on timing. I'm of the type who wants to write the review immediately afterwards so I can "close" the book and move on to another, but I struggle against the grump or gush phenomenon.

    Thanks for participating in this BEA event

  8. I love this post, Alison! I don't have a consistent style and I write really long reviews too :P But...I love that about your reviews. I think if a review is written really well and it's engaging, then I don't feel the length at all. Like your Twilight Guide review. You could have made that ten times longer and I still would have been happily reading along :)

  9. Your post is completely on target. I think what most people don't realize, including myself, is that blogging takes time to figure out your voice and your approach. I sometimes cringe when I read my earlier posts because they are really bad but the more you do it, the better it gets. I also like to add that sometimes it's a good idea to link to other reviews if you didn't care for the book (for me it was Nevermore) to give your reader a better scope of the book; something to the effect of "well, I didn't care for it but Blogger 1 loved it and Blogger 2 had a more favorable review but also had some concerns."

  10. Great post, Alison! Thanks for taking the time to share this with us!

  11. Great information here! Things I need to think about too, like the length of my reviews (which are always too long!). Also, I clicked through to your "How to Gain Follower" post and giggled at the suggestion that it could rival Beowulf were it epic poetry! :)

  12. Great tips. Spelling and grammar are essential for me to read a whole review. I stop reading if I don't know what you are saying and have to guess.

  13. Another great post, thanks. I keep getting in the habit of reviewing books to long after reading them and you are right, you don't remember the book enough. I need to fix that.

    My post today is about blogging blogs I like.

  14. You make several very good points about reviews-I like the idea of the 2-day "cooling off" period before you write a review. Having a predictable review format seems like a good idea, but I notice that some of my favorite book blogs have a lot of variety in review styles. That does keep things interesting.

  15. Great tips. A few I hadn't thought about. I try not to do negative reviews. If I have to, I coin it in a way that sounds positive. I don't ditz the writer. Usually it's because I hated the character so if the writing is good enough to make me hate the character, that's good writing.

  16. Fabulous post, Alison!

    My reviews aren't always consistent, either. It really just depends on the book!

    I really like the idea of mentioning the writing style, characters, etc. I might have to start doing that to make my reviews more consistent.

    Jennifer of Little Shelf

  17. Interesting! I still feel very much like a newbie blogger, so it's enlightening to read your perspective on how to write a review. You make a great point about the timing of writing reviews. I used to write reviews literally right after closing my book. I still do sometimes actually, but I've found that it's best to stew it over for awhile as well.

  18. Thanks for this post :) You gave really great advice and I will be taking this stuff into account. My biggest crime here is writing reviews straight after reading the book. I only do that because everything is so fresh in my mind! But I'll try giving a couple of days :)

  19. Just swinging by on the Armchair - been behind, wanted to check out everyone participating. The list is long! I have started setting up my review post as soon as I start reading a book, that way it's all ready when I finish. If I wait too long - I forget things. Happy reading.

  20. OK, I love how you've broken this down. You've given me a lot to think about, as I try to figure out where to go with my writing!

    I'm actually OK with having several styles of posts-- I'm an eclectic writer as well as reader, and I hope my blog readers can appreciate that. I don't mind it on the blogs I read :-).

  21. Alison what a fantastic post and excellent tips! You are always so thorough in your reviews and posts and I really appreciate that!

  22. Fantastic post Alison! I definitely like to think about the book a day or two before I write my review, otherwise I can't organize my actual thoughts and I end up more summarizing the plot than writing my reaction to everything:) And I tend to write longer reviews, sometimes I know I ramble a bit too much and people probably never make it to the end, but I can't help it:) Hope you're having a great holiday weekend!

  23. Very interesting post, Alison. One thing I worry about with reviews is whether or not they make sense to someone who hasn't read the book - who presumably, reviews should be most helpful to. How much detail is needed is something that I go back and forth about. Obviously too much can be boring to read and spoils the plot but saying 'something big happens' feels awfully vague.

  24. Awesome post, you hit all the points of a review just right.

    Jennifer @ The Bawdy Book Blog

  25. haha it's funny, because I don't feel like I do ANY of that. So, I'm a bit surprised that you are such an awesome fan. But I love that my blog is not how you would suggest, and you still love it! Makes me happy!
    Hope you're well, love!
    XO, Al

  26. Terrific post! What a fantastic guide to go by. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on writing a review.

  27. I try to write my reviews soon after I read the books. I have that same problem of the book fading in my memory if I wait too long.


  28. I'm a new-ish blogger so I'm really liking all of these Armchair BEA posts about blogging. They're super helpful!

  29. Great book reviewing post and tips! I appreciate your thoughts on negative book reviews!

  30. Great post here, too (from another who has a problem keeping reviews to 2 or 3 paragraphs - even when I try to do a mini-review like for eGalley Wednesdays I don't do such a great job of it). I do try to keep the same style, and I will never tear an author apart simply because I don't like the book I just read. Actually, I've started the 50-75 page rule - if I have nothing positive to keep me reading at 50 pages, I just drop it and go on to the next. Too many books to read, too little time to spend on one that makes me forget why I like to read.
    One point that you made that I think is super-important - using good grammar and spelling when you're writing up a review is important - I've caught my own mistakes sometimes and gone back to fix them. We all make a few mistakes here and there, but I will simply click away from a review where the spelling, grammar, and use of words is atrocious.

  31. How did I miss this post the first time. Thanks for linking it on your FF!

    I'm always looking for tips on how to improve my reviews. I think you were spot on about timing, and you have given me a lot of new ideas to consider, along with the tips I picked up from the comments. Thanks!

  32. Wow, great post! I’m actually stopping by from FF, and got sidetracked by this post. Good tips!
    Book Savvy Babe

  33. Thank you for that wonderful post. I shall be attempting to use it in my school library as a way to encourage the pupils to write reviews <3

  34. This is great! Thanks for the tips Alison!!!


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