Reviewing A Novel. Should You or Shouldn’t You?

A beagle reviewing a novel

Recently I found myself reviewing a novel on Goodreads.

Do you read book reviews? Do you write them? Every time we add a book to our lists at that website, Goodreads reminds us to review, and for some reason, this time I listened. Sometimes I do what I’m told.

As an author I make a point of not reviewing a novel very often. When I do, I only choose books I liked well enough to award four or five stars. I have to face my colleagues at conferences and online. I certainly never want them to remember me as the fellow author who savaged the book of their heart.

As I worked on this particular four-star review I found myself wondering how to write it, then I wondered why to write it. Both excellent questions.

The second is the easiest. Online reviews matter to authors. Goodreads, Amazon, B&N? Publishers actually pay attention. So do readers, who often select their next buy by the number of reviews an author has already collected. Recently I learned that a promo tool I was considering will only accept books that already have many reviews online. On a personal level if I’m wondering whether to buy a book, or even download one for free, I check both good and bad reviews to see the problems and possibilities.

So yes, reviews matter. A lot. And the next time you’re having warm, fuzzy thoughts about my work or any author’s work, please pop on to Amazon, Goodreads or any of the other online bookstores where reviews are appreciated, and write a couple of sentences. If you’re not having warm, fuzzy thoughts? I suggest a good game of tennis or an afternoon of quilting.

How to write a review was a little harder to answer. I had a few thoughts on the subject:

  • Short is beautiful. You don’t have to go on for paragraphs.
  • Speak from the heart. You don’t have to be funny or as insightful as someone who does this for a living.
  • Don’t worry about other reviewers’ opinions. A review is yours, and you matter. Take it from me. You do.
  • Don’t write a complete synopsis. Summarize in a couple of sentences.
  • Don’t use review space to compliment or criticize the vendor who sold you the book instead of the book itself.
  • If you don’t want to write a review, rate the book if you can. However, please do not rate books you haven’t read.  Remember that your rating affects the way potential book buyers will make decisions whether or not to give it a try. Be fair.

Since that’s pretty perfunctory, I researched a bit, and found an excellent blog post from literary agent Rachelle Gardner to supplement mine.

I’ll share the important points. Check out her post for full details.

  • Review books you recommend–she points out that newspapers like the New York Times Book Review choose books they want to recommend to their audiences.
  • When reviewing a novel, judge the book, not the author.
  • Don’t give away the ending or the surprises.
  • Acknowledge the authors purpose and audience.
  • Address whether the book kept you turning the pages and whether the ending satisfied you. Then add whatever else seems relevant.

Don’t let fear of being judged stop you from reviewing. Be concise, respectful, and honest. If you stay within that framework, your review, whether overwhelmingly positive or not, will be appreciated by readers and authors alike.


  1. Iris November on June 10, 2014 at 2:31 am

    As a librarian I used to write reviews for children’s books for ALA–American Library Association. There was a book that I just loved, tested it out on various children, and wrote a fun, positive review. It was turned down by their review committee– they didn’t like the book! I resigned from reviewing books for them– and the book in question went on to be in all libraries, and was very popular. It was about sex!

    • Emilie Richards on June 10, 2014 at 9:05 am

      Love this, Iris. Thanks for sharing. Definitely the ALA’s loss.

  2. Marjorie Roberts on June 10, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    I have reviewed books that were sent to me for the purpose of reading and reviewing them. I love the suggestions both of you give. I follow most of your guidelines and learned more, too. My favorites are from well-known authors that send me an advanced copy. I would love to receive more of them. I will now try to review, or at least star books I read and love – not just the ones where I promise to read and review. [I have read a couple of digital books where I ended up emailing the authors for mistakes found that they appreciated, as there were either too many of them, or there were just a couple that made a difference in what they wrote. ] I will not review a book if it turns out to be a low review. Emilie, thanks for being one of my favorite authors! I will start reviewing them as I read them. I am hesitant to go back and review the ones I read in the past. I want to have just finished the book so that it is fresh.

  3. Emilie Richards on June 11, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Marjorie, it sounds like you enjoy this, which is great. And that’s a good point about reviewing while a book is fresh. That does make a difference, doesn’t it?

  4. Mary West on June 24, 2014 at 8:27 am

    I often win books to review from, the Early Reviewers Page. Publishers and authors send them to people who have requested to read them for review. I only request books I’m interested in and read them in a timely manor. Some have been great , others not so, the review only has to be 25 words and many I get before they come out on the shelves! I don’t know if your publisher does this but if they did I would request your books!

    • Emilie Richards on June 24, 2014 at 9:58 am

      I just learned I have access to galleys and next year let me know before my new book comes out. If I can, I’ll send you one for review if you’re interested.

  5. Gail on June 24, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Thank you for tips and the link to Rochelle’s blog as well.
    I often think I will write a review upon completion of a book, but never follow through. With these tips and the knowledge that it is important to do so, I will definitely make the effort to write those good reviews!
    P.S. I am a loyal fan of yours (and Pat Sloan’s!!) and have especially enjoyed the goddesses! Best wishes for a huge success with the new one.

    • Emilie Richards on June 24, 2014 at 9:57 am

      Gail, I’m still working on my Happiness Key quilt, but started hand-quilting it yesterday. Love that Pat. And thanks in advance for any reviews.

  6. Lisa Reigel on January 29, 2016 at 7:07 am

    Very interesting and helpful. I have started writing reviews maybe a year and half or so. I’m more consistent now mainly because authors have pointed out how important they are to them. I was always hesitant to do them due to my lack of writing skills, but now I just go for it and try to convey my jumbled thoughts. lol

  7. K'Tee on February 16, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    I like writing reviews of books I love. When there’s a book I’m just ok with, I find myself saying things like, “Fans of horror fiction will adore this mass-murder masterpiece.” And then I promise myself no more slashers.

    • Emilie Richards on February 17, 2016 at 10:53 am

      A very tactful review. Completely true without committing yourself. Bravo.

  8. Laurie Iglesias on May 22, 2019 at 4:20 am

    These are excellent suggestions and tips. Thanks for sharing.

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