READ LIKE A WRITER
AN AUTHOR AND READER'S GUIDE TO WRITING BOOK REVIEWS
I need to make a disclaimer. I am not a professional book reviewer. I am a reader and an author. For both those reasons, I write reviews.
I wish instead of writing this blog article we could all sit around an old-fashioned coffee house or French salon and have an informal discussion about writing reviews. I'm sure I will miss many points in this one-sided conversation. So, please join in on the comment section. The reason I'm tackling this topic is because I hear readers say they don't—won't—review for a variety of reasons. (My introvert husband is a voracious reader who won't review. I even set up a Goodreads account for him, trying to encourage him to interact with other readers, and he won't use it. He has been in an in-person book club. He keeps a written log of books read. But he won't interact on-line with fellow bibliophiles.) Readers who don't review often express that they don't know what to write. I suspect it's also a time factor. Life is busy and we spend time on what is important to us personally.
An issue authors have with reviewing is whether to review as an author, or as a lay reader. (Come on, authors, be honest. We're more critical because we look at a work from multiple angles, and with a trained eye.) Authors have told me it's come back to bite them when they wrote honest reviews and gave lower ratings.
The last reason I decided to tackle this topic, and address readers who review, is because some wordings and rankings in reviews are actually working against authors. I am not saying a reader shouldn't be honest in the review. Not at all. Please, hear me out and then tell me if I'm wrong and why in the comment section.
Last prelude comment before I wade into this discussion. Authors, please do not put me on the spot and ask me to review your books. Like I said in the beginning, I am not a professional reviewer. I'm an author who is under contract as I write this. So, like you, I have deadlines. (My concern in making this conversation public is that authors will flood me with unsolicited books to review.)
Why are reviews important to authors? In a time when bookstores have declined, selling online is of utmost importance in the 21st Century. Amazon has become a game-changer in the importance of book reviews. Amazon rewards with increased visibility and "pushing" (advertising) when books have 50 reviews, then 100 reviews.
Many publishers are asking their authors to try to get 100 reviews as quickly as possible after the book's release. Imagine asking enough people to generate 100 reviews! Has anyone figured the averages? Would an author need to ask 500 people? One thousand to get one 100 reviews? It's daunting for authors to ask anyone for a review. In the old days the author wrote the book and the publisher sold the book. Now the burden has shifted to shared responsibility. If the author is that good of a salesperson then she might do better self-publishing. Just a thought.
SEVEN TIPS TO WRITE BOOK REVIEWS
1.If you think it takes too much time out of your busy schedule, know that reviews don't have to be long. A book review can be one word: Suspenseful. Gripping. Harrowing. Superb. Stunning! Inspiring! Illuminating.
Or two words: Jaw-dropping. Gut-wrenching. Thought-provoking. Soul-searching.
It is not enough to just click the stars and not leave a word or more in the comment section. Amazon doesn't count stars only as part of the count toward rewards.
2.Do not add your relationship to the author. Recently a debut author had asked people supporting her through a FB "street team" page to review her book. When I posted my honest review, I noticed the other reviewers mentioned their relationship to the author: sister, in-law, neighbor, friend, schoolmate, knew her from church, etc. All 5-star reviews, of course. (Mine was a 4-star. More on that later.) As a reader, I would not read or believe any of those reviewers. Worse, Amazon is cracking down and deleting, even locking, accounts from reviewers, if the reviews are suspect to be highly biased. (More on that later, too.)
3.This is up to you, but, as a non-professional reviewer, I personally will not review a book if I can't give it at least 4 stars. (If you are not an author, you might set the bar at 3-stars.) In the case of the debut author I mentioned above, one reason I had no hesitation giving her a 4-star review and pointing out an ambivalence in the ending was because she needed a balanced review. One readers would trust. I view myself as a supporter of other authors. However, that doesn't mean that in comments I write fluff.
4.If you are an author, it's not about you. Sorry for being so blunt, but it's not. Recently a publisher sent me an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) and asked if I would review the book. I did. Only to find Amazon had locked this author's book from reviews after the first review was accepted. I've checked back after several weeks and it is still locked. I noticed on the publisher's website where they also have reviews posted (including mine) and noticed a whole string of authors who reviewed and added their taglines "(Name), Award-winning author of …"
*shaking head* I've written book blurbs for cover copy at the request of publishers. It's an honor I take seriously. (So much so that I've even turned down requests from certain authors.) In those cases, the publishers are asking me because of my reputation as an author. (That's why I'm selective, it's my reputation on the line.) But this is not that. Requests to review and post on a website or booksellers site or Goodreads is not for a book cover. It's not about you. It is to help readers make intelligent decisions whether or not to buy another author's book.
5.Write the review to reflect something you liked or did not like about the book. Do not make comments that have nothing to do with the story. I've read reviews that were personal attacks against the author and didn't have anything to do with the story.
6.Even though I won't give a book a low rating, I don't write fluff. Think about who might benefit from your review. Since I was a teacher and wrote education materials, I mention if a book would be useful as a companion to curriculum in classrooms, or for homeschoolers, or as a resource in libraries. Think audience. Would this book be good for Book Clubs? Or, people dealing with grief, or eating disorders, or addictions? Or Christian schools? I even try to mention what age groups might enjoy the book, or find the reading accessible for certain ages. If it is a children's book, I tend to write book reviews as if I'm speaking to educators and parents since they buy the bulk of books. Whereas, maybe you prefer to aim your reviews to the intended audience.
7.Cross-post your reviews. I write them in a Word document, then copy and paste in Amazon and Goodreads. If it applies, look at posting it in Christianbooks.com. Some publishers have pages to post reviews of their books.
NO COST FOR THIS KINDNESS
To all who write reviews, thank you! To those who are on the fence whether to take the time, look at it this way: Posting reviews does not cost you one cent. Yet, it's an act of kindness that can mean sales for the author. If books don't sell, the book dies, and an author's career could short-circuit. So authors really do appreciate the time you've taken on this act of kindness by boosting their books' visibility.
MARKETING OP FOR AUTHORS @ SHEPHERD.COM
I had a dream recently where I was in a bookstore. The owner was recommending a book to me about names. In real life I'd just been in a discussion about name changes, so the dream completed the unfinished conversation. (Like how in the old days we would go to books instead of Google to research topics.) What stayed with me most this week about the dream has been the visceral experience of being in an old bookstore again, like an old familiar friend.
Inhale the smell of bound books, slightly musty in sectioned off rooms, shelved according to topics. Sink into comfy chairs tucked in corners and perch on stools or children's school chairs in aisles. Help yourself to free coffee from the pot on a little table. Ask a knowledgeable clerk who is an avid passionate reader, to make a recommendation…sorry, I got carried away reminiscing about my favorite old bookstore on Broadway in San Antonio. (For a great description of such a bookstore, if you've never had the privilege of being in one, read THE SHADOW OF THE WIND about The Cemetery of the Forgotten Books by Carlos Ruiz Zafron.)
Ben Fox, founder of Shepherd.com, seems like a man who has been to such bookstores. Anyone who has ever had a good bookstore in his or her life, knows what we're missing. Fox is trying to fill that gap online with a book service that features authors, offers recommendations according to topics, and provides easy-to-navigate links for readers.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOOK SITE
Shepherd.com turned one year old in April 2022. In March 2022, Shepherd.com logged for that one month 71,000+ visitors, 111,000+ pageviews, and a guesstimated 11,000 clicks to just one bookstore partner. Fox is upgrading software to track more accurately clicks to partner bookstores. This is where Fox gets his income revenue. That's why he can offer this service free to authors. And no ads for readers to click out of or scroll through.
MARKETING OP FOR AUTHORS
Disillusioned with Goodreads and Amazon, Fox did extensive studies of how readers make decisions to buy books before setting up Shepherd.com. He designed a questionnaire for authors different from other sites—which sets Shepherd.com apart from the competition. I talked to several authors about joining Shepherd.com and they were concerned about how much time it would take to assemble the material and fill out the form. I completed it in one day. It takes me much longer than that to apply for appearances at bookfests and library conventions. Here's the link to my page "Best Books Going Beyond Bombs: How War Affects Families" so you can see the format.
Here's the link for authors, telling how to apply to join the author program:
For readers, Shepherd.com is easy to navigate. It is especially helpful if searching for books in specific topics and categories. Like how we used to browse old bookstores. Except you have to find your own comfy chair and free coffee.