One of the greatest honors for a writer is to be given the opportunity to review a colleague’s work for a magazine or newspaper. However, it is sometimes harder than it looks because your review can determine how well the book sells and can also influence public opinion. When writing a review of a novel for a magazine or newspaper, it is your job to be as objective and as fair as possible.
Read the Entire Novel
There is no margin for error here — you must read the entire novel. Even if the book bores you to tears, you’ll need to have read every word in order to write an accurate review for a magazine or newspaper. For example, what if a pivotal character dies at the end, and you never read that far? Not mentioning such an important event in your review will be a dead giveaway that you didn’t bother to finish the novel. And don’t think that you can rely on a friend who has read it to give you the information you need. The review must be written from your perspective, from beginning to end.
Write In the Present Tense
Just as if you were writing a synopsis of your own novel, you should always write in the present tense. This is true for all manner of literature review, but especially in the case of a review for a magazine or newspaper. Writing in the first person allows your reader to experience the novel with you, and places the reader in the exact time and place of the novel. As you describe scenes, styles, characters or opinions, make those observations now rather than in the past.
Know the Your Audience and Purpose
Generally speaking, the audience of your review will be anyone who reads the magazine or newspaper in which it will be published, so request a summary of the key demographics from the publisher. Your purpose is to tell readers why they should or should not purchase the novel you are reviewing. Keep this in mind during the entire time you are writing the review, and never stray from it. Your purpose is not to go into detail about the themes, subplots or ending to the novel; rather, you should encapsulate those qualities into an opinion piece about the novel.
Know the Author
If you’ve never read any of the author’s previous works or if you don’t know anything about him or her, find out. You might want to make comparisons to the author’s previous works or reference his or her background in the review. Many times, the magazine or newspaper for which you are writing the review will give you a brief biography and a list of titles by the author, but this isn’t always enough. Know the person about whom you are writing to give a fair and objective review.
Use Minimal Quotations
Although a few quotes from the novel to supplement your review are acceptable, your work should not be top-heavy with quotations. Use only a few words here and there to demonstrate characterization, the writer’s style or other aspects of the novel that you feel are significant. Make sure that each quotation is different from the last, and that each has a definite place in your review. Check with the magazine or newspaper with whom you were contracted to write the review and find out if they have a policy on quotations.
Start and End Positively
If your review is going to contain negative opinions, save those thoughts for the middle of your review. Unless you found the entire novel lacking, you should do the writer the justice of starting and ending your review positively. For example, if the characterizations were weak and the ending somewhat disappointing, explain those thoughts in the body of the review, but talk about the vivid imagery and the wonderful dialogue at the beginning and end. Consider how you would want a reviewer to talk of your novel if he or she didn’t particularly like it.
If you’re going to make a statement about the novel in your review — whether positive or negative — make sure that you have sufficient examples to back up your assertion. For example, if you feel that the opening paragraphs of the novel or dry, include quotations or a summary to illustrate your point. If you make generalizations without specific examples, your reader will assume that you are just making things up as you go along.
Writing a review of a novel for a magazine or newspaper can be an overwhelming task; you don’t want to ruin the reputation of a writer (even if you hated his or her book), but you also want to be truthful with your audience. If you need some guidance, read other reviews in past editions of the newspaper or magazine to get an idea for what is acceptable.