I am horrible at leaving book reviews – I’ll just get that out of the way. Either I can’t leave a review because I am the editor, or I simply don’t know what to say.
One of those reasons is stupid.
Although Amazon has confirmed the meme going around about the “Once an indie book has 50 reviews, it gets shared on such-and-such a newsletter/list” is not true, you should still leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads for each book you read. There are a few reasons for this:
1.) The Algorithm
Although the book doesn’t get placed on some special Amazon list once it hits 50 reviews, the stars *do* determine the book’s place in line on the lists it is already on. So, if a reader is searching for Horror novels, a well-reviewed book will be listed before a book with fewer reviews. I believe number of reviews and stars have a slightly different impact on this algorithm as well (if considering reviews alone, a book with a a hundred 2- or 3- star reviews will still be listed higher than a book with fifty 5-star reviews).
2.) Marketplace Support
Marketing sucks, especially for indie writers and small presses with limited resources. Reviews are a type of promotion, not only on Amazon/Goodreads, but they can also be shared as advertisements.
In addition to this, it is moral support. The heart leaps whenever a writer sees a new review for a book, and it’s disappointing to see that number go stagnant for long periods of time.
3.) Constructive Criticism
Indie authors read their reviews, especially when just starting out. If you don’t know the author well, you don’t want to hunt them down to give them constructive criticism. A review is a good alternative: “I was put-off by the author using too many em-dashes where a comma should suffice,” “The huge cast of characters didn’t reflect the diversity of the setting’s community. I recommend researching the area’s demographics next time,” etc.
4.) Flagging Potential Issues and Triggers
The book description only goes so far, and even if it does include a trigger warning, it may not cover everything. If something rubs you the wrong way or actually triggers you, mention it in the review. Include the scope of the issue. Be vague when describing it: “Racist character uses the n-word several times,” or “Includes an instance of violence against women I found mildly triggering.” Since triggers are so personal, I don’t recommend giving the a lower rating just for that. If it’s not pervasive or didn’t ruin the book for you, don’t let it impact your stars.
There is a stomping incident in Joe Lansdale’s Captains Outrageous. He mentioned the incident in the preface, so I was braced. Had the violent scene not included stomping specifically, I would have been perfectly fine. But since my experience with domestic violence involved stomping, I had to put the book aside for an hour or so and regroup. I learned a new trigger, but otherwise enjoyed the novel.
Now, if the book IS problematic, by all means, allow that to determine your star-rating and use specific examples from the text (if you’re not specific, you’re going to have a lot of incredulous people saying, “How is it problematic?” or “I need to read it and form my own opinion.”).
Writing a Review
First and foremost, when writing a review, be honest.
The general rule of reviewing is: For every negative, give two positives. This rule is only a loose guideline, of course, but very useful if you’re not sure what to say. Consider plot, characters, dialogue, setting, exposition, voice, mechanics, diction, and formatting/appearance (only if indie). On top of all of these features, refer to how they made you feel.
Also keep in mind, if you want to see more from this writer, regardless of how you feel about the narrative and how many stars you gave it, be warm in your review. Critical reviews are tough, but your tone can mitigate the emotional impact.
Write your review in a way that makes it obvious you read the book. Don’t include spoilers unless you need to, of course, but use the characters’ names, cite aspects of the plot, allude to certain events. Give at least three details:
“It is full of torture – both physical and psychological. The characters invoke sympathy, irritation and frustration. The reader develops a love/hate relationship with the antagonist.” – review for COLOSSUS (excerpt)
If a book isn’t in your wheelhouse, or you don’t like the genre/trope in general, don’t focus on those aspects or related aspects when rating it. Comments like “I don’t usually like SFF, so…” are useless (“I don’t usually like SFF, but…” is generally fine).
If you enjoyed the book, but didn’t LOVE LOVE LOVE it, it’s OK to leave a 4-star review rather than a 5. I actually doubt the quality of a book with fewer than fifteen reviews that has all 5-star reviews, because it makes me wonder if they were set-ups or favors. Avoid gushing, even if you love the author/book, because that will make potential buyers doubt your sincerity.
3 stars is not a negative rating. If you’re meh about the book, leave 3 stars and specify why: it didn’t grab you, but it wasn’t bad or boring enough to make you give up on it. It had these issues, but this ultimate redeeming quality. “The plot was boring, but the characters were engaging and the writing itself was excellent.”
1- and 2-star reviews should be reserved for books you did not like, want others to avoid, are problematic, or are rife with mechanical errors that make it feel more like a first draft than a published book. Be specific about the aspects you didn’t like (“Characters were flat and undeveloped.”). I also recommend pointing out positive aspects (“Dialogue was humorous.”) in addition to the negative. Don’t be nasty or condescending. You especially want to avoid sounding pretentious.
And for the love of dogs, don’t write a nasty review and cite or tack on petty details as a reason, like the way a character takes their coffee. FFS.
“DNF” means did not finish. If you don’t finish a book just because it didn’t grab you, I don’t recommend leaving a review. DNF reviews should be reserved for problematic books only. When I say “problematic,” I mean racist, sexist, or inciting hate in some other fashion.
This does not include “too much violence,” “too many swear words,” or “too much sex,” as – although some others might agree – these are too subjective; You can’t judge the quality of the book if you give up too early for these reasons, and there are many who might have enjoyed the narrative, but passed on the purchase because of those comments.
A note for beta readers:
I should not feel the need to say this, but here we are: if you were a beta reader for a book, do not withhold the issues you found in order to write a negative review.
If you have a special formula for reviewing a book, I would LOVE to stea- I mean, see it! If there are certain book reviews that you love or hate, post them in the comments below or @ me on Twitter with a screencap!
Want to support me? Buy me a coffee!
Want more Avery Rhodes? Check out becomingcolossus.wordpress.com/