Why write a book review?
Love it or hate it; what’s your motivation to write a review?
- For the reader, you’ll have fun organizing your vague feelings about a book into a compelling evaluation, wield power and influence over that book’s sales, and maybe even earn money for your review (see below).
- For the author, reviews bring critical attention for your title to stand out in a very crowded world, where 2.4 million new books have been published so far in 2021, each of which has a 1 percent chance of getting onto a shelf in a bookstore and sells an average of just 200 copies.
Readers, you may not realize how much your individual posting on a book you adored or despised may alter the outcome of that book’s success in reaching readers and selling copies. Read on for proof …
Success and Failure Due to Book Reviews
Reviews Absolutely Make or Break a Book
The vast competition in book publishing prevents most books, no matter their quality, from getting in front of readers’ eyeballs. As an author who published my first magazine piece at age eighteen, I’ve placed hundreds of articles and blog posts in print and online and published four nonfiction books; and I assure you, the publishing industry has completely shifted during my career.
Publishers No Longer Market Your Book
My first book, God Among the Shakers: A Search for Stillness and Faith at Sabbathday Lake, explored the history of the Shaker Christian community in the U.S. and gave an insider’s glimpse into the communal life shared by the few remaining members in Maine. Published by a mid-sized company, Hyperion, the book received reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, The Boston Herald, The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and more, and it sold thousands of copies–which today would be considered a triumph.
Fast forward to 2021, when my young co-author Sanam Yusuf and I published the third book in my series on ordinary and extraordinary people in diverse careers: MY JOB Gen Z: Finding Your Place in a Fast-Changing World. The first two volumes had sold fairly well, but that’s probably because I hired interns, marketing assistants, and even a book publicity firm to get reviews and interviews out there.
Failure: My Own New Book
This time, exhausted by both the Covid pandemic and the heavy lift now required by authors–who, unless you are a massive bestseller (and even if you’re published by one of the “Big Five“), must produce their own platform for and marketing to their audience–I dedicated zero effort to obtaining reviews.
Result: since the book was published in March 2021, we’ve sold fewer than one hundred copies.
Maybe I’m biased, but I believe the book has value in three ways:
- Research on and survey of members of Generation Z reveals what they value in life and work
- Vignettes by and about both ordinary and famous Gen Zers shows how to nab your first job and build up to your dream job
- Extensive career-building resources provide ways to organize your search for an internship or job, interview, negotiate your rights and salary, safeguard your mental health, and balance your work/life.
My coauthor and I have heard nothing but positive feedback from those who have actually read our book, but that’s not enough. Potential new readers have no idea we exist.
Success: Reviews on Social Media
YA (Young Adult) author Adam Silvera had met with initial success upon the publication of his new science-fiction love story, They Both Die at the End, in 2017.
“The book made history as the first YA novel with queer Latinx characters to hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestsellers list,” says Deadline.com, which also reports that the novel is being adapted for television by EOne (Entertainment One).
However, sales had stagnated–until this year, when Silvera suddenly saw an upsurge in sales. He had no idea why … until he learned that readers on BookTok, a sub-platform on Instagram, had seized ahold of his book and propelled it into fame.
An example of a fan’s review here.
The author’s surprised reaction on BookTok here.
Not only has Silvera gained wealth, power, and independence in his career as an author, he’s been cited as a role model for his openness on his ongoing struggles with depression, veracity in his experience with LGBTQI gender and sexuality, and leadership as a young Latinx author.
I.e., the sum of thousands of reviews on social media have solidified Silvera’s credibility and career.
3 Easy Steps to Write Your Own Review
- Provide a summary: What is story about? Who are the main characters and what is the main conflict?
- Present your evaluation: What did you think of the book? What elements worked well, and which ones didn’t?
- Give your recommendation: Would you recommend this book to others? If so, what kinds of readers will enjoy it?
- What’s the narrative point of view—first-person, second, third, limited or omniscient? Are there multiple narrators? Rate their credibility, any biases, whether they know more (omniscience) than they should, and how that impacts the story.
- What’s the setting—where and when? Does the book jump around in place and time? How does that affect your confusion or insight into what’s happening?
- Does the book strike you as a natural follow-on to another?—e.g., “Readers who relished The Hunger Games will want to gobble this up.”
- Capture attention with your first (brief) sentence by sharing what’s unique and useful about this book.
- Keep your summary short and sweet, to no more than half the length of your review. Avoid spoiler alerts.
- Reach for fresh words; e.g., instead of “I loved this book,” say “This book fascinated me,” or “My worldview changed.”
- Imagine someone reading your review.—What questions might they ask? Where might they argue with you? Address those issues with a preemptive strike.
- Create a clever loop with your ending, back to your opening point, to seal the deal on your “take” on the book.
- Make grandiose claims, e.g., “Author X solves the great mysteries of time.” Instead of extravagance and hyperbole, offer comments that you can back up with clear examples from the book.
- Use fancy, flouncy syntax just because it sounds pretty. Get to the point with as much brevity as possible.
- Repeat any words or points. Hunt them down and eliminate those clones!
- Show off your knowledge of literature, this genre, or really anything. It will drive your readers away post-haste.
- No gushing or vitriol. State what you value about/object to the book in a calm manner, and readers will trust you.
Get Paid for Your Book Reviews
If you’ve had so much fun writing your review that you want to turn it into cash or even a side gig, check out these resources for where to submit:
- Seven places that pay you to write book reviews: https://www.thepennyhoarder.com/make-money/side-gigs/get-paid-to-review-books/
- Seventeen places that pay you to write book reviews (Note that this one accepts both written and video reviews): https://reedsy.com/discovery/blog/get-paid-to-read
- Other writing contests that pay $$$: https://blog.reedsy.com/writing-contests/
- What NOT to do in your book review: thirteen common mistakes: https://lithub.com/13-common-mistakes-in-book-reviewing-and-how-to-avoid-them/
Most of all, have fun being opinionated, back up your claims, and relish your might as a publishing influencer!