Exposing myself as a Gross Book Nerd on this blog: for the nth time!
This post has been sitting in my drafts for almost a year, but I’ve held off on posting it because I was still figuring out the best way for me to write reviews, and I knew that I wanted more practice before determining what was my “definitive” process. And I can definitely say now that I’m very comfortable with the process I’ve developed for myself!
I don’t consider myself a great reviewer—I’d say I can get my thoughts across coherently, so I meet the bare minimum—so this isn’t like “my process is the best and I’m an excellent reviewer because of it.” But I still wanted to share how I write my reviews anyway because I always found these posts from others helpful in the past!!
READING A BOOK
I know lots of reviewers say that critical reading or reading a book to review it has sucked the enjoyment out of reading for them. But (not to have a not like other girls moment) I am honestly the opposite! I can definitely see why it can be unenjoyable to read a book to pick it apart instead of for your own pure pleasure, but like… that’s exactly what I love!!! I am a NERD and genuinely find a lot of joy in analyzing books. If some people read to enjoy the book itself, I do that too, but also to figure out how exactly the author made it so that I can enjoy the book.
Someone might have the impression that because I like to analyze books, I’m having super critical thoughts while reading. I think there’s sometimes this debate about “reading a book for enjoyment” vs “critically reading” but to me, those aren’t mutually exclusive! When people say that they read only for enjoyment and not to analyze a book—I feel like, naturally, you’re going to be analyzing a book a little bit while you’re reading, just because it’s in our nature to think about things. It may not be a deep analysis, but aren’t you going to think something like “I love this book so much… the characters feel so real!” or “I’m hating this book… it’s moving so slowly,” and aren’t those bordering on analysis?
(I know I’m generalizing in a post that’s supposed to be about my personal process, but my point is what I think about while reading a book is not that deep and pretty much what everyone else naturally is thinking about too.)
At the heart of reading and reviewing is the why. Everyone naturally has thoughts like “oh I like/hate/feel meh about this” while they’re reading, and that naturally leads to wondering why you feel that way, and that leads to thinking about characters or plot or whatever it is that’s making you like/dislike a book. And that leads to pretty much the barebones of a review! The review is where you take it a step further—basically, a review for me is just compounding on the why: asking why, and then why again.
- I like the book because of its feminist themes -> I like the feminist themes because they are portrayed through the characters and their arcs, thus offering more rounded commentary when we can see how it affects actual people
- I dislike the book because I didn’t connect to the characters -> I didn’t connect to the characters because the scenes that would have shown a moment of growth for them were rushed, and the writing didn’t portray their emotions very well
While I’m reading, I’m not quite asking the “second why” yet, especially since I’m in the process of reading and don’t know how everything will play out by the end. But I’m considering how I’m feeling about the book, and why I’m feeling that way.
It feels a little weird to say “prepping” to write a review, since it kind of sounds like I mean literally preparing to write a review with my laptop and Goodreads and some water (because I am terribly dehydrated at all times). But I mean prepping in terms of organizing your thoughts and figuring out what you’re actually going to say.
First of all, though I don’t do it with every book, I try to jot a few notes down after I finish a book. These are usually what were simmering as I read the book, the “first why”, and sometimes I’ll have my thoughts together enough to put down the “second why”. Sometimes I’ll open Notion on my phone, ramble out loud, and have text-to-speech jot those thoughts down for me. (It gets very convoluted and it’s proof that I could never be a booktuber because I would never shut up. But it works!)
what my “reading corner” Notion page looks like, with some of my reading notes
Then I wait a few days. (Or… a few months… haha…) It helps to let my thoughts fully settle and form with some distance from the book, and sometimes my opinion of a book might even change a bit.
After that I reread my notes. This is to see if they awaken any new realizations, or help me see that I feel differently about a certain aspect now, ie. I first thought the writing was tolerable but now I realize it was actually insufferable.
Then I form a bullet-point outline with the notes that are the most important to me—aka what I want to expand on in a review (because sometimes I simply don’t have much to say about certain aspects of a book, even if I had a cool thought about it)! I usually only do these for my full, multi-paragraph reviews.
I’m going to use one of my outlines as an example here, which was for my review of She Who Became the Sun. You can see that it is not that detailed at all!
- great characters, loved the complexity of their characters (zhu and her ambition, ouyang and his self-hatred)
- the romances were also so good, yearning and tragedy perfection
- LOVED the themes:
- destiny and choice, especially how zhu and ouyang’s arcs complemented each other
- beautiful writing
- ending killed me, you can tell it’s coming and i predicted part of it, but it’s still devastating
If you look at my review, it pretty much just follows all of these points, further developing them in their own paragraphs. (You’ll see that I didn’t only mentioned the “beautiful writing” in passing. As I was writing my review, I realized I didn’t have much to say about it, so I didn’t force myself to expand on it!)
And if you’re wondering what the notes for this book looked like, they were basically range from “REALLY nice characterization. my favorite part of the whole book. […] zhu is very clearly self-centered and power-hungry but u root for her” to “THE ROMANCESSS [redacted] im literally going to STAB MYSELF”. So. There’s a lot of growth from the notes to the outline!
WRITING THE REVIEW
And now on to the actual writing of the review! Honestly, I don’t have that much to write about this stage because… nothing’s going on. I’m just writing the review. What do I talk about.
Format/structure: I usually write multi-paragraph reviews, but sometimes I’ll write shorter ones that are a paragraph or two! I also generally start out with my overall feelings (ie. I was anticipating this book and it disappointed me) and a short summary of the book, and close out with the typical “conclusion paragraph” style of an essay where I sum up my thoughts and say whether or not I recommend the book.
Time: You’d think all the note-taking, outlining, and Intense Thinking while I’m reading (and the fact that I enjoy writing reviews) would make the review-writing quick and easy. And you’d be wrong! I can take 1.5 to 2 hours to write a full review—sometimes 1 if I’m lucky—and 30 minutes to 1 hour for shorter reviews. I can knock out a shorter review in one sitting, but definitely not the longer ones.
What I actually talk about: I’ve written a post about what I look at in a book before, but some of that has changed a bit, since that was 2 years ago! Mainly I focus on characters and themes, but I’ve found that I care a bit more about writing and pacing now. And of course, I talk about my personal feelings (enjoying the story a lot, feeling bored or confused, etc.)
Other things: I always include quotes in my full reviews, so sometimes those are a pain to find if I didn’t read the book as an ebook and could highlight! I also prioritize ARC reviews, and though I do write shorter ARC reviews sometimes, it’s mostly the non-ARC books (that I want to review) that get the shorter reviews because I just don’t have time.
- If you can, jot down some notes after finishing the book! (While you read is also great, but I can hardly do that so I’m in absolutely no place to be giving that tip.) It really helps to know your immediate thoughts, whether it’s to use directly in your review or to help jog your memory of the book.
- WRITE AN OUTLINE. This has honestly been the biggest help to me in writing reviews!! And you really don’t have to make it that detailed… I mean I clearly am not, and it’s still so helpful. It makes all the coherent thoughts you have about a book feel more organized and offers a loose structure that your review can follow.
- This kind of goes with the above two, but identify 3-5 points about the book that are most important to you. Those few points can serve as a summary of your thoughts, and then you expand on those in your review. I feel like this is super easy and most people already do it without thinking, when casually talking about a book (like, saying “the beginning was slow so I couldn’t connect to the characters well, but I liked the plot twists!” is your 3 points already). But I think it really helps in focusing your review more on what is personally most significant to you!
- Buddy reading is great for “prepping” to write reviews! Obviously this isn’t something you can do after you read a book if you didn’t buddy read it, but more of a tip to make the best use of your buddy reads. Having to talk about your thoughts to your buddy read partner, especially as you read more and thoughts form/change, forces you to make them a bit more coherent. And discussing the book afterwards helps so much too!
- Have fun—review what and how you want to! Of course there might be circumstances where you have to/should write a review (like for ARCs), but you really don’t have to review every book you read. And not every review has to be the same for every book, they can be just two short paragraphs or a few bullet points! Taking pressure off myself to review all the books I read and write them all to a certain length/depth has made reviewing a lot more enjoyable for me.
feels like i haven’t written a long/discussion-type post in a while! so let me know: what does your reviewing process look like? do you enjoy writing reviews? do you jot down notes or outline?