Writing a book review for a non-fiction book #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

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Having missed the last #AuthorToolboxBlogHop due to wedding preparations for my son, I was determined to post this month. Seemed silly not to, particularly since, like the majority of the world, I’m stuck at home self-isolating and social distancing. But what topic to write on?

I had what I thought was a brainwave: I’ll write a review! I read. I wrote reviews at school. Yep—that’s what I’ll do. 

Save the CatSo I riffled through the pile of books that I was reading. I wanted to do the review on one of the ‘how-to’ books I was reading. TheHow to Publish a Book on Amazon #AuthorToolboxBlogHop was about writing tips and writing help (plus other stuff) so I thought that would be great. I had dipped into four: Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody; How to Publish a Book on Amazon by Sam Kerns; Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King and Outlining Your Novel by Self editingK. M. Weiland. Problem One: which one of those to finish so I can review it? Actually, more like which one do I start again so that I can review it properly?               outlining-165

While I was contemplating this, a more difficult problem came to mind. I had done book reviews before—but they were so long ago. Maybe I needed to look at just how to do that first.

And that became my blog topic: How to write a book review.

After consulting with Google, my first click took me to a blog post on the Udemy site specifically aimed at writing a book review—including a template! The second paragraph confirms for me what I knew to be true:

“A book review is not a summary or synopsis. You will be describing the contents of the book to some extent, but the goal of a book review is not to explain what the book is about but to evaluate its quality and significance.”

Naturally, the writer goes on to explain in more detail the difference between a review and an essay and the purpose of both—but that wasn’t really what I needed. I wanted that template.

Sadly, the template had too much information and detail for me. To be truthful, I didn’t read much of it. It may have been useful for someone needing to start from scratch but I just needed a bit of guidance and memory jogging.

So I looked again and discovered the Writoscope community site, where I found ‘How to write a book review—a step-by-step guide‘, written by Sachin. Again, some stuff I didn’t need but others might benefit from. What I did find valuable was the ‘8 Things to Do Before Writing a Book Review.’ Each of the eight come with a detailed explanation, but I will just list them here. You can follow the above link for the detail if you would like it.

Take notes while reading

Annotate the book

Keep track of slow parts

If you leave the book in the middle, DO NOT write a book review

Figure out the writing style of the book

Form an opinion

List down the confusing characters (applicable only to fiction)

Read the book twice (or at least skim it again)

Of course, these are just the recommendations of one writer. But, for me, they are solid recommendations—except for the last one. If you have taken solid and appropriate notes, I don’t think this is necessary. I would, however, recommend having the book with you in case you want to double-check yourself on a particular point. Sachin does provide a review guide and template, but it is aimed at fiction. I downloaded it for later reference.—

I made my Google search more specific, targeting non-fiction book reviews. Didn’t like the first one I opened. But then I hit the jackpot! Lesley Ann McDaniel had written ‘How to write a nonfiction book review‘ exactly the way I wanted it. 

As well as the reasons for writing a non-fiction review, a particularly valuable tip was about length. McDaniel suggested that depending on where the review was intended for, expect to write ” … anywhere from 100 to 1500 words”. This is something I really wanted some guidance on. I really liked her ‘Points to consider’—to the extent that I am going to quote them here:

●What if you really don’t like the book? Always write your reviews with integrity. If you honestly don’t like a book, write your review as if you are in a critique session with the author. Use positive words and avoid sarcasm.
●Take time to read reviews written by other readers, but keep in mind that many of them are not trained reviewers.
●Review the book that has been written, not the book you think the author should have written. It isn’t fair to criticize an author for failing to achieve something he or she never intended to achieve.

Lesley Ann McDaniel, http://www.lesleyannmcdaniel.com/how-to-write-a-nonfiction-book-review/

In addition, the template she offers is exactly what I was looking for—it is succinct, with explanation short and sweet where needed. In fact, it is so concise I could not find a way to present it without simply quoting it here:

Nonfiction Book Review Template:

  • Opening statement: Include title and author?
  • What does the book promise to deliver to the reader? Another way to look at it is, what problem does this book promise to solve?
  • Does it accomplish what it sets out to accomplish?
  • If so, how?
  • If not, what could the author have done differently?
  • What makes this author uniquely qualified to write on this topic?
  • What is the tone of the book? Is it humorous and easy to relate to, or is it more dry and academic?
  • Overall impression: This is where you give your personal take on the book.
  • Suggested points to include:
    – Was the book written in a way that you as a reader could easily relate to?
    – What was your favorite (sic) part of the book?
    – Do you have a least favorite (sic) part of the book?
    – If you could change something, what would it be?
    – Are there photos or illustrations? If so, are they effective in enhancing the book’s message?
    – Would you recommend this book?
    – What type of reader would enjoy this book?

Lesley Ann McDaniel, http://www.lesleyannmcdaniel.com/how-to-write-a-nonfiction-book-review/

Feeling much more confident to write reviews on those four books now. And really geared up to choose one and start it again.

Cheers

Kerry

 

4 thoughts on “Writing a book review for a non-fiction book #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Add yours

  1. Hats off to reviewers who read books twice before they review, but I don’t think I have the patience for it. My mind would wander, I think. These are some great tips. Thanks, Kerry! I just wanted to point out in case you’re not aware that the general rule of thumb when quoting a piece is up to 10%. copyright rules are different depending on the country and other criteria, but 10% is a pretty good rule, even if you are crediting the original piece.

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