Reviewing books is a much easier task if you have a plan of attack before even opening the book. It provides a specific direction to take your review in. There are a lot of different ways to create a reviewing strategy, and not everybody likes to plan out their reviews. I don’t think there is one answer that works for everybody and it takes some experimenting to find what works for you. Here is a look into how I approach reviews!
I look at five main areas of a novel: the characters, setting, plot, pacing, and writing. I try to divide my notes into sections with these categories in mind, though they sometimes end up jumbled anyway. As I’m reading, I jot down anything that catches my eye and quotations that I like. Once I’m finished, I assign a rating of one through five to each category, then average them together to find the overall rating of the book. I usually end up with a decimal, and that gets rounded up or down as is appropriate.
After I find the overall rating, it’s time to start writing the review itself. I’ve always used notes, but it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve begun using outlines. I use the term outline loosely here. I do my best writing when I have a question I need to answer, so I pose questions to myself about the book, and then organize the answers to those questions into paragraphs. My reviews don’t really start to look like reviews until I’m revising them. If you’re working with a word limit, I find it easier to write as much as you can and then start cutting it down. Cutting things in the revision process works better for me than adding them.
Reviews should always cover both strengths and weaknesses. No book is completely perfect, and no book is completely terrible. Even in stories I don’t particularly like, there’s usually at least one aspect of them that I enjoyed, whether it be setting, a specific character, or the author’s writing style. If you want a well-rounded review, it’s important to highlight both these negative and positive aspects.
As a reader, I want a review to be engaging and informative. Tell me exactly what you thought about the book without too much dancing around the bush. I value bluntness in the reviews I read, so I try to incorporate it into my own. This goes for both written reviews and recorded ones. I love listening to podcasted and filmed reviews. While I only work with written ones, there’s a lot to learn in experiencing them across different mediums. If you want to improve in writing your own reviews, I suggest trying to read or listen to as many different reviewers from as many different sources as you can! It can take time to find a strategy you’re comfortable with, but that’s okay. It’s all part of the process.