I have been asked more than a few times what it takes to write a “good review.” The reality is that a “good review” is completely subjective. The answer will change, based on what you, the writer, are looking for, but the general audience reading your content.
This blog applies, more specifically, to bookish reviewers who review self-published/indie authors!
First, let’s start with the basics.
What is the purpose of a review?
It’s never been a secret that the best way to support anything (whether that be an author, a product, a service, a business) is to write a review. The words of the consumer are more important to your fellow consumers than ours as product/service providers. You hold the ability to make and break reputations, curb sales, dictate success or failure, all with your fingertips. It’s insane, really — the pure power that your words hold.
So what is the purpose of writing a review? It’s to vouch for a product. Or warn people off it. You’re indicating whether it’s worth spending hard-earned money. In this instance, you’re letting other people know that a story was worth reading. That an author is worth following. Or, you’re telling others who have similar tastes to not waste their money, or their time.
What should a review include?
You can feel free to add whatever you like to your review, but the tried and true formula seems to go a little something like this:
- Introduction Paragraph: A little introduction to what drew you to the book. Something to draw the reader in to your review over everyone else’s.
- Description/Synopsis: A brief description/synopsis of the book’s plot in your own words.
- Your Thoughts/Your Feelings: Explain what you thought about the book. What you loved, what you loathed. You can always structure this as pros and then cons, separated by paragraphs.
- Overall Thoughts/Rating: Conclusion and your official rating.
Which is why it’s so important to be honest.
The first priority when it comes to reviewing should be honesty. If you didn’t like the book, don’t pretend that you did. If you loved it, don’t water down your review because you feel people will think you’re being too nice. This is especially important if you plan on starting a blog or having a public persona who is known for reviewing. People want to trust your work. They can’t do that if they feel you’re being insincere or pushing books/products/services that otherwise would not earn your attention. It’s not just your money that you’re wasting then. It’s your followers.
It’s also important to remain impartial.
It’s alright to clarify how you feel about things personally. It is, after all, your take on whatever you’re reviewing. But you have to remember, not everyone is going to have the same taste as you. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t assume that it won’t work for someone else. If you’ve read my reviews in the past, you’ve likely seen me say, “it wasn’t for me, but if you’re someone who enjoys x, y, and z content, this will be right up your alley.” I don’t want anyone who follows my content to miss out on something just because they trust my opinion on something. I might think a book is complete, total, and utter trash (in fact, I have rated books that I personally disliked rather high), because objectively, they are well-written books that have all the makings of an enjoyable story. For someone else. I do clarify that it’s not my cuppa — and I explain why for those who have similar thoughts/feelings to me. But, I do go out of my way to take into consideration that particular genre’s audience.
Create a rating rubric that makes sense to you.
I have the unique position of being on both sides of the bookish community. I write (obviously), but I also review (also obviously). I speak a lot with authors who receive brutal reviews/ratings and often find myself explaining that star ratings are arbitrary. My three-star rating does not mean the same as the next person’s three stars.
So, what do I mean? I mean come up with a rating system that makes sense to you, so you know what you’re rating something and why. So you can explain why you feel that something is deserving of the rating you’ve given it.
Take for example my rating system:
Five Stars: No/Minimal Complaints, Enjoyable Story, Page-Turner, Didn’t Want To Put It Down, Authentic/Organic Character Development, Great Storytelling, etc.
Four Stars: Minimal Complaints, Some Frustration That Took Away From Enjoying The Story Fully, Good Read, Good Pacing, Good Characters, Good/Great Storytelling, etc.
Three Stars: Moderate Complaints, Frustrations That Took Away From Enjoying The Story Fully, Okay/Good read, Okay/Good Pacing, Okay/Good Characters, Okay/Good Storytelling, etc.
This, more or less, gives you a checklist to go down while you’re writing your review. Touching on those points shows that you’ve thought about why this book deserves this rating and that’s not an arbitrary rating you’ve slapped on for the shits and gigs.
As I’m sure you noticed, I didn’t include 2 stars or 1 star. That’s because I, simply put, will not give a rating beneath three stars. I have, on more than one occasion, turned down ARCs and other review requests because I felt that I couldn’t rate them three stars without being dishonest. For a lot of self-published/indie authors, ratings make or break them. And a lot of them have very few reviews to back them. I don’t want to be the reason their numbers tank. There is an unspoken rule in the bookish community that one does not review beneath three stars, and, I have to be honest, I agree with it. Wholeheartedly.
I have, personally, had reviews and ratings that made no sense. I once had a two-star rating where someone essentially said, “I loved everything about this.” It did my head in, honestly. I felt gutted. And, if I’m to be honest, a bit miffed. If I’m going to receive a “bad” rating, I want to know why. What about it wasn’t liked? What about it made it a less than wonderful experience? What can I as a writer do better? I can’t learn if I’m never taught, right? If something wasn’t up to snuff, say it!
“I didn’t like the dialogue.” Now the writer knows to work on that. “I felt like the pacing was way too slow.” Perfect, now the writer can pay attention to pacing during their writing/editing process.
No writer is above criticism. It’s what helps us grow. It’s what helps us become better at the craft we’re dedicating so much time to. I won’t lie to you and say that everyone takes it well. There are some people who do not take constructive criticism in stride. But, please remember, the review is less about the writer and more about the consumer.
Be kind. Be fair.
It’s more than alright if you don’t like something. You’re entitled to your opinion and your feelings on things. You’re not entitled to be a jerk. You have to remember that there is a person on the other side of that book. They poured blood, sweat, and tears into that project and you’re basically dropping your trousers and taking a hot, steaming dump on it. It’s not nice.
You can use your words to get a point across that isn’t necessarily disparaging or cruel. Being an asshole might get a few laughs from other readers. It might even get you a following. But it’s for the wrong reasons. It won’t make you any friends, either. It’s tasteless. It’s unkind. Most of all, it’s useless. It’s really just showing a lot about who you are that you have such a flagrant lack of regard for the people behind the work.
If you write a review that is informative, thought-out, and respectful, you’re on the right path!
Do you have any tips or tricks on how to write a good review? Tell me in the comments below!
If you liked this blog, please give it a like, a comment, and share it with your friends! It really does help a lot! For more blogs like this, subscribe below to be notified of my next post! You can also follow me on Instagram, like my Facebook Page, or follow me on Goodreads!