How (and Why) to Review a Book

reviews“The best way to derive the maximum benefit from reading a book is to write a review!”

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
  • 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.

write-reviewAfter logging on to your account, find the book page, and scroll almost down to the bottom, past any existing reviews, to find the Write a customer review button.

  • 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. 


jerrywaxler said...

Wow! This post is SO HELPFUL! I have been writing essays about memoirs for years and find that I can absorb the essence far more by writing than by simply closing the book and moving to the next. (The quote keeps turning up "I write so I can learn what I think.") But despite all my complex writing on my blog, I have been skimpy in the simple act of writing a review, and your post has given me some great tips and guidance. Thank you!

Memory Writers Network

Sharon said...

Wow, Jerry, I know how complex your analyses have been over more than seven years and maybe a dozen dozen books, and I how helpful your essays remain to throngs of readers and writers. Fascinating to think that crystallizing those thoughts into 300 - 600 words could further enhance that effect and reach people in yet another way. Thank you for this additional insight.

kathleen pooler said...

Sharon, Thank you for sharing these valuable tips on book reviews. I appreciate your perspective on how doing a book review serves many purposes, not the least being improving our own writing craft. Speaking of reviews, I owe you one! Great post.

Sherrey Meyer said...

Sharon, I join Kathy and Jerry in their gratitude for this post. The analysis of a book, after reading it for enjoyment, is the foundation for a well written review, and you show us here just how to go about doing just that. Thanks so much!

Sharon said...

Kathy, my respect for this process continues to grow with each one I write, and I've made some wonderful connections with authors after writing them. The first few were the hardest, although I'm working on one now that's taking a huge amount of chewing, primarily because I have several agendas for it, thus need it to be several steps beyond where I might be satisfied for a routine review.

Sharon said...

Sherrey, sounds like we are on the same page. Analyze for yourself, review to enhance that personal benefit while spreading your insight around. Draft like nobody will read it, edit like the world is watching.

Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living said...


This post has made a little less "frightened" of the dreaded report, and seeing writing reviews as a lesson I can learn from. I do like the 8 factors you mentioned. Do you read books twice? Once for pleasure and a second time for the review? I know that would take forever, but I do like reading for the simple pleasure of following a journey.

Sharon said...

Sonia, I'm so happy for you that I've taken some of the terror out of the process for you. About reading twice -- I've found that if I just "brain dump" a review within a day or so of finishing a book, I generally don't need to read it twice. If I drag my heals on a review I formally promised to write, I may need to skim through a second time, but not in the depth of the first read. I'm a world-class procrastinator, but I'm learning to be diligent about rapid follow-up! Actually, when I do flip back through, I often see things I missed the first time, so it's not that onerous, just harder to get around to.

Linda Austin said...

Great to break it down this way, Sharon. I take notes as I read, but your sticky note idea is ingenious to mark certain passages - and it helps justify our opinions if we quote examples of the good (or bad) writing or a particularly nice piece of dialog or character descrip (good for the author, too). Yes, reading a book with awareness helps us figure out what works and what doesn't to help with our own writing, but I love Jerry's quote, "I write so I can learn what I think." Learning how to analyze and express our conclusions is an important skill to have. OTOH, it's nice to just enjoy reading without thinking much!

Sharon said...

I like the flags and highlights because they help me keep analytic reading at bay rather than distracting me from pleasure reading. Recent research has proven that our brains work much differently in the two modes. Pleasure reading activates almost our entire brain because mirror neurons activate the brain centers involved in doing or sensing or feeling what we are reading -- when we are immersed and reading for pleasure. Analytic reading is far more focused in a specific area. So do both for the optimum brain fitness regimen!

SuziCate said...

Thanks for the tips. I admit reviewing books intimidates me.

mary gottschalk said...

Sharon ... you make it sound so easy. If I like the flow of a book, I don't like stopping to make notes, but I can see how your eight points can trigger memory in a way that a blank piece of paper doesn't. Thanks

Sharon said...

Mary, I don't like disrupting flow of a fascinating narrative either, but I do slow down to savor poignant passages. I might read succulent descriptions half a dozen times for the sheer joy of the words, sort of like stopping to smell roses on a garden stroll. That's when I pop a flag or highlight on the page. Glad the list is triggering something for you .

Sharon said...

Try mini-reviews, and think of them as the equivalent of a text message or tweet to recommend the book to a friend. Readers love focused reviews of 200 words or less. That's not going to give you the same depth of insight for your own purposes, but you can stick to unpublished notes for that and do as well.

Belinda Nicoll said...

Sharon, you're an expert reviewer, so it's great to get insight into your process. I've come across a lot of readers who are intimidated by the prospect of reviewing a book. And I've seen a lot of reviews that read like critiques (spoilers included, like giving away the 'heart' of the story and sharing an abundance of quotes). These heavy-handed 'reviews' work against us, because prospective readers want to quickly get an idea of a book is worth reading or not. I'd love to get the message across to less expert reviewers that even a simple "I liked this book, because [that's] how it made me feel" (for example) would have a lot value in the life of a writer.

Sharon said...

Ah, yes. Thanks for the enrichment Belinda. I've seen those reviews also. Basically, those people are still in "book report" mode, trying to convince the teacher they really did read the book! You provide a sort of inverse view -- what NOT to do. Thank you for that.

I'm excited by all the additional thoughts this post is bringing forth.

Wayne Groner said...

Great tips, Sharon--thanks a million! What is your opinion of a reviewer posting identical language of a review at several locations, such as at,, and blog?

Sharon said...

Wayne, you own the copyright to your post. Scatter it all over. If anyone were leery of that it would be Story Circle Network, and they routinely post reviews from their site on Amazon, It does not seem to both Google at all. Once you've take the time to write it, might as well get maximum exposure for you and the author. Post it. Tweet it. Mention the book on Facebook. Authors will love you!

Sue Mitchell said...

Sharon, I am interested in writing more reviews, and I'll return to this post as I continue to grow in this area. I wanted to mention that reading a book on a Kindle or other e-reader makes creating notes and highlights so easy! Although I do love the look of a physical book that is all marked up and flagged! After I read a book on Kindle, I got to the page at Amazon that stores all my notes and highlights, and I have what I need to write a review. The sticking point for me right now is making the time for it. You make a great case for giving this high priority.

Sharon said...

Sue, I also love this advantage of reading eBooks. That page on Amazon makes it easy with Kindle books, but other readers also store notes. With an iPad, and maybe android tablets, you can copy and paste passages for later reference, and maybe you can share them from Nooks and Kobos. I don't know about that. The syncing feature is a definite plus for Kindle devices and "genuine Kindle" books rather than other mobi files.

Toby Neal said...

Hi Sharon! Thanks so much for visiting my post on writing reviews, I really liked the technique you described for writing a meaningful review. Glad I got to meet you through this process, and I'd be honored to exchange reviews on our books someday!
Much aloha
Toby Neal

Sharon said...

Hi Toby, I was tickled to find that you had also written about this topic. We take slightly different paths, but end up in similar places. Will be in touch!