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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- Main characters.
I talk about the main characters, their personality traits, how well developed they are, and if I connected with them.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
The final paragraph is 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.
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.
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 🙂