Discussion – How I Write Book Reviews


Hello everyone,

Today I have a discussion that I have been turning over in my mind for some time, and that is a full description of my process of writing book reviews and the work (or lack of) that goes into them.

There is a lot said in the book blogging community that reviews are not the most popular of posts and don’t get as many views, but for me they are undoubtedly the most rewarding. When I finish a review it is a great feeling; a sense of freedom that exists until the time comes to start the next one. Then, once the review has been posted, any positive comments or feedback from other bloggers or even the author themselves, feels extra special.

I currently post one review per week, which enables me to schedule them in advance. Normally, when they appear on the blog, about two or three weeks have passed by since I finished the book. So, I have now decided that it is finally time to spill my secrets and tell you everything about how I review books…

My Reviews at-a-glance

Anyone who has seen my reviews will know that they are quite long, as I like to analyse each book in considerable depth. My reviews lean slightly more towards the analytical side, but they retain some sense of informality, and I also do not leave the reader in any doubt as to whether or not I enjoyed the story. And of course, they are always honest.

The general layout of my review posts is fairly consistent. Aside from the review itself, all of them contain the following items:

  • An image of the book’s cover. This is also the featured image you see on the WordPress reader and on Twitter;
  • Number of pages. This can vary depending on the edition of the book, but I always put the amount of pages that are in my copy;
  • Original publication date;
  • Trigger warnings. This usually appears at the top, but sometimes I do a special section for trigger warnings if the book contains a lot of sensitive topics or anything especially graphic;
  • Synopsis. Usually taken from Goodreads. I occasionally make slight changes to this if it contains spoilers or anything that is simply there to promote the book;
  • Verdict. This is a final summary of my thoughts on the book;
  • Rating. My star rating for the book, out of five. This includes half stars.

There are also items that appear in some of my reviews and not others, such as:

  • The Author. A short biography of the author. I only do this for authors whose books I have never previously reviewed on my blog;
  • Blog Tour Poster. If I am taking part in a blog tour, I always add the poster with the list of blogs and tour dates at the end of the post;
  • Disclaimer. When I have received a free copy of the book from its publisher, I add a short line at the end to acknowledge that it was in exchange for an honest review.

How I Structure My Reviews

My reviewing style has changed noticeably since I started book blogging at the beginning of 2018. In my very early reviews (which are pretty bad!), I separated sections with headings and gave fairly short descriptions of each book and my thoughts, basically just writing down the first things that came into my head and not fully expanding on those points.

Gradually my reviews became longer and more detailed, and now they vary in length from about 650-950 words, depending on how many aspects there are in the book and the number of points worthy of discussion. As that has happened, I have developed a structure which has worked quite effectively.

The structure is flexible and still allows for creativity, but it generally works like this, talking about each aspect of the book in the following order:

  1. Overview of the book and my thoughts.
    The first two paragraphs of my review are where I like to set the tone and provide a powerful overall insight into the book, by introducing all the key points and using an array of adjectives and adverbs that best describe it.
    The beginning is almost always the most difficult part of the review for me to write, as here my descriptions are more general than specific and it takes a lot of thought to come up with something that truly encapsulates the entire book in a nutshell. When the first two paragraphs are done, I often feel like a weight has been lifted and I feel more confident for writing the rest!
  2. Plot summary.
    My summary of the plot usually runs for up to three paragraphs. I include this in order to provide some background to the story and it acts as a basis for many of the points I make in the review. The important thing here is to avoid giving away any spoilers, so that is where I take the most care. This section is usually one of the easier ones to write, unless the plot is extremely complex.
  3. My thoughts on the plot.
    In the next paragraph or two, I give my thoughts on the plot and the direction it takes. If it is a mystery or a thriller I talk about whether it unravels in a good way or if a twist was effective. For a fantasy I would mention the world building. In other words, what were the things that I felt contributed to the success (or failure) of the plot.
  4. Themes.
    If there are any powerful themes that are explored, or play a fundamental part in the book, I describe them here as well as the effect they had on me.
  5. Narratives.
    I describe the ways in which the book is laid out, such as the narratives that are used, the number of POVs, and if there are multiple timelines. I then explain what I felt they brought to the story.
  6. Main characters.
    I talk about the main characters, their personality traits, how well developed they are, and if I connected with them.
  7. Secondary characters.
    I describe my thoughts on any secondary characters that are worthy of note, or who I was particularly taken by. If the book contained a romance, this is where I would usually mention it.
  8. Setting
    If the book contains one or more particularly interesting settings, I describe them, the atmosphere created, and anything they brought to the story that was unique.
  9. Writing style
    Here I discuss the author’s writing style and my thoughts on it. Was it engaging? How was the pacing? Was it atmospheric or poetic? If I cannot think of much to say here, I sometimes include the setting and the writing style in the same paragraph.
  10. Ending
    My thoughts on the way the book ended. If there was a twist I did not see coming. If the ending was too convenient or neatly wrapped up. If the ending was very fitting, and just capped off an amazing read.
  11. Summary
    The final paragraph isΒ  a summary of the points I have made in my review. It always begins with ‘Overall’ (one of my trademarks!), weighs up the positives and negatives, and then finishes with a last line that says definitively how much I liked the book.

This list is the basic structure, but like I say it can be pretty flexible and I mostly use it as a guide. There are times where I think of a line for one paragraph and then decide it would be better suited for later on. So for that reason I have to sometimes think a few paragraphs ahead. Meanwhile, for books that are part of a series, I take a different approach because I do not have the full picture and it is even more essential to avoid spoilers.

But must admit that this structure has not made the review writing process any shorter! There are still times where I am staring at my laptop screen without the first idea of what to say, but ultimately I think using this structure has enabled my reviews to become much better once they are completed!

How Do I Prepare For Writing A Review?

Okay…the simple answer is, I don’t!!!

Yes, while reading the book I do think of a few things in my head that I could say in my review, but I never write them down or anything. There was a time when I wrote down a few very basic notes, but I have stopped doing that now. I do not use sticky tabs either, or collect any quotes. When reading on my Kindle I make highlights, but I very rarely look back on them for my review.

When I start a review, more or less everything I have about the book is in my head, and so I just empty my thoughts and put them into words which I hope make sense. I used to write the review almost straight away after finishing the book, but now it normally several days after. Luckily I have a good memory and can recall things such as my feelings on the story and the names of characters quite easily.

What Else Do I Consider?

I am very particular about certain aspects of my writing style, and that also manifests itself in my reviews. These include:

  • Not using the same words too frequently.Β 
    It can sometimes be very easy to describe a book by using the same adjectives or adverbs (such as captivating or beautifully), but I always try to use a particular descriptive word only once in a review, maybe twice at a push.
  • Don’t start a new paragraph until I am happy with the previous one
    I am a perfectionist, so I must be completely happy with a paragraph before I move on to the next one.
  • Avoid using two consecutive proper nouns.
    This one is perhaps a bit irrational, but I just don’t like two proper nouns next to each other, such as a character’s name followed immediately by a place name.
  • Paragraphs are at least four lines in length.
    I like my paragraphs to be at least a certain length, because otherwise it feels like I have not expanded on a particularly point or explained something in enough depth.
  • No more than two consecutive paragraphs begin with the same word.
    Again, this one is very random! To have too many paragraphs starting with the word ‘The’ does not sit well with my aesthetic!

And of course, we also have the unwritten rules of book blogging:

  • Be 100% honest in your review;
  • Be polite and constructive, even when the book is not to your taste
  • Do NOT tag an author in a negative review. I only occasionally tag authors anyway for positive reviews.

Let’s Chat

That’s everything! How much thought and consideration goes into writing your reviews? How do you approach writing them? Do you have a structure? What do you think of how I write reviews? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading πŸ™‚

45 thoughts on “Discussion – How I Write Book Reviews

  1. Great post, I love the breakdown of your review process, it’s so interesting! And I agree, book reviews are some of the most rewarding posts to write, they bring a great sense of accomplishment. I don’t have a set in stone structure but I do find that my reviews tend to follow a similar pattern, this is definitely something to think about more so I can improve πŸ™‚

    Anika | chaptersofmay.com

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Anika! Yes, I have written well over 100 book reviews now for my blog, but they always bring a real sense of achievement when finished. It’s also really interesting that your reviews follow a similar pattern, it’s nice to have that consistency. I’m looking forward to reading more of your reviews!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Stephen! I love to read how other people write reviews, it’s always so enlightening. (And it always makes me wanna be more organised when reviewing.)
    I especially liked that “What else do I consider” part. I never really thought about what kind of things are important to me when writing a review besides the content. It just shows how much work you actually put in your reviews and makes it extra sad that reviews are usually the one posts that get less traffic.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked the post and I agree, it’s always interesting to hear how others write reviews. And haha yes I can be very particular! I guess I have just grown to care very much about the quality of my reviews, so I take a very thoughtful approach ☺

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s really helpful Stephen! I’m useless at organising a remotely coherent review half the time. I have a tendency to just start with a quick synopsis, spiel my thoughts, add a few quotes I liked and that it! Your way is so organised, I might use your post as a guideline when I’m next sat staring into space thinking, β€˜what was that book I’ve just finished called again?!’ πŸ˜³πŸ˜‚

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thanks for the post, Stephen. I love writing reviews myself and it was so interesting to read how you go about it. Mine would be much shorter than yours, not so organised, and I do make notes when reading. I’m going to read yours again and write down a few new headers for myself!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. No problem, I’m glad you liked the post! Reviews sometimes feel daunting, but they can be a lot of fun and it’s great that you enjoy writing them. Also really interesting to hear how you approach them πŸ™‚

      Like

  5. Great post! I like your in depth reviews. I still take notes of some point while reading but if the book is amazing, I wouldn’t stop to take notes. There is lot going on in my mind while reading but when I sit to write review after finishing book my mind is blank. It takes some time, usually a day to gather my thoughts. My reviews are also 600 to 900 words, depending on book. I include theme, writing style, setting, a plot summery or concept, characters, my thoughts on plot and layers it have, climax, ending, and conclusion.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Ohh this was an awesome breakdown of your review process! I totally agree that I don’t really take notes or make specific points to include in my reviews while reading, but instead have a general idea that ends up taking a more concrete shape when I write!! I’d love to structure my reviews like this one day!(:

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Oh I LOVE this!! So interesting to see your structure. Also, yes I try not to repeat words haha. I become very self-aware when I do haha. You’ve actually reminded me that I should do a more overall summary at the end that neatly sums up everything.

    My review style isn’t as consistent as yours. I like to start with writing and then plot and then usually go on with characters. I add on to all these sections any other random thoughts I add. I also actually want to also start adding at the end, like a “things I liked” because I’m usually most attracted (wow strange word) to a book by like random things haha. Anyways, loved this post!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yay! I’m so glad you liked this, Ruby ☺ That’s absolutely it, I also become self-aware and that is how some of the things I mentioned came about.
      It’s really interesting to hear about how you review. I love the excitement and enthusiasm with which you write. ‘Things I liked’ would be a good breakdown of your thoughts!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I love this breakdown! It’s super interesting to see the overlap and differences between both of our review styles. I usually don’t prepare when I write a review either! I tried writing notes, but it came to the point where it would really benefit my review in any way. For this reason, I similarly find that writing the review right after I finish the book is optimal (so I don’t forget anything)!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, I love how everyone’s review styles vary so widely. I was the same with notes, and I completely understand why you would want to review as soon as possible after finishing. It means the book is very fresh in the mind. πŸ™‚

      Like

  9. I love seeing your process! Learning about how others structure their reviews has definitely taught me quite a bit. I’m still working out how I write my reviews (and I think that will always be the case), but for now I don’t have too much structure when it comes to writing reviews. Instead, I jot down talking points as I read that I want to discuss and then go from there. It probably won’t be my style forever, but it’s how I do things for now. Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Yes, this is mostly what I do, but I try to keep my plot summary to no more than one paragraph – about ten sentences. Anything that needs longer than that will probably not get 5/5 stars from me since the plot is obviously too complicated. But that’s me!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes, because… it just seems to me that readers can get that (and information about the authors – which I don’t put into my reviews at all) from anywhere – Goodreads, Amazon, wherever. But what they can’t get anywhere else, except from my blog is MY opinion of the book, so that’s the biggest part of my reviews.

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Thank you for sharing your ideas. I found myself taking notes whilst reading this guide. I have just started to think more pro-actively about including more book reviews on my blog. I love the way you have set out the structure and I can see how this carries across to make your reviews very readable and enjoyable.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. It is always really interesting to see how other bloggers write their reviews because everyone seems to have such different strategies. I always like how your reviews are so structured and balanced and it definitely has an impact on my decision to read a book or not, especially if it is a hyped one which I haven’t yet read but am considering reading. Personally I never have a certain layout on my reviews as I tend to focus on different aspects such as plot, character development or setting more in some reviews than others based on my thoughts on the book. I also don’t like to get stuck on one paragraph before moving to another as I find I sit on it for too long so I prefer to draft my full review and go back to edit it afterwards. This is a very insightful and interesting post, Stephen!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, I have always been interested in how others write their reviews, and the great thing is there are so many ways of doing it well. It always means a lot to me that you enjoy reading my reviews, and I love your style too. When I read your reviews, I can see the amount of thought that goes into them πŸ™‚
      Thank you so much, Darina!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for sharing this 😊
    I struggle with reviewing narrative and writing style and this really helps 😁

    I adore your reviews, they give such a good idea about the books and the in-depth analysis is always awesome.

    I used the awesome or amazing so much πŸ˜… that sometimes I have to open a thesaurus just to get some other words πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

    Have a great day and happy reading 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  14. this was such a helpful post! I don’t have a blog but I occasionally try to post some reviews on goodreads and I really struggle with it. Thank you for posting!

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I found this very interesting and I admire your relatively structured process writing reviews. Sometimes, I wish I were more structured, but I find that many books inspire me to write a certain type review and my reviews vary a lot both in tone and content depending on the book.
    It’s interesting what you say about 650-950 words. I think most of my reviews are within this range, but I’m always worried, when I hit the upper end, because I don’t know if people have the patience to read such long reviews. But that is a separate discussion, I guess.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you! That makes a lot of sense, sometimes the book does have a great effect on how a review will take shape.
      On the subject of long reviews, I think that as long as they are well written and that, to a certain extent, other bloggers are interested in what you have to say, I don’t think it’s a problem. But I completely understand where you’re coming from! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I really liked hearing about how you post your reviews! They’re always so in-depth and now I know your secret! I always write little notes for the books I’m reading because I am quite forgetful and also, I juggle multiple books at a time; writing little notes as I go along helps me keep everything straight in my head.
    Awesome post!

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I really like the structure I came up with for my reviews. First, I give a synopsis of the book (that I write myself) that helps me remind myself of the set up for the book. Then, I give another overview of what the book is really about (less blurby, more summary) then I explain the genre it’s in, major tropes to be expected, and what the plot is in a few short sentences. The bigger chunks are where I talk about what I thought was good, okay, or bad, and I give a last final thoughts section to weigh the good and the bad as well as give myself a paragraph that I can put on Goodreads as a review.

    Liked by 1 person

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