In today’s completely irregular installment of The Care and Feeding of Your Favorite Authors, let’s talk reviews: why to leave them, and how to write them!

Reviews matter, for a lot of reasons.

First, and probably most importantly, reviews will sway readers. True fans will read books by their favorite authors without checking reviews (or possibly even the price or synopsis!), but a casual browser is going to have to decide how to spend their money, and they’ll do that based on the cover, the description, the price, the rating, and the reviews.

Obviously, an author or publisher is in control of the first three, but those last two rest in the hands of the readers. If you love a book, and you want it to succeed, it’s really important to let other people know!

More reviews give a book legitimacy. You’ve probably seen those self-published books that have that one review that sounds a little like it was written by the author’s mom. Not so convincing. A dozen enthusiastic three- and four-star reviews can actually be better than one questionable five-star review. More reviews indicate that more people have actually read the book, and they give a reader on the fence some insight about whether or not they will enjoy it.

Reviews are important to authors for other reasons, too.

Did you know that some kinds of advertising won’t even accept books that don’t have a certain number of reviews already?

They can also help an author, especially an independent author, identify problems with a book. If a lot of people object to a certain aspect, maybe that wasn’t the best choice, and I, for one, will reconsider making that choice again in the future.

Reviews also help me know what readers are enthusiastic about. When I wrote Dragon of Glass, I planned to release the rest of the series every year for Christmas. But the reviews were so full of wails and complaints and pleas for answers to the questions sooner than later that I made the decision to prioritize the series and get the books out sooner.

Not all authors like to read their reviews. They don’t monitor them, and won’t respond to them. A sour review or a troll can really ruin a day, and it can be healthier for many writers to avoid them altogether. I totally respect this.

But me? I love them. I love to know what worked, what resonated, even what drove a reader crazy. I absolutely learn from reviews, as a writer, and even as a marketer; sometimes a negative comment doesn’t mean that I failed with the book, but with finding the correct audience, and I take a hard look at how it’s packaged and presented. Reviews can help me identify those errors.

So, maybe I’ve convinced you to leave a review, but you’re really not sure what to say in your review.

First, think about your rating.

Authors love those five-stars, and they strive to earn them. Some raters save these for the Very Best books, and some give them out like candy. Only you can decide your level of comfort. If you feel like it was an average book that you enjoyed a bit, maybe it’s a four-star. If you sort of slogged, perhaps it’s a three-star. Or maybe a few shining moments bumped it up to a four-star. Rating is a very personal choice.

So, what do you say in your review?

First of all, things not to do: Don’t use bad words. This can trigger automatic protections on review sites, so avoid the swears when possible. Watch out for contentious keywords. Words like erotic, XXX, kinky, and similar may get a book sorted into categories that it might not belong in, where it will get less exposure. Stick to hot or spicy if you want to allude to a heat level.

Mentioning things that you didn’t like as much isn’t always a bad thing. Something you didn’t like might be a draw to another reader. ‘It has too much boring information about horses for me’ might be review catnip for a reader who loves equine details. Just remember that there is a real writer behind the book, and they are probably attached to their work. Be kind about the things that didn’t appeal to you personally.

Reviews don’t have to be complicated breakdowns of the symbolism. You don’t have to critique the book or plunge it for meaning. You also don’t have to give a synopsis to prove that you’ve read it and it’s best not to spill the secrets that are revealed! All you have to do is say what you liked (or didn’t!) about the story.

Here are some places to start:

  • *My favorite character was…(the hero, the heroine, the dog, the house)
  • *One scene that really stuck with me was…(the cactus scene!)
  • *I went away from this book feeling…(satisfied, hopeful, eager for the next book)
  • *I wish I had…(a guy like Bob, a library like his, her powers)
  • *It was unusual because…(the heroine was disabled, the magic was unique, it featured an octopus shifter)
  • *The tone of the book was…(heartbreaking, gentle, suspenseful, hilarious, HOT HOT HOT)

Are there things you want other readers to know? What would you tell a friend if they wanted to know what it was like without spoilers?

  • *What kind of heat level did it have?
  • *Did it end in a cliffhanger?
  • *Was it fast-paced, or slow and delicious?
  • *Did it answer your questions or leave you with more?
  • *Will you re-read it?
  • *Do you recommend it?

Obviously, you don’t have to answer all of those questions, they’re just to give you some ideas to jump off from. The best reviews are personal and from the heart, and include your impulsive observations and reactions. Some of my very favorite reviews include: “WOW.” “This is an absolutely scrumptious tale of murder, mayhem, mystery, and romance.” “Love this book ! I was in tears twice so caught up in the story!” “Thrilling, fun, entertaining and difficult to put down.” “Felt the title was cheesy, but the book turned out to be much better than expected!” “Tony the tiger (I see what you did there) is Grreat for feeling like a real person.” (I especially love it when readers get my stupid jokes…)

And to conclude, don’t sweat too hard about crafting the perfect review. No one will be judging your grammar or spelling…though a cursory check for awkward autocorrects is always recommended! (Even though I can guess what you meant if you really ducking loved the book.)

Just review whenever you are able, enthusiastically. 

And your author will love you for it.