Whether you’re an author wishing you had more reviews, or a reader who is unsure about writing them, reviews are something that is frequently debated. The results from my lesbian and bi women fiction survey had some surprising results when it comes to reviews. Over 56% of responders only sometimes review books they have read. 16% never review. Many people said they didn’t review because they didn’t know how, or they were frightened of being criticised for their own spelling or grammar. Some even questioned why their point of view was important. You can see the results for yourself here.
The topic of reviews is a big one. With reviews being essential for the success of authors, I wanted to spend a bit of time talking about why reviews are so important, how they work and how the novice reviewer can start their very first review.
Why do authors need reviews?
Believe it or not, a lot of time and money goes into creating the average book. When you download an eBook or pick up a paperback, it’s easy to forget the sheer work that has gone into producing that book.
We all know about the months of writing, but what about the months of editing? Beta checking, developmental editing, rewriting, copy editing, proofreading. Then there’s the cover artists, the formatters.
Those professionals need to be paid, and that’s before the book has even made a penny.
Many authors/publishers shell out thousands to create a book, in the hope that it will one day turn a profit. On top of this, the royalty system is set up in such a way that from day of purchase to the funds being received could be up to three, or even six, months.
To put it another way, a book I write today could take six months to be released, and another six for me to see a penny. Thousands are spent during that time, but money doesn’t come in to replenish those costs for months.
Okay, but what's that got to do with reviews?
I’m glad you ask 😉 Book sales aren’t just nice to have, they are essential for an author to recoup high production costs. On websites like Amazon, three things are immediately visible to shoppers:
- The book cover
- The price
- The aggregate reviews
The book cover and the price can be controlled by the author/publisher but the reviews are in the hands of the readers.
When someone is choosing which books to buy, they invariably look at the ratings to make a decision. A book with no reviews is a risk. On top of this, Amazon ranks all books and the reviews are an essential part of that ranking process.
I've heard about Amazon rankings, what are they?
There is an urban myth that no one truly knows how Amazon ranks books, but this simply isn’t true. The Amazon Algorithm is based on a very common product search engine, designed by a company called A9.
A9 is a collaborative algorithm, which sounds more complicated than it is. Basically, Amazon takes all of its products and catalogues them into an easy to display manner. The collaborative part simply means that signed in customers behaviours are added to the system. Amazon can use this information to find out what is popular, and what could interest similar customers.
The Amazon algorithm is quite in-depth so I may blog about it in the future, but for the sake of this blog let’s just say that reviews are one of the many items that Amazon uses to rank and suggest books to customers.
Quite simply, books with more reviews rank better and are found by more readers. Books with lower, or no, reviews slip into obscurity very quickly.
It's not just about sales
Of course, sales are nice but that’s not the only factor. Authors like to receive feedback. As you know, writing takes months and to get some feedback that it was all worthwhile is frankly priceless. Reading a positive review encourages and motivates authors. It makes it all worthwhile.
And don’t forget, we’re much more likely to post a negative review than a positive one. Studies show that the majority of people who have a positive reception to a product won’t bother to review it.
This can mean that authors only ever see negative reviews. On top of the time and cost of publishing a book, there’s also a lot of courage involved. Authors aren’t selling pet beds on Amazon, they’re selling their creative output. Something they have slaved over and feel deeply connected to.
A one-star review on Fido’s bed because the stuffing is a little thin is different to a one-star review on a book.
It’s also worth pointing out that one person’s “couldn’t put it down" could be another person’s “dull as dishwater". We’re all different and we all like different things. It’s important for as many people as possible to review products to help the next reader to make a decision of their own.
Okay, how do I review?
A review doesn’t have to be long or complicated.
First, you choose the overall star rating for the book. But, wait!
Amazon has a very specific approach to star ratings. It considers 1 or 2-star reviews as negative, 3-star reviews as neutral and 4 or 5-star reviews as positive. So, a 3-star review won’t benefit an author.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t post one, reviews are personal and the choice is yours. But be aware of what you are doing, your own personal view on a 3-star review may not be shared by Amazon, and the book you are reviewing could suffer as a result.
Once you have chosen a star rating, it is onto the freeform text box.
But I hate the freeform text box!
This is the bit that puts most people off. What do you say? How long should it be? Does anyone care about what I think? Am I qualified to leave a review?
It can be a minefield.
But here’s the thing, a review is a personal opinion. It doesn’t have to be wordy or witty, it just has to be your own thoughts. Did you enjoy it? Would you recommend it to others? Did it entertain you?
Below I have put some quick examples of reviews for you to use as a starting point. None are very long but an author would be happy to receive any of them.
Some review examples
I enjoyed this book, it had a good blend of humor and romance. If you’re looking for something lighthearted then this is the book for you.
A perfect weekend read. I could hardly put it down. The characters were well-developed and the plot kept me entertained.
A solid read! I liked this story and would recommend it to other people.
If you enjoy snappy dialogue and interesting characters then this book is for you.
What if I didn't like the book?
It’s bound to happen eventually, you’ll come across a book you didn’t like. Many reviewers have a policy that they only review books they like. I also do this. If I don’t like a book, I simply don’t review it. This means I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, I don’t put the success of the book or the author at risk, and I don’t feel guilty for leaving a negative review.
However, leaving a negative review is your choice. If you want to leave one, then do. As I said before, it’s you’re personal opinion. If you have a reason for disliking a book that you spent money on, then you have the right to leave whatever review you like.
I still don't want to write a review, how can I help an author?
If you really don’t want to write a review, don’t worry. There is still a way you can help your favourite authors. Reviews on Amazon can be up-voted and down-voted by just clicking a button. At the bottom of all reviews, you will see “Was the review helpful to you?" as well as a yes button and a no button.
If you like a book, but you don’t want to write a review, go and up-vote positive reviews that you agree with. This gives these reviews more presence and makes them “worth" more to the Amazon algorithm.
Likewise, if someone has left a bad review on a book you like, you can down-vote that review so it doesn’t have as much of an impact.
I hope this blog has cleared up any questions you may have had about reviewing and encourages people to review more. If you have any specific questions then let me know in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer.
Thanks for reading!