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Reviews: the How, What, Why, Where and When

There will always be some authors whose work you absolutely adore. As soon as you hear their latest book is available for pre-order, you can’t wait to stake your claim on a copy. You get hold of your book on publication day and lock yourself away to devour it almost non-stop. Woe betides anyone who dares to interrupt you for anything short of the house being on fire.

I know—I’ve been there. With my favourite authors, I love their voice so much I’d read their shopping lists if I could get hold of them without coming across as a creepy stalker type.

And even then it might be worth it…

But when it comes to authors I’ve never read before, I’m always happy to take recommendations. Personal—from people I know and whose reading tastes mirror my own—is always best. But this is no longer always the case.

Why Review?

A survey carried out last year by BrightLocal showed that a staggering 91% of 18-34-year-old consumers now trust online reviews as much as personal word-of-mouth. Not only that but:

  • Consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before feeling able to trust the product.
  • 86% of consumers read reviews before making a buying decision. (And if you go back to that 18-34-year-old age bracket, the figure rises to 95%.)
  • 57% of consumers will use a business only if it has 4 or more stars.
  • 40% of consumers only take into account reviews written within the past two weeks.

So, if you’ve enjoyed a book and feel other people would, too, why not leave a review to help them not only find it, but have the confidence to give it a try? Your opinion matters, and carries just as much weight with potential readers as a conventional magazine or newspaper review.

Of course, whatever review you leave, it’s got to be an honest one. If you’re reading a series and didn’t enjoy the latest instalment as much as an earlier one, then say so. In fact, having a range of reviews (providing they’re predominantly positive, of course!) sometimes has more clout than only having five-star ones.

Reviews don’t need to be long or involved. They don’t need to examine the structure in great detail, deconstruct the narrative arc, or explore the underlying themes. (Some people enjoy going into this kind of depth, and it’s always fascinating for the author.)

A few sentences saying what you liked about the story and the characters works just fine. All reviews, short and long, help other lovers of books to decide what to read. After all, people read far faster than authors can possibly write, so there is always a desperate need for more fuel to feed the flames.

And reviews really help authors. Not only do they provide encouragement for those days when the words just will not come, but they also nudge sales along and help authors to be able to keep writing the books that you love.

Where Review?

So, would you be prepared to review books you’ve enjoyed on Amazon and goodreads? (Or, if you read on an ePub reader, on Barnes & Noble’s Nook site, or Apple Books, or Kobo?) Or maybe even a few lines on one of the crime-reading groups on Facebook?

If you’re already a regular reviewer, you’ll know exactly what to do, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

How do I Review?

The first piece of advice I’d offer is always to write your review elsewhere and then copy and paste it into the review box on the appropriate site mentioned below. I know with reviews, or comments on blogs or other online forms, that it’s Sod’s Law, the longer the piece you’ve just written, the greater the likelihood you’ll press the Post button and your hard work will be eaten by the cyber gods, never to be seen again!

So, how to review:

On Amazon, go to the page of the book you want to review, scroll down the page and, on the left-hand side, you’ll find the star symbols and the [Write a customer review] button.

Click or tap the button, which will prompt you to sign in to your Amazon account, if you haven’t already done so. You’ll then get this screen to complete and fill in as you wish.

Goodreads helpfully provide full instructions:

On the book page on Apple Books, alongside the [Details] button is one for [Ratings and Reviews], as shown here for the first of my Lakeland trilogy, DANCING ON THE GRAVE:

Choose the [Ratings and Reviews] option, which gets you to this screen, allowing you to give a star rating. You can just rate a book one to five stars (one being low and five being high) and not leave a review. But, if you do, you’ll be asked to sign in to your account before you can go any further.

Scrolling down the book page on Kobo you’ll get to this section which invites you to share your thoughts and [Write your review].

And Barnes & Noble’s Nook book pages have a very similar option to be found by scrolling down the page to the [Write a review] button.

What kind of things do I say?

If you’ve read lots of book reviews, then you already have a good idea of what’s required. And, if you haven’t, just treat it like writing to a friend to tell him or her about the book you’ve just finished and why you think they ought to read it, too.

The only thing you don’t need to do is explain the premise of the story, as the book description on the page does that. And, please, don’t give away spoilers in the plot. Imagine reading a review of the movie The Sixth Sense, or The Usual Suspects, and it told you the big twist at the end before you’d had a chance to watch it for yourself.

It’s always a good idea to plan and write out your review in advance, so you can copy and paste it into the site. This saves the frustrating experience of having all your careful words disappear in a computer glitch.

  1. Decide the star rating for the book of 1 to maximum 5. This is not an index of quality, simply an indication of how much you personally liked the book.
  2. Think about a short title for your review that sums up what you think of the book.

Then choose a few of the following—or all of them if you want—and write in your own words:

  • whether you liked the book
  • what you liked most (or least)
  • how you felt about the characters
  • if you felt you could relate to them—did they seem like real people?
  • if you felt the story kept you turning the pages
  • if you recommend the book—and, if so, why?

Above all, your review should be honest, from the heart, and help other readers to discover new authors and new stories. And that, in turn, sells more books. So, everybody wins!

It’s perfectly acceptable for you to receive a free ARC so that you can produce your review. In fact, Amazon now requires you to mention this. So, if this has been the case, then at the end of your review, you should simply say: I received a free Advance Reader Copy of this book for review.

That’s it. Hope this has helped you with the What, Why, How and Where of reviewing. That just leaves…

The When

Reviews on goodreads can be added anytime as you work your way through your To Be Read pile. They can be added for books that are not yet published or ones that are on pre-order. Reviews on the retailer sites, like Amazon and Apple, need to go up as soon after publication as possible, to give a book that initial boost.

If you like an author’s work, they would really appreciate you saying a few words about their books. But other readers will appreciate it even more.

This week’s Word of the Week is esprit d’escalier, which can be literally translated as ‘the wit of the staircase’ and means the predicament of thinking of the perfect response too late to use it. It apparently comes from a time when the smartest of Parisian gatherings happened in mansions that had their reception rooms one floor above the ground. Thus to think of a witty retort while on the stairs meant you had already left the party and the moment to use it was past.