Friday, 20 May 2016

Top Dos and Don'ts for writing Book Reviews

By Gillian Hamer

As part of the Bookmuse arm of Triskele Books, I am proud that our work in supporting fellow authors was recognised by Goodreads last month, voting us one of their Top 1% Reviewers.

During a recent internal discussion about a new review we had received for consideration, it occurred to me that there is a real art and skill to producing a top quality book review. Something we have learned as second nature over time, does actually need a lot of thought and process to produce.

‘If you want to make an author smile, then review their book’ is something often seen quoted online. But in all honesty, a badly constructed review can often be worse than none at all.

I thought it might be helpful to other readers, new to reviewing, to put down a few of the unspoken ‘rules’ we follow when reviewing books for Bookmuse.

Here’s a summary of some useful Dos and Don’ts to consider:


Try to stick to the 30% rule – that is to say have no more than a third maximum of the review made up of a resume of the novel. The reader wants to read it for themselves!

Stick to the job in hand – Whilst it’s fine to offer personal recommendations, keep to the book content and don’t meander off topic or bore readers. A location may well resonate with you but others won’t care where you spent your childhood holidays!

Have a list of questions you keep in mind when writing a review – and by the end of the piece try to answer as many of them as possible. Eg: Strength of characters, believability of plot, pace and style, dialogue and voice. Try to cover all of these in your feedback.

Remember why you’re writing the review in the first place – to inform prospective readers about your honest thoughts on the book. This isn’t about you, so you should take a back seat.

Support an author – remember not all books will be to your taste. That doesn’t mean you should hammer the book because of it. Keep that in mind along with the motto ‘if you can’t be nice, be polite.’ Writers are humans first and foremost.

Include comparisons if you can – authors need their egos stroking now and then. If a book really did put you in mind of another book by a bestselling, established author, don’t be afraid to say so.

Always be honest about recommending a book. That’s one of the best things you can offer an author.


Never let your own personal tastes run away with you in a book review, trust me the reviewer usually comes out looking worse than the author.

Try not to call the author anything other than their full name or ‘the author’. Even if you know them it doesn’t need to be in the review, keep it professional at all times.

Avoid clich├ęs and be original. The book may well be a ‘page-turner’ with a ‘nerve-wracking climax’ that was totes ‘unputdownable’ – but you can do better than that, right?

Take care with spoilers – there really is no need or excuse for them. You may have been shocked when the main character was killed in chapter one but does that need to be in a review? Even if you can’t be wholly positive about a book, there’s no need to spoil it for anyone else.

Never copy and paste the synopsis of the book into a review – it’s lazy and pointless. We all know how to Google!

Never use a book review as ‘payback’ for a poor review on another book – leave that to the schoolyard.

Never engage in debate about a negative review – smile, say thank you, and move on. If it’s your own book it can only end badly, and if you are trying to support an author, it only gives it more publicity.

Remember writers are human too – there are always ways to give negative feedback in a positive manner.

Finally, remember reviews are all personal opinion. You are entitled to your opinion just like anyone else. It doesn’t make you right or wrong. Your view is one among hundreds.

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