By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
A large part of blackcoffeepoet.com is dedicated to writing book reviews. I also write book reviews for other publications.
I remember writing my first book review in grade five. I had to write one book review a month and I always looked forward to it.
Most of the books I read and reviewed in grade five were bought via mail from the Scholastic company. Do you remember them? I’d order three or four books at a time and eagerly wait for them to arrive. And I’d visit World’s Biggest Bookstore in downtown Toronto a couple of times a month with my mom on top of visiting my local library once or twice a week.
It’s fair to say that books have always been a part of my life. And writing reviews throughout my academic career—grade school, high school, and university—prepared me for the reviews I write today. Here are some suggestions for writing book reviews I’ve come up with over the years:
Read the book. This sounds simple but you’d be surprised at how many people do not read a book (entirely or at all) before writing a review. I remember a university professor telling a seminar class I was part of that she had written reviews after reading the back of, and preface, of books. Gross!
Be an active reader. Take notes, highlight, write in the margins of the book; journal about the book; talk about the book with someone.
Re-read the book. If you do not have time, go over your notes and read the parts you liked and disliked.
Plan out the review. Look over your notes and see what you want readers to know. Organize your points from most to least important. Read other reviews and see what reviewers are not talking about. Be different.
Think about your audience. Who reads your work? What do they like? What politics do they believe and uphold? Are they political or apolitical? Do they like long or short reviews? Do they like lots of quotations? Do they prefer an overview or an in-depth review?
Include info about the author. Are you familiar with the work of the author you are reviewing? Is your audience familiar with the author? Reference their previous work. Opine whether this new book is as good, better, or worse than their previous books. Give some background info on the author: how they started writing, where they are from, where they are now.
Hook the reader in. Start your review with a line that is eye catching and mentally stimulating. I often use a quote from the book, or I describe the cover, or I give my opinion.
State your opinion. Is the book amazing, mediocre, or crap? Say it. Be honest. Be bold. And back up your opinion with quotes and observations. A reader will appreciate your opinion from the strong argument your provide them. You are critiquing the book, not summarizing it!
Do not include new material in the conclusion. Your last paragraph should be a wrap up of the review. Don’t start a new argument or make new points. A conclusion is an ending not a beginning.
Do not bash! You can be critical without bashing a writer. It’s a review not a boxing match.
Do not make the review personal. You are reviewing the book not the author’s character. And if there is a conflict of interest between you and the author then do not review their book. I know authors I do not like personally and I do not review their book(s); it would not be fair. Of course, there are some exceptions. One of my favourite short story writer’s is someone I cannot stand! But they write good fiction and I have written favourable reviews of their work; it goes back to integrity and honesty. Generally, I stay away from reviewing books by authors I do not like personally.
Remember: “The same people you see on your way up are the same people you see on your way down.” It’s a small world. Someone might be reviewing your book one day. The same energy you give out comes back at you.
I hope this helps! Get reading and get writing.
If you appreciate the work I do consider treating me to a coffee or making a donation to blackcoffeepoet.com. Click on the CONTACT page above to find out how.