Eleven Ways to Get Better Book Reviews for Your Novel

by Joel Friedlander on September 2, 2015 · 15 comments

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By Florence Osmund (@FlorenceOsmund)

As most successful novelists can tell you, book reviews are an important part of marketing and selling your books. The prospect of seeking out book reviews can, however, be a bit overwhelming. Today Florence Osmund is sharing her thoughts and experience on the subject and I think you may find what she has to say very helpful.


Whether written by a professional book reviewer or your average everyday reader, book reviews can be a valuable promotional tool for authors. Even a few negative reviews can be beneficial—opposing viewpoints often incite readers into wanting to find out for themselves which side they favor.

People who write book reviews use a variety of methods to voice their opinions—some write a summary of what the book is about, some state what they liked or didn’t like about the book, and others evaluate the author’s writing skills. For the purpose of this article, when I refer to book reviewers, I am talking about people who know what it takes to craft a story that sells. Professional book reviewers fall into this category. But so do everyday readers who know whether they like or don’t like a particular book, but unlike professional book reviewers, can’t always pinpoint the specific reason.

Here are eleven criteria commonly used by book reviewers, most of which are good for authors to know before they start writing.

  1. Writing Mechanics

    Book reviewers like books that are well-written and professionally edited. In fact, many reviewers will reject books that contain errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, word usage, and sentence structure. Other reviewer concerns to consider are wordiness, run-on sentences, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, and having to re-read something in order to get the meaning.

  2. The Beginning, Middle, and Ending

    First impressions are crucial. Readers won’t waste their time on a book that doesn’t capture their attention with the opening paragraphs—there are too many other books readily available to them. Reviewers expect to be introduced to the protagonist and his/her primary goal very early on in the book, followed by a sense for the stage, mood, plot, and time period for the story.

    The middle of the story has to be strong in order to sustain the reviewer’s interest—something needs to be happening all the time in order to keep the story moving forward at a good pace. Readers and reviewers like lots of conflict, tension, drama, intrigue, suspense, mystery, humor, surprises, twists and turns. A solid middle will be all about a protagonist who is on an interesting journey that is fraught with obstacles.

    Endings should accomplish three things—tie up loose ends, resolve any unresolved problems, and make clear how the protagonist has changed as a result of his/her journey. A good ending won’t be too abrupt or drawn out. A good ending will leave the reviewer feeling satisfied.<

  3. Point of View (POV)

    The most frequently used POV is third person limited—where a narrator tells the story from one character’s point of view, usually the protagonist’s. If you choose to use multiple POVs as an alternative, I would advise limiting it to the main characters and keeping it consistent throughout the book. Reviewers frown upon head-hopping—when POV changes occur mid-paragraph, mid-scene, or even mid-sentence—so when using multiple POVs, make sure the transition from one to another is clearly delineated.

  4. Style

    Your writing style will influence how reviewers assess your book. They tend to like styles that are inviting and engaging. They favor writing that flows with a natural rhythm and is easy to read. Reviewers generally don’t like excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, foreshadowing, imagery, and symbolism.

  5. Pacing

    Reviewers will get annoyed with novels that read too fast or too slow. Too fast, and they may get confused or miss important detail. Too slow, and they’ll get bored. A combination of action, dialogue, and description controls the pace of the narrative, and striking the appropriate balance between them specific to each scene will move the story forward at the right pace.

  6. Character Development

    Book reviewers favor characters that are three-dimensional, well-rounded, believable, interesting, and flawed. In order to keep them distinct and easily recognizable, characters need to stand apart from each other with their names, physical appearance, dialogue, and personality. Above all, each character needs to contribute to the purpose of the story. If they don’t, there is no reason to include them.

  7. Plot

    A good plot, one that reviewers will find appealing, is crucial to the success of your novel. Plot is the framework that holds the story together—a series of scenes that gives the characters something to do. Each scene needs to serve the interest of the plot. If a scene doesn’t serve the plot either directly or indirectly, it’s best to leave it out. Reviewers like plots that are believable, creative, unique, thought-provoking, and true to the genre and time period of the story.

  8. Back Story

    Since most characters experienced life before your novel opened, some back story will likely be required. But too much back story bogs down the narrative and causes readers to skip segments of the book. Keep back story to a minimum by including only that which is essential to the story. Avoid including back story too soon in the book, and switch up how you present it by using a combination of flashbacks, dialogue with other characters, memories, and narrative summary.

  9. Show, Don’t Tell

    It is important to craft scenes that show the reviewer what is going on rather than tell the reviewer what to believe. My favorite quote illustrating this is from Anton Chekhov. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” The use of nouns and verbs allows readers to experience the story through the character’s actions, dialogue, facial expressions, etc., and form their own opinion on what is occurring. Reviewers look for that. The use of adjectives and adverbs, on the other hand, leaves nothing for readers to perceive on their own.

  10. Accuracy

    With the exception of sci-fi and fantasy, it’s not likely you will write a novel without having to rely on some real-life facts and figures to make the content of your story believable. Readers and reviewers take a dim view of misstated facts, so check and double-check everything you write.
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