I continually urge students in all classes I teach to review books they read, explaining that doing so will turn their reading into a self-directed writing workshop.
Like many people, I always equated writing book reviews with those detested book reports we all had to write during our school years. Not so! Since rising to a challenge a few years ago to begin writing reviews, I have taken great pleasure in posting more than 70 reviews on Amazon.
Reviewing books has given me a new level of appreciation for the craft of writing. I read memoir and fiction first for pleasure, engrossed in the action and passions of the story, then double back to analyze. I’m usually more analytical when reading non-fiction, informational material. If I’m reading a print book, I use sticky flags to mark interesting passages for later consideration. I highlight passages in eBooks. When I finish reading, I go back and look at flagged or highlighted elements along with factors such as
- what made it work (or not)
- story structure
- how the characters are developed
- how backstory is woven in
- how dialogue flows
- how the author uses description and words
- which passages lit my lamp
- who I recommend the book to
I make notes on the elements listed above and use these as the basis for writing a review. In the review, I cite what I especially appreciated about the book, what worked well for me, and if I wasn’t thrilled with it, I mention why not. I have occasionally noted that popular, prolific authors have made obvious factual errors, a form of arrogance that rubs me the wrong way.
This process has not only enhanced my reading pleasure, my (re)writing has improved tremendously as a result, and I don’t know how else I would have gained as much insight into structural options.
Most people agree that reading and taking notes has value, but they are reluctant to take that next step of formalizing a review. These three reasons may answer that question for you:
- It’s great writing exercise, giving you practice in organizing your thoughts
- It builds community among readers, especially on Goodreads.com
- It’s a great way of showing your appreciation to an author for taking the time and making the effort to entertain, enlighten or educate you. Book reviews are powerful promotional tools for authors and the one tool authors can’t create for themselves.
If you are only going to post one place, Amazon gets the most exposure. It’s simple to use, though a friend recently admitted she had not figured out the process. In case you are also flummoxed, here’s the drill:
You can only post if you have an Amazon account, and you must order at least one item before your account is authorized for reviews. This is to protect the world against unscrupulous people who might open 195 accounts under various names to skew ratings with ****** or * reviews.
- Click that button.
- Click the appropriate number of stars at the top
- Enter a title for your review (anything other than the book title)
- Paste the review you’ve carefully edited in Word (or whatever) into the review window.
- Click “Preview your review” below that window.
- Read once more as a final proof.
- Click Edit to return to the previous window or Publish review to finalize it.
You can post the same review other places. Barnes & Noble welcomes reviews, and authors love to have reviews posted on Goodreads. You need to have accounts for both Barnes & Noble and Goodreads in order to post there. Watch for “post a review” clues and follow them on either site.
Write now: find a book you’ve recently read, or finish a new one. Use the guidelines above to make some notes, then write a review. Post it on Amazon, then open an account if you don’t already have one and post it on Goodreads. Repeat fifty times and watch your writing take wings.