I bring it up because I’m about to preach to the choir. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably an author. And if you’re an author, you know the importance of reviews, particularly on Amazon. (Whether they’ll actually allow you to post a review is another issue, and won’t be discussed today.)
Reviews don’t have to be complicated. A simple “I liked it, and here’s why” satisfies Amazon and will help an author. Equally simple is “I hated it, and here’s why” which also meets Amazon’s requirements, although it doesn’t help an author overly much. (They’re only helpful if the author carefully considers the comments, decides they’re valid, and both revises the story in question and changes his or her writing in the future with those same comments in mind.)
Many readers look at reviews before purchasing. Many writers consider all the feedback carefully. Yes, it’s enough to offer a single sentence. But we’re writers. Can’t we do better?
I’ve been told I write thoughtful and helpful reviews. I used to write them for a review site. People have even requested I write a post on the subject. Two hundred plus words later, here’s my “blueprint” for a review. (Note, I don’t always follow this to the letter, but it’s a good place to start if you want to write a comprehensive review.)
- If, as you’re reading, something strikes you as particularly good, highlight it or write it down. Hundreds of pages later, you’ll forget what/where it was, and it will be useful later.
- When you begin your review, offer an introduction telling readers why you read the book. Did the cover appeal to you? Did something in the blurb catch your attention? Is it set in your home state? Whatever it is, mention it. If people understand why you chose to read the book, they’ll have a better understanding of what influenced your comments about the content. (This should be one paragraph.)
- Offer a brief summary of the story. I in no way mean for you to give away the ending or any surprise twists. But the author’s blurb isn’t enough to tell people what the story is about. It’s nothing more than marketing designed to entice a reader. This is your chance to talk about the main characters, the villain, the plot, and the setting in general terms. Doing this will let readers know whether they’d actually be interested in the story. (This only takes one paragraph, maybe two if you have a lot you want to say.)
- Provide an objective analysis. Of course a review is your opinion, but this is where you give the reader your assessment of the story. Were the characters well-rounded? Was dialogue believable? Was the plot fresh and logical? Did the author follow through on whatever they promised (bring home the theme, provide an action-packed thrill ride you couldn’t put down, etc.)? This is a great place to include a quote or example from the book (see point one) as proof of your analysis. (This section can also be done in one paragraph, but it could go as long as two or three if you cover many points.)
- This is where you give your actual opinion. This is the part of the review that people think of when you say “write a review” but it’s actually the least important part. Whether you liked something or not is far less important than how it was actually written. Have you ever received a one-star review that said something like, “Don’t waste your money. I hate noir, and that’s all this was.” Amazon doesn’t consider this a violation even though it’s not remotely helpful and is detrimental to an author. At no point does the reviewer say if the story was well-written, just that it wasn’t enjoyable. Which is no surprise, given the reviewer hates the genre. (Which also begs the question: why did he or she read it?) So, while this is the “review” part of reviews that everyone typically writes, you can see where it’s the least necessary. While I do say here if I liked it or not, I usually try to give the reader a comparison. Something like, “If you like dual timelines with a paranormal twist, you’ll love this.” You could also compare the book to another author so readers have a sense of what the work is like. “If you like Stephen King, you’ll love this.” You get the idea. (One short paragraph is all that’s necessary here.)
If you’d like an example of how I put all of this together, you can read my review of Sue Coletta’s Blessed Mayhem here.
This probably sounds daunting, lengthy, and hard. It’s none of those things. We’re writers, we work with words for a living (or because it’s a hobby we’re passionate about). Reviews only take me a few minutes to write. Yes, I could write “I liked it and this is why” a lot faster. But the extra couple of minutes I spend on a longer review is no hardship, and it’s helpful to both potential readers and to authors who study their reviews. I hope you decide to give it a try.
And if you don’t, well … those one-sentence reviews help, too.