When I was a kid I loved reading, but I hated book reports. It felt impossible to boil a book down to a few lines or even a page of writing. Besides, by the time I had to write the report, I had already forgotten a lot. It never ceases to be painful to try to pull my thoughts and opinions out of my head and put them on the page, especially in a coherent way.
As an adult, I continue to usually find writing book reviews painful. And yet, I continue to maintain a book blog with reviews of all the (bi and lesbian) books I read. Why? For one thing, I want to raise the visibility of these books — or, in the case of a book I loathed, warn other readers of what to expect. It helps me to build community with other book lovers. It’s also a great way to force myself pay attention to how I’m feeling while I’m reading a book and what my thoughts are afterwards. I have learned to take notes as I go, so I have something to refer to by the time I write a review, and it has me notice what a book is doing well (and what it isn’t). The review at the end helps me to organize my thoughts. I also find that I remember more once I’ve written a review.
Once you’ve decided it’s worthwhile to write a review, though, how do you get started? It can be a daunting task. The good news is, book reviews can adapt to whatever you want them to be. A book review can be a tweet with a thumbs up or thumbs down emoji, maybe with a sentence or two of your thoughts; it can also be an in-depth essay on the themes of the book and its influence on literature. Most are going to fall somewhere between those two! Let go of the idea of trying to create the One True Book Review. Everyone is looking for something different, and there is space for GIF-filled squee fests about a book and thoughtful, meditative explorations of a work.
This post offers a variety of book reviews elements that you can mix and match to create a book review template that works for you. Before you get started, though, there are some questions worth addressing.
Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Book Review Template
Where will you be posting your book reviews?
An Instagram book review will likely look different from a blog book review. Consider which platform you will be using for your book review. You can adapt it for different platforms, or link to your original review, but it’s a good starting point. Instagram reviews tend to be a lot shorter than blog reviews, for instance.
Will you be using the same template every time?
Some book reviewers have a go-to book review template. Others have a different one for each genre, while another group doesn’t use a template at all and just reacts to whatever each book brings up.
Heading or no headings?
When choosing which book review elements to mix and match, you can also decide whether to include a header for each section (like Plot, Characterization, Writing, etc). Headers make reviews easier to browse, but they may not have the professional, essay-style look that you’re going for.
Why are you writing a review?
When selecting which elements to include in your review, consider what the purpose is. Do you want to better remember the plot by writing about it? You probably want to include a plot summary, then. Do you want to help readers decide whether they should read this book? A pros and cons list might be helpful. Are you trying to track something about your reading, like an attempt to read more books in translation or more books by authors of color? Are you trying to buy fewer books and read off your TBR shelf instead? These are all things you can note in a review, usually in a point-form basic information block at the beginning.
Book Review Templates and Formats
This is a multi-paragraph review, usually with no headers. It’s the same format most newspapers and academics use for book reviews. Many essay-style reviews use informal categories in their writing, often discussing setting, writing, characters, and plot in their own paragraphs. They usually also discuss the big themes/messages of a story. Here are some questions to consider when writing an essay-style review:
What is the author trying to do? Don’t evaluate a romance novel based on a mystery novel’s criteria. First try to think about what the book was attempting to do, then try to evaluate if they achieved it. You can still note if you didn’t like it, but it’s good to know what it was aiming for first.
What are some of the themes of the story? What big message should the reader take away? Did you agree with what the book seemed to be saying? Why or why not?
How is this story relevant to the world? What is it saying about the time it was written in? About human nature? About society or current issues? Depending on the book, there may be more or less to dig into here.
What did this book make you think about? It may be that the themes in the book were just a launching off point. How did they inspire your own thinking? How did this book change you?
A Classic Book Review
This is probably the most common kind of book review template. It uses a few criteria, usually including Setting, Writing, Characters, and Plot (for a novel). The review then goes into some detail about each element, describing what the book did well, and where it fell short.
The advantage of this format is that it’s very straightforward and applies to almost any fiction read. It can also be adapted–you will likely have more to say about the plot in a mystery/thriller than a character study of a novel. A drawback, though, is that it can feel limiting. You might have thoughts that don’t neatly fit into these categories, or you could feel like you don’t have enough to say about some of the categories.
Pros and Cons
A common format for a Goodreads review is some variation of pros and cons. This might be “What I Liked/What I Didn’t Like” or “Reasons to Bump This Up Your TBR/Reasons to Bump This Down On Your TBR.” This is a very flexible system that can accommodate anything from a few bullet points each to paragraphs each. It gives a good at-a-glance impression of your thoughts (more cons than pros is a pretty good indication you didn’t like it). It also is broad enough that almost all your thoughts can likely be organized into those headings.
This is also a format that is easily mix and matched with the elements listed below. A brief review might give the title, author, genre, some brief selling points of the novel, and then a pros and cons list. Some reviews also include a “verdict” at the end. An example of this format:
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
🌟 Fantasy All-Ages Comic
💫 Adorable pet dragons
✨ A diverse cast
Pros: This book has beautiful artwork. It is a soothing read, and all the character are supportive of each other. This is a story about friendship and kindness.
Cons: Don’t expect a fast-moving plot or a lot of conflict. This is a very gentle read.
Another approach to the review is not, strictly speaking, a book review template at all. Instead, it’s something like “5 Reasons to Read TITLE by Author” or “The # Most Shocking Plot Twists in X Series.” An advantage of this format is that it can be very to-the-point: if you want to convince people to read a book, it makes sense to just write a list of reasons they should read the book. It may also be more likely to get clicked on–traditional book reviews often get less views than more general posts.
On the other hand, listicles can come off as gimmicky or click-bait. You’ll have to decide for yourself if the book matches this format, and whether you are writing this out of genuine enthusiasm or are just trying to bend a review to be more clickable.
Your Own Original Rating System
Lots of reviewers decide to make their own review format based on what matters to them. This is often accompanied by a ratings system. For instance, the BookTube channel Book Roast uses the CAWPILE system:
CAWPILE is an acronym for the criteria she rates: Characters, Atmosphere, Writing, Plot, Intrigue, Logic, Enjoyment. Each of those are rated 1–10, and the average given is the overall rating. By making your own ratings/review system, you can prioritize what matters to you.
My favorite rating system is Njeri’s from Onyx Pages, because it shows exactly what she’s looking for from books, and it helps her to think about and speak about the things she values:
A “Live Tweet” or Chronological Review
Another format possibility is live tweeting (or updating as you go on Goodreads, or whatever your platform of choice is). This has you document your initial thoughts as you read, and it’s usually informal and often silly. You can add what you’re loving, what you’re hating, and what questions you have as you go.
This is a fun format for when you’re reading a popular book for the first time. That way, other people can cackle at how unprepared you are as you read it. This requires you to remember to always have your phone on you as you read, to get your authentic thoughts as they happen, but it saves on having to write a more in-depth review. Alternately, some people include both a “first impressions” section and a more in-depth analysis section in their final review.
There are plenty of book review templates to choose from and elements to mix-and-match, but you can also respond in a completely original way. You could create a work of art in response to the book! Here are some options:
- Writing a song, a short story, or a poem
- Writing a letter to the author or the main character (you don’t have to send it to the author!)
- Writing an “interview” of a character from the book, talk show style
- Making a visual response, like a collage or painting
- Making a book diorama, like your elementary school days!
Mix-and-Match Elements of a Book Review
Most book reviews are made up of a few different parts, which can be combined in lots of different ways. Here is a selection to choose from! These might also give you ideas for your own elements. Don’t take on too much, though! It can easily become an overwhelming amount of information for readers.
Usually a book review starts with some basic information about the book. What you consider basic information, though, is up for interpretation! Consider what you and your audience will think is important. Here are some ideas:
- The title and author (pretty important)
- The book’s cover
- Page count
- Format (audiobook, comic, poetry, etc)
- Genre (this can be broad, like SFF, or narrow, like Silkpunk or Dark Academia)
- Content warnings
- Source (where did you get the book? Was is borrowed from the library, bought, or were you sent an ARC?)
- Synopsis/plot summary (your own or the publisher’s)
- What kind of representation there is in the novel (including race, disability, LGBTQ characters, etc)
- Anything you’re tracking in your reading, including: authors of color, authors’ country, if a book is in translation, etc
Once you’ve established your basic information, you’re into the review itself! Some of these are small additions to a review, while others are a little more time-intensive.
Bullet point elements:
- Rating (star rating, thumbs up/down, recommend/wouldn’t recommend, or your own scale)
- Who would like it/Who wouldn’t like it
- Read-alikes (or movies and TV shows like the book)
- Describe the book using an emoji or emojis
- Describe the book using a gif or gifs
- Favorite line(s) from the book
- New vocabulary/the most beautiful words in the novel
- How it made you feel (in a sentence or two)
- One word or one sentence review
- Bullet points listing the selling points of a book
- Genre-dependent ratings, like:
- BooksandLala’s Scary, Unsettling, and Intrigue ratings, for horror
- World-building, for fantasy and science fiction titles
- Art, for comics
- Narration, for audiobooks
- Romance, for…romance
- Heat level, for erotica
- Design a graphic (usually incorporating the cover, your star rating, and some other basic info)
- Take a selfie of yourself holding the book, with your expression as the review
- Make a mood board
- Design your own book cover
- Make fan art
Elements to incorporate into a review:
- Quick/initial thoughts (often while reading or immediately after reading), then a more in-depth review (common on Goodreads)
- A list of facts about the book or a character from the book
- Book club questions about the book
- Spoiler/non-spoiler sections
- Research: look up interviews with the author and critique of the book, incorporate it (cited!) into your review
- Links to other resources, such as interviews or other reviews — especially #OwnVoices reviews
- A story of your own, whether it’s your experience reading the book, or something it reminded you of
This is not a complete list! There are so many ways to write a book review, and it should reflect your own relationship with books, as well as your audience. If you’re looking for more ways to keep track of your reading, you’ll also like 50+ Beautiful Bujo Spread Ideas to Track Your Reading.