To Review, or not to Review

To Review, or Not to Review By Claire Hamner Matturro

To review or not to review, that is not really the question if you are a book lover. As a lover of good books, you naturally want to share news about any books you enjoyed and you want to connect with other book lovers to hear what they recommend as part of a community of readers. This blog will discuss why you want to review, how to review, where to review, and the touchy question of whether you should post negative reviews.

Why review? One reason is to support authors and books you deem worthy of praise. In the world of indy publishing, reader reviews are an important way to boost a great new book.

Book buyers tend to trust reader reviews—i.e., those done by readers, not by professionals—because of the inherent sincerity in such a review. The person writing the review is not being paid, so why would they do anything other than tell the truth? This is particularly true about Amazon reviews since Amazon cracks down on anything that even remotely smells like a fake, biased, or paid review and requires the reviewer to disclose whether they received a free copy.

Think about your own experiences in considering whether to buy a book online. Don’t you look at the number of reviews (or correspondingly, the lack thereof)? Don’t you skim the five-stars reviews and hop to the one-and-two star (if any) reviews?

So, yes, book reviews are critical in helping other buyers decide whether to buy a book or not. But reviews are also important because some book promotion sites require a certain minimum number of reviews before they will promote a book. And Amazon has complicated metrics and algorithms relating to reviews with verified purchases, which are factored into its decisions on promoting certain books.

In summary, book reviews by readers like you are of vital importance to the life of a book—and correspondingly to the success of the author. It’s an act of generosity on a reader’s part to post a review and most authors appreciate the time and thought involved in posting reviews.

How to write a review for an online bookseller or book lover site is relatively simple. Remember, honesty counts and your high school English teacher is not going to be grading it. Chances are that if you are a book lover, you also read reader reviews and have a good idea of what’s important to say—and not say.

The purpose for an online review is to quickly, succinctly, and above all else honestly convey what you thought of the book in terms that will help other potential buyers decide if they want to buy and read the book. Therefore, assume the person reading your review doesn’t want to spend thirty minutes reading a long, complex review. He or she wants a sense of what the book is about, the genre, the quality of the writing, things that make the book stand out (or not), and what you particularly liked (or didn’t) about the book.

What did you, the reader, particularly like about the book? That’s probably your hook and a good place to start. Remember, concise and to the point is good, but too concise (“I liked this book.”) isn’t helpful because it doesn’t convey any sense of what the book is about. Instead of just noting you liked the book, give some supporting details.

A quick outline of how-to-write a book review can be gleamed from the form at Bookbub (www.bookbub.com), which asks for Your Rating 1 (worst) to 5(best), whether you would recommend the book, and what you liked about the book. Bookbub gives you a range of responses from “haunting,” “witty,” “great world building” to “easy-to-read” and others to support your recommendation.

Remember, you don’t need to summarize the whole plot as you might have done in a book report for school. Some reviewers don’t even address plot, which is an option since online bookseller sites usually have book cover blurbs and concise plot teasers. But if there is something special in the plot that you want to comment on (especially something that makes the book unique), that’s fair game so long as you remember: don’t give away the ending. Please don’t be plot spoiler.

I like to discuss a bit of the plot, mainly because I usually want to know more about the story than the standard book cover blurb and assume other readers might also. My rule of thumb, though, is to never discuss more of the plot than that which appears within the free sample pages available online at Amazon. That way, I’m not giving away anything that Amazon hasn’t already given away.

The mother of all sites for reader reviews is, of course, Amazon. Love it or hate it, it’s the giant in the online bookseller world, so it’s a logical place to start. Amazon makes it easy to review. Assuming you already have an account, go to the book on the Amazon listing, scroll down to where it says “post a review,” click and follow up from there. But Amazon also has strict rules on reviewing, rules you should read for yourself at  https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201967050. But the punch line is that you should not cheat and if you received a free book from the author, publisher, or publicist or other source, you must disclose this. A simple statement, “I received a free book” is usually sufficient, though many reader reviewers expand to say “I received a free book from Netgalley (www.netgalley.com, a source for free copies for review purposes) but the opinions here are my own.”

In a similar fashion, online booksellers like B&N, Kobo, and Apple and others, usually require you to have an account, but then make it easy for you to post a review.

But Amazon and online booksellers aren’t the only show in town. Goodreads and Bookbub are also excellent sites to post reviews. Because they are not booksellers, these sites generate a large following of people who simply love books and want to chat about them. And Goodreads has plenty of give-aways and lists to entice followers and reviewers. If you don’t already know this site, you can find Goodreads at www.goodreads.com.

Bookbub, if you have not yet discovered it, offers lists of free and discounted books as they come on sale. You can sign up for a daily email about sale books, open an account, and post recommendations and reviews, and read what others are recommending. You can follow your favorite authors and get emails when their new books are released or a book goes on sale. And, once you have an account, this is an excellent place to post reviews because Bookbub makes it so easy with its form. www.bookbub.com

Which now leaves us with the somewhat thorny question of whether it is appropriate to post bad reviews. I rarely post bad reviews as it feels rude and unnecessary. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Also, as an author, I know how much hard work goes into writing a book, which makes me not want to slam someone who puts in the work and puts themselves out there as an author.

But if you are going to post a negative review, please do so with some respect. Please don’t attack the author personally, but address the failures of the book in your opinion. Try to be specific as “I hated this book” is no more helpful than “I loved this book.” Don’t use profanity or slander or libel anyone, don’t be a plot spoiler, and try to be fair. When it’s possible to deal with facts, not opinions, a negative review might be more justified. For example, “I didn’t enjoy this book because the typos made it difficult to read and there was a historical mistake in referring to Pearl Harbor as happening in 1944.”

Once you have posted a review, if you want to boost the book further, consider posting a link to your review on Facebook, or tweet a link, or post a link in whatever social media you enjoy.

In the end, if you as a reader remember to be polite and honest, give some details about the book and your reaction, don’t spoil then ending, and have some fun with your review, it should be a worthy review to post.

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