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Did You Go to Book-Review School?



I didn’t either.

Nor did being a journalist equip me to write book reviews.

So while I buy and read other authors’ books, until I published my own first book, I didn’t take the next step and review them.  I feared I wouldn’t sound wise enough, that my analysis would be inept. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been timid to ask readers to review my own books.


And therein lies the issue. Authors need reviews. But if we ourselves are too timid to review books and too timid to ask it of others, we have a problem.

Myrtle - Cover latest at 2MB

My readers have no problems writing me letters — even very long letters — stating why they enjoyed my books. But writing a review can be a fearsome thing, one that seems to require expert writing and story analysis skills that many readers believe they don’t have.

And why should they? They didn’t go to Book-Review School either. They are readers, not professional book reviewers. They’ve bought or borrowed a book, read it, enjoyed it a little, or a lot, or not at all.  And then they went on to the next book. Or perhaps to do the dishes.

If we’d like readers to review our books, there are a few simple things authors can do to help:

First: Demystify the act of reviewing books.

For starters, could we replace that word “review” with “comments”?  

Check almost any online store and you’ll find dozens, hundreds, even thousands of reviews of the products they sell.  Shoppers seem to have no trouble posting online comments about the things they buy online – despite the fact that those comments appear under the heading “Reviews”.   But mention the term “book review” and many people get flustered, even anxious.

What if we change that word to comment?

Book Cover on Amazon - Myrtles Game

Second: Tell readers how to do it.

I’ve had readers tell me they wanted to review one of my books but had never done a book review before and didn’t know how.

I explain that “a single sentence saying why you liked or didn’t like the book is perfectly fine.”

“If you wish”, I usually go on to say, “you can also explain why you would recommend/not recommend that book to others. But you don’t have to. A short comment is fine.”  I can almost hear the relief in their responses.

And here’s a surprising outcome: while some of my readers do just the above and no more, at least as many go on to write longer and more substantial reviews.

Third: Tell the reader where to post online reviews

A book-lover wanted to review a book she had just read. She knew what she wanted to say, but had no idea where to post her remarks. She had never heard of Goodreads and wasn’t in a hurry to find out, but she had bought the book online from Amazon and was happy to leave her review there.

Once I showed her where to post her remarks (Look down the left side of the Amazon book page and you’ll see “Review this Product” just below  “Customer Reviews”), she was off and writing. 

(Below is what it looks like on my Myrtle the Purple Turtle page)

Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5
40 customer ratings
5 star 
4 star 
3 star 
2 star 0% (0%)  0%
1 star 0% (0%)  0%

Review this product

Share your thoughts with other customers


Fourth: Show your appreciation

I’ve not done this in my own books yet, but I am now considering including a short note of thanks (in the back of the book) to everyone who, having read one of my books, would like to leave a review.

Perhaps I will give the reader a few tips about how to do so as well.

After all, if there is a Book-Review School, no reader I know has been there.

What do you think, Reader? Please leave a comment. A single sentence is fine!



69 thoughts on “Did You Go to Book-Review School?”

  1. This is a very timely post. Like you, I didn’t start writing book reviews until my own book was published. I never went to book review school either! I was critical analysis of literature all the way. And fiction workshop (but we won’t go there). Where I landed with writing book reviews was to take a reader-response approach to describe my experience of engaging with the book. For me, it’s an intellectual challenge to approach a book on its own terms, and I’ve found that I really enjoy it.

    Speaking of reader-response, I’ve started using that approach with writing students, and they’ve done really well with it. (The basic premise being that they have expertise as readers.) I wonder if these simple prompts might help readers write book reviews. What do you think? (In the example below, “Salvation” is a Langston Hughes essay I had assigned.)

    How did you respond to “Salvation” when you read it?
    What senses did it engage?
    What thoughts did it prompt?
    What emotions did it stir?

    What was your main takeaway from “Salvation”?
    What thoughts did it leave you with?
    What will you remember most about it?

    1. I love this, Liz. I share something like this checklist( but your is better) with readers who approach me because they have the time, inclination and desire to write such a response. It works!! I haven’t used the “senses” prompt. May I steal it, please?

  2. I agree! In fact, I just wrote something similar on Fridays post. I used to write book reviews. Very time consuming, and with all the work I do, I just can’t do reviews anymore. So on Friday’s post I featured a lovely book by a terrific writer. I wrote a paragraph or two about it. A reader in Australia is interested in this book. Also a reader from. Ohio. Can you guess which book I featured? 😉 Anyway, plan to do this on a regular basis. I want to my bit to promote other writers.

    1. What a lovely thing you’ve done! I am talking about the pita bread tip. Haha! Thanks very much for your response to the book. Clif was my Book Designer, I will have you know — and did an excellent job. Be well with the new diet, you two. We are on a plant-based diet here but still need to reduce gluten.

  3. I think of it as having a conversation about a book and over time that intimidation over the word ‘review’ disappears, and just becomes another beautiful of describing sharing ones thoughts on a book in the freedom space of a blog. And also over time learning to dig into the discomfort, if a book didn’t fit with you, to understand why rather than seeing it as a fault. I never want to go to book review school, I love finding one’s own authentic style and voice, which comes with practice and not with comparison or rules.

    1. What a lovely way to reframe it, Claire. I also like this: “if a book didn’t fit with you, to understand why rather than seeing it as a fault.” I think many of us would rather blame the book! (smile)

  4. This is a very sound post. My ‘A’ level English study of 60 years ago was my review school and stands me in good stead today when I post about a book. The one difference from those earlier essays is that I am careful not to reveal the story.

    1. Yes. sometimes, we have to try hard to avoid the spoilers! and you’re right: I should have gone back to my ‘A’ level English study for pointers in those years when I was afraid to sound stupid! (Now I am far less afraid to sound stupid about anything…)

  5. Love this simplified way of asking readers to comment on a book, Cynthia! The whole reviews “business” is rather tricky from both a writer and reader’s perspective, for me. Nonetheless, I write reviews or comments so to speak, if I’ve really connected with a book. I also like the option of leaving a rating of a book on Goodreads. Because sometimes I simply don’t have time even for that short comment. And then there’s reviewing fellow authors’ books…a different story altogether.

  6. Many times when I have read book reviews in the New York Times, I have often thought that the reviews were really more to inflate the reviewers’ ego than to thoughtfully review the book. I am not a fan of ego anything whether it’s a book review, jazz riff, rock solo, or anything that diverts from the beauty of the piece of the action. I have read excellent one-line book reviews and pointless longer ones. Be honest and succinct–only include as much info as you need to make your point. Hopefully you liked something in the book and maybe use that as your lead unless you really did not like anything in the book.

  7. A good idea to suggest to readers what they can put in a review–and not calling it a review. I think many of us remember the pain of having to write a book review at school, and all the things the teacher told us to include.
    I tried to reblog this, but the reblog button didn’t work.

      1. I’m going to have to do that. I’m having trouble with reblog and press this. They eithre won’t work, or they don’t post the link! I’ve tried to get it sorted, but you can’t get in touch with WordPress directly. They send you to a forum.

      2. WordPress deleted a whole blog post of mine last night! Luckily, I had an earlier version on WORD but could not recall all the small changes I’d made, so it was a painful process to repost. Ugh.

  8. Hmm, food for thought. I have written both reviews and comments. Review is more in-depth. I read with a purpose and sometimes that focus on ‘reviewing’ takes away from the pure pleasure of reading for fun.
    I suppose there is a place for both. Being sent a book to ‘review’ usually means reading it twice if it resonates. One with the review in mind and again just for me.

    1. I like that approach. I love reviews, and have received some very thoughtful ones that made me see my books in new ways. But some people are more skilled at it than others. I want to hear from both.

  9. I clicked on Pressthis after failing with the reblog. It put a headline on my blog, but no link! I’ve had this trouble before. Don’t know if it’s me or WordPress!

  10. Without clear instructions, I am sure it must be quite intimidating for the reader to write a review. The other day I simply asked my students to tidy up a text they had written together and that cause mostly consternation (in spite of clear instructions). So, the more guidance the better in my experience 😊

  11. Although I’m a writer, there are some things I find hard to write. I’m hopeless at writing greetings in cards for example, and I’m not great at reviews. I mainly review the books of writers I know, because I understand how valuable they are, but yes, for those not used to it, putting it in terms of a comment about why you liked or didn’t like it, is probably a lot easier to get to grips with.

  12. Excellent tips Cynthia. You are so right, the word “review” can be intimidating but most people don’t hesitate to comment on what they like and don’t like when it comes to products and services, so why not books too!

  13. Thank you for this post, Cynthia. I was much the same way before I started publishing. Generally, readers just don’t grasp the importance of their reviews. All they have to do is say “I loved it!”
    Hugs on the wing.

  14. I agree that the very word ‘review’ can be intimidating. It carries an expectation of expertise on the part of the reviewer, of having a balanced mix of positive and negative, of having something to say which is different to everyone else. I feel the responsibility if someone reads what I’ve said and then wants to read the book: they may not like it as much as I did! Hence I often want to include a disclaimer if I write about a book because I don’t consider that I write reviews. Even if I might use that term without thinking, I am essentially sharing my responses to a book, which feels very different – much more personal. Your suggestion, ‘write a comment’ is much kinder, Cynthia!

  15. I was initially a little bit surprised by your post, since I remember being asked to do book reviews in school, and especially in university (as an English and history major), so I’ve never viewed them as daunting, but my experience is clearly not universal! I think your tips are great for people who want to get started with them, and even helpful for those of us who have written lots! It’s nice to hear an author’s point of view, since I’m always just reviewing as a reader, not having published anything myself (yet!).

    1. Thank you, Jessica. Glad to get your response. Even while I was responding to comments about this post, another book-lover was writing me a note, asking how to do a review and where to post it. It always surprises me when such avid readers do that, but it goes to show that many people feel apprehensive and need a bit of guidance.

    2. I second this. I actually chuckled at the “did you go to book review school” question because, as a former lit major who isn’t really using her degree in any way besides writing book reviews, I felt the answer was yes. But I absolutely agree with Cynthia, as well, that the average reader is a bit intimidated by posting a review. Most of the people in my book club leave a star rating on goodreads and leave it at that.

  16. This is a very comforting post, Cynthia. I *do* feel very intimidated and inadequate when asked to write a book review. I do not have the skill, the vocabulary or the time to write a *proper* review and it has always made me feel unhappy. If asked to, I have always complied and written something but I’ve always felt dissatisfied with the result and then (often) felt resentment that I have had to do it at all! I compare my efforts with others’ and think that mine would put people off the book even when I’ve enjoyed it and said so. I almost always give a star rating but never write anything unless asked.
    I love reading as an escape from the real world but have problems with my memory and can’t remember characters’ names even a short time after reading the book. I failed my English Literature O’ Level exam because I couldn’t learn quotes and my English teacher was furious with me and even crosser when I refused to re-take the exam. Excuses, excuses!! I will really try to make more of an effort in future. ❤

    1. You don’t have to make an effort, Clare! To my mind, a star rating is good enough. Authors need reviews to hear what others think of their books and encourage shoppers to buy their books. But I should have also noted that the star response is also a gift to an author. And the biggest gift is buying and reading it!

      1. I must say that you have made me feel so much easier. Thank you. My husband gifted me with ‘Twigs in my Hair’ fairly recently and I loved it. Of course, I will be reviewing it as soon as I can xx

  17. This is a great post! Especially as a writer it’s intimidating to ask someone to review your work.. I still haven’t had the guts to ask! As a reader, we just assume someone else out there has more credentials to write reviews and give overly in-depth educated opinions. Even if we’re supporting the book industry as avid readers as well haha!

  18. This is great! Reviews are the yardstick by which a book is measured by the public. I didn’t fully appreciate this, like others have mentioned here, until I started writing myself. I did write a few reviews for books that really amazed me but I should have written others for those that I simply enjoyed. Thanks!

  19. Reblogged this on Flowery Prose and commented:
    Author Cynthia Reyes takes the intimidation factor out of book reviews and replaces it with a refreshing approach that everyone can easily participate in! I couldn’t agree more with Cynthia’s ideas, and I can’t stress enough the importance of letting authors know that you care about their books! Whether it’s just a rating or a couple of words, your thoughts mean the world to us!

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