The 4 steps to writing a book review

What are the four stages in writing a book review?

It is easy to get stuck when you sit down to write a book review. If you’re struggling to begin, perhaps you’ve skipped a step or two. If you still haven’t established a process to make reviewing go smoothly, we have some tips for you. Here is the easiest way to start writing a book review, complete it, and everything in between.


1. Preparation: Read and Think

The book reviewing process begins in active reading and reflection. It goes without saying that you should take notes as you read. What’s more important is the quality of those notes. It is not enough to jot down the names and relations between characters and to define who, when, where, and why. You’re not reconstructing an event; you’re reviewing a work of fiction – or literary non-fiction. Things are a bit more complex in literature. This stage requires you to be alert to any subtle message, unusual use of language, themes big and small, literary devices, and hidden (and obvious) meanings.

I know some people are allergic to the notion of meaning in books as it reminds them of the distinction between literary and genre fiction, but I’m actually talking about both. Take any great work of genre fiction, and you will find a theme that is characteristic for the genre – but you’ll also find other themes introduced in some characters’ backgrounds or a certain plot twist. You may notice that a perfectly ordinary theme has been introduced in an unusual way. It is not true that, within a genre, all books resemble each other. If the book has any value, a difference certainly exists – and your job as a reviewer is to identify it.


2. Incubation: Unconscious Work

It turns out we’re lazy with a purpose. You don’t have to be an expert in psychology to notice that conscious and unconscious processes overlap and mingle in all kinds of ways when we’re being creative. Yes, book reviewing absolutely does require creativity – as well as the appreciation of the author’s inventiveness.

Between reading and reviewing, give yourself some time – not to think but to do something completely else. Have some rest, and let your subconscious do whatever it does. Don’t think of it at all.

Make sure to sleep on it. If you’ve just finished reading a book, a review you would write tomorrow would be quite different than what you have to say now. Tomorrow you’ll see everything clearer, and your perspective might broaden a bit. What’s more important, it will spare you lots of effort and frustration, and it will minimize the risk of making your review sound forced and hard to read.


3. Writing: The Easy Part

I’m not kidding. Now that you’ve spent some time scrutinizing (step one) and internalizing (step two) the book you’re going to write about, all you have to do is to pour out the words. Still not kidding. I know very well how hard it may seem to write the first sentence of any meaningful text. Luckily, you don’t have to write this sentence now. This works best if you don’t think about the final structure of your review as you write. Jot down a couple of key things that you noticed in the book. Start explaining them one by one. Then add more when you remember more things worth mentioning.

As you write about some of the most obvious traits of the book, you might notice that you’ve tackled something else. Then expand on it. When you finish reading all that you had in mind, you’ll have more material than you need for a great review. Now you can write a catchy introductory paragraph and a conclusion that summarizes what you’ve already written. You can skip the introduction and conclusion if you’re writing a short Amazon review – the in medias res approach works great online.


4. Finalizing: Editing and Rewriting

Now that you have your first draft, it is time to think of the structure, the logical sequence of your findings, and fixing any style issues. Edit, rewrite, sleep on it if you have time, and then edit it again. Delete anything that sounds boring. Cut anything that isn’t helpful for the reader. If your second paragraph sounds better than the first one, you can make a switch or delete the first paragraph altogether. The first sentence is the most important. The opening line should never sound like a clumsy attempt to say something. It is meant to inform your reader that they should pay attention to your opinion on this book.

Now read the whole book again, and ask yourself whether your review gives justice to the book. Run a spellchecker and you’re ready to post your review.


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