THE BLOG

Write a Book Review That Helps, Not Hinders -- Part 1

05/19/2015 05:46 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016
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Sooner or later, either passion, generosity, or selfishness will push you to review someone's book.

Passion: You either love or hate the book so much that you must tell the world.

Generosity: You know the book's message will help others. Or, you want to help the author sell books and understand that reviews help sell books.

Selfishness: Your review of another's book helps your own books when you sign your reviews "author of [your book title]." Most book buyers purchase more than one title on any given subject. So when they're looking for a book on leadership, customer service, or whatever and see other titles mentioned in the book review section, that triggers them to take a look at your own. You can also draw attention to your speaking, training, or consulting business in that review. Finally, as a much appreciated content curator, you can post your book review of other books on your own social media and subscription sites.

With the following "Dos" in mind, you should be able to write a substantive review in 5-10 minutes. Offered from my earlier years of writing book reviews for the Houston Chronicle (business books and self-help), these guidelines work well for most categories of nonfiction and fiction.

Review Dos --
(It's not necessary to include all the following items -- but these are typical of most professional reviews.)

  • Overview in a sentence or two the book's key concept (but don't simply repeat the jacket or editorial copy).
  • Give your opinion about whether the author achieved his or her stated purpose.
  • Comment on how the book compares or differs from others on the market on this topic.

  • Dan Janal of PR Leads did this powerfully with this review comment: Example: "If you're a fan of Robert Cialdini's Influence or Dan Kennedy's copywriting books, you MUST read What More Can I Say? It has up-to-date research on how to influence people. Some of the work will challenge established beliefs like adding more benefits and bonuses actually decreases people's perceptions of your offer." Notice also how this reviewer tossed in a great "teaser."

  • Point out particularly helpful sections that the reader wouldn't know by simply reading the editorial copy on the jacket. Jacob Paulsen wrote this about Execution IS the Strategy: "I found a lot of value in the sections about training and coaching. Understanding how to best create an environment of mentors, for example, was really helpful." An anonymous Amazon customer had this to say about Complainers and Energy Drainers: "I specifically like the ways to refocus conversations with complainers and the actual words I can use."
  • Point out a negative or weakness in the book--if you see any. (If this is a friend or respected colleague, obviously you don't want to write a bad review. Yet pointing out what some might call a "weakness" actually lends credibility to your overall favorable review.)
  • The following are some examples of a "negative" that I recently wrote in reviews for books by colleagues -- each intended as a back-handed positive: About Rory Vaden's book Procrastinate on Purpose: "Don't let the title mislead you--this book covers much more ground than the title implies." (The positive: Don't pass this book up just because you think it's about procrastination -- he has a bigger message here!)

For another review on Nourished by Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph, I wrote this "negative," which is actually a back-handed positive: "The authors are at their best and funniest in the chapter on nourishing your marriage relationship; they offer totally opposite viewpoints on adding romance -- both valid and substantial." (The weakness: The two authors disagreed in what they said. The back-handed compliment? Both made substantial points.)

The goal in pointing out a weakness with a colleague's book is somewhat the same as the job applicant's when asked the clichéd question: "What is your biggest weakness?" Answer: "I'm a perfectionist."

  • Point out anything about the book's organization or design (photos, diagrams, data, assessments, surveys, downloadables to accompany the book) that's particularly helpful or unique.
  • Establish the credibility of the author if you are aware of his or her reputation in the field.
  • Give your overall opinion about the book: Is it worth reading? For all audiences? A particular audience? (Joyce Weiss commented on Klout Matters: "This book is perfect for both the experienced and the new social networker.")

The upshot: Do your colleagues and yourself a favor. Read widely to broaden your thinking, and write a thoughtful review to continue the conversation.

Next week, "the Don'ts." Stay tuned....