Having been a book reviewer for nearly 5 years consistently, now, I feel like I’m able to talk about what makes a book review. Being an author is also part of the qualifications, as I come up so often against reviews that are pointless and frustrating. Sure, they say if a person enjoyed the book, but that’s not really what a review is for, is it? Technically, rating a book a 4-5 star says exactly the same thing as a text review, with the same rating, that says nothing more than: “I really enjoyed it. Can’t wait for the next one.” or something similar.
These help no one! Because, let’s face it…reviews are equally for the author (to tell them what you loved or hated about the book) and other readers (to tell them what might turn them away from reading it or might encourage them to read it). The reviews are NOT for the reviewer posting the review. That’s a common misconception.
And, please, do NOT advertise yourself as a “professional reader” or “reviewer” if these are the only type of reviews you leave. These are totally fine for people who just read a book for enjoyment. They are not appropriate if you’ve been gifted a copy of the book, for the express purpose of leaving a review. Yes, every rating helps, but these are not what we’re looking for, as authors.
Why am I bringing this up now?
I find I get increasingly frustrated by people expressing total joy and excitement about reading my book, when I gift a copy FOR THE PURPOSES OF A REVIEW, only to find that I have to chase up that review, months after the promised post date (which is also months after the book has released, so doesn’t help much with ranking etc). And what do I find? Usually, I get a reply after minutes that says “it’s posted” and I’m sitting thinking “Great! They had it all prepared and just forgot to post it”. Then I read the review and it tells me nothing. There is actually not one thing in it to prove that the person read the book. Not one.
Why is this important?
Because 50% of “reviewers” who sign up to get free copies never actually fulfil the reading requirement and post their review. That’s a risk all of us authors take. But when you’re part of a group that means reviewing is mandatory and can get you kicked out if you don’t comply, it’s expected that you know what you’re doing. Most don’t and that’s the real problem.
When someone posts a re-cap of the blurb, there is NO proof there that they read the book. When someone puts “I really liked it” and nothing more, there is NO proof that they read the book. Which is a problem. We authors then don’t know if that person simply forgot, ran out of time or just wanted a free copy and didn’t bother reading it or if they’re just no good at reviewing. And if we don’t know that, then how do we know whether to send another book to that same reviewer? Good reviewers get other books. Bad reviewers get nothing further. It’s that simple.
The horrible truth about being an author is that it’s a business. Though we love it, we do actually have to make money at it and that requires reviews, good or bad, that actually discuss what the book is about. The good and bad elements alike. That is the only way that other readers are going to know whether they want to read it or not. Readers are the best way to do that. They write a review saying “I loved this element” and another reader can see it and think “actually, I don’t like that, so I’ll miss this” or “that’s cool, I might like this”.
Every free book gifted to a reviewer who doesn’t follow through or who posts an ineffective review is a loss of sales. When a gifted/free book results in a review, it boosts sales. When it results in what is effectively only a rating, that results in no increase in sales whatsoever and tells readers nothing that will encourage or discourage them from reading the book.
So, what can be done?
Simple. If you’re going to become a reviewer or professional reader, then you need to have a format for how you review. I have a system of my own, but you can develop a really simple one, like the example below, that you save in a generic document. Then, all you have to do after that is fill in the blanks and save it under a new document title.
Even if all you have is –
Book Title: Author: Characters: Theme: Pros: Cons: Overall:
– then you’re going to save yourself time and it will help you focus on what you want to say. Even if it’s only a bullet point list, it’s better than a vague sentence that doesn’t comply with a review request.
And if you can’t think of how to say what you feel/think, then use some tips from Goodreads reviewers. They use memes and gifs to express themselves in a way that allows them to fulfil the review with fewer words, but still explain what the book made them think/feel.
Here’s a handy little tip for how to review a book. And this is super simple; it’s an example for children to use:
So, to recap:
Not acceptable, from professional reader/reviewer:
☆ recap of the blurb
☆ I liked/hated it (and no more than that)
Appropriate and acceptable:
☆ discussion of what in the blurb encouraged you to read the book.
☆ discussion of topics raised within book.
☆ discussion of themes, characters, plot.
☆ reasons why you loved/hated it.
Here are some more tips on how to improve your review process (click the images to be taken to the site):