If this post was any help to you, please consider sharing and/or buying me a coffee at Kofi.com. 💖
As book bloggers, book reviews form the bulk of our content, but reviews can also be some of the hardest posts we have to write, and we’d like this hardwork to pay off! As most book bloggers now know, reviews have some of the least engagement. There are a number of reasons for this – and all these reasons are a topic for another day, but one of them is how you review books.
I am, by no means, an expert and I’m not claiming to be anything of the sort. I’ve been blogging for almost four years now, and only recently have I settled on a reviewing format that works for me. Ever since, I’ve been looking forward to writing my reviews, and I’ve also steadily been getting increased engagement and feedback on both my reviews, and my style of reviewing. Today, I thought I would share five tips with you that I adhere to while I’m reviewing books. These may work for you, they may not, but I thought it’d be a fun little post either way.
1. Make notes while you’re reading.
I use the term “notes” very broadly. Some people like to jot down their thoughts somewhere while they’re reading a book. This is incredibly helpful because you can keep track of your in-depth thoughts while you were reading the book, and it inhibits you from simply saying whether you liked the book or not, and rather allows you to inform your audience specifics about what you liked, and what you didn’t. This method works for some people, while for others, it takes away the fun of reading and disrupts their flow. I’m one of the latter – I’ve tried for years to write notes while I’m reading, but it never works for me. Which is why I’ve started following a tabbing and/or highlighting system.
If I’m reading a physical book, I keep four colors of page flags next to me, for which I’ve come up with a key. For example: pink flags mean I liked a scene or a quote, a purple flag means a scene stuck out to me and I would like to revisit it (good or bad), a red flag means I found something problematic, and a green flag means anything else that doesn’t fit these categories (more often than not, the first three categories cover it all, but I sometimes use this for trigger warnings and such). Similarly, I have a color-coded system for when I’m reading ebooks – but instead of tabs, I utilize highlights.
This may sound like a lot of work at first, but once you get the hang of it, the colors come naturally to you. This way, you’re not taking away any time from reading or disrupting your flow significantly by writing something down on a piece of paper; when you finish the book, you can flip back at everything you took notice of, and come up with some solid and thorough material for your review.
I also utilize Twitter threads to increase engagement and keep it fun for myself. Goodreads is wonderful for keeping track of your books, but I often find that the engagement level on the site is impersonal. I’m an avid Twitter user, so I often start ‘threads’ for what I’m currently reading. Once I’ve finished a chapter, or am done with reading for that sitting, I scroll to my thread and add a tweet or two of what I thought, or something interesting I found. Sometimes, I refer back to these threads if I’m struggling to find material for my review – other times, it’s just fun to look back and see the real-time feedback of what I was thinking while I was reading something.
Note-taking, in whichever form you find best, is incredibly helpful. Reviews that are thorough and target specifics are reviews that I’m a big fan of; for books I haven’t read, I know what to look out for so I’m not totally caught off-guard, and for books that I have already read, reading the specifics of what someone liked and disliked, or a certain scene that stuck out allows me to engage more fully with the reviewer.
2. Finding yourself a format that works for you can make or break your reviews.
Do you ever read a review, and you’re totally astounded by how good it is, so you decide that you’re going to model your future reviews after that one? Experimenting is the blogger’s holy grail. What worked for you before may not work for you now, so trying new things, switching your content and formatting up will keep you and your audience interested. And looking around at other people’s content and taking inspiration is a great thing, but keep in mind that even though you like their content, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you.
I love reviews embroidered with GIFs. They’re so fun to read, and if the blogger has a good sense of humor, chances are that they’ll influence my decision to read or not read a book. But I can never add more than a couple of GIFs to my reviews. I can’t do it, because that’s just not how I write (more on this later). Sometimes I want to rant more than I want to review, and that’s when the expletives and the GIFs and the rambles ensue, but those days are far and few in between.
Find a format that works for you, and that’s the most important thing while writing a review. It doesn’t matter what this format is – as long as you personally enjoy writing it, you’ll find an audience. Some examples of formatting:
🌸 Breaking reviews down by section: one for plot, one for characters, one for writing style, etcetera. This allows your reader to target the section they’re most interested in – I’m a character-driven reader. More often than not, I skip to the characters section and read that.
🌸 Breaking reviews down by spoiler-y and non-spoilery-y sections. This is a great reviewing method if you want people who have read the book to engage with you as well, but keep in mind that this takes a lot of time and commitment, and can often impact the quality of your non-spoilery section.
🌸 Aforementioned: GIFs, and lots of freaking out and humor embedded in your review.
🌸 Writing your reviews almost like you would write an essay, with cause-and-effect driving the flow of your review. This is what I use, because that’s just how I like to write.
🌸 Lists! People love lists (look at what I’m doing right now! Lists within lists!) You can make lists for what you loved, and what you didn’t love. Lists don’t always allow you to be as thorough as other review styles, but numerous studies have shown that people on the Internet have decreasing attention spans – so lists are quick to read, and might boost engagement.
There are so many other things to consider: do you want to include a synopsis? If so, are you copying-and-pasting the Goodreads synopsis, or are you writing your own? This might be news to some of you, but if a significant chunk of your review is copied from another website, chances are that the exact same words will appear on other reviewers’ blogs too. This harms your search-engine index. Google doesn’t like duplicates appearing on its index. Writing your own synopsis can be hard and time-consuming, but I’d rather write my own than save five minutes and damage my traffic.
Are you going to include any buy-links? Are you going to summarize your entire review at the end so that those people with shorter attention spans still get the broad message you’re trying to give off? There are a myriad of things you can consider while formatting – but the one thing you never want to lose sight of is picking what works for you, and not being afraid to experiment.
3. Decide on a rating system.
As a reviewer, your first duty is to yourself. You started blogging because you wanted to, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you have an audience as well. And if this audience is important to you, you should keep things a little bit consistent. I’m a harsh critic; I don’t often hand out five-stars unless I’m certain that it’s a book that will stay with me for years. Many of my blogger-friends know this, so they’re immediately more inclined to pick up a book that I gave five-stars to because they know how rare those are.
Decide on a rating system, and think hard about what each rating means to you. Do you want to include half-stars? What are your deal-breakers? The way I like to do it is looking at what a three-star rating means for me. Is three-stars below average for you, average, or above average? Three stars is the middle rating for me, and my rating system is modeled after this three-star rating. Three stars means it was an average book. Three and a half means that I liked more parts of the book than I didn’t. Two and a half means I disliked more than I liked. Do you see how it works for me? Here’s my rating scale if you’re interested.
Keep your rating scale somewhere clear on your blog. Sometimes when I don’t want to read a review but am trying to get a sense of how people feel about a certain book, I look at the ratings alone. But ratings mean different things to different people. For me, three-stars is a good enough rating. For others, three-stars is a negative rating. Do you see what I mean? Ratings aren’t universal, so looking at the rating alone (unless you’re familiar with the reviewer’s consistency) doesn’t mean much. So having a page for your rating scale (or having it in your sidebar, or linking it in your review) can be really helpful.
4. Being consistent in your writing style is incredibly important, so again, figure out what works for you.
I mentioned in Point 2 that I write my reviews like I would write an essay; I let cause-and-effect be the thing that drives the flow in my reviews. I pinpoint an idea in the book, something I liked or disliked, and move towards how I felt about this in the context of the book. I like applying the themes of a piece to the real-world, and I like to discuss characters more than I like to discuss plot. I don’t like to limit myself with what I have to discuss in each review; I mostly let my writing guide me.
I’ve tried so many approaches when it comes to writing style in reviews. Casual, conversational, academic – and I’ve come to settle on a mix between conversational and academic, because that’s how I write my essays in school. That might sound weird to you – Aimal, why do you want to write your blog how you would write a school essay, that’s so weird?! Well, yeah, I admit it’s weird, but I’ve been writing academically my entire life, and I enjoy it. I love formal writing, and it’s something I feel I’m good at. Because I take reviewing so seriously, because I’m often discussing important themes in the books I review, I automatically default to a more formal style of writing. I’ve settled on this because this is how I write, and trying to change how I write just because it’s a bit weird to write academically on my blog didn’t work for me. It’s not going to work for you either.
So think about it – how do you write? What are you most comfortable with writing? Settle on that. It pays off, I promise you. I guarantee you; the Internet is vast and wide and full of people. There is an audience here for everything. If you’re worried that your writing style or your particular formatting is too weird, and you’re not going to get engagement, you’re wrong. You’ll find a niche for yourself, and this niche will drive your engagement. You don’t need to lure in everyone with your content. You just need to lure in the people who will like what you say, and how you say it. That’s when blogging becomes fun.
Here are a couple of my reviews that follow the guideline I’ve comfortably settled on now: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Want by Cindy Pon, Release by Patrick Ness, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.
5. Make your reviews stand out.
The book community is full of reviewers – that’s what we do as book bloggers. Everything else is a bonus, but what 99% of us do is review and highlight the things we’ve been reading. Perhaps one of the reason that reviews get such little engagement is because there are so many of them everywhere. Which means that for your hard work to pay off, your reviews need to stand out. Add some flair to your reviews.
But that’s easier said than done. I’ve started adding aesthetics to my reviews. They take time to come up with – it’s hard to find the pictures that match the book you’re reviewing, then compiling them in a visually appealing Photoshop graphic is both time-consuming and difficult to do. But it’s worth it, because it’s something that not many people do. If someone wants a visually appealing impact of a certain book, they can click on my review, and find something that gives off a vibe. They can decide then if they’re interested enough to read my essay of a review. 😉
Aentee @ Read at Midnight does an incredible job of making her reviews stand out. She makes beautiful graphics to go along with her reviews, and even if I’m not personally interested in the book, I often just click on her reviews to see the pretty graphic, ha. Here’s a quick example of one of her reviews.
So find something that’s interesting and different, something that gives you an edge. Do you do handlettering? Insert pictures of quotes you’ve hand-lettered. How about photography? Bookish playlists? Book trailers? The possibilities are endless, so come up with something and give your reviews an extra edge that’ll make them stand out.
Again, by no means am I an expert at reviewing. There are so many people out there who get more engagement on their reviews than I do, but I decided to make this because after four years of blogging, I’m finally comfortable with where I am now with reviewing. So I thought I’d share the tips I’ve accumulated over the years for new bloggers, or anyone else who might be looking for some help with their reviews.
Again, if you enjoyed this post, and if you found it helpful, I’d love it if you considered buying me a coffee at KoFi.com. 💖
Question: In the comments, let me know what review-format you tend to follow, and how you decided upon it? Did it take you many trial runs to pick one and settle on it?