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The Etiquette of Writing a Book Review

I have read many book reviews. What surprises me the most is the fact that some reviewers are unrealistic and downright mean. They really don’t know what they are doing.

When you write a book review, follow some etiquette and make it worthwhile.

Purpose of a Book Review

The purpose of a book review is to tell others what you think about a book. Give them a heads up if it is full of gore or language. Maybe the blurb and what others say don’t reveal that it is heavy with sex scenes. If you don’t like these, you want to know before you buy.

Do not use a book review to get back at an author. Maybe the person reviewed your book and didn’t give a perfect score. A book review should not be used for that. A book review should be honest and informative.

Read the Book

You need to read the book. I know you might be shocked about this, but I’ve known authors who did not read the book or did not completely read it and then wrote a detailed review that implied otherwise. I don’t want to listen to your review if you really didn’t read it. I’ll wait until you do.

I just had a book that I was going to read . I couldn’t get through 30% of it. I don’t do zombies. I didn’t realize how gory and graphic this book would be. People praised it. Well, the writing was good. The author was talented. I almost threw up reading it. I couldn’t finish it. I’m not going to review it. If you asked me my opinion of it, I’d say he was a talented author but I literally could not stomach the story. But that is my personal opinion. If you like that kind of book, I would encourage you to read it, but I won’t go online and give it the star rating I really feel about it.

Read the book. Your readers need to trust you.


Ratings vary across the board. Anyone who uses a rating system should disclose what their ratings mean. Even then most people don’t understand them or use them wisely.

I don’t use a rating system on my blog, but I do take advantage of the star rating systems on, Goodreads, LibraryThing, or Shelfari.

  • 5 Star — Beyond love this book and would buy it for my bookshelf
  • 4 Star — Enjoyed this book and would recommend it
  • 3 Star — Good book
  • 2 Star — Could be good with more work on it
  • 1 Star — Struggled to finish and would recommend you avoid it.

Most sites follow a similar guidelines. Here is where confusion typically sets in. A 3 star rating is not bad. Someone thought a book was good, but something about it didn’t hit it with them. Maybe it was the characters or the plot. As a book reviewer, don’t ever give a 3 star or below without telling me, as a reader, why. I was on Goodreads recently checking on a new book. A reviewer gave it a 3 star and no comments. It was the only 3 star. I want to know why. Maybe that reviewer and I have the same taste.

As a book reviewer, you decide what you read. Some reviewers only read books they can give a 5 star to. I would recommend that you avoid that. Here’s why.

If I see a book on your 5 star only site, I know it was stellar in your eyes. What if it is not on there? I can assume then that you didn’t like it, but what if you didn’t read it yet. By having only 5 stars, you inadvertently push others away from the books not on your site. Also, I want to know about the ones you didn’t like or that were just okay in your eyes. That might make a big difference in me buying the book or borrowing it. I respect reviewers who give a wide range of review ratings.

Also, don’t give 4 and 5 star reviews just because you like the book but they really aren’t that good. Be true to your audience.

What to Mention and Not to Mention

As a book reviewer, you are obligated to mention certain things. You also should ignore some things. Let me give you some examples:

What to Mention:

  • Dialogue that doesn’t work
  • Poor character development
  • Plots that don’t flow write
  • Poor writing
  • Lack of description
  • Dialogue that does work
  • Good character development
  • Plots that grab you
  • Excellent writing
  • Good use of description
  • Excess sex scenes
  • Foul language
  • Age appropriatness
  • Blood/Gore
  • Pace
  • Intensity
  • How you felt about the book
  • Bad editing
  • How you got the book — this is a legal portion that need to accompany your review

What Not to Mention:

  • Minor editing issues that do not interfere in the story
  • Formatting or editing problems with ARCs


ARCs are advanced reader copies. These are copies that have not been fully edited and proofread yet. Many authors send these out to reviewers. Here is where etiquette needs to be followed. If you have received an ARC, do not under any circumstances comment in your review about the editing and/or formatting. That could hurt the sales of the book and you did not in all honesty review the final copy that will be for sale. Note in your review that you received an ARC so as a reader I can tell that you reviewed everything but the editing.

Constructive Criticism

If you are going to criticize a book or a section within the book, be constructive. Don’t lie. Please don’t lie. Also, don’t take one bad thing and ignore all the book. You need to word your criticism just right.

Does the dialogue appear stiff to you? Tell the readers that but make sure you also point out how good the author uses imagery in his work and how he does with keeping a mystery going.

Do you just not like the genre? Either don’t review it or review it constructively. State upfront how you feel about romances. From there only review the technical aspect of the writing.

You want your criticism to help readers decide on reading the book and also for the author to read and take to heart. Maybe you can help them improve in their writing.

Be Nice

Overall, be nice even with the worse books. Why do you want to attack the author or the book? There is no sense in that and is bad manners.

I’ve had books I’ve reviewed that were 2 stars. There haven’t been many. I try to point out why I can’t give it a 3 or more while stating that I’m not telling you not to read it. If you like that genre, style, or author, go for it! I’m just giving my opinion but in a nice way.

I see too many reviews that are nasty and downright personal. There is no sense in that. If you write reviews that follow that line, please stop writing them. You aren’t helping anybody including me, the reader.

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

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