How to Write Easy & Honest Book Reviews to Help Other Readers

“Nowadays, I only review books I really like. It’s cowardly, I know, but I figure it’s not my job to make people unhappy. I’ll leave that to the professionals.” — Meg Rosoff

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

I’m talking about reviews on bookstore sites, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Now that Calculated Risk is out, I see how important reviews are to both readers and authors. So how can readers overcome obstacles and write reviews helpful to readers and fair to authors? 

As book reviewers, we want to be helpful to readers and fair to authors, right? Click to tweet.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Obstacles and Solutions

Obstacle 1: Readers haven’t visited booksellers’ sites to buy books, much less to review books. So here’s basic steps:

  • Google the bookstore. Or here’s a couple to click on:
  • In the search bar, type “[Title] by [Author’s Name]” as these appear on the book cover.
  • When the book comes up, click on the title.
  • Scroll down to headings like Write a customer Rreview (Amazon) or Customer Reviews (B&N). Click to open a review box if one’s not there. (Amazon).
  • Hover over the stars for their definitions and click on the number that meets your opinion.
  • Enter your review inside the box. (See suggestions in Obstacle 6.)
  • Submit

Obstacle 2: Readers enjoyed the stories but wonder how they can give them 4 or 5 stars when many typos and editing errors existed.

  • Try rating the story, not the editing errors, which the author might have little control over. If a significant number occurred, mention the version (e-book or print) and that fact.

Obstacle 3: Readers know the authors and hesitate to give 4 or less stars in a 5-star system.

  • I asked several authors if I thought their book warranted 4 or 3 stars would they want me to review their book. Responses divided equally into:
    • Yes
    • They wanted honest reviews whatever the number of stars.

Obstacle 4: Readers think they have to write synopses. Overwhelming.

  • A story blurb is usually supplied and sufficient. What readers think about the story and why is what’s helpful to other readers.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Obstacle 5: Readers dislike the book’s genre.

  • Readers are right to skip reviewing the book. Readers’ preferences are unhelpful to other readers.

Obstacle 6: Readers don’t know what to include in a review.

  • Book reviews can be 3-5 sentences of what you thought—not long or fancy. Click to tweet.
  • Suggested sentences (4 and 5 are optional but often helpful):
  1. What you thought about the story. (fun, touching, hard to get into) Include why.
  2. What you thought about the characters. (believable, unlikeable, you identified with)
  3. How the story impacted you. (depressed you, understood what you’ve gone through, gave a satisfactory ending)
  4. What you thought about the writing. (Well-written, had to often reread confusing paragraphs, flows well)
  5. Who you’d recommend the book to. (Adults only, women who enjoy humorous romances, people who like suspense with a romance thread)

Besides the short-of-time problem, what other obstacles keep you from writing reviews?

22 thoughts on “How to Write Easy & Honest Book Reviews to Help Other Readers

  1. Number 5 is the one I wish reviewers would abide by. If you don’t like the genre, don’t read it and don’t review it.
    Several authors, including myself, have had reviewers who give their book around a 3-star rating then say something like, “I don’t typically read the genre. If I did, I would probably have rated this higher.”

    The reviewer rates it as memorable with 3 and one-half stars, but if she had LIKED the genre, she’d given it a 4+ or 5.

    My opinion: Reviews should NOT be based on like or dislke of the genre.

    1. I guess these type of reviewers think they’re helping the author by saying that they’d rank it higher if they liked the genre. The review probably helps in the number-of-reviews statistics for the author, but I doubt it helps other readers much.

  2. Thanks Zoe this is helpful.

    1. You’re welcome, Sally Jo. I’m glad it was helpful.

  3. I wish there was at least one more star!
    I read a lot of books that are more or less formulaic, in that boy meets girl, fall in love, get mad, then later re-kindle attraction and get married. The thing is most of these are pretty much the same so I don’t want to give a 5.Every now and then, though I find one that’s great and want to give it a 5. My dilemma is I like to give a higher rating to a book that affects me profoundly, but then that only leaves a 3 (which I feel is kind of a slap in the face) to a book that was good but not great.
    I don’t want to hurt the author’s overall ratings, nor do I want to be like the teacher that never gave a 100 on tests, but. . . well, maybe you can understand my desire for one more star! I’m open to any and all suggestions!

    1. I hear you, Robbie. I’ve often wished we had half-star options, like 4 1/2 stars. :0)

  4. Marcia A. Lahti

    Barns and Noble asked for a pen name for the review I left on their site. People might be more honest if they didn’t have to sign their name to a review. On the other hand their would be no accountability for people being cruel.

  5. Marcia, I thought about using a pen name, but then decided to stick with my name. I’m beginning to think that only reviewing books with 3 to 5 stars is helpful to both readers and authors. Leaving no review when it’s not worth at least 3 stars could be considered helpful to both also. The lack of reviews may say a lack of interest.

  6. Great post Zoe. I think each book has to be rated for it’s own merits. Not compared to other books we have read. Did we like this book enough to complete it, not finish it out of ‘duty’? Did it maintain a decent pace? Did you find the characters believable? I totally agree- if you do not typically read that genre, skip reviewing it.

    1. I appreciate your advice, Diana. Like others, I get caught up with the whole “well, it was really good, but it’s not Les Miserables” kind of mindset. But if I save the five stars for only books of that caliber then really fine novels can only get a three or four. I don’t like giving threes so I rarely review any books at all. Thank you!

  7. Thanks, Diana. I like what you added about rating the book on its own merits. I agree, that books left on the bedside table unopened for a long time, and the reader picking up another book says much about whether the story engaged them. Unless I finished a book like that though, I don’t think I’d review it. I’d feel guilty for not seeing whether it redeemed itself. Maybe this is the case where the book misses out on a review.

  8. Zoe, this is great! Just what I needed to motivate and guide me.

    1. Beth, so glad the post motivated you. It motivated me, too!

  9. HG

    This is good, but one thing I’d add is to gear reviews toward your audience. I blog about Christian fiction, so if I review a book and it contains something that one of my readers (doesn’t even have to be me) might find objectionable, I feel compelled to mention this in my review.

    1. Thanks, Heidi, I hadn’t thought of giving readers of the genre of a book an alert to something they may not like. For instance, if the book is listed as a romance, opposed to another genre that contains romance, and the hero and heroine part ways at the end of the book, romance readers would not like that!

      1. An added thought for my example. I wouldn’t give the ending away, but possibly, that I didn’t find the ending a satisfying one. What do others think on this?

  10. Excellent post – and one that many people will find helpful. I am often asked to write reviews – and I do. But your article will make that task easier. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, James. I hope if we realize we don’t have to write a thesis, more of us readers will write reviews.

  11. These are helpful guidelines. Like others, I haven’t reviewed a lot of books because I didn’t know where, or what to address. Thanks! You give such practical tips.

    1. I’m glad you found this helpful, Jane. I used to feel the same way. Now, it’s more a time issue, which I intend to rectify.

  12. Ann Ellison

    Thanks for sharing this. I really found it helpful. I have felt a little bad sometime about not offering to review a book when it wasn’t a genre I was interested in but I am glad to read that is really o.k.

    1. Ann, I’m glad the post was helpful. I could liken it to reviewing a mud wrestling tournament. Mud wrestling fans want to know how that tournament went. If I tell them how I hate watching people wallow in the mud and go on about how ridiculous mud wrestling is, what help have I given them about the tournament?


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