Why you should write book reviews

You too should write a book review
You too should write a book review. Maybe not for this book.

I never used to understand people who wrote book reviews. You’ve already read the book, so writing a review isn’t going to help you decide whether to read it, and it’s an awful lot of effort.

But I’ve spent some time thinking about the matter, and I’ve concluded that there are five good reasons and two bad reasons to write a book review.

Good reasons to write a book review

1) You have an opinion

You have an opinion. In fact, you have many opinions. They’re all brilliant, and sharing them with the world will force everyone to acknowledge how brilliant you are. And, perhaps more importantly, how right you are.

So if it makes you happy to have opinions on books and share them with the world, you should do it. At worst, we’ll ignore you.

2) As a civil service to others readers

This is a selfless reason to write a book review.

You know the decision to purchase and read a new book is difficult. What if the book’s no good? What if you don’t enjoy it, you’re bored by it, or you’re even offended? Reading a whole book is a big time commitment, not to mention the 99c to $5.99 you spent on it.

As a perceptive individual, you realise readers the world over are faced with just this problem, and you’ve made it your life purpose to help them in any way you can. You can help them by providing information on this book that will help them decide whether they’ll regret buying it.

You deserve a medal.

3) You loved it and want to share

Sometimes you read a book that you absolutely adore. It grabs you by the heart, flings you to and fro, and finally abandons you breathless in a sweaty, delighted heap.

What do you do? You tell all your friends, obviously. You buy a megaphone and shout from the rooftops how wonderful this book is and that everyone’s lives will be improved if only they read it.

At first people listen. Eventually they start throwing garbage at you.

But you can’t shut up about how fabulosis (shut up, this could be a real word) this book is even though none of your friends talk to you any more and even your parents are avoiding your calls.

The appropriate response to this situation is to go online and write a review. Then you can share the marvel that is this book with the whole world.

4) You hated it and want to vent

Other times you read a book that makes you want to tear out your eyeballs with your toenails. The characters are cardboard stereotypes of that hideously racist girl who used to live next door, but without her endearing affection for stray rats, and yet the author portrays them as heroes.

The plot, if it exists at all, is a string of unconnected and improbable events that nonetheless manages to be as interesting as toilet paper packaging (don’t tell me you never read this).

Or the author has decided a novel is the perfect way to proselytise, and his magnum opus is nine hundred pages of scarcely veiled rants about why women are the devil and should be kept chained barefoot to the kitchen sink.

You need to vent about how dreadful and offensive this book is, but again your social circle has become inexplicably unavailable to meet for your usual get-togethers.

A book review is a perfect way to get this rant off your chest.

5) You love the author

Authors love reviews. Especially the glowing ones, but even the mediocre ones, and some more evolved authors even appreciate bad reviews.

So suppose you’ve fallen in love with an author. There are many things you can do—stalk him online and send him a dozen emails a day, send him love letters full of dried rose petals via his agent, hire a private investigator to find out where he lives so you can follow him around, leave a packet of his favourite chocolate biscuits on his doorstep and watch through binoculars as he eats them, serenade him by moonlight from under his window—but you shouldn’t do these things because they’re super creepy and maybe even illegal.

Much better is to do something that the author will appreciate, like giving his book a thoughtful review full of well-earned praise. Yes, this will be received even better than the chocolate biscuits, I promise.

Bad reasons to write a book review

1) You hate the author and want to attack her publicly

Do I need to tell you why this is a bad reason to write a book review? Really?

Okay, let’s pretend I do.

First, attacking a person publicly is not a nice thing to do, and I’m sure you’re a nice person.

Second, you’re supposed to be reviewing the book, not the person. Unless you’re trying to help people decide whether to buy the author (bad, also illegal in many countries), stick to talking about the book.

2) Chocolate

Wait, what?

Okay, the question of whether you should review a book in exchange for payment probably doesn’t have a black and white answer. Though it’s clear you should be upfront in any compensated review about the compensation you received.

“I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.”

“I received a box of chocolate and two sacrificial goats in exchange for a misleading and dishonest review.”

I hope you didn’t actually sacrifice the goats, even if they did eat the washing.

Update March 2020: According to Amazon’s new rules, you’re not allowed to write a review in exchange for sacrificial goats. Sorry.

Are you qualified to write a book review?

At some point you might stop and ask if you’re qualified to write a book review.

It hadn’t occurred to me to ask this, but then I stumbled across the literary criticism police.

The literary criticism police
The literary criticism police

The argument of these delightful personages seems to run something like this:

There are plebs out there on the interweb who don’t have MFAs and have never studied the elegant art and subtle science of literary criticism, and yet they dare to have an Opinion on a book. The world of literary critique is becoming polluted with their uninformed Opinions and soon we’ll all be canoeing to work through sewage.

Perhaps I paraphrase.

I reject this elitist view held by the literary criticism police. Just because they have big guns, it doesn’t mean they get to keep all the fun for themselves.

Instead, I’m going to provide you with a set of simple criteria that will tell you whether you’re qualified to review a book.

1) Can you read? Or does someone like you enough to read the book to you?

2) Can you write? This includes dictating to someone else who writes for you, blinking out your review in Morse code, or transmitting your review to digital format via a psychic link.

3) Do you have an opinion on the book? Some people would argue this is optional. I disagree. A book review that merely summarises the plot is called a spoiler.

4) Have you read the book, or at least made a serious effort to do so? Let me pre-empt your next question. A “serious effort” means you’ve read at least the first fifty-two pages.

Some people will dispute number 4 is a requirement. I dispute their disputation. In my opinion, having heard from a friend, pastor, or a random guy on Twitter that said book is brilliant/terrible does not qualify you to review it.

To summarise, if you can read, write, have read the book, and have something to say about it then you’re qualified to review it. No matter whether you can tell a character arc from the Arc de Triomph, or whether you can list the five/seven major plot points and the fifteen/eighty-seven minor ones. You’re not nominating the book for a prestigious literary award. You’re helping other readers–people like you–decide if they might enjoy it.

If you’re still on the fence about reviews, remember: books reviews make the literary world go round. And if the literary world stops spinning then we’re all in trouble.

Not sure how to write a review? The charming and talented S. Hunter Nisbet gives some easy-to-follow and utterly unscary guidelines.

So now you know why and how to review a book, go forth and review!

Do you review books? Why or why not? Would you ever give a terrible review?

If you enjoyed this post, why not share it with your friends? Who knows—the book they choose to review may be yours.

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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

15 thoughts on “Why you should write book reviews”

    1. I suspect a lot of people don’t consider reviewing until they’re writing themselves. I know I didn’t. I’d like to review more than I do, but reviews intimidate me. I worry about being wrong, about whether there’s really any validity in my opinion. But I think there can be a lot of value in reviews, especially if they’re done thoughtfully, and as part of becoming a better literary citizen I’m going to try to post more of them.

  1. I have to confess I only started writing book reviews when I decided to start publishing my own books. It never even occurred to me before that, although I did recommend books I enjoyed to friends and family. Even now I write reviews sporadically – sometimes I just can’t think of anything to say about a book I just finished.

    I agree with this post, especially with the four points what makes you qualified to review a book. A review doesn’t have to be spectacularly thorough or well-composed, and you don’t have to be a specialist or a professional of any sort. It’s really the personal opinion that counts. The way I see it, once you’ve bought a book you’ve also bought yourself the right to express your opinion on it. I also think critical reviews are just as important as the positive ones. My book received its first two-star review just a while ago and I was THRILLED. 😀 Now I know a reason why some people don’t like the book. I’m of course thrilled about the positive reviews too; they tell me what I’ve done well.

    I’ve noticed on myself that writing critical reviews is harder than writing positive reviews – I’m worried that I upset the author (or worse: their fans), but yeah. I should be learn to be braver. So far no one has bitten my head off.

    Thank you for this post, I occasionally need a reminder like this that writing (honest! non-spiteful!) book reviews benefits the whole writing world. 🙂 We should keep doing it.

    1. “Once you’ve bought a book you’ve also bought yourself the right to express your opinion on it.” Yes! I love this and I totally agree. And no one has the right to tell you your opinion is wrong.

      Sometimes I have the problem of not knowing what to say too. But mainly the reason I finish a book and don’t review it is that I’m scared to put my opinion out there. So I’m resolving to become a better literary citizen and do more book reviews. Just take a breath and jump in. I finished reading a book last night and this weekend I’m going to write a review for it. Yes I am. Yes I am. Deep breaths.

      Congratulations on your first two star review! (I think.) It’s awesome that you can view unfavourable reviews as learning experiences. That’s what we all aspire to, but I think some of us fail miserably. 🙂

    2. It is so nice to hear that you enjoyed the 2 star review you got! I am an incredibly critical reader and can pick out grammatical errors and plot holes a mile away. I’ve had the opportunity to write 3 bad reviews based on the “free book for an honest review” exchange. I really wanted to be nice to the authors, so I warned the first one and he said “don’t post it, thanks” so I didn’t. The second, I didn’t ask because I didn’t know her as well. I gave her 3 stars though the book only deserved two. I currently am about to review the third (same author) and the book was a solid 3.5 for me, but I think I’m going to ask her if she wants me to post my review or not. I feel so bad about it! I’d rather NOT read ARC copies and “free copy for honest review” books because they never seem to work out for me 🙁 I can never tell if the authors actually want honesty or not.

      1. I haven’t been in that situation – getting a free book in exchange for an honest review and thinking it was bad – but I feel you on the difficulty. It was nice to get a free book and you want it to be amazing, but what if it isn’t? I like your solution of asking the author if they want you to post the review. Do you mind if I use it? 🙂

  2. I am infinitely guilty of having a gigantic bookshelf of books I love…and never having reviewed one of them online. Like you said above, I didn’t think about reviewing until I started writing. I’m forcing myself, from here on out, to review every book I read. It takes so little time, but is so important.

    Loved the post, by the way. Very funny! Now everyone please stop throwing garbage.

    1. Every book! That’s admirable. I’m super impressed. I think I’ll aim at “most books”, which gives me more leeway to have absolutely no opinion about a few. 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Now I’ll go pick the garbage out of my hair.

  3. It’s funny because I rely on reviews myself when I’m on the fence about certain books. I LOVE good reviews and can always spot them amongst the “this author uses too many curse words, 1 star” and “this book is flawless, 5 stars (posted by family)”

    But I’m too disorganized myself to write solid reviews. If I did it more often, the practice would help, but for now, I mainly write short ones that only focus on a few things that stood out to me. I also only review books that I felt VERY strongly about, like five star reads. I hate being mean so I’ve only written one bad review of a book (I commented about it above).

    1. I find reviews helpful too, especially the bad ones. If a bad review harps on about a pet peeve of mine, that’s a great sign I shouldn’t buy the book. Positive reviews that are specific can help as well. “I loved this book” doesn’t tell me anything, but “I loved the banter between the characters” does.

      I think it’s great that you write reviews, and I’m sure even talking about a few things that stood out for you will help other people.

      I’m like you – I hate saying bad things about books. I saw your offer to beta read on your website (and I may just take you up on that at some point), and you say you’d rather give feedback before a book comes out so you can help make it better, rather than just pointing out what’s wrong with it after it reaches it final form. I love this and I totally agree!

  4. I’m usually too lazy to review books, but I’m glad people do. Reading 1 star reviews of books that I’d give 5 to are always entertaining!!!
    Good post!!

    1. I should review more than I do as well. I’m working on it!

      You’re right, some of the critical reviews of great books are hilarious. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the people were serious or were competing for some “most ridiculous bad review” prize.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  5. Very good post. I do occasionally write reviews on Amazon, almost always about books that I love (reason #3) because I want them to succeed so the author keeps writing brilliant books! To be fair, however, literary criticism in academia almost always has nothing to do with the type of book reviews you are talking about. Literary criticism is usually more an evaluation of a book’s place in the world and how it interrogates culture, rather than if it is good or not and why. It’s not really qualitative at all, but more like “Downton Abbey reinforces modern classism by glorifying the mores of the cultural elite.” I do, however, see your point and think it’s ridiculous for people to think that only someone who has studied literature can have an opinion about it.

    1. You’re 100% right. Literary criticism in academia is an entirely different beast to books reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, and most people will be entirely happy if it stays in academia. Out here in the world of sand and mud, readers just want to know if they’re going to enjoy the book.

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