This article appeared under the same heading in PEGboard July 2019.

From time to time, PEG receives requests for a reader’s review of a book before it is sent to a publisher. The article sets out a basic framework for carrying out such a task. The guidelines below are provided by Asenjo (2002). The questions he asks are key questions which should be answered and then turned into cohesive paragraphs for the author to present to the publishing company.

Points to ponder

  • What was the story about? The title may not tell you, so you’ll have to read it!
  • Who were the main characters?
  • Were they believable?
  • What did they do in the story?
  • Did they run into any problems, have adventures or experience misfortune? Or were they boring and colourless?
  • Who was your favourite character? Why?


Your personal experiences

  • Could you relate to any of the characters in the story?
  • Have you ever done or felt some of the things, the characters did?

Your opinion – a time for honesty

  • Did you like the book?
  • What was your favourite part of the book?
  • What was your least favourite part of the book?
  • If you could change something, what would it be? For example, the ending? Is it a satisfactory ending? Does it end in an anti-climax? I’ve occasionally read novels where each chapter is written from the perspective of a different person; or sometimes in the first person for one chapter and then in the third person for the next chapter – this can become very confusing.

Your recommendation – more honesty

  • Would you recommend this book to another person? If the answer is no, perhaps the author wouldn’t be very pleased, but you need to be honest.
  • What type of person would like this book? I recently edited a book that was appropriate for both children (as a story) and adults (as an allegory) and was highly accessible to the understanding of both audiences, while another one was definitely not for children’s consumption, since it was replete with wild bedroom romps – I eventually skipped those sections because they actually became boring! And my thinking was: did they really contribute anything to the novel except for titillation?

Do’s and don’ts

  • Don’t be intimidated by famous authors. Many have written mediocre books and had books rejected. The literary agent of Rowling, the author of the hugely popular Harry Potter series, stated of the Philosopher’s Stone that, ‘Over a period of nigh on a year, the book was turned down by more or less every major publishing house in the UK’ (Sieczkowski 2017).
  • Reading is an emotional experience. If the book is written by someone you know, love or hate, this is likely to bias your review, so rather don’t do this as a formal exercise.
  • If you want to be a book reviewer, start by doing. When you read novels for pleasure, this might be a good place to start.
  • If you have a special interest – romance, mystery, crime – cultivate it. Read the popular novels and perhaps some that are not that well-known. Your local library will have a section on your area of interest.

Photo Credits: Books by Marquitta Spagnolo at; question marks by geralt at Pixabay; survey at Pxfuel; tick cross at Max Pixel.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PEG.

About Jacqui Baumgardt

Jacqui Baumgardt has a PhD in Education Management from UNISA and has a Certificate in Copy-Editing from the University of Cape Town. Formerly a teacher of English, and an academic manager of a professional body, she has years of experience in the editing of academic assignments, proposals, theses and dissertations, more especially in the field of business (eg MBA) and education. She is a full member of PEG.

About PEG

The Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company (NPC) in South Africa. Since moving to online activities in March 2020, PEG has been able to offer members across South Africa, and internationally, access to an extensive online webinar programme. Continuing professional development remains a key offering and the first PEG Accreditation Test was administered in August 2020 to benchmark excellence in the field of editing.