Alison Craig’s Book Review Workshop – 10th Sept 2014

Ayr Writers Club


10th Sept 2014

The book review

Alison Craig

Workshop format

  • Intro
  • Free writing
  • Why do we write book reviews?
  • What does a book review do?
  • Choosing and reading a book for review
  • What to include in your book review
  • Book review no-no’s
  • Publishing your book review
  • Competition details
  • Questions

Free writing

  • 5 mins
  • Keep the pen moving
  • Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation
  • Don’t cross out
  • Write about something you noticed on the way in

Why do we write book reviews?

  • Because we are contracted/paid to!
  • For a competition
  • To recommend books because we enjoyed them and want others to read them
  • Enthusiasm for a particular author/genre /non-fiction area
  • To communicate with your reader
  • To communicate with authors
  • To develop a following
  • As content for a writing website or blog

What does a book review do?

‘…a book review is meant to inform the potential reader of the merits (and sometimes, demerits) of a book, so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to read it.’ (Baeli, 2013)

What else does as book review do?

  • Expresses your opinion – what you liked and disliked about a book.
  • Provides unbiased comments – i.e. comments on pros and cons regardless of whether review likes or dislikes author or genre
  • Warns about potentially upsetting content, e.g. profane language, graphic sex or violence, sensitive topics such as abuse
  • Assists purchasing decisions
  • Assists authors

How do you choose a book for review?

  • Instinct?
  • Genre or subject you are interested in
  • Author you have read before
  • Author recommended to you
  • If linked to publisher, you may receive ARCs
  • Magazines or newspapers may ask you to review particular titles

What should your review include?

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Pace
  • Structure
  • Dialogue
  • Style
  • Overall enjoyment
  • Potential areas of difficulty
  • NB. Remember that is YOUR review

How do you read a book for review?

  • Read it, then read it again!
  • Don’t skim and fill in the gaps by assuming
  • Keep a piece of paper inside book for notes (use template?)
  • Identify one or two very short quotes
  • Remember that it is YOUR review
  • Look for the positive
  • Treat the negative honestly

Dealing with the negative

  • Mention negatives after you have got a good few positives in
  • Be polite and professional
  • Be clear on why the problem is a problem
  • Is it just a problem for you?
  • Be encouraging. Remember the author!

Reviewing non-fiction

  • Many of same rules apply, but you’ll be looking for:
  • Subject and contribution to field
  • Clarity
  • Bias/objectivity
  • Format/layout
  • Visual appeal
  • Illustrations and graphs etc. – how helpful are they?
  • Depth
  • Argument
  • Style
  • References


  • …give away the ending!
  • …just summarise the plot
  • …lambast a book. If you hate it, don’t review it
  • …attack the book or author
  • …be demeaning
  • …use profane language
  • …be sarcastic
  • …be rude about the cover
  • …think your preference is more important than the quality of the book

Publishing book reviews

  • Magazines and newspaper, but you usually have to be a contracted reviewer
  • Lots of online outlets –
  • Own blog or website
  • GoodReads
  • Amazon
  • Etc.,

Entering the competitions

  • AWC
  • 350-500 words
  • Any book published after 1997
  • Deadline 24th September
  • SAW
  • 350-500 words
  • Any book
  • Deadline 16th January


Kelli Jae Baeli, Giving it Away: Spoilers as Both Noun and Accusation (Why Book Reviews Matter, and How to Write a Proper One), 2013

Rebecca Graf, How to Write a Book Review, 2013

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