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!