Spend more than a few seconds around books and the quirky individuals who write them, and you will hear a plea for book reviews. As a reader, you may wonder what the big deal is. Are they really that important? Why should you write them? And, how on earth do you do it?
Why are book reviews important?
This might be the simplest question to answer.
For writers whose books can easily and quickly be lost in the shuffle of millions of new titles, the more reviews they receive, the more other readers will see them and the more books they will sell.
Even just a quick click of how many stars is a huge help on sites like Amazon in improving authors’ rankings and visibility.
But, the importance of an actual written review—even if it’s only a few sentences—comes in for your fellow readers. Chances are, when you’re considering purchasing something, you’re going to read a few reviews. If you’re like me, you like to read some with one star, some with five and some in the middle. Reviews help us decide if whatever product we’re considering is right for us, worth the money and exactly what the picture seems to indicate. At the end of the day, a book is a product. Since the decision TO read one book is a choice to NOT read another, readers take their choices seriously.
For whom are book reviews written?
First and foremost, book reviews should be written for other readers.
Up next on the list are the author, the editor and the publisher. Two others that you may not think of are other writers—we read reviews of other books to help us understand what readers of our genre like and don’t like—and YOU! By writing a book review, you will benefit in many ways. You will more deeply internalize what you read and find that those books become more than just a cover you barely remember. I’ll share several other benefits to your writing book reviews in a few minutes.
Why are you leaving a review?
Now, for this question, I have to say it depends on who you are.
If you are simply a reader who loves books, you may leave a review because you appreciate the time the writers, editors and publishers put into the book. You may want to help other readers in choosing their next book. You may just love to share when you find a book that really speaks to you.
In this case, I want to make it clear that you do not have to leave a review if a book just wasn’t your cup of tea. Most of us have some fairly clear preferences when it comes to what we really enjoy reading. But, you may also be a reader who likes to go outside of those preferences once in a while. Good for you! I applaud your desire to read something different. You may find a new favorite genre, or you may just solidify the fact that you simply can’t make it through that grisly horror story! That is totally okay, and it’s equally okay to not leave a review in that instance. If you do, though, my guidelines will help you in how to leave a helpful and KINND book review.
For writers, it gets a little more challenging. Many of us remain active in numerous writing communities—online or in our communities. As a result, we frequently read books outside of our preferences out of a desire to support fellow writers. That makes reviewing books more challenging, and we have to learn how to take our points of view out of the equation.
For example, I do not like reading young adult books that have teenage angst and drama oozing out of their pages. It’s just not my thing. I survived the teenage years and have no desire to revisit them in any format! But … I know quite a few authors who write in that genre, and I want to read their work and encourage them.
The other aspect that makes writing book reviews slightly muddled for writers is we have spent a great deal of time—I would be so bold as to argue, too much time—studying the how tos of writing. Our heads are filled with all the rules and thou shalts and thou shalt nots of plot and characterization and development and story structures and arcs and …
You fell asleep, didn’t you? Don’t worry, I was sleeping while I typed that.
The point is, we have a tendency to try to apply whatever latest craft tip we learned onto the book we’re currently reading. While it may be helpful for us to think through how to properly implement these things in our own writing by considering it in others’, a book review may not be the place to expound on all that. We can note some of these details, but they shouldn’t be the focus of our review.
Plus, just because Mr. Q. Writing Guru declared last week that only boring old codgers in three-piece suits should write in third person omniscient point of view does not mean there’s anything wrong with Susie Debut Author’s third person omni book.
Anyway, at the end of the day, our reviews should reflect the same answer to the “Why” question as readers’. We just have a few hedges obstructing our view along the way.
It’s bloggers and reviewers jobs to be honest—brutally if needed—on the books they read. However, I have to say that those who take the brutal part to extremes are overlooking the big picture of reviews. That’s where my outline of a KINND review may help.
A good book critic will also stick to a few genres (at the most) that they genuinely enjoy. They will know those types of books well and write directly to readers who also love that style or would at least like to give it a shot.
What do YOU get out of it?
Expanding on what I mentioned above about internalizing what you read, you get a written record of the books you read—when you read them and what you really thought at the time. If you read more than a couple books a year—and you’re as forgetful as me—having reviews to quickly pull up and refresh your memory can help when you want to share a book recommendation with a friend, but you can’t remember exactly why you thought they’d like it.
Perhaps you read a book when it first released, but it’s just become popular (i.e. someone made a movie based on it) a decade later and you can’t quite remember what you liked or didn’t about it.
Plus, you have a forever list of all the great books you’ve read over the years. Sometimes we read books during certain seasons in our life, and those events and stories become forever connected. Book reviews help you remember the dates of those big life moments.
Finally, you get the satisfaction of knowing you have helped an author stand out a little more in the vast ocean of literature.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. In all the research I’ve been doing about how to and how not to advertise and market, I’ve read countless words about things like market research, target audience and so much more. But, guess what? None of that really matters.
I know that sounded heretical to my marketing guru friends, but hear me out on this.
Ask ten readers how they choose their next book, and I guarantee you at least nine of them will say they listen to “a friend’s recommendation.”
You’re probably thinking, “So what? What’s that got to do with reviews?”
At the end of the day, no matter how strategic an author is when it comes to marketing and advertising, nothing can beat a personal recommendation. Goodreads helps with that. You probably take note of what your friends are reading. After a while, you have a handful who you know are going to give good recommendations or who read similar books to you. Those are the ones you’ll look to when you’re wondering what cover to open next.
So, while authors research and guess and cross our fingers, we’re really hoping for a few great readers who fall as deeply in love with our stories as we have. From there, we have to hope even harder that they’ll pass the word along.
Where should you post your reviews?
Personally, when I read a book that I thought was outstanding, I cannot wait to share it with my reader friends and I want to read more by that author. When I post my review on Goodreads, friends can see what I thought about it. I can even recommend it to specific friends if I want. Then, I can do a quick search to see what else that author has written and add a few more titles to my to-be-read list and maybe even give them a follow. A simple copy-and-paste allows me to share that same review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, BookBub, other purchase sites—like a local independent book store—and my local library site.
Five extra minutes, and we can spread the love of that review all over for readers around the world and make that author and his or her work that much more visible. (For other ways you can help out your favorite authors, check out my post on being an Active Reader!)
Please join me for Part 2 in this series as I explain exactly what each letter in my acrostic stands for and how they can make your reviews both positive and constructive.
Do you write book reviews? Do you want to start? What are some questions you have about how to write reviews? If you’re on Goodreads, please give me a follow! It’s one of my favorite online places to hang out. And, be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter. I will have a special book review guide PDF for my subscribers next week!