Guide: How to Write A Book Review

Today I'm chatting with Angela Oliver, Christchurch based writer, illustrator and GoodReads Book Reviewer. 


As someone who has written nearly 1000 reviews on Good Reads, why are reviews so important for authors?

Reviews are important because purchasing - or even reading - a book requires a certain commitment, of time and generally money, thus many readers would like to know, in advance, if they are making the right choice. Reviews are especially important for independently published or debut authors as a reader is less likely to commit to something they are unfamiliar with.

Do you have a method? Or have you developed one?

I'm not really sure I've developed a method as much as a structure, but one thing I shall say is: review as soon after you've finished the book as you can. The initial emotional impact will soften as time passes and key elements will fade from memory. When I first write up a review on Goodreads I tend to write only one or two sentences. If it is a book I am reading purely for pleasure - as opposed for one I've specifically been asked to review - I may not always elaborate past this point, especially if it is a later book in a series or hasn't left a strong imprint.

How do you start?

I begin by first noting down my general impression of the book. Here's where I will occasionally use words like “evocative” or “spell-binding”. If it is a book I didn't like, I may end up going off on a rant as to why I didn't like it. Interestingly, my rant-style reviews tend to earn more Goodreads “likes” then my positive ones. My review for THE Hundred-Year Old Man is my most “popular”.

If it is to become professional review, ie an advance copy in have specifically been asked to review, or one for the Booksellers site, then I will generally follow up with a teaser of the plot. I never exactly copy the book’s blurb, although I may refer to it to make sure I have included key points. I conclude with a general summary of my impressions including recommendations on whom I believe the book would appeal to.

Sometimes I will write a ranting-style review on Goodreads then refine it before submitting it to Booksellers. I never lie about how I felt about a book but can mostly find some redeeming features!

Do you think there’s an ideal word count to aim for?

I'm not sure how many words most of my reviews contain but I think probably between about 200-400 words. That's more for professional reviews, of course. If it's not one I've been specifically requested to review and I didn't feel particularly strongly about (either positively or negatively), then they can be very short. I think the shortest I've ever written was one word: “unremarkable”.

How do you avoid Spoilers?

I try not to reveal more than what the author or publisher has revealed in the blurb. Sometimes blurbs can give away significant plot points! I will tease that there is a twist but not say what it is - only whether it caught me unawares or not.

What’s your opinion on reviews that have Spoilers?

I'm mostly okay with that as long as they give fair warning - and Goodreads does offer the ability to hide spoilers. Of course, if I found a review that started with “I couldn't believe that Jack was the killer!!” then I'd be very annoyed. That's not a review - that's just ruining it for any other readers. If they were saying “Jill’s relationship with Jack felt unconvincing and made me uncomfortable” however, than that is highlighting the quality of the writing (or lack thereof) even if it may also be a slight spoiler.

What kind of statement might you suggest ending a review on?

I tend to try to end with a positive - often by saying who I think the book would appeal to, and why. After all, even if I hated it, that doesn't mean there isn't someone out there that would love it!

Are Amazon and Good Reads the only good places online for people to share reviews?

They're the only two I frequent! Goodreads more than Amazon, since Amazon has introduced their stricter rules around who can post reviews (which includes deleting reviews if they discover you are friends or family of the author). I can understand their reasoning for the $50 requirement thanks to sites that offered positive reviews for sale but it does make it harder for people who review ARCs. Goodreads would probably be better if people weren't allowed to review books before they were even released though. I also have book reviews on Booksellers website, but those are ones I review on request.

What’s the hardest things about reviewing books?

Trying to write a positive and professional review about a book I didn't particularly enjoy! I've found words I can use that make the negative sound more positive - which is perhaps where my writing skills are put to use!

Can you explain some of the common terms eg/ TBR, DNF, ARC?

  • TBR means: “To Be Read” and like most authors, I've quite a pile of those!
  • DNF is “Did Not Finish”. I've a few of those: sometimes no matter how promising a book sounds, the writing style or characterisation just doesn't work. And life is too short to read bad books.
  • ARC is “Advanced Review (or Reader) Copy”.

What are some tips for newbie reviews to build up a following?
Write a negative review of a popular book - you might be surprised how many people agree with you! But I guess, be honest, but not offensive, and, if you are an author that gets a negative review, don't start an argument with the reviewer!

Angela Oliver, New Zealand writer and illustrator
Angela Oliver

Angela Oliver (LemurKat) is a dedicated bibliophile and has been reviewing books online for over a decade. 
She officially reviews selected titles for Booksellers NZ. 
Since joining Goodreads in 2011, she has reviewed almost 1000 books. You can visit her Goodreads page and see what she's reading (and writing) HERE

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