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September 22, 2016

Book Review Writing Styles

by Donna Huber


As a book reviewer, I'm always trying to educate myself on best practices and latest trends. Lately, I've been reading about the differences between consumer reviews, editorial reviews, and book critic reviews. Shortly after starting Girl Who Reads I set a goal of it being more of a literary ezine than a personal blog about books. Adding regular feature writers was one step and now I'm investigating our review style.

We are all familiar with consumer reviews. These are the reviews that general readers leave, usually at retail sites, after purchasing a book. Editorial reviews, on the other hand, come from professionals in the book industry. Typically they are editors. I found a nice description of what an editorial review is at Chanticleer Book Reviews,
Editorial reviews tend to focus on the technical aspects (grammar, formatting, spelling, consistency, punctuation, POV, etc.) of a work along with  the writing craft of the author by an editing professional.

Other descriptions of editorial reviews I have seen are based on how review requests and assignments are handled. If the reviewer is reviewing what they want then it may be more of a consumer review. However, if the reviewer is assigned or provided the option to review, then it is deemed an editorial review.

I also looked at what The New York Times Book Review considers their review since they are a prominent source of reviews in the industry. They refer to their reviewers as book critics. The daily reviews are provided by 3 staff critics who choose the books they review. The critics for Sunday Book Reviews are freelancers and typically are professional literary critics, novelists, academics, and other people who work in media or a particular genre.

Just a note: should an author receive a review from The New York Times, a quote from that review would be included in the editorial section of retail sites such as Amazon. So in this case, critical reviews and editorial reviews are considered closely, if not equivalently, the same thing.

As with many things in the publishing industry, the digital age has blurred the lines. Book blogging has blurred the lines of consumer, editorial, and critical reviews. Most book bloggers got started because they are avid readers, so definitely their reviews could be considered consumer reviews. Most book bloggers are not professional editors, though many have since picked up the necessary skills and act in the role of editor for a number self-published authors. However, editorial reviews are sometimes only shared between reviewer and author or published publicly on approval of the author. So book bloggers could be editorial reviewers, but more than likely not (at least in the strictest sense).

That leaves us with book critic and critical reviews. I believe to meet the goal I set forth for Girl Who Reads, then our staff should strive for critical reviews.

What are critical reviews?

In my research, I ran across an article at Scribendi on writing book reviews that I particularly liked. I shared it with my review staff. I have also been compiling a checklist of sorts of elements to consider when preparing a book review as critical reviews should provide more information than general enjoyment (or dislike):

  • Standalone novel or series. 
  • For books in a series: book number in series (i.e 4th book), can be read as a standalone or must be read in order
  • Genre (strict adherence to genre tropes or a blend of genres) 
  • target audience
  • Comparable authors/books/movies/TV shows
  • Debut novel (or the first in a particular genre for the author)
  • Information about the author
  • Brief summary (2 - 3 sentences)
  • Thoughts on the writing style (uses of descriptions, symbolism, etc.)
  • Effectiveness of the story's point of view (POV)
  • Thoughts on character development
  • Ensemble cast or definite main and secondary characters
  • Character or plot driven story
  • The setting - was it important to the story?
  • Overall impression of the plot 
  • Highlights ('favorite parts') 
  • Problems with the book

What other elements should be we be considering? Is there certain information you like to see discussed in a review?

If you are book blogging, do you consider yourself a consumer or editorial reviewer or a book critic? Do you care? There is no right or wrong answer. That's the great thing about book blogging - we can do what we want. If you are going for a particular style of review, though, it is important to review (pun intended) your approach to book reviewing.

Note: The inclusion of Chanticleer Book Review and Scribendi in this article should not be considered an endorsement of their services.

Donna Huber, founder & publisher. Donna is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.



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