Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tips Tuesday - Writing a Book Review for Amazon

Readers have a common concern about writing reviews on books they read: they find it intimidating. Here's a guest post from author Gwen Perkins that explains her feelings about reading and writing reviews, tips on what to include, and how writing reviews on Amazon may impact sales and discoverability for authors.

Q&A: Why Write Amazon Reviews?

As anyone who is or knows an author knows, many of us frequently go around wishing and hoping that our book will receive reviews on that book giant, Amazon. (I also wish and hope for Powell’s and Barnes and Noble’s but as more and more authors publish exclusively through the Big A, that’s what this blog post is about.) I thought that I’d explain my own reasons for wanting reviews and how they work. I’m choosing to address this via questions that I’ve received from friends and family.

1) I’m no good at writing an Amazon review. What do I say?

The beautiful thing about Amazon reviews is that you don’t have to be Roger Ebert. You can click a star rating and then write a couple of sentences about the book. Reviews can be as simple as “This book was really good. I wish there was more romance” or really elaborate.

Here are some things you could put in a review:
  • Adjectives that describe the book (it was good, it was awful, etc).
  • Say something you liked about it. Things that you could focus on could include the plot, a particular scene, characters, how things changed during the course of the story, etc.
  • If there was a moment or character that personally impacted you in some way, don’t be afraid to say so. Put yourself in the review. Authors love to know their readers and I know that I’m always touched when I can tell someone made a personal connection with what I wrote.
  • Talk about what you wanted to see more of or what needs improvement. Do you wish another character was in the book more? Say so. Did bad spelling distract you? Tell us that too.
Tips to remember:
  • Don’t be afraid to be honest. Do, however, remember to be helpful. Don’t just say “it sucks” but tell everyone why it sucked.
  • Don’t give away the ending of the book. You can allude to it very vaguely (“the ending surprised me”) but don’t say specific plot details.
  • You’re not being graded. Write a review as long or short as you want. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of art—think of it more as a conversation or what you might tell people you know about this book.
  • Make sure that you read the book before you review. This seems like it should be obvious but… it’s not.
2) Do Amazon reviews actually affect a book’s sales?

I have to be honest with you and tell you that I don’t yet know for sure as I don’t have the “magic number” yet. This is what I understand to be true from conversations with my publisher and other authors:
  • Around 20-25 reviews, Amazon starts including the book in “also bought” and “you might like” lists. This increases your chances of someone finding your title.
  • Around 50-70 reviews, Amazon looks at your book for spotlight positions and the newsletter. This is HUGE. This is my personal goal although I use Amazon reviews for other reasons (more later on in this post).
  • Number of reviews may affect Amazon sales ranking. (Again, this is anecdotal–I have no actual proof of it.)
  • Some websites will not consider or promote your book unless you have a number of reviews on the page (this is very true of those sites that highlight free promos—I can attest to this).
  • And, of course, readers may read through your reviews and decide to purchase or not purchase the book based on this.
3) Whatever. I don’t care if you sell this wonderful/awful book. Why should I write a review if it doesn’t change how you write the next one?

Oh, but it does.

When I read my Amazon reviews, they tell me things that my editor might not. Let’s face it, an editor is only one person and even with beta readers, you’re working in a group of people who are familiar with the craft of writing. What an author also needs is the opinion of the average reader, that person who just picked up their book and doesn’t have an English degree.

While you have to have a tough skin about reviews, as an author, they’re very helpful. They can reaffirm something that you were already working on. For instance, I’d already decided to make one of my minor characters in my first book a point-of-view character for the second—my reviews have told me that people wouldn’t be uninterested in him. They can also point out things that you need to work on. In my case, exposition!

Likewise, positive reviews tell you what you’re doing right. If people rave about your characters, then that’s likely a good place to keep going. If reviews talk about the fighting scenes in a positive light, then you know you’re making a difference.

So, in short, yes, what you write in that review is fairly likely to change something about the book I’m working on now. Writing is a process.

4) But I really hated the book! Should I still review it?

Here is where I probably differ from some other authors so I’m going to speak only for myself here.

Yes. Absolutely. How will I know where to improve unless I get reviews that tell me so? Yes, it can be painful to read some reviews but am I ever going to say that there isn’t truth in them? No.

After the initial sting, I’ll read it again and take something home from that. I’ll be a better writer for it. To be honest, not everyone likes every book. There are people out there who hate Harry Potter. It would be a little presumptuous to think that all of my reviews would be golden for any book (they’re not now and I don’t expect that to change. Especially not if anyone reads this post. ).

The only thing that I ask is to please make sure you have something to say about why it is bad. The only review that I’ve ever been really irritable about was a one-star on an old short horror story I posted for fun where the reader said they were underage and hadn’t read it.

Having said all of that, it is really tough to be a small press or self-published author (I am the former). Bad reviews can kill a novel if they’re the first ones a book receives or if they’re all that the book has. Please hold this in mind if you decide to go forth. This post by Anne R. Allen does a good job of explaining the impact in more detail than I’ll get into here.

I am speaking from an author’s standpoint but perhaps others will chime in with their own thoughts on the process.

Gwen Perkins is a fantasy novelist who is always on the hunt for Amazon reviews for her first novel, The Universal Mirror (Hydra Publications, 2012). She can be contacted through email at gwen@ironangel.net.

Marsha here. I love everything Gwen had to say. I also recommend reading the post by Anne R. Allen for more tips about the number of stars you give a book and why. It's a long post, but worth the reading time. I hope Gwen's article gives you courage in writing book reviews for Amazon. Take what you learn here and post on GoodReads or Barnes & Noble, too, if you have accounts there.


  1. This is a great post! I often have to review books or products on Amazon for lets just call it my side blogging job:) But they have always asked me to be honest with their reviews, and put a disclaimer. With that said, I always wonder on book reviews, should I put the entire review I put on my blog, is a few sentences okay? I've actually struggled with this and I think I put too much into them, and I can honestly say I am going to be a bit different as I go forward especially on book reviews now. Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Yes, a few sentences is okay. Write what you feel. Be honest. Do be aware that every book isn't a classic, but if it's a good book for its genre, it should get as many stars as you think it merits, on that basis.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!


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