Recently I found myself reviewing a novel on Goodreads.
Do you read book reviews? Do you write them? Every time we add a book to our lists at that website, Goodreads reminds us to review, and for some reason, this time I listened. Sometimes I do what I’m told.
As an author I make a point of not reviewing a novel very often. When I do, I only choose books I liked well enough to award four or five stars. I have to face my colleagues at conferences and online. I certainly never want them to remember me as the fellow author who savaged the book of their heart.
As I worked on this particular four-star review I found myself wondering how to write it, then I wondered why to write it. Both excellent questions.
The second is the easiest. Online reviews matter to authors. Goodreads, Amazon, B&N? Publishers actually pay attention. So do readers, who often select their next buy by the number of reviews an author has already collected. Recently I learned that a promo tool I was considering will only accept books that already have many reviews online. On a personal level if I’m wondering whether to buy a book, or even download one for free, I check both good and bad reviews to see the problems and possibilities.
So yes, reviews matter. A lot. And the next time you’re having warm, fuzzy thoughts about my work or any author’s work, please pop on to Amazon, Goodreads or any of the other online bookstores where reviews are appreciated, and write a couple of sentences. If you’re not having warm, fuzzy thoughts? I suggest a good game of tennis or an afternoon of quilting.
How to write a review was a little harder to answer. I had a few thoughts on the subject:
- Short is beautiful. You don’t have to go on for paragraphs.
- Speak from the heart. You don’t have to be funny or as insightful as someone who does this for a living.
- Don’t worry about other reviewers’ opinions. A review is yours, and you matter. Take it from me. You do.
- Don’t write a complete synopsis. Summarize in a couple of sentences.
- Don’t use review space to compliment or criticize the vendor who sold you the book instead of the book itself.
- If you don’t want to write a review, rate the book if you can. However, please do not rate books you haven’t read. Remember that your rating affects the way potential book buyers will make decisions whether or not to give it a try. Be fair.
Since that’s pretty perfunctory, I researched a bit, and found an excellent blog post from literary agent Rachelle Gardner to supplement mine.
I’ll share the important points. Check out her post for full details.
- Review books you recommend–she points out that newspapers like the New York Times Book Review choose books they want to recommend to their audiences.
- When reviewing a novel, judge the book, not the author.
- Don’t give away the ending or the surprises.
- Acknowledge the authors purpose and audience.
- Address whether the book kept you turning the pages and whether the ending satisfied you. Then add whatever else seems relevant.
Don’t let fear of being judged stop you from reviewing. Be concise, respectful, and honest. If you stay within that framework, your review, whether overwhelmingly positive or not, will be appreciated by readers and authors alike.