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Read to Write: Writing Book Reviews
by Sara E. Polsky
The "don't have any clips, can't make a sale
don't make any sales, can't get any clips" problem is the classic
chicken-and-egg situation faced by most beginning writers. Many publications
prefer to publish writers who've had previous writing experience, and this is
the root of the writing paradox. How can a writer get clips (and get paid)
without any writing credits? One possible solution is to write book
The format and length of a book review will vary
from publication to publication, but there are some basic guidelines that can be
followed when writing any book review:
Study the publication you intend to review for!
This will give you an idea of the appropriate length for reviews, as well as how
they are structured. Does the publication only print positive reviews, or does
it also include negative ones? Is the publication attempting to sell the books
it reviews, or merely to inform readers about different books? If the
publication is trying to sell books, it's a good idea to return books you don't
enjoy to the editor, so that another reviewer can give them a try. This is also
a good thing to do if you feel you will be unable to review a certain type of
book fairly. If, for instance, you have an instinctive dislike of romance
novels, let the editor give romance titles to another reviewer.
Never start out a review with "This book was
about..." or "This was a good/bad book because..." Try to begin and end your
review creatively. Also, don't begin or end all of your reviews the same way --
experiment! Eventually, you will develop your own reviewing style.
Summarize the plot of a book at the beginning of
the review. Give as much detail as possible, but be concise and objective. Even
if you absolutely hated a book, try to strike a balance between fact and
Compare the book to other books on the same
subject or by the same author. This will help readers put your comments in
If you have the space, include quotes from the
book. This will give readers an idea of the author's writing style, as well as
some concrete evidence to back up your opinion.
Be specific! Don't just say that a book was good
or bad, but explain why. Was the plot solid or undeveloped? Were the characters
realistic? Was it historically accurate? Was it a page-turner or a slow read?
Was it well-written? Did the end leave you satisfied or wanting more? Why?
Mentioning these elements in your review will make it more in-depth.
Remember, not everything is black and white!
Some books may be absolutely fantastic, while others may be downright awful, but
most fall somewhere in the middle. If a book is mediocre, say so! Try to focus
on the good parts of the book, but don't ignore the not-so-good
Before you send in a review for publication, you
might want to read other reviews of the book, so that you get an idea of what
others liked and didn't like about it. Your reviews should always express your
own opinion, but reading what others had to say will help you evaluate your
comments. And if you have the space, it might give you ideas for a paragraph
about what "the book's detractors" or "the book's supporters" have to
Lastly, provide all of the book's information --
title, author, publisher, date of publication, price, and ISBN -- in your review
so that readers will be able to locate the book.
Writing book reviews, though not a very
lucrative form of writing, is a great opportunity to practice writing concisely
and effectively, and reading other people's writing will help you to improve
your own. Each book review you write is also one more clip to add to your file,
and before you know it those clips will have put you far along the path to
bigger and better things.
© Copyright 2000, Sara E. Polsky
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