All pieces of writing have a purpose. A purpose the author chooses. But certain genres have a built-in purpose. For book reviews, the #1 purpose that comes with the territory is helping readers to find books they would enjoy reading. And that’s because…
Every time someone reads something, they also have a purpose. And it might differ significantly from the authors. 99.99% of people who read book reviews are doing so because they want to find a book they would enjoy reading. The reader’s purpose is always going to supersede the writer’s purpose, because once you submit something to the public view, you give up some measure of control over that product. You can’t make a reader do what you want. And trying will probably end badly.
So, that’s your #1 purpose.
But of course everyone has their own particular purpose for writing, and there can be a broad array of author purposes:
1. To help readers find books they want to read. (See above.) Many readers read a few best-sellers or critically-acclaimed titles a year. But others read a lot of books, all year long. And the truth is, especially if you have narrow tastes, it can be hard to find enough books to read. And if a reader maybe wants to expand their reading pool, it can be hard to figure out which way to go to find books you’ll enjoy. And that’s where book reviews can come in. For example, a reader who got back into reading with E.L. James and 50 Shades of Grey might most enjoy various category romances, or they might most enjoy Paranormal Romance, the inspiration for 50 Shades. And they’re likely to turn to book reviews/reviewers to figure that out.
2. To share their enjoyment of particular books. A perfectly legitimate reason to review books. Spreading the love is always a boon to literature.
3. To expose readers to books they feel don’t get enough attention. For example, books with QUILTBAG protagonists, PoC characters, etc.
4. To encourage readers to read in a certain genre. For example, there are book reviewers dealing in Urban Fantasy, Steampunk etc. New genres, or genres on the fringes have great work within them, but it’s common for them to not get a lot of attention because word of mouth hasn’t spread, or whatever. Or, perhaps there’s a glut of books and it’s hard to decide what’s worth reading. That can be true for both current readers and prospective ones.
5. To call out problematic things in the story. Including but not limited to racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, cultural appropriation, etc.
All of the above (and some I missed?) are valid reasons to start a review blog/site/column. And knowing which reason or combination of reasons is why you review books can help you to be more effective in reaching that goal.
But remembering why readers are reading your reviews can help make you more effective, too. You can benefit from considering your target audience and your likely audience when you write reviews. Which is what I’ll be discussing next week.
So, what are you trying to achieve by writing a book review? (Whether it’s just one or a whole review blog?)