How To: Write a Review
Good Morning everyone! This is Cedar, and we’re trying something a little different this morning. See, I defy writerly stereotypes, and I am a morning person. With Kate and Sarah occupied at RavenCon, Dave on the other side of the world, and Amanda needing MOAR coffee, I’m starting the ball rolling, but then later, Amanda gets to have her say.
Yesterday in the comments under my post, lelnet (waves Hi!) made a cogent point about book recommendations. Here’s the relevant part: “4. (From Amazon’s database magic) “These books here were enjoyed by many of the people who also bought those books you already bought”
5. [Same as #2, but from reviewers I trust to be good judges of quality, but not necessarily to have tastes compatible with mine…a set that includes every human being I call a friend except for those 3 in the #2 group, plus everyone in the post rotation here at MGC and a significant fraction of the regular commenters at ATH.]
6. Reviews from people I don’t know either personally or at least through having spent a year or more reading their contributions to the blogosphere.”
And somewhere else, but I’m not finding it quickly, it was pointed out that recommending mediocre books, or bad ones, would make people stop trusting you and tune you out.
So… I’m an author, and obviously, reviews of my own books make me shake in my boots. Enough so that I have asked my First Reader to look at them for me first, and I don’t get to see the really negative ones. But I am also a reviewer and a reader, so I (rarely) write negative reviews. I hate to, and have only ever written two that were all negative, and both of them stressed me.
Most people, I think, would prefer not to write a negative review, and I don’t blame them at all. But finding a balance between honesty and not being unkind is necessary, especially if you know the author.
I’ve also been told, by a fan, that they weren’t going to review my book, even though they loved it, because they didn’t know how to write a review. Which made me sad, because I love rave reviews of my work. They are the best kind of compliments, and as I have compared elsewhere, a fine way for a reader to ‘tip the author’.
When writing a review, you don’t need to go full book critic and summarize the plot with fine litr’ry comparisons to.. whatever. Writing down how the book made you feel, with perhaps some explanation (this book made me happy because I love a good hero to root for…), a comparison to another work if you like (best mil-SF space opera to come along since On Basilisk Station, harks back to early David Weber…) and if you must, a little critique (Could have been fleshed out more, particularly in the action scenes). I belong to a henna artists group that does something that makes me happy – when you put up a picture, they do what they call a ‘sandwich’ which is to say something good, constructive criticism, and then something good again. If you are fully negative, the author/artist is curled up sobbing in the fetal position, and not contemplating your point saying ‘hmm, you could be right.’
Also, my new pet peeve… if you are critiquing an Indie author, don’t take them to task on abstruse grammar points in your review. In fact, unless there’s a typo every page, don’t even mention them. I’ve read some great stories by indies whose copy-editing could have been better. But mentioning it in the review doesn’t help them find an audience. If you must, send them a private (POLITE) message of some kind. Personally, I hire professionals for all my long-form work, so pointing out any perceived editing flaws just makes me raise an eyebrow and wonder if I paid too much and need to find a new editor. Harping on editing just makes you look petty as a reviewer.
If you hit the cogent points, and readers find that you are consistent, and consitently liking things they like, then you will be able to establish that trust lelnet was talking about. I know that for most readers, this isn’t an incentive. Why should you review? Is it for other readers, or for the author themselves?
And now, over to Amanda…
Hey, guys, Amanda here. Now that I’ve had coffee (and, Cedar, there is NEVER enough coffee), I’ll add my two cents to the discussion. Reviews can be both the life’s blood for a writer and the bane of their existence. Good reviews help convince readers to give our work a try. Bad reviews, whether they are valid or not, can drive sales away. Then there are the reviews when you just have to wonder if the so-called reviewer read the same book you read or wrote.
I like Cedar’s “sandwich” analogy and it is something I try to do in my reviews, especially those I do for Amazon. If I’m taking the time to post an Amazon review, it is usually because I want to help spur the author’s sales. That isn’t the place for a full critique of the book. For one thing, most people scan the Amazon reviews. They don’t read them all and they sure don’t read the long ones.
That said, I have given one-star reviews for books so badly written as to be unreadable. I’m not talking about having a few typos or formatting issues. When those reach the level of being bad enough to throw me out of the narrative, I let Amazon know and Amazon will, if it receives enough complaints, will let the author know. No, I’m talking about barely disguised, or no attempt to disguise, someone else’s work as a writer’s own. That is an instant one star review and a report to Amazon or wherever I’ve downloaded the title from.
My habit as a consumer is to look at how many reviews something has and the breakdown of ratings. If there are several dozen (or more) five star reviews and basically no negative reviews, my BS meter starts going off. Sure, a book can be that good. But usually, there will be someone who will at least give a three star review. Even though Amazon and others have tried to tighten up against sock puppet reviews, they still happen. So, as much as I hate getting mediocre to bad reviews for my work, I know it happens.
I want to add a couple of things to Cedar’s list of what not to do in your Amazon review. Don’t review the price vs the length of the work. I’m sorry but doing that just makes you look bad. Amazon and sites like it tell you how big the download file is. Often the product description will not only give you the size of the file but the estimated page length. Check it before hitting that buy button.
Also, and this is a big hot button for me, don’t start a review with “I haven’t read this book yet but I’m giving it a one star review because. . . “ Yes, I’ve been tempted to do that before. But that isn’t a review. It’s a statement about the author’s political/social/religious/whatever beliefs.
Finally, as an author, don’t respond to negative reviews. Please, I know how precious your baby is and how tempting it is to jump in and try to defend it. But don’t. Just don’t. You will never win. Just chalk it up to someone who doesn’t like you for whatever reason and move on to your next work.
Tossing it back to Cedar or anyone else now. We’ll continue the dialog in the comments section.