Are you writing a book report when you mean to write a book review?  Do you know for certain which is which?  Hopefully, these tips will help you decide.

So when I was in the fourth grade and my teacher, Mrs. Krabappel, assigned us a book report on “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, it came along with a sheet telling me what to write.  Was it daunting?  Absolutely!  Who liked book reports?  They were scary and detail oriented.  Sometimes, you even had to perform the dreaded oral report!

We won’t go there for now though.  If you look back on it with adult eyes though, it was actually pretty easy….assuming you read the book that is.  🙂

While book reports and book reviews are comparable, there are distinct differences.  Book reports are more descriptive; tell what the book is about in detail, and a book review is more influential; trying to convince a reader WHY they should or shouldn’t read the book.  However, both offer a combination of summary and observation.

While most teachers have their own requirements and expectations for book reports, for the most part, in school, you could expect to be assigned something like this:

Not so daunting, right?  I want you to specifically notice the main section which TELLS YOU to summarize the book; tell the beginning, the middle and the end.  This is a RED FLAG that this is a book report and NOT a book review.  You actually give the details of the book back to the teacher in a book report.

In many ways, you will retell the story and then explain it’s effect on you.  This is a book report.

A book review, in contrast, should NEVER re-tell the story.  While many of the above objectives should be met, you need to be certain you are not giving ANYTHING away.  Something as simple as telling how the events in the prologue play out can spoil a book for future readers.  Your objective here is to convey your feelings about the book in a constructive manner.  Length is not important here; content is what counts.

Having a reviewer re-tell their novel, give out spoilers, write in quotes from the book, give away secrets or twists and turns is an author’s nightmare.

It’s wonderful that you’re excited about a book and want to share it with others, but remember to reign it in.  Don’t be specific.  Don’t tell WHAT the characters have done….speak about their development.  Explain the story arc but don’t reiterate scenes from the story.  Do NOT give out spoilers no matter how much you’d like to.  Just, never.

As with a book report, having actually READ the book is critical.  If you started it, put it down and didn’t finish it-for WHATEVER reason-you should NOT be reviewing it.  If you don’t know the full story arc as well as character development from beginning to end , you shouldn’t review the book.  How can you form a constructive opinion about the book if you don’t know the entire story and it’s details.

Always include both the book title and the author’s name as many times as possible through your review.  Try NOT to use the term “the book” or “the author” as this will not help the novel or author’s name stick with the person reading your review.  Remember, you want to sell your review; whether it’s positive or negative.  Having said that, it is imperative to remain professional at all times.  Even if you despise a book you’ve read, you should be able to find some positive aspects to point out.

I know of many authors who read the reviews of their novels and actually make changes to their manuscripts based on feedback.  It’s so important that you give constructive criticism and feedback at all times.

Using the book summary as part of your review is a cop out.  If you want to include it in a blog post, that’s fine, but know that it is NOT part of your review.  When posting on retail sites, readers can get the book synopsis simply by looking up the book.  The blurb is NOT your review or even part of it.

If there is a topic the book relates to; such as abuse, politics, religion etc., please discuss your thoughts and opinions of the topic.  This helps readers of your review get a true “feel” for the book.

Whether you like the book or not; do not make your review personal to the author. Under any circumstances. This is NEVER acceptable.  The author wrote the book, the book is it’s own entity.  Review outlets are never a place for you to voice your personal opinions of the author.  You are reviewing the book, not the author.  Always be fair and professional.

Make sure to consider the genre the book is placed in when writing your review.  You shouldn’t expect the same story arc from a paranormal novel as you would from a horror novel and you should review accordingly.  Set your expectations realistically so you can review in a constructive manner.

I also suggest taking notes while you read when you come across events in the book which make an impact on you so you don’t forget your feelings by the time you write your review.  If you can wait two to three days after finishing the book before writing your review, you also allow the story to “marinate” within you and full feelings to emerge.

The most important section in a review is your conclusion.  Please make sure to give an overall summary of how you felt about the book and it’s content.  Would you recommend the book?  Is there another author or book you would compare it to?  Is there a different age group or genre you feel it may fit into as well?  Sometimes a die hard fantasy reader may pick up a romance or horror based on your feedback.  You just never know.

Most importantly, always know that the length of your review is not relevant.  A one paragraph review, if done properly, is so much more influential and helpful than a three page review that is not constructive or educated.  In the end, know that you are helping authors tremendously when you post a review.  Whether you liked the book or not, the author WANTS to hear your feedback.  I’ve never known an author or publishing house that didn’t appreciate it when a reader posted a review and helped others learn more about their novel.  Ever.

Please make sure you are never writing a book REPORT when you should be writing a book REVIEW.  They are very different entities and if you’re uncertain of the differences, please ask someone for help before you post it online.  There are many of us who have been doing this for years and we are always here to help individuals new to reviewing.  If you’re following these guidelines, you can be assured that you’re helping the author and your review will be a success!

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