The Mad Libs Version for Writing a Book Review … For Readers.

*If you’re a writer, feel free to share this post with your readers.*

As for you readers, the superstars, the audience, the fans, has anyone asked you to give them a review of their book? Maybe a friend, a new author, perhaps? Does the idea of leaving a review make you want to throw up a little? I mean, you read the book, and even liked it, but you don’t know how to write a review. And it’s public. And you don’t want to do a bad job, or make yourself look stupid. Right? You are not the only one.

Quiet people, introverts, shy and personal readers, and people who’ve never left a review before, often quake at the thought of leaving their beliefs online, thinking that they could be contested, or it may draw unwanted attention their way. There are trolls, jenn. Yes, I know. Trust me, it’s not as scary to do, as it is in your mind. (The first time’s the hardest. Like roller skating.) No one is going to judge you on your reviewing skills or say anything derogatory to you for telling how you feel about a book. Your opinion may be unpopular, but if it’s not a good book, chances are, you will not be alone.

You are the sway in the balance of our books’ success. Authors know that your reviews, though they be a seed, as they multiply, they grow to be a living tree, or they wither and die. The author of the book is so appreciative of your review. Next to sales, reviews are our bread and butter. No one buys a book with zero reviews–it’s too risky. If it was a good book, someone liked it, right? (There are authors so desperate for reviews, they cheat the system to get more, resulting in Amazon’s crack down on review guidelines. Amazon deleted many of my hard-earned reviews because they came from readers Amazon deemed to be “my friends” because I had accepted their friendship on Facebook.)

Some websites require a specific amount of Amazon reviews to even purchase their ads. Bookbub requires ten, and Book Barbarian requires ten with at least a 3.5 rating. Authors need ads to make sales. So by leaving a review, you are helping that author with their marketing. They LOVE your reviews. Just like you love to read the reviews before buying a new book. Those were from real readers, like you.

We writers forget how hard it is for someone not in the writing/publishing field to write a book review. Many readers don’t do it because they think it’s too difficult or time consuming. And many writers think, “How hard is it to say, I liked it, or I didn’t like it, and give it 5 out of 5 stars?” I think we both know that it’s not that simple. You don’t want to look stupid, any more than we do.

So what do you write?

Here’s my madlibs version of a book review for the disinclined:

First, start off with something easy. Like this:

*(Optional opening) Hi. I am____________.

Possible answers: your name, anonymous, stunning, a book nerd, a stranger, new to this genre, excited to tell you about this book.

*I read __(THE BOOK)__ by __(THE AUTHOR)__.

*____________ inspired me to pick it up.

Possible options: the cover, the blurb, my sister, my best friend, another book review, an ad, a tweet, a post.

*(Next, give a quick summary): __{CHARACTER NAME}__ needed __{GOAL}__, or else __{STAKES}__ would happen. So they __{EXCITING PART}__. But bad guy __{CHARACTER NAME}__, did __{SOMETHING NEFARIOUS}__. Can the good guys win? (Leave it with a hook. Don’t give away the ending or any twists.)

*The genre is ____________.

Choose one of these first: YA, adult, middle grade, new adult. And then one of these: Sci-fi, fantasy, humor, horror, literary, romance, historical, memoir, etc.

*The author did a ____________ job of pulling me into the story.

Possible choices: Great, masterful, terrible, clever, quick, slow, simple.

*I thought ____________.

(Tell us, did the plot make sense? Did it make you think of when you were in high school? Did you relate to the story somehow? Did you think it was a great beach read? Was it a seasonal story? Did it remind you of anything? Did you relate to the characters’ occupation/sport/situation?)

*I liked the part where ____________.

(Tell us your favorite part, or what you liked about the book.)

*It made me feel ____________…

Options: Good, bad, tingly, exhausted, sedated, blissful, energetic, affectionate, too affectionate, angry, scared, disgusted, happy to be done reading

…and this is why: __(SUMMARY OF IMPACTFUL SCENE)__.

*____________ could have been better.

(Tell us where the book fell short. Or something you would have liked to have seen, that you think was a missed opportunity. Was something not plausible, didn’t make sense?)

*The book had a great ____________.

Story, main character, adventure, fighting scene, plot twist, ending, new invention, setting, mystery, world, romance, maps, sentence, ending.

*The writing and grammar were ____________.

Correct, fancy, simple, complex, terrible, full of typos, wonderful, imaginative, adequate.

*The main characters were ____________.

Awesome, clever, funny, sexy, outrageous, fine, okay, skilled swordsmen, named Jim and Sally, steamy, related, believable, emotional, fit the book, realistic, relatable.

*The dialogue is ____________.

Appropriate, enough, too similar to other characters, served its purpose, complex, thoughtful, 50% of the book, interspersed with body language.

*The pace is ____________.

Perfect, too fast, too slow. *This refers to whether you feel like the book was a quick read, or did it seem to drag on and on, or was the beginning long and the end cut off abruptly? (There should be fast and slow scenes interspersed, that’s normal, but did the story speed up when you thought it should slow down or give lots of detail to things that could have been sped along?)

*It made me think of ____________ books.

My favorite, the best, some other, famous, another author’s. (Are there any other books like it? Or does it remind you of any other books? Maybe a cross between two other books/movies? Or it could have a writing style like another author you know.)

*I ____________ this book.

Enjoyed, loved, disliked, exercised with, took a bath with, listened to, speed read, trudged through, skipped through, didn’t finish, read on the toilet with, devoured til 2am.

*I would ____________ read it again.

Love to, never, maybe, probably, kill to, kill not to.

*I ____________ recommend this book.

Do, do not, will, did, won’t, can, am so happy to, hope I never.

*I would rate it a _____ out of __(5)__. (*Books are usually rated out of 5 stars.)

I’m not going to tell you to give it a five if it didn’t deserve it, but don’t judge this book based on the stars you gave another book. Is this one a good story? Did it check everything off your happy-list for a book? If it did a great job, give it a five. If you thought it was close but no cigar, go down one. Four stars it is. Was it so-so? Give it a three. A two means you didn’t like it and a one is generally left for books you couldn’t even finish.

*Is there anything else you would want to know if you were going to read this book? Any favorite quotes? Anything the reader needs to notice? Put that in there.

And you’re done. Take all the sentences and make a paragraph or three, OR choose which lines you want and string them together however you like.

Choosing answers for all these lines makes for a thorough book review–OR, you can choose to write one or two of the lines. Some people believe that you should summarize the book’s plot in a review, but the reader can read the blurb or back cover for themselves. (They probably read it first, and are looking to see if you liked the book.) If every review only summarized the plot, there would be no point to reviewing. Other readers want to know, should I buy this book? Will I like it? What’s it got that I like? Will it be a waste of my time and money? Is it like another book that I already like/don’t like? They want your OPINION. So, relax and tell them what you think.

Imagine your best friend said, “Hey, will I like this book, too?” Answer it in your review.

That’s it.



My last point–and probably more a result of an electronic society–is a request of respect. When you tell an author you are going to leave a review, please do that. Or have the courtesy–and bravery–to email them and let them know that you can’t. It’s also nice at that point–if you have a friend, mom, sister, niece, daughter, granddaughter, that would like the book–to tell the author you are passing their request on to someone else. Then do that. It’s so frustrating for the author to send out to masses of reviewers and “just expect 20% success.” We trust and believe in all our readers and reviewers. I don’t ever get mad at them when they don’t review, because–I know–life. But it is disappointing to have people just disappear without a word. It’s compounded by not knowing how many new requests you need, to reach your goal.

In summary, use the template or write out your own paragraph, but just challenge yourself to do that first one. Then you’ll realize it’s not only freeing, it can be fun to share your opinion with other readers. You will gain camaraderie and respect within that community, or maybe you will eventually debate and joke around with a few others. But no matter what you say in your review, positive or negative, the author thanks you. You, the readers, are who we write for. You are the reason we pour our guts on the page, bleed on our keyboards. So love us back with a review.

It’s like an author snuggle.

Until next week… You writers keep writing! We will go back to the bestseller and our plan next week. For more on that, I’ll be discussing “plans to publish” on my newsletter in a few days.


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