Tips and Best Practices for Book Reviewing

Today, I want to talk about something a little different. It’s a little risky, this topic of leaving reviews for books, because authors talking about reviews is a gray area. So let me start off by saying that this was at the request of one of my readers, not of my own initiative. And second, I want to make crystal clear that I respect each and every review, positive or negative, and I wouldn’t dream of interfering with the review freedom readers have. Just so there’s no shadow of a doubt there.

The question this reader asked was if I had any tips for leaving a good review, like best practices. So here are some of my thoughts.

Where should readers leave reviews?

Anywhere you want. I think most authors will agree that Amazon is the preferred channel for us, because it’s the first place many readers will look for reviews. That being said, authors also appreciate reviews on any and all other platforms, like Goodreads, BookBub, Audible, Barnes and Noble, and other book platforms where our books are sold.

How long should a review be?

Many reviewers get stuck on the feeling like they need a certain number of words/sentences for their review. Unlike in school, where your papers needed a word count, length really doesn’t matter. A one-sentence review is just as valid as five paragraphs. Amazon, for instance, will allow and publish both.

So if you’re worried about not knowing what to write in your review and feeling like you need at least a number of sentences, you can let that go. One sentence really does the job.

What’s the goal of writing a review?

The bottom line for reviews is that they’re not for the author. Of course, reviews help us get more visibility for our books and they can definitely help us sell more books if they’re favorable, but that’s not the goal of a review.

Reviews are a tool to help other readers decide whether this book is a good fit for them. If I’m on the fence about reading a book, I will look at the reviews to see what other readers have said about it. Oftentimes, that gives me far more helpful information than the blurb alone. But reviews only help if the reviewer is honest. So try to be honest in your review about what you thought of the book.

What should you include in your review?

A review is your personal opinion of the book. When you write it, imagine that readers will read your review to help them decide whether or not they want to buy or read this book. What can you provide to help them make that decision?

A good practice is to include some things you liked or disliked about the book, like the writing style, the plot, the heat level, the chemistry between the characters, if the characters were likable, if you connected with the story, how emotional it made you, whether or not the book was original, etc. But don’t feel like you have to include all of these, or even any of these.

Reviews are your personal opinion. They can be as short as, “I really loved this book.” That’s a valid review. Don’t feel like you have to write whole papers on the book. You can if that’s something you enjoy, but you really don’t have to.

Should you give a low rating?

This is a very personal decision, I think. Some readers say they won’t leave a review if they can’t give more than two stars. Others feel comfortable leaving any star-rating. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong here, it’s more a question of what everyone feels comfortable with.

One thing I do know is that you shouldn’t feel guilty about giving a low rating if you feel the book warrants it. I know that there can be pressure to rate at least three stars, even if the book is crap in your opinion, but I don’t think that pressure is healthy. Readers should be able to be honest in their opinion about a book, even if they hate it.

Don’t bad reviews hurt authors?

Before I answer this question, you have to keep in mind what I said before. Reviews are for readers, not for authors. So when you write a review, keep other readers in mind first and foremost, not the author.

Now, about this question. Yes, bad reviews can hurt authors, especially emotionally. Negative reviews tend to mess with our head, impacting our self-confidence. But quite frankly, that is their/our problem. An author can choose whether or not they want to read reviews, because again, the reviews aren’t for them in the first place. So I don’t think that should be a consideration when you write a review.

As for the question whether or not they hurt an author in ranking, personally, I don’t believe they do. Not unless all or most of the reviews for that specific book are bad, in which case there’s clearly something wrong with the book. Each of my books have some lower reviews, and I’m perfectly fine with that, both emotionally and practically. I think it’s a nice balance with the positive reviews, and it may help some readers decide this book is not for them. I’m happy with that, because I want to attract readers who will love my books. Again, I don’t think they should be a consideration when you leave a review.

What should be the reason for a low rating?

This, too, is the personal decision. It all depends on your personal preferences. If you’re someone who really values correct grammar and spelling, for instance, you may deduct stars for sloppy editing. If that’s something you don’t care about, you don’t.

So again, don’t go by what everyone else is doing, but follow your own rating system. You have to figure out what makes a book a fantastic read for you and what are aspects that take away from your reading pleasure. Chances are, it’ll be something else entirely than for me or for other readers. That’s why reviews are so personal.

What are some bad practices in reviews?

This is where it gets tricky, because I don’t want to even suggest limiting reviewers in their freedom to review whatever the hell they want. But, I think we can all agree that personal attacks on authors are a no go. You can burn down the book as much as you want, but I think it’s fair to focus on the book and not on the author.

That being said, as gay romance authors we get our fair share of homophobic reviews as well. Do I like these? No, absolutely not. Do I ask Amazon to remove them? No, I usually don’t. The criteria for me to ask Amazon to remove a review are incredibly high.

One best practice other readers will definitely appreciate is that you don’t put spoilers in the review. Just like people don’t want to know how the movie ends, most of them don’t want to know who did it in a thriller or how a dramatic conflict in a romance ends. So you may want to leave that out of your review. Remember, a review is not a summary of the plot, but your personal opinion of the book as a whole. If you want to include spoilers, just use a spoiler tag (on Goodreads), or do a spoiler warning first.

One simple courtesy I think all authors will appreciate, is that you don’t tag them in negative reviews. You have every right to criticize our books, again, let’s be clear about that, but we also have the right not to read negative reviews because they can mess with our head. So if you’ve written a critical review, by all means, post it everywhere, just don’t tag the author.

I hope this helps a little in making clear what reviews are and some best and bad practices for reviews!

12 thoughts on “Tips and Best Practices for Book Reviewing”

  1. That’s a very well balanced post on what is, for authors, a very tricky subject. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote.

  2. I have read, and commented, recently on two dnf reviews. One gave a spoiler that was way off. The shifter they said was Rudolph was Vixen. Getting them mixed up changed the plot considering Rudolph was male a d Biden was female. The other said the MC cheated on the female. They had been separated for years and on the day she came back he got drunk. Two women tried to sleep with him. The reviewer dnf at this point and wrote her review based on what she assumed happened. That he cheated when he did not. This is a big no for a lot of romance readers. I know a lot will not read it cheating is involved. Tell us when and why you dnf but don’t review last that point.

    1. As I wrote in the post, I’m not a fan of spoilers in general in reviews, but if you do it and especially if you rate on it, you’d better get it right. Making assumptions, well, we all know what the saying is about assuming…

  3. Hi Nora,
    I just wanted to say thank you for writing this response to a question someone asked you.
    I read a lot of ARCs and sometimes struggle when it comes to a book that I really wasn’t into, only one or two stars, or even a DNF…… do I leave a review, a sentence?
    Something I do make sure to do when I don’t enjoy a book is try and find at least something good to write. I don’t want it to come across as though I’m attacking the book and I will always say that this is my personal opinion but that we’re all different and give it a go yourself.
    Everything you’ve said has been helpful and I’ll make sure to think of what you’ve said! 🙂 <3

    1. You’re welcome! I love that you always try to be balanced and say something positive. That’s a great attitude to have in reviews. ARCs are hard, I admit. I read ARCs for many authors as well. If I find I really struggle with an ARC, I usually contact the author and explain the book isn’t connecting with me. Usually, I don’t leave a review in that case, but that’s also because I’m an author myself, so my position is a little different than that of a reader. And sometimes the author indicates they have no issue with me leaving an honest review, in which case I’ll give my fair opinion.

  4. Thanks for this Nora. I always wonder if I leave the right sort of information. I just tend to leave short reviews that state if I enjoyed the book, the writing style, plot or how emotional it made me feel. That’s the sort of thing I like to see, however I do also like it when some people leave a lovely long review that fills in any gaps there may have been on the blurb. It’s good to know that there is no wrong answer and that I’m doing the right thing.

    I’ve only recently started leaving routine reviews (I try to do it as soon as I have finished the book whilst it is still fresh in my mind). I thought about how much they helped me in choosing a book and that it was unfair not to return the favour and I really wanted the author to know how much I had enjoyed (or not as the case may be) their efforts.

    I don’t think I would like to read a bad review about something I had put my heart and soul into. It reminds me of a complaint from a patient about a clinic I work in. Thousands of people have passed through my clinic, I’ve had hugs, kisses, chocolates, a dinner invitation and loads of lovely comments. One unhappy patient who wrote in and made some unkind, personal comments about my height, demeanour etc. and I was in tears for days.

    Keep up the good work 😀

    1. Thank you so much for being so diligent in leaving reviews! I super appreciate that, both as an author and a reader. And yes, reading negative reviews is never fun, but I’ve hardened myself a bit to it. It was much more difficult when I just started writing. Every now and then there’s one that gets to me, I’ll admit. But that’s why it’s healthy for authors to keep a good distance from reviews and not spend too much time reading them.

  5. I agree with every single thing you’ve said 😀
    One thing I’d like to add is something that gets to me more than someone saying ‘the writing was bad’ or ‘I couldn’t connect to it at all’ or even ‘OMG, I hated this book so much’–all those I can handle as an author, because for me, that just means they weren’t my target audience, and that’s ok!
    What really gets to me is when reviewers question other reviews. ‘I don’t understand how this has so many five star reviews. They must be fake.’ Pleeeeaaaase, when reviewing, just worry about your own opinion. Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean others can’t, and it doesn’t mean the book has fake reviews. That’s more insulting to an author than straight-up disliking the book. And I think it’s also insulting to the other reviewers-like their opinion is wrong.

    1. Oh yes, great addition. And I agree, I have no problem with readers who dislike my book. That’s fine, and i can completely understand, because taste and preferences are so personal. But as you point out, that also means not questioning others’ opinions when they do like it. Along the same lines: just because you don’t like a certain trope or kink, doesn’t mean everyone else should dislike it as well. Just let people like what they like and be happy for them…

  6. Nora,
    I know it is important to keep updated on best Review Practices since I write several every couple weeks. I want to continue to be as professional as I can and still have fun writing them. I buy so many books if I read the blurb or reviews about it, I can’t remember what either said by the time I read and review a book it could be several months or years. So when the time comes to read the book it is a complete surprise to me which is exactly how I want. Or a pre-order that I forgot about and it suddenly pops up on my Kindle.
    I love discovering a series that’s been out awhile with all the books published so I can enjoy them one after the other without waiting months for the next to be released. Or being told how great a series I forgot already own is on a MM Facebook group and diving in. I love reading new and old authors. I try to be fair when I review. I also read ARCs and there are some books I can’t get into. I can’t review something I never read beyond a chapter. I explain this to the author and find them grateful for my honesty.
    I like being reminded of what I should be doing. Getting a refresher course in Reviewing. I appreciate all you do in helping me fill my Kindle library as well as the best ways to go about reviewing what I read. Thanks Nora!

    1. You’re welcome! And it sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job reviewing, so as a reader as well as an author, thank you so much!

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