The Importance of Leaving Book Reviews

Leaving a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or another retail site? First of all, thank you so much! This is one of the most useful things you can do to promote a book you love. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The more reviews a book has, the more often retails sites like Amazon and B&N will recommend the book to others and feature it in searches.
  • Potential buyers will use the number of five-star reviews as a quick snapshot of whether a book is worth their money.
  • Inclusion in an ebook promo newsletter like BookBub can skyrocket an author’s backlist title. And what do those sites look at when deciding which books to feature? You guessed it: reviews!
  • In a 2015 survey of Christian fiction readers, 16% said the main reason they heard about/purchased a book was because of online reviews. Based on the number surveyed, that’s over 250 readers. It adds up! (Note that 33% of the readers surveyed regularly left reviews for Christian fiction books…let’s raise that percentage!)

If you feel intimidated by the pressure to craft the perfect review, just know that even a simple five-star rating and a “This book was great! Can’t wait to read more from this author!” is helpful.

5stars

But if you want to go the extra mile, here are some tips for writing an awesome book review.

(Note: the following tips are for consumer reviews left on sites like Amazon, B&N, and others. If you have a blog where you post reviews, some of this advice won’t apply, since those reviews are usually longer and more creative.)

Skip the plot summary—or challenge yourself to create a “teaser summary” that’s one line long. People coming to the page can view the back cover copy, so there’s no need for this step. They want to hear your thoughts on the book!

Put the most important stuff first. It’s good to start out with the thoughts about the book you most want people to read…because half the people might stop after that first sentence.

Keep it short. You’ve scanned through articles and content on the Internet. You know that it can be daunting to see a huge block of text. For this reason, it’s good to keep reviews to a nice, tight paragraph, maybe two if you’re feeling ambitious.

Answer “why.” Instead of just stating that you like something, explain why. The plot was interesting? Great! Let us know if the descriptions made you feel like you were there or the mystery kept you guessing until the end or you’d never read anything from that historical era before. The characters were relatable? What was it about them?—their personalities, the small-town feel of the secondary cast, the hero’s doubts and struggles? Talk about that! Did you cry, laugh, or think about something in a new way by the end of the book? Tell us about it.

I found this nifty graphic helpful.

I found this nifty graphic helpful.

No spoilers! Please, please, PLEASE don’t give away key plot elements. Readers will be disappointed (and annoyed) if you ruin the fun of plot twists. I’d err on the side of not even mentioning, “You’ll never see the big surprise ending coming!” because that alerts readers that it’s there.

Look at examples. Click over to a few of your favorite past reads and look at some reviews people have marked “helpful.” (Add your vote if you agree—it makes the best reviews more visible!) What did they do that worked well? How much information did they give, and in what way? (Probably at least some of them broke these rules I’m giving you, and that’s okay. This is just a list of what I’ve found to be helpful for authors and readers.)

So, before we go, let me address the big (awkward) question: what if you didn’t like a book?

This is probably not the best approach.

This is probably not the best approach.

This is a tough one. If you’re an influencer for a writer and have agreed to actively promote the book, try to focus on the positive aspects.

If you’re just an ordinary, bought-this-book-and-hated-it reader, stop and think about this: it wasn’t the right book for you, but it might be the right book for someone. It’s often a matter of taste, and in those cases, it’s best to just not leave a review. Think about all the effort that goes into writing a book—even if you didn’t enjoy the end result, you want to respect that.

It’s not that there’s never a time to leave a negative review, but even in those cases, explain what about the book was off-putting to you in a gracious way. Always remember that authors are real people doing lots of hard work to get that book into your hands (and that they often read reviews).

Stats and Amazon formulas aside, leaving a review can be incredibly encouraging to an author who may be going through a time of frustration or struggling to write the next book. I’ve seen it happen many times, so it makes me doubly excited to see those great reviews! Thanks to all of you out there who support Bethany House authors (and all authors) in this way!

Any additional tips you can think of, readers? What makes a review stand out to you when you’re thinking about whether or not to buy a book?

29 thoughts on “The Importance of Leaving Book Reviews

  1. Such great insight for a person like me who writes dozens of reviews a year, many of them for Bethany House publications. My only response would be that I do like to include a short(three or four sentences) plot summary when my intention is to draw the reader into the story, just in time to leave them wondering what actually happened. Thanks so much!

    • Thanks, Rebecca! I’ll admit–the plot summary thing works for some people (and I love them in blogs). Sometimes they’re just so long that I wonder if anyone reads them! But a 3-4 sentence limit seems like a good standard to keep to.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  2. I actually appreciate the summaries, but you really only need one person to do it. It’s usually more information than what the description of the book gives you and, especially when I’m thinking about a new author, helps give me a feel for whether I’ll like it or not.

    When I write a review I think about “If I didn’t know the author, what would I want to know about this book to make me want to read it?” Taking that perspective helps me make more helpful reviews, I think.

    I’ve had to write one of those awkward I didn’t really like it, but I have to promote it reviews. I agree with your suggestion above about really explaining why you didn’t like it, because that might be just the thing that someone else will love about the book.

    • I love reviews that mix a bit of the plot in with their opinion by being specific about what they enjoyed. So helpful!

      Also, I love that question as a litmus test for whether you’re communicating what you want to in a review. Thanks for sharing it!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicis

  3. Thanks for posting this. And thanks to all of you who regularly leave reviews. It means so much to me as an author for someone to take the time to leave a thoughtful comment about what worked and what didn’t work in a book. It always helps me do better the next time. And, to be honest, writing can be a very lonely business. It’s always refreshing to hear all the hard work hasn’t gone to waste.

    Julianna Deering/DeAnna Dodson

    • DeAnna, in the vein of encouraging authors, I’m LOVING Murder at the Mikado. I picked it up several months ago, but wasn’t able to focus on it so put it away until I could and am now about halfway through and enjoying every moment. I love that you’re creating a world that’s a cross between Jeeves & Wooster and Agatha Christie’s work. And I ADORED your little reference to Tommy and Tuppence. I have Dressed for Death that I’ll start reading as soon as I finish your 3rd novel and now I’m very excited to pick it up. And of course I’ll be reviewing them both. I find your series delightful and it’s fun having a series I can share with my mother.

      • Thank you, Carissa! You have officially made my day. 😀

        It really does mean a lot to me to hear that someone is enjoying the books, especially the little literary references I like to toss in there. Tell your mom I said thank you to her, too.

        • Just finished Murder at the Mikado last night, waaaay past my bedtime since I couldn’t put it down. All I can say is well done! It was, I think, the best of the 3 I’ve read so far in the series, and I’ve loved all of them so that’s saying something. You definitely warranted the 5 star review I gave it! I do hope you have many, many, many more books planned in the series! ❤

          • Awww, thanks again, Carissa! I’m thrilled to have kept you up reading all night. 😀

            Thank you so much for the review.

            You already have Dressed for Death, the next book in the series. I’m turning in the edits for Book Five, Murder on the Moor, tomorrow. (Tomorrow? Yikes!) I have to admit, I’m especially fond of this one.

            There will be at least one more (no title yet), and then we’ll see what happens. With enough great fans like you, Drew ought to have a nice, long run. 😀

  4. Oh gosh, I’m so bad at leaving long winded reviews. I like to talk about different facets I liked about it. I try not to give story lines away or reveal anything. I’ll try to make future ones short and sweet. lol I guess I’m an example of what not to do.

    • You know what, Mimi, though I can’t speak for every author out there, I happen to love it when a reader leaves a long review of one of my books. I mean, who ever gets tired of hearing how beautiful her baby is? 😉

      Julianna Deering/DeAnna Dodson

      • That’s great to hear! lol I end up writing about how much I love the author’s writing style, the characters I loved and loved to hate, what gripped me, and pulled me in. I think I do reviews like I talk…with a lot of words. lol

    • Hi Mimi, thanks for stopping by! You know, I’ve heard from some people that they love the longer reviews, so you may not need to change. The key, I think it is to have some sort of summary early on for all the “scanners” out there who won’t read the whole thing. Thanks so much for supporting the books you love!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  5. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts and feedback on things. Very helpful. For several reasons, I no longer post reviews to Amazon unless specifically asked. One of my problems with Amazon is the: “This book was great! Can’t wait to read more from this author!” reviews. While the “this is great” review is good for the author and publisher, as a consumer, I’ve never found them particularly helpful. In truth I find that they clutter and make it more difficult to find the reviews that are truly helpful. While I understand your perspective, nothing makes me more suspicious about a product than a lot of those 2-3 sentence reviews that lack substance. They always scream ‘lots of friend reviews’ or ‘reviews in exchange for something’.

    • Hi Melissa,

      Glad you enjoyed it! As a consumer, I agree. But I do know that not everyone is a writer, and they want to encourage authors and help the book but don’t feel capable of a thorough analysis of all its good points. 🙂 I like that Amazon now has a feature where people can mark reviews as “helpful” so the more in-depth reviews come to the top. Really useful!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  6. If you wish to leave a review, don’t leave one less than four stars. I rarely read books that come in at less than four stars reviews. Not to get into the statistics too far, but it takes a lot of four and five star reviews for a book to make up for One three-star review. If you think the book average, don’t leave a review, or if you do, don’t mark less than four stars. It makes a difference!

    • Good point, Joanna. (I will say, though, that I enjoy reading some one-star reviews of classics and laughing at how ridiculous they are.) Thanks for joining the conversation!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  7. If it is on your blog, please include a summary. It does not have to be long and should not be the whole back cover, but sometimes someone is talking about a book that I can’t even figure out what it is about as they are trying to not leave spoilers. As far as only leaving 4-5 star reviews as a commenter said before. If you hate the book, tell us. It is okay! Yes, it takes a lot to make up for those, but all 4 and 5 star reviews makes me think only your friends read the book. I have bought and read more books because of lower star reviews than anything else and I am not alone. Most people see through the low star reviews that are just vindictive.

    • Thanks for joining the discussion! I completely agree that blogs should post summaries. In fact, I’d say the whole back cover copy is fine in those cases! It does feel a bit repetitive on retail sites, but people coming to a blog need to have some frame of reference for what the book is about. And I’m very glad that most people ignore one-star reviews that are silly or spiteful.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  8. As a reviewer, I feel excessive amounts of guilt whenever I rate a book lower than 4 stars. But since I know the publishers want me to be honest without being cruel, how “honest” would my review be if I sugar-coat what I really think? But I don’t want to be THAT reviewer either, the one that never praises anything. Any suggestions on how to temper my reviews while still maintaining the degree of integrity and honesty that I expect from myself and others?

    • I hate to write critical reviews, but here are a few things I do to try to make them not feel so bad. I started off with the positives and work in the negatives. It’s a rare book when I can’t find anything that I like about it. I try to close on a positive note as well, reiterating the strengths with a more passing reference to the negative. I also try to point out if a book was not my genre and the parts that didn’t appeal to me that might appeal to others. After all, an author is writing for a lot of different readers, not for me alone. So what doesn’t work for me might very well work for others. More than anything, I try to keep it friendly and remember that there is a person on the other side of my review. I don’t put anything in my review I wouldn’t be willing to say to them in person.

    • Hi Carissa,

      Great question! I write reviews as if the author was actually going to read them. So the purpose of my negative review becomes “help the author’s next book improve” rather than “trash this terrible book.” Like Melissa mentioned, I usually start and end with something I liked, and in between say things as graciously as possible. Like “I would have liked to see more development of characters besides the hero and heroine…there was so much potential in them” or “Although I was cheering for a happy ending, the romance felt rushed and some of the dialogue unrealistic.” I’ve read a number of sarcastic reviews, and they can come across as mean rather than funny. It’s a hard thing to do well, but like you said, it’s good to be honest about your thoughts!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

      • Thanks Amy, for the response. I’ve been guilty of sarcastic reviews, but don’t want that to be the way I review anymore. I came to that realization about myself last week, which is kind of why the timing with this blog post amazed me. But God works in incredible ways and knew I needed a bit of advice. So I’ll take to heart your recommendations and Melissa’s, and work on revamping my reviewing style. I never want to dishearten a writer since I can only imagine how much work goes into bringing a novel to completion.

  9. If you feel intimidated by the pressure to craft the perfect review, just know that even a simple five-star rating and a “This book was great! Can’t wait to read more from this author!” is helpful.

    If this is true, then why turn down requests to read books and ebooks for reviewers who DON”T snark authors or books, are thoughtful in their reviews [longer and more in depth than the above example], multi post, pin the books, and do it b/c they choose to support their fav Bethany/Baker authors?!

  10. Pingback: Seven Annoyances Every Reader Understands | Bethany House Fiction

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