This is for all my non-writer friends, family, and readers: write a review. Please, and I mean PLEASE, write reviews for the books you read. There is no better way to support an author (besides buying their books) than writing an honest, thoughtful, audience-specific review.
Some people may be a little confused what that means… Luckily, there’s a didactic prick right here to give readers a breakdown on how to write a review that an author will appreciate.
This is what it means to write “an honest, thoughtful, audience-specific review.”
The indefinite singular article preceding a noun that begins with a vowel sound. It’s one of the determiners. You don’t need to know any of this, but I’m a grammar nerd.
I love honest reviews of my books. Did you love my book or hate it? Or was it just a “m’eh” experience for you? I want to know. In fact, I want the whole world to know! (But keep reading to the section on “Thoughtful” before you trash an author’s brainchild.) There is no fear in a one-star review, so long as it is an honest opinion about a piece of writing.
Many authors will disagree with me on this point. They covet those five-star reviews. So much so, that there are endless author circle-jerks out there where they exchange five-star reviews for each others’ work. In some cases, this is an honest review. In other cases, professional courtesy; I’ll sometimes add a star for an author that I’ve connected with online or an indie writer. Some five-star reviews come out of a sense of fear. “I didn’t really like this book, but X will give me a poor review if I don’t X five stars.” And so on ad nauseam.
The problem is that now you know this, if you didn’t already, as I’ve known this for some time. It somewhat dilutes that four-and-a-half-star rated book on Amazon, doesn’t it? Once a book gets a few hundred reviews and maintains that rating, then it becomes impressive. But a half dozen five-star reviews can be purchased for $30 on an number of work-for-hire services.
Knowing this, I now use one- and two-star reviews as my buying cues, especially for independent authors (who are often very talented, but some whom have a “quantity not quality” mindset). If low-rated reviews are petty or minor grievances — “Character Y smelled funny,” or something like that — then that book is a winner. Sometimes too, someone who is not in a book’s target audience picks it up and hates it (see the “Audience-specific” section below). However, if the low-rated reviews are more serious — poor character development, lack of proofreading, or this book gave me herpes — then I steer clear.
The moral of the story? Leave an honest review of the books you read. Love, hate, or middle-of-the-road, you’re going to help an author AND help future readers. But this is only true if you follow the next section…
You know what doesn’t help? A five-star review that says: “Amazing book! I couldn’t put it down!” Equally useless is the one-star review that reads, “I hated this book. Don’t read it!” I mean, both are better than nothing, but neither is especially enlightening. There was no thought put into either one. Therefore, they are statistics and not reviews. These are also red flags: a boilerplate good review could be fake, and a non-specific bad review could just be a troll.
To be truly thoughtful in a review, it’s important to say what you liked and what you didn’t like about it. A five-star review can certainly include something in it that you didn’t love. And even one-star reviews may have something redeeming in them: a character or a scene that made the reader smile. But if all you get are happy or angry noises, how is a prospective reader to know? Or an author, for that matter? Some of us use reviews for validation of our intrinsic awesomeness, while others see them as an opportunity to grow and improve our craft. Some authors do both.
So next time you sit down to write a review about that amazing book that you read — which possibly took months or years of emotional turmoil and dedication to produce — try to give it a bit more than either “Yay!” or “Boo!” and really get into why. What there a character you liked/disliked? What there some idea or theme of the story that either resonated with you or put you off? What specifically made you want to write the review, besides some blog post by an obscure author in a far-off corned of the Internet? Include these elements, and any others you can, to show that you actually put a little thought and effort into responding to something that could very easily be someone’s life work.
It’s also important to remember that just because a book was not for you does not make it a “bad” book. There are many bestsellers that I would argue are objectively “bad” books from a literary perspective. I would say that Fifty Shades of Grey is the perfect example. By any measure of writing, it’s just not good. It’s full of cliche, plot holes, and wooden dialogue. I knew all this after just five pages, which is how far I’ve managed to get in the book. However, audiences around the world loved it. And in this we can see proof for a universal rule of writing: there’s an audience for everything. However, are we talking a J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman audience, or are we talking about my audience? They are different sizes — by several orders of magnitude — but they are both there.
Another example is Richard K. Morgan’s A Land Fit for Heroes. Like much of Morgan’s work — which I love — these books include graphic violence and graphic sex. That alone is enough to put off some readers. Even more likely to make people uncomfortable is the gay sex in this book. I’m talking hot, steamy, play-by-play, dude-on-dude action. And it’s done brilliantly well. As a heterosexual, cis-gendered male, I can’t speak for its realism directly, however. The intensity of heterosexual love scenes in other novels are also somewhat beyond my personal experience. However, there are certain segments of the population that would be comfortable with straight sex while uncomfortable with gay sex. (Based on the themes of these novels, that may have been the point.)
And yes, I had a point too! Even if you hate a book, it might be nice for you to point out who might enjoy the book. Identify — NICELY! — the target audience of such a book. Suggest what kinds of interests or mindsets may enjoy the book. (Again, be nice.) Unless the book is full of errors, in which case you can have your grammar-Nazi friend hate-read it.
In this case, a response to a particular piece of writing. Looking back, here is what a good review should include:
- Did you like the book?
- Why did you like/dislike the book?
- What kind of audience would likely enjoy it?
So after this rambling description of what makes a good reader’s review, I’ll now throw myself to the wolves. I am happy to accept review copies of anyone’s published fiction. Click here to go to my Contact page. There’s you’ll find a run-down of my review policy and a form to get in touch. If you or anyone you know is looking for a review that fits these criteria, I’d love to hear from you.
That’s it from me. Now you go write a review. Please.