My book review template

I started the year behind on my reading. I didn’t know what genres are out there, what books have been popular lately or what someone like me might want to read. So the first goal on my list was to learn about the current state of the publishing market by doing a lot of reading. However, I knew from previous experience that if I didn’t write things down, all the books I’d read would blend together into one big muddle and I wouldn’t really learn anything from my research.

‘This time around, I wanted to approach things systematically. What genres of books did I most like and could picture myself writing? How are books priced? What makes me want to keep reading a series? What do I like in a cover? I developed a review metric for myself that helped me keep track of all of this, which I’ll share here.

Book Title

  • Author Info
  • How many followers do they have on Goodreads? (I use this number as a proxy for “how popular are they?”)
  • How many books have they written? (Distinct works on Goodreads) (I am going for an approximation rather than an exact number; ‘distinct works on Goodreads’ includes things like translations and book collections, such that a writer like J.K. Rowling has an inflated number related to individual works. I use the approximation because I don’t want to spend too much time on getting an exact number; my main purpose in recording the number is to remind myself that success doesn’t come from one perfect book, but from consistent, high quality output over time.)
  • Book Info
  • Is it part of a series?
  • If so, what influences my decision to continue or not continue reading? (Some series I need to keep reading; some series would be nice to read if I had time; some series you’d have to pay me to continue. Naturally, I’m interested in the difference between them.)
  • How long was the book? (Pages & estimated word count at 300 wpp) (No one seems to know exactly how Amazon determines page counts relative to word counts. Sometimes my estimate based on 300 words per page turns out to be right, and sometimes it’s way off.)
  • What was the price? (If it’s the first one in a series, I also like to look at the price as a whole. A lot of them start at $0.99 or $2.99 but subsequent books cost more. I’m particularly amused when series raise the price higher with every book.)
  • Was it on Kindle Unlimited? (If not, I probably got it from the library.)
  • What was the Kindle Store ranking? (This bit of data hasn’t turned out to be super useful to me, but it is interesting to see the different categories books are slotted into.)
  • Where do they get their reviews from? (I mentally sort reviews into respectability tiers: reviews from Goodreads and Amazon readers, reviews from book bloggers, reviews from other authors, reviews from the trade magazines like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews. If there’s a review from a book blogger, I often check to see if their blog is still operating and if they accept self-published books for review.)
  • How do they signal content guidelines? (Coming from fandom, we tag everything, both to make it easy to avoid content and to make it easy to find. Without that sort of explicit content notice system, I wondered how more subtle signals are conveyed. Sometimes it’s a straight up sentence about the book’s content, sometimes it’s the tone of the cover and blurb. For example, if the book promises “schmexy” content in later installments, we are probably not dealing with a dark romance.)
  • How many ratings does it have on Goodreads? (Like the “how many followers” question, this is a general metric for how popular the book is.)
  • What do I think of the cover? (The covers I like best fall into two categories: “woman in pretty dress” and “ornate, intricate, fantastical patterns.” Bonus points for covers that do both.)
  • How are the first 30 pages? (In Beating The Story, Robin D. Laws says that no section of your story matters more than its first thirty pages, which usually winds up being about the first two chapters or first 10%.)
  • If I didn’t finish it, why not? (I read quickly, so it’s rare I don’t at least hate-read until the end. If I don’t, it’s probably because the book was too long, too boring or someone was TSTL — that is, “too stupid to live.” What a useful acronym!)
  • Thoughts as I read (I keep my phone on hand as I read, and jot down my emotional reactions – things like “Is this dumbfuck seriously the love interest?” – or notes about how the book is structured or characters are designed.)
  • Summarize the book (When I didn’t much care about a book, the phrase “and then there was some drama” tends to stand in for a summary of the plot.)
  • My rating:
  • 💣1 star: I really hated or at least disliked it and saw very little redeeming value in it.
  • 💢💢2 star: It annoyed me but I had to admit it had its moments. (It is a quirk of my rating system that I probably had a much stronger emotional reaction to a 2-star book than a 3-star book. Unfortunately, that reaction was probably something like “FFS you’ve GOT to be KIDDING ME”)
  • 🔸🔸🔸3 star: It struck me as solid but forgettable, or was solid but I personally wasn’t into it. (The three-star emoji is bland by design; three star books are reasonably competent and interesting, but I’d forget them the next day if I wasn’t writing them down.)
  • 🌟🌟🌟🌟4 star: I really liked it and feel like it made me happy and caught my interest a lot
  • 💖💖💖💖💖5 star: I loved everything about it, or I felt uniquely affected by it
  • Genre Info
  • What was the genre?
  • Did I like the genre? Could I imagine writing in it?
  • Did the love interest fall into a particular character type? (vampire, werewolf etc)
  • Did it feel like erotica, romance, or neither?
  • How many sex scenes are there? (For a while there I thought I might try writing erotica, so I was interested in how much sex people would be expecting for their buck. I was genuinely impressed by one book that managed to shoehorn eight sex scenes into 100 pages and still have some semblance of a plot.)
  • What was the POV and how was it handled? Did I like it? (In a lot of books with a strong romance component, the POV switches between the hero and heroine (or, heroine and hero and hero and hero and hero, if it’s reverse harem.) Sometimes the POV goes all over the damn place. It’s nice to know what response it elicited in me.)
  • What is the central dramatic question of the story? Extrapolate the Save The Cat category from that. (🦖Monster In The House, 🏆Golden Fleece, 🧞‍♂️Out Of The Bottle, 🚨Dude With A Problem, 🎭Rites Of Passage, 🍒Buddy Love, 🕵🏻‍♂️Whydunit, 🤹🏻‍♀️Fool Triumphant, 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦Institutionalized, 🎖Superhero) (I am a big fan of the categories used in Save the Cat, and I like to try to sort books into them. I’ve found a correlation between how challenging it is to decide on the category — that is, how hard it is to look back over the book and formulate a coherent central dramatic question — and the book’s overall quality.)
  • Other Thoughts
  • What worked about this book? What would appeal to an average reader?
  • What didn’t work about this book? What would turn off an average reader?
  • What did I love about the characters?
  • What annoyed the hell out of me?

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