How to write a fiction book review

I used to write reviews for a magazine. I started to write reviews on but life events sidetracked that for a few months. Also, I’ve learned I prefer to interview creators rather than reviewing their work. With the explosion of book blogs, I’ve seen some good reviews and some bad.
I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to reviewing a book, I’m a harsh critic. Particularly with Christian fiction. I hold authors to the standard of giants like CS Lewis, Tolkien, and McDonald. Still, I always try to find something positive about a work I review. Perhaps that sounds odd, but you can write a bad story and still write well. If you don’t believe me, read Maximum Ride. I’m not sure if the opposite can be true.
Do self-published works get a pass over gross negligence in grammatical and spelling errors? After reading some samples of said reviewed material, I have to wonder if the critics read the same pages. I’m just wondering.

The level of grace and niceness I see some reviewers granting their authors confuses me. Are book blogs all about making friends and getting free books?  When I wrote reviews for magazines, it was all about whether the book had value intrinsically and monetarily. Do you feel as though your reviews have lost those two key attributes? I wish more reviewers weren’t so quick to give five-star reviews. They do know that means perfect? Right?
Just in case Anyone is curious, you’d have to be dead for me to give a 5 star. It’s that longevity thing. Either that or be Dave Eggers.

5 Star Review requirements: Be Dave or dead.

So if you want to write good reviews let me break it down:
1. Again, first two questions: is it worth reading? Is it worth paying __ for? Your first paragraph should tell me whether the book is good and your last graph should tell me if it’s worth the price of admission.
2. What is the book about? Keep it to the central plot and characters. Avoid giving too much away or using cliches like, “surprising twists.”
3. Are the characters believable? Is the prose well-written? Again, well-written doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great story.
4. Give positive (if any) and negative (if any) feedback. Even if this is your favorite author, you are only improving their skills if you honestly tell them where they fell short of your expectations. After they’ve had a good cry, of course.
5. Who is this book for? Keep in mind who the author/publisher is targeting as an audience. Does it work for that demographic?
5. Don’t tell me you liked the cover. This is just a pet peeve. You’re not reviewing a graphic design. You’re reviewing what’s inside the book.
6. If you’re submitting this for publication somewhere other than your blog or website, follow their guidelines. Read other reviews on the site or in the magazine.

Did I miss anything? What do you think makes a good review?


About Keith Osmun

This entry was posted in books, reviews, writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to write a fiction book review

  1. Peggy Strack says:

    Great tips! I’d like to start leaving some reviews on Amazon and this was helpful. Thanks!

  2. Awesome tips! My sentiments exactly, I completely agree that some reviewers are too nice and don’t really give their honest opinion.

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