#WriteTip: Book Review Criteria–A Critical Approach

Many reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads give scores based on gut reactions to how a book makes them feel. Such an approach is valid, but often lacks critical judgment. The process of evaluating the literary merits of fiction and nonfiction can seem overwhelming, but is ultimately a rewarding process! However, even casual reviews that state how good or bad a book is should ALWAYS offer specific support from the novel.


My book review criteria are based on the following mnemonic device based on the 6+1 Traits for Effective Writing helps me remain reasonably objective when evaluating books:

People on violent swings will injure children.


The first letter of each word in the sentence corresponds to one of the following traits inherent to good writing.


Picture of carnival swing ride.

Presentation: The cover achieves a professional balance between image and text. Proper paragraphing and appropriate font size add to the book’s readability. eBooks should contain an active table of contents, functioning “go to” options, clickable links, and correct formatting.


Organization: A story should contain a highly focused beginning, middle, and end. Narrative devices such as flashback and jump cuts enhance rather than detract from the story. Filler in the form of unnecessary dialogue, description, backstory, etc. do not bog the story down.


Voice: Demonstrates an awareness of audience and entertainment value is present in the story. The point of view is also believable and well-controlled. The author’s tone (attitude toward the subject matter) is not an issue and the mood/atmosphere of reads naturally.


Sentence Fluency: A variety of sentence structures enhances the story’s literary elements and results in well-crafted memorable prose. The writer and editors obviously thought about how the story should flow in order to create interest and rhythm.


Word Choice: A powerful and confident selection of vocabulary adds to the narrative. The author uses words that are true to each character’s personality and fitting of the setting. Repetition should not be an issue. Simple words are occasionally used in profound ways.


Ideas: The story contains an interesting and well-developed conflict. The plot, characters and setting are thought-out and believable. Genre stories create seamless worlds. Overriding themes point to deeper issues in the text and can be applied to real world issues.


Conventions: A published work should not contain errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation, but minor errors are easily forgivable and quickly fixed. Careless errors concerning the basics reflect poorly on the author and editors. Masterful rule-breaking is always greatly appreciated.

People on violent swings will injure children.


Readers don’t want the narrative to trip them up and make them question the story. When that happens, the traits of effective writing aren’t working together.I do not give stars to the review posts that appear on my blog, but I do follow the starring system when I post mini-reviews to Amazon, Shelfari, and GoodReads. I’m a miser with five-star reviews. It’s nothing personal…



Image Credit: Chair Swing Ride by Samantha DeWitt.


Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2012.

Author: Jeri Walker

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  1. Thanks for another great post! I teach the 6+1 traits of writing, so using them on book reviews is a great idea.

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  2. I’ve found that as I entertain the idea of doing more reviews of books by indie authors, I really need a set of criteria that really lays out the reasoning process behind the grade I will give a book, just as a good classroom rubric justifies itself. Once a teacher, always a teacher! 😉

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  3. I think the systematic method you’ve developed to review a book is fantastic. Hugely informative for somebody like me that’s just starting out on a concerted campaign to do reviews for other Indie Writers and repay some of the generosity that’s come my way. Is there a way of getting my e-book The Good Cemetery Guide onto your review list?

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    • I’m not sure if you saw my response to your earlier post, so I emailed the address that was on your website.

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      • Hi Jeri

        Could you try sending the email again? I don’t seem to have received it. Alternatively are you on Facebook? Could you message me that way? It would be great if The Good Cemetery Guide could get onto your review list.


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  4. Jeri,
    I learned a lot from this post, and I’m impressed with your well thought out standards for books you review. One question–I don’t know what a jump cut is? I probably know what it is, but just haven’t heard it referred to as this. This is a very handy tool–my suggestion (if you haven’t done so already) put this as a static page that other reviewers can refer to, and which you can link to each time you write a review. As a static page, I think it will be a great resource other reviewers might click on–or people like me, who have thought of reviewing other books.
    I have recently been involved a lot more in indie book authors’ blogs and am really excited at what I’m seeing and learning about in this community. The people are amazing and supportive (you being one of them). As I continue to read, I have already decided once I finish the book that has been stored away for so long, I am going to publish it myself. It’s very inspiring to be a part of this community, even if right now I am only on the fringes. 🙂

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    • Thanks for stopping by again! A jump cut is technically more of a term used for films and television when an abrupt scene change takes place. They are indicated in fiction by extra white space or an asterisk to denote the shift. They may have another more literary name, but jump cut is what my first fiction professor always called them, so I guess it stuck with me.

      I did add another entire page on review requests. Stayed up until past midnight working on it 😉 It’s great that you want to work on your book again. The Indie Writer community is amazing.

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  5. I genuinely liked you’re rating system and found that it would also be a good review for me to use when writing my blog posts as well. As you said, the biggest challenge when rating any written work is how our emotions play into our decision. Your rating system helps to override that. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

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    • I’m glad you found it helpful. My English teacher brain is always making rubrics… I can’t help it!

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  6. Do you think the 5-star system is fair or too restrictive? I prefer Library Thing’s ratings, which allow the assignment of half-stars (e.g. 2.5, 3.5).

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    • I haven’t used Library Thing, but it does bug me to no end that Amazon and GoodReads don’t allow half stars. For my blog reviews I decided to use half and quarter stars in my reviews and then I’ll just round up or down as needed when I post my reviews to those sites. I rate every movie I watch on NetFlix and they don’t allow half-stars either, which I find particularly interesting since they recommendations of movies viewers might like includes half stars.

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      • I’ve found the number system to be limited. I feel like if a book is super crap, “I hate it” maybe it should be zero stars. Then if I read it for a while and stopped it would be one star since I actively disliked it. If it was blah mediocre then maybe two.

        But the whole star system reminds me too much of restaurants where you have to fight for each star.

        I’ve been playing around with this concept and think I may switch to another pictorial system with words like “Hated it.” “Irritating” “Needs work.” “Good” “Great!” “Awesome!” “My favorite”

        I’m still very much paying around with the idea but I think it would make it easier.

        Thanks for posting!

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  7. Hi,

    What is the best way to reach you about reviewing a book by an indie author such as myself.

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    • Visit the “Book Review Request” menu tab and fill out the form. Thanks for asking!

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  8. Jeri– I have always loved that you have criteria and hold to them. I am also impressed you have kept track of the books you read and know that you’ve read over 700. Wow!

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    • The 700 also includes children’s books 😉

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  9. Found the review on Goodreads & Amazon.co.uk! Not sure why there was a delay. Yay! I am thrilled with your 4.25 review ‘score’ for The Good Cemetery Guide. Thank you for taking the time to give a thoughtful review. Your rating system is absolutely great. I am going to learn from you and adopt this method for the next review I do. About that cover… You have no idea of the saga and it would take too long to tell! I know it has to change… Perhaps when I do a POD version.

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  10. JeriWB, this article was so helpful to me, it is unbelievable! Up late last night wondering about flashbacks and jump cuts, was it bad that I was breaking my chapters up this way, and here I find info that supports my choices. Thank u so much! Research always yields results!

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  11. Jeri, what a great blog to keep in mind when writing–anything! I’m currently plodding through a cozy that’s good, but not overwhelmingly great and I’m trying to figure out why. She cuts off chapters when she’s just done with a scene even though this reader is waiting for more to happen. And the two male interests for our female lead? They’re pretty similar. Yet, her writing is good and the mystery complex.

    Maybe she needed you!

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