We have a lot of book reviews here at Pop Culture Beast, so how about some tips for you to learn to write your own reviews? Maybe you can come on board with us and write about your favorite books!
It’s impossible to know exactly how many books are published each year, but it’s clear that the numbers have exploded, in large measure due to digital editions and self-publishing. One estimate found more than 300,000 different titles appearing from traditional publishers in the United States in a single year, while 700,000 self-published titles appeared. That means that one million books are published every year, in a country where only 256 million books are sold. That means that the average book sells just 250 copies. To get a book to stand out from the crowd, it needs publicity and that means book reviews to get the word out. So how can you improve your book review writing skills so you can be a major influencer and help decide which of the million annual titles becomes a best-seller? We have some tips.
- Know the conventions of what to talk about. A book review will typically summarize the plot of a novel or the argument of a nonfiction book. However, there are some conventions about how to discuss the content of a book. First, don’t give away the ending. The ending is a surprise for the reader, so you want to leave them to discover it for themselves. Similarly, it’s important to avoid giving away major twists or surprises that could ruin the reader’s enjoyment of the book. This is less important for nonfiction, where the facts are already known, but you should try to avoid spoiling major developments or particularly important arguments so that the reader has something to discover when reading the book.
- Research the writer and the genre for context. While some authors are so famous that there is no need to discuss their biographies and backgrounds, for most you will need to identify them to your audience. This requires some research. Discuss the author’s background and experience and what qualifies him or her to write this book. Talk, too, about the author’s past books for context. Beyond this, it’s helpful to explain where the current book fits into its genre. How does it reflect current trends in the field? Are there competing books that are better or worse?
- Keep it constructive. It can be tempting to turn a book review into a laundry list of things you didn’t like about a book. While this can be effective for the rare book that is a complete disaster, for most books it’s important to take a constructive tone and talk about how the author might have approached the story more effectively. Talking about how to tell the story better is a more effective approach than criticizing what you don’t like. It might also encourage future writers, or even the current author, to do better next time. Avoid personal attacks on the author and focus instead on the book itself.
- Write for your audience, not for publishers. Avoid book industry and marketing jargon in your reviews, especially industry favorite words like “relatable” and “unputdownable.” You are not paid to advertise the book, and it shouldn’t sound like you are writing a commercial for it. Avoid clichés to praise a book, such as “sending a chill down my spine” or “ripped from the headlines.” This isn’t a movie trailer. It’s a book review and should be written conversationally for your average, educated reader.
- Explain why your readers should care. As mentioned above, your readers have one million new books to choose from each year and five million from the past five years. If you read ten books per day, it would take nearly 274 years to read every book published in just one year—an impossibility even if you lived twice the lifespan of the oldest living person. Tell your reader why the book you are reviewing is worth selecting above a million other titles, or why it isn’t. A good review helps the reader to decide whether to read a book—it’s not just the entertainment value of the reviewer’s opinion.
- Seek professional help. It can be helpful to seek professional guidance to craft the best reviews possible. Some professional book reviewers might be willing to mentor younger reviewers or offer tips to help improve a reviewer’s work. It can also be helpful to use a custom book review writing service where a professional writer will craft an engaging custom review for you so you can see how an expert might review the same book.
Garon Cockrell is the Founder and Editor of Pop Culture Beast and host of The Pop Culture Beast Show. He founded the site over seven years ago to have a place on the internet to write about the things he loved. Since then, Garon has become a best-selling author (Demonic and Other Tales), an award winning screenwriter (Best Screenplay 2013 Motor City Nightmares Film Festival), and a cast member on the top rated podcast, Never Not Funny.