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Before writing and publishing a nonfiction book, it’s helpful to read the reviews of books similar to the one you’re working on. Knowing what readers liked and disliked about other books can help you improve the quality and success of your book.

I created a system I’ve used for my last three books. I go to Amazon and browse book categories to find books similar to mine. Then I look at the top 50 to 100 relevant books in that category. For each book, I click on reviews, sort by “top rated,” filter by “verified purchase only,” and select “all formats.” For starred reviews, I first click on “all positive” (which is 4- and 5-star reviews) and read through the reviews and look for common themes. Then I click on “all critical” (which is 1-, 2- and 3-star reviews) and look for common themes there, too.

From my research, I have noticed that some common themes recur as reasons for positive or negative reviews regardless of the topic or genre (i.e. Business, Self-Help, How-To, etc.). I compiled what I learned into a checklist and use it to improve the quality of my books.

Feel free to use the following checklist before you publish to ensure your nonfiction book is the best it can be.

Primary Reasons Given for POSITIVE Nonfiction Book Reviews:

  1. Clear, concise, and to the point
  2. Easy to understand
  3. Actionable, shows how to apply information
  4. Informative
  5. Complete, comprehensive, thorough
  6. Provides a system/process, detailed instructions
  7. Entertaining
  8. Motivational/inspirational
  9. Provides valuable resources and links
  10. Honest, genuine, shares successes and failures
  11. Provides new information, original/unique style or content
  12. Good organization and flow
  13. Great title
  14. Author doesn’t bore you with personal stories
  15. Beautifully written
  16. Includes bonuses
  17. Life-changing content
  18. No fluff
  19. Up to date

Primary Reasons Given for NEGATIVE Nonfiction Book Reviews:

  1. Outdated information and strategies
  2. Reads like a sales pitch, too much self-promotion
  3. Too general/vague/basic/simplistic, no substance
  4. More like an article or blog post, short and uninformative
  5. Boring
  6. Too long, could have been condensed, too much fluff
  7. Poorly formatted/organized/laid out, jumps around too much
  8. Typos, poor grammar/punctuation/spelling, needed editing
  9. Obvious points, nothing new
  10. Title is misleading/offensive/bland
  11. Repetitive
  12. Too many links, links disrupt flow of text, inoperable links
  13. Data dump, too many recommendations, feels like a phonebook
  14. Just one person’s experience, anecdotal
  15. No index
  16. Book didn’t live up to description/hype
  17. Confusing/unclear
  18. No actionable information, needed more “how-to”
  19. Poorly written
  20. Wrong information/missing important information
  21. Bad examples
  22. Cover is blah
  23. Offensive language
  24. Too political
  25. Unethical recommendations

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Kara Lane is a nonfiction author and publishing analyst. Learn more at
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