Self-published writers are responsible for not only writing their books, but also marketing them. For that matter, many traditionally published authors have to do their own marketing, especially if they’re new to the writing game. Reviews are like stones rolling downhill. The more you get, the more books you sell, leading to more reviews, leading to more sales—well, you get the idea. Most writers pay for ads in book email newsletters at some point, and many of those newsletters require a minimum number of reviews with a ranking average of at least four stars before they will even consider accepting the ad.
Reviews are the internet equivalent of word-of-mouth. In the “old days,” a friend might verbally recommend a book she enjoyed, but reviews were only written by people paid to do that job for newspapers or magazines. Today anyone can write a review—good or bad—and post it for anyone in the world to read. Think about that. If you read a book you really like, you can tell not just your friends but readers anywhere in the world what you think about that book. Yet only a small percentage of readers do so.
Some people don’t know how, but it’s a simple process. On Amazon or any of the other online sites, you simply click on Reviews at the top of the page to move to the display of reviews at the bottom. Usually a button at the top of the existing reviews encourages you to post yours. Click to get a blank window in which to write what you think about the book. Amazon also asks you to rank the author’s writing, giving you the choices of “Poor,” “Okay,” “Good,” or “Great.” You can also note whether the book contains violence, sexual content, and how the story is narrated (first person, third person, etc.). And you can give the book an overall star ranking with one star indicating you hated the book and five stars indicating you loved it.
Other people worry that they can’t write a “good enough” review. Trust me—authors and potential readers aren’t concerned with your grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. They just want to know if you liked or hated the book and why you felt the way you did. While an author might be happy with just “the book was great” or “I loved the book and couldn’t put it down,” readers find a little more detail useful. By telling potential readers that the characters were well developed or the action was nonstop, but the characters were one-dimensional, they can make a more informed decision about whether the book is for them.
While writers would prefer you contacted them directly when you hate the book, readers find even bad reviews helpful. In fact, when I’m thinking about buying a book, I read the one- and two-star reviews first. If I see that a person hated the book because it contained “too much cursing” or “too much sex,” that doesn’t rule the book out for me because that stuff doesn’t bother me. However, if I see that the reviewer disliked the book because it was full of grammar and spelling errors, and that’s confirmed by what I see through the Look Inside feature, then I pass.
When writing a review, avoid giving out spoilers. If you must in order to explain why you liked or disliked the book, then put a “spoiler alert” at the top of your review. Another no-no is personal attacks. Maybe you don’t like the author’s use of vulgar language, but simply say that. There is no need to call the author names or question his or her morals. Surprisingly, this happens a lot, but it says more about the reviewer than it does the author.
Finally, if you received a free copy of a book in exchange for a review, say so. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued guidelines in 2013 that state that if you receive a free product in exchange for a review, that is advertising and it must be disclosed. You can read more about it at:
Furthermore, Amazon doesn’t permit reviews by family members or close friends of the author. However, this isn’t as clearly defined as it could be. If a third cousin you haven’t seen since childhood buys your book and reviews it, is that disallowed because he or she is a family member? Common sense seems to say “no,” but it’s not clear. Common sense also leads one to believe that there are many honest reviews out there posted by family members or friends.
And that’s perhaps the most important thing to remember about reviews—be honest. Even a book worth a five-star rating probably has something that you’d like to see improved or at least done differently. Say so. Obviously most authors will love any good review, but an honest review is more helpful to both the author and a potential reader.
So the next time you read a book you enjoy and would willingly recommend to a friend, take a few minutes to write a review and let the world know how you feel. We authors and readers thank you!