Thursday, February 20, 2014

Writers Helping Writers—Book Reviews that Help

by Edie Melson

As many of you know, I’ve frequently cautioned you that your first loyalty needs to be to your audience. Beyond that, I’ve taught that for most writers, that audience is composed of readers, not writers. That focus is tough because most of our friends are writers, and it’s only natural to want to help by promoting their books. So is there anything we can do to help our writer friends?

You better believe it!

So I’m sharing how writers can help other writers. There is one thing that gives an author the biggest bang for the buck—a book review. Today I want to teach you how to write book reviews that help.

First, let’s talk about why book reviews are helpful.
  • Book reviews, particularly on Amazon can make or break a book’s success. Buyers are making book buying decisions based on those reviews.
  • Book stores are also paying attention to reviews before stocking their physical shelves.
  • Reviews also give a book and the author credibility.
  • Although Amazon doesn’t state it explicitly, the more reviews a book receives the higher it’s ranked when a reader searches.
  • With Amazon, being popular makes you popular. And one of the main ways readers gage popularity is through reviews.

Writing the Review
The place to begin is with Amazon. Right now, Amazon is ground zero for consumer information about books. Not sure I’m right? Current statistics show that Amazon has 55% of the e-book reading market. 'Nough said.

Go easy on the length of the review. Truthfully, really long reviews don’t get read. Beyond that, Amazon only requires a review to be twenty-five words long.

Leave the professional reviews at home. Consumers are mistrustful of reviews that sound too professional. People are looking for opinions by regular readers, not professional reviewers.

State what you liked about the book and why. Share a bit about why you like to read book(s) by that particular author. Give it a four or five star rating.

NOTE about rating books: 
I’m not telling you to lie about the rating. BUT I am suggesting that anything but a four or five star rating won’t help the author. I’ve talked to quite a few authors who think giving a book a two or three star review gives them credibility as a reviewer. There’s a lot wrong with that thinking.
  • Most readers on Amazon just don’t believe that a reviewer who gives two and three star reviews is more believable than one who awards four and five star reviews.
  • The reason for posting these types of reviews is not to increase your credibility, it’s to help your fellow authors.
  • Some people also believe that a smattering of poor ratings within the reviews of a book makes it more credible. Not so. If a book has more than about thirty reviews, it’s credible. Truthfully, very few people have that many friends and/or family willing to post a book review

Personally, if I can’t give an honest four or five star review of a book, I just don’t review it.

Although Amazon is the best place to post a review, it's not the only place out there.
Other places to post reviews (in order of importance):
  • Goodreads
  • Barnes & Noble
There are other places to post reviews, but these are the ones that will help the author the most.

Now I'm curious, what do you look for in reviews when you're considering a book purchase? What do you like to include when you review a book?

Don't forget to join the conversation!



  1. SO timely! I couldn't agree more - reviewers hold the real power in book buying and that's all there is to it. If reviewers slam your book or WORSE if people love your book but don't go give it good reviews - your books is dead in the water and you won't get sales.

    I'm really struggling with this right now (figuring out how to convince people to go give a review without begging them ;) ) since my book just launched. Its a catch 22 because people (i.e. strangers who don't know you) won't buy your book without reviews to base their choice on, so your friends read the book and it just sits there unless they go review it. If you discover a way to encourage people to give reviews - let me know! :)

    1. Jess, look for an upcoming post on how to encourage people to review your books. Thanks so much for stopping by, Blessings, E

  2. I am going to have to re-think reviewing based on this. As an avid, life-long reader --- I am very demanding of the books I read. Unless they are real winners on my personal quality scale, I don't feel it's honest to click 4 or 5 stars.

    1. Susan, everyone has their own personal opinion with how to rate books, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm just trying to let reviewers know how a two or three star review can affect book sales. It really doesn't help the author much, and in some cases can hurt. If I can't honestly award a four or five star review, I pass on reviewing the book. Again, that's just my opinion and the way I handle it. I really appreciate your willingness to share another, very valid, viewpoint. Blessings, E

    2. Edie you're right - 2-3 star reviews kill a book on Amazon. An excellent place to give more critical reivews (I don't mean critical in a bad way - I mean it in an anylitical way) is Goodreads because that's a place geared toward avid readers who think along those lines whereas Amazon is a store so people are making buying decisions.

      On Amazon I base it on simply - did I enjoy the reading experience the book brought, or not. If no, I don't review (unless there is a HUGE issue). Enjoying the reading experience doesn't mean its the best book ever or that the author was perfection - just that I decided that the time I spent reading that book was worth it to me and might be for others. At least, that's how I do it.

    3. Jess, I agree! Thanks for clarifying about Goodreads! Blessings, E

  3. I agree - in most cases I only review books I can give a four or five star review. There was one time I gave a lower review because the book really bothered me and I felt that the readers needed to know that the title was a bait and switch - the contents did not mirror the title (it was a non-fiction book). If a book is poorly written, I often don't finish it. Sometimes the book is poorly written, but the idea or the story is good. Sometimes I email the author directly, if possible. I've also given one rating in the star section but in the body of my review give a lower rating for other things. For example, I give the book a four star rating for content, but only a three-star rating in execution. The book would benefit from a good revision.

    1. Heather, all great thought! And in the case of a bait and switch, I'm glad you're looking out for the consumer! Thanks for chiming in! Blessings, E

  4. How soon after publishing does a review need to be written? There are some book I've enjoyed that I'd review, but if they're a few years old, is it worth it?

    1. Ellen, thanks for the question! It's NEVER too late for a review to be helpful! I'm glad you stopped by, blessings, E

  5. I usually post my four and five star reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and my blog, and three stars to Goodreads only. I don't go lower than three stars, and posting them on Goodreads is for my benefit mostly...i want to remember what the book was about and use them for reference when considering another book by an author. (I have a terrible short-term memory, ha!)

    1. Gwendolyn, that's a great idea about Goodreads! Thanks for stopping by, blessings, E

  6. Well, I know that the first 5 to 10 reviews are probably from friends and other writers (because often I'm one of them). So I'll skim down past those. I'll also click on the one-star reviews to see if they have any merit. Often they're just people looking to trash a writer, so I know I can ignore them (my favorites are the people who read a piece of Christian fiction then complain about all the religious stuff). But if I see that at least 40% of the reviews are 3-star or below, I know it's probably not a very good book. I'm like you, if I don't like a book, I don't review it, unless it's a famous author who really isn't going to be hurt by it and might need a little kick in the pants to get him back on track.

  7. I am so delighted to see this post, Edie! I never knew this until recently, but the number of reviews on Amazon can impact its search cue location. So, the book with a certain number of reviews will pop up faster than a book without as many reviews. I agree with the 4 or 5 star review rule thinking time is golden and our words are meant to encourage. I would rather give stamps of approval than stamps of disapproval.

    One thing that I love to read in a book review is some other authors that a reader who reads this might also love. For example, Dani Pettrey is a great read for readers who like Dee Henderson or Lynette Eason. That tells me a bit about what the book is about.

  8. Hi Edie -

    Great information! I agree with your method. If I can't give a book 4 or 5 stars, I won't post anything. Of course, sometimes I don't write a review because of the time crunch.

    A question I'd love to see you write about: How do you go about getting reviews on Amazon and the other big sites?

    Susan :)