The Art of Leaving Reviews
Reviewing books isn’t easy. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and offend someone or sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about, or any one of a million reasons.
But reviews are important to authors and readers alike. Reviews let you know if this is the book for you as a reader and also helps the author get their book in front of others since some sites, like Amazon, use algorithms to suggest books to customers.
Things to Keep In Mind
Always start a review (no matter how good or how bad the book) with what you did like about it. It’s constructive feedback 101—the criticism sandwich. Criticism is between two slices of goodness. And while it should go without mention, I will mention it. BE HONEST. Honesty is so important.
One other thing to remember before writing a review, sometimes you read a book and there’s nothing wrong with it, but you didn’t like it. If that's the case, say "I am not the target audience for this book" or "This is not the kind of book I like to read". This can be put somewhere at the top of your reviews which helps people know you personally didn't care for it, but that you took the time to read it and are trying your best to give feedback.
The Good Part 1
Start with what you enjoyed about the book. It can be a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs. While not an exhaustive list, here are a few things you can touch on about why you enjoyed a book. Saying you liked it or enjoyed reading it is a great start, but it doesn’t hurt to say in more detail what it was that made you like it.
Talk about what drew you into the book. Was the writing style something that made you swoon? Were the characters realistic and diverse? Were the landscapes vividly described? Did it make you laugh, cry, or excite you in anyway?
Did the author do something different that you enjoyed? A unique way of looking at things, they paid attention to a detail that you’ve found other authors haven’t. Did they touch on a sensitive topic in a way that you admired?
Technical writing. Was the grammar perfect? Was the story beautifully structured with a character and plot arcs with all your burning questions answered at the end?
Not everyone is going to like every book they read. Sometimes there is nothing you can say to the negative and that’s fine! One of the most important things about adding criticism to a review is knowing if it is an objective or subjective criticism. Is it something you think would bother other people about this book? Then it might be objective. If it’s a personal pet peeve, then it would be subjective and it’s important to say that.
Once again, not an exhaustive list, but here are somethings you can think about in terms of criticism.
Writing style. Did the author use complex or strange word choices for no apparent reason that drew you out of the story (not including names/place/etc.)? Was there are lot exposition that bored you to death and made you want to skip over parts? Did they keep screwing up the names of their own characters?
Plot points. Did they forget to wrap up the main or subplots? Were you left wondering well “what about X?” and there is no indication that there is a sequel coming? Did the plot of the story make sense?
Technical writing. Lots of spelling and grammatical mistakes?
The Good Part 2
This is your wrap up. This is a great place to give an overall impression of the book. Say why you’re giving it the star rating you are (we’ll talk about stars in a second) or who you think would enjoy this book the most. It can be as simple as “if you love escapist fantasy then this is the book for you.”
Always leave on a good note. Someone spent what is likely years of their time working on this novel that took you a few days to read.
Star ratings, while often taken as more objective than many reviews, I am sad to announce that this is not the case. Everyone sees star ratings differently. I’ve known people to only give 5 stars to extraordinarily outstanding books and three stars was where most books landed—good, but nothing wow-worthy. There are people who give out 5 stars to books like candy. And there are people out there who have set formulas and count points to determine star ratings.
Choose a method of star ratings that works for you. Whether everyone starts with five stars and any major issues knock them down or everyone starts with three stars and the book goes up or down based on how good or bad you think it was, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are consistent in how you choose to use the star rating system.
Stars are great and while many will do simple that part without the review, those text reviews for many authors and readers are far more important in the long run. They carry much more weight to them because people know that your rating had some thought put into it.
What if it sucked?
Sometimes we pick up a book, struggle through it hoping it’ll get better and then close it feeling like we want that time back. It happens, unfortunately. If the reason you hated the book wasn’t simply because you were not the intended audience and there is little to find redeemable then there are two things you can do: don’t write a review or write a review.
If you choose to go forward with writing a review, still try to be kind. Remember, someone worked hard on this even if it doesn’t look that way. Try to find something redeemable. “This was a great concept and the back cover blurb was well written, unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.”
Don’t spend paragraphs listing everything wrong with the story or suggest the author give up and find a different career. Keep it short. No one needs an essay about how they suck. Be kind. A few lines about some of the issues you found with the story will suffice. Write it as if you were the one receiving this review.
One Last Note
I do understand that there are some authors out there who may take reviews a little too personally and react to them on that level. Go ahead and block that author, never read their work again, and don’t respond. Most authors know better than to act like this, but some people can’t seem to help themselves.
In the end, the review isn’t for the author. It’s for the other readers. Sure, some authors will read them and see your words. Some don’t, and will never know what you said. Mostly though, remember to be kind, be considerate even in your criticism, and don’t let a few bad apples dissuade you from leaving a much needed review.