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How to write a decent review

Lots of us have friends who are authors. Every author needs reviews, and you may be asked to write a review of a book you’ve read: a review that is fair and honest. You might have received the book for free in exchange for a review.

But oh so many of us haven’t written a review. Or we haven’t written anything that’s any closer than a book report. A good review is a mix of opinion and reporting. By good, I don’t mean positive. I mean a review that’s going to help another reader decide to invest the time in the book. The money is never the question these days, with just about everything $10 or less. The worst thing anybody can say about a movie is something like, “Well, that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.” There’s even more at stake with a book, which demands a lot more time.

So how to write a decent review? You start with what you remember. Tell us about the one thing that stood out during your reading. Places, maybe, or the smoothness of the storytelling. Language purity, if that mattered to you. Perhaps the surprises made you take note of the book.

Start out with adjectives if you can. Prospective readers remember these opinions when they decide to shop in their bookstore or click an online button. Specific adjectives help the most, but you also want to make room for things like “made me smile.” Below are sentences from an example review from Indie Next, the newsletter sent to booksellers by the American Library Association. I’ll start with each review sentence, then detail what’s going on.

Fresh, irreverent, and funny, Red, White & Royal Blue is a delight and a treasure.

Review the book by name first, then the author. Opening up your review is better when you describe the book by its title, instead of by its author, on the first reference.

With subtle jabs, Casey McQuiston pokes fun at both the public face of the British monarchy as well as the back-door politicking that dominates the U.S. political scene.

This is the high-level story summary, something you can probably take out of the book’s listing or the back cover copy. Make it your own, if you can, with some revision.

The story follows the self-centered Alex Claremont-Diaz (America’s First Son) and his interactions with British Prince Henry of Wales. As hostility increases between two political scions forced into a sham friendship, we see the framework of political destiny and duty begin to fray. Little by little, hostility turns to something else entirely.

This is where a decent review will recap the beginning of the plot. The first line usually mentions the characters by name. After that, we get a sentence or two where we see what the trouble will be inside the story.

This is a story about happiness–and, more importantly, honesty–for those who live their lives in the public eye.

This is where you can wrap up by telling us the big meaning of the book which you took away for your own. If you can rely on the phrase “this is a story for,” then it helps tell readers quickly if the book will be right for them. Point them at something else you’ve read that’s similar to the book.

You can’t ever say the wrong thing in your review, so long as it’s what you believe. You try to avoid criticizing the writer and stick to the critique of the storytelling and the writing.

Reviews are more essential than ever for everything, from shows to movies to books. We all have a platform to stand upon to share our opinions. If you keep your review language to something that you’d be able to repeat to the author, you know you’re in the realm of good conduct while you’re being honest.