Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

The art of the book review

Good Book Critic - Hero.jpg

Are you an avid reader who always has plenty to say about the last book you read? Then why not consider putting your passion to use by writing book reviews? Helped by two literary experts, we’ve compiled a handy guide to writing a winning book critique:

Read the book

That’s the entire book – not just part of it. This may sound obvious, but you can’t write a balanced review unless you’ve been able to appreciate the book in its entirety.

Don’t give too much away

The job of the reviewer is to give a balanced overview of the book whilst holding back enough information so that there’s still plenty for the reader to discover themselves. Julie Wheelwright, a lecturer who runs City University London’s MA in Creative Writing and author of The Fatal Lover, says that, like the reviews of her favourite critics Jenny Diski and Boyd Tonkin, a well-written review should whet the reader’s appetite for the subject of the book.

Dig deeper

Wheelwright stresses that a book review should not simply be a compilation of plot, character and scene. A good book review should go further than this – it should explore themes, and offer analysis of the ways in which (and how successfully) the author has conveyed those themes. Wheelwright advises that you should give the reader enough to understand the critic’s comments, and, of course, whether or not the reader should actually buy the book.

Be constructive and creative

Wheelwright says that the best book reviews are those that are measured and constructive in their criticism. Try to balance your review by looking at both the pros and the cons, even if you feel there is more of one than the other. Also, a book review is a personal piece, and is the perfect opportunity to show off your flair, wit and sense of humour in your writing. Alexandra Heminsley, a journalist and Elle’s book editor, notes that, in addition to constructive criticism, book reviews should always be entertaining and make you feel as though you’re discussing the book with your favourite, smartest friend.

Explain yourself

A book review should go deeper than just outlining your opinions on the book. As Heminsley points out, a quality review should leave you with an understanding of why the book is good or bad, not just that the reviewer thinks it’s good or bad.

Fiction vs non-fiction

There are different points to consider based on whether the book you’re reviewing is fiction or non-fiction. Wheelwright says that when reviewing fiction, the review should be subjective, and more of a gut reaction to the writing, the story, the character, the plot and writer’s originality. If the subject is non-fiction, the review should be a look at the subject and how the author has handled the research, structured the material and whether they’ve managed to tell a riveting tale.

Get published

Think you’ve got what it takes to write a good review? Then set about getting your work published, whether in print or online. Investigate local newspapers and magazines and find out if they have a reviews section. If so, enquire whether they accept freelance submissions – it may be that the editor is always on the lookout for avid readers with plenty to say. Alternatively, submit your critique to the reviews section of websites such as Amazon.co.uk, or use the Living Social Visual Bookshelf app on Facebook – whilst this isn’t paid, it’s a great way to share your work, and fellow users have the option to rate your review.

Or, if you think you’ve really got what it takes, try entering our culture critic competition for the chance to write our Quiet Night In page in the magazine.

Picture credit: Rex Features

Related

Be-Stylist's-culturecritic2.jpg

Be Stylist's culture critic

rexfeatures_950391a.jpg

"I am a book lover...sometimes, I hug them"

rexfeatures_1179509a.jpg

Rise of the eBook

Comments

More

Teenage boys are collecting free tampons to hand out at their school

by Harriet Hall

25 May 2016

Teens in Nepal document the stigma surrounding periods

“We are kept separately and not touched. I feel hated.” by Sarah Biddlecombe

25 May 2016

Illustrator captures the “frustrations, feelings and desires” of women

London artist Polly Nor aims to subvert the way we view women by Moya Crockett

25 May 2016

Shoppin, ravin, chattin: the new pro-EU campaign posters

Will you be votin? by Harriet Hall

24 May 2016

The best and coolest gluten-free restaurants, cafes and bakeries in the UK

We bring you 30 places to chow down sans gluten by Sejal Kapadia Pocha

24 May 2016

Game of Thrones frees the penis, but it's not redressing the balance

One writer says there's a serious problem with naked equality by The Stylist web team

24 May 2016

A leg up: uplifting quotes on the power of women helping one another

“I always believed that one women’s success can only help another woman’s success” by Moya Crockett

24 May 2016

The Stylist wedding blog: a coping strategy for stressed-out planners

Everyone keeps saying, “But you’ve done all the main things, right? So why so stressed?” by Natasha Tomalin

23 May 2016

Still or sparkling? A water-only cocktail bar is coming to London

“One can actually taste the region and depth from which the water comes” by Amy Swales

23 May 2016

Twitter users share what #mydepressionlookslike

The hashtag aims to dispel misconceptions about the mental health disorder by Moya Crockett

23 May 2016