The Elements of a Good Book Review

book reviewIf you are a writer then you know that a good book review is one important part of the process of marketing your book successfully. While we encounter book reviews frequently, whether in a blog or in The New York Times, we often take for granted just how much that piece of content can impact our decision to read a book. Believe it or not, there is a method to writing an effective book review: a summary, analysis, and most importantly laying out for your audience the benefits of reading or not reading a book. No matter when you are called to review a book, whether on a place like Amazon or your blog, reviews all share a basic structure.

The Summary
If there is one thing that consistently throws writers off is summarizing something. The type of summary that you provide in a book review is not about giving each and every single detail, but about giving the important details. This is something you may have already heard in the past, but actively using this advice is not as easy to do. When summarizing a book the important question to ask yourself is, “What is the main point of this book and what does it aim to accomplish?” It’s not until you answer this crucial question that you can move on to identifying the how: how it is that the author gets (or doesn’t) to his or her main point.

It isn’t until we summarize a book that we begin to see its flaws and virtues. We immediately notice the gaps in a writer’s argument and if it’s fiction, we begin to evaluate the artistic merits of the work. Ultimately the summary section of a book review (which usually goes first) should aim to balance what the author attempted to say versus what the author actually said.

The “analysis” part of a book review is your critique. It is often woven in with the summary because it is your opportunity to point out where the author missed the mark and refer to the summary while doing so. Of course, you can also take it as an opportunity to praise the author. It’s your chance to point out where the author can expand and whether or not the center of gravity of the book needs to be shifted. If you are a writer completing a book review for a colleague, this is a chance to offer professional advice and also to place yourself as a voice of authority and knowledge in your particular area. Although it’s “for someone else,” a book review can actually help you build a brand as an expert, particularly the analysis.

Call to Action
We find calls to action almost everywhere, from press releases to websites. A call to action is simple: it calls the reader to do something. Some book reviews can show bias in favor of the book (thus “calling” the reader to purchase the book), but it’s also possible to make a call to action that is less focused on making a sale. For instance, if you voluntarily review a book by a writer you admire, your call to action could be as simple as asking the reader to weigh the importance of the book’s message. In fact, this particular call to action can help you associate your authorial “brand” with the ideas of another author.

Whether writing as a writer for hire or out of interest and passion, everyone should be able to master writing a book review. If you are a writer, being able to review something well can have certain benefits for your professional persona—you can position yourself as an expert, associate your brand with another author, or simply use it as an effective marketing tool.