Are you terrified of writing reviews for books you enjoy? Do you not know how to start, or why it’s even important? You aren’t alone. Few readers bother to write online reviews, and fewer still realize just how important they are to authors and their books. One of the greatest challenges a writer will face is convincing people who truly love their work to express that satisfaction online.
In fact, it may seem counterintuitive, but the most daunting tasks an author faces over the lifespan of their books seem to occur after publication. To non-writers, the writing itself must seem the struggle. The daily chore of bending over a keyboard and pressing life into characters and worlds one stroke at a time seems like sorcery, or at the very least an exhibition of mettle and concentration few readers feel they might themselves possess. For writers though, this act of creation is the ultimate calling. To not write would be infinitely more tedious.
What follows the writing, for those of us who perform such sorcery with ease, is often much more uncomfortable. There’s the web of social media to untangle; there’s the “author’s platform” to construct, plank by arduous plank; there are the business-like query letters to fashion; the rejection to stomach; the contracts to pore over; the expectations of publishers to meet; the talks to give; the books to sign. Okay, that last one bothers few authors, but anything spent not writing can feel torturous. Of all these, however, two non-writing tasks loom the highest and most fearsome: The first is convincing readers to give your story a try, even when you know they’ll love it. The second (and most frustrating) is getting readers to rate and review your book, even after they tell you how much they did indeed enjoy it!
Why do reviews matter, and why do so few readers write them? Reviews matter more than just for sales, even though they play a crucial role in them. When Amazon and Barnes and Noble suggest titles for readers, their websites pull first from those with many positive reviews. And more and more readers are turning to their online peers for advice on what to read next. With each purchase and expense mattering more and more (not to mention the time invested in reading a book), the tendency is to read whatever tops a list or garners lots of praise. My Molly Fyde series is an excellent example. The more reviews the book gets, the more sales that trickle out the digital divide. One hopes these sales lead to more reviews, and the trickle begins a flood, but as stated before, one of the few tasks more difficult than selling a book is coaxing a review out of a reader.
Before listing my theories on why such is the case (and tips on alleviating these barriers), I’d like to touch on another reason reviews are so important to writers, an even more important reason. And that is validation. What fuels me as a writer is knowing my words are being read and enjoyed by others. I have to resist the urge to give away my books, just to urge more imaginations into the lands I’ve created. I want feedback on every page, on every twist of the plot, on each hero and villain. I want to hear what readers liked and disliked, and I think there are few authors who would disagree with these sentiments. So much time and energy goes into our works, hundreds and hundreds of hours of labor, of strained concentration, of sleepless nights with a pen scratching on a notepad and waking our spouses. What is the reward expected? For a handful of writers, perhaps money ranks over this need for validation, this desire to have company in our imaginary lands. I haven’t met any such writers, myself.
So: books sell because of reviews, and authors almost literally subsist on them. Why, then, when I recently asked a college classroom of admittedly avid readers how many had ever written an Amazon review, did only one hand go up? Partly, it’s because few appreciate the value of their opinions both to the author’s ego and the work’s selling success. Mostly, though, I believe it’s because of a fear of the pen and a general unfamiliarity with how to wield it. I hope my transparently desperate pleadings have settled the first matter of a review’s importance. I would now like to dispel the psychological and skill-based blockades that might still prevent good reviews from going up and rewarding a writer and a good book.
Imagine the paralysis: You’ve just read an amazing story full of wonderful prose, uplifting messages, snappy dialog, and characters that practically stir the pages with their exhalations. Now you’re sitting in front of your computer, wondering what to say about the book, trying to reward its creator, but nothing comes to mind. You think your words will come across as trite or silly. You worry about your grammar and spelling. How can you do the book justice?
And so you don’t even try.
It’s such a sad and far too common story. So let me assure you, the reader, that there’s no such thing as a bad review when the intentions are positive. You’re not writing for the Times; you’re just expressing your opinion. So let it out! Make it as conversational and relaxed as an email. If it helps, write a review as a list of likes and dislikes. For instance, if I was writing a review for my latest novel, Molly Fyde and the Fight for Peace, it might hypothetically go something like this:
Liked: Awesome action. Loved the flashbacks, so much more of the characters! Thought it wrapped up a ton of the previous questions and plots really well. The ending was awesome!!
Disliked: That it ended. 😦
That’s it. Sentence fragments are fine. Use as much grammar as a ninth grader might breathe into a text message. It doesn’t matter! Just give the book as many stars as it deserves (five, in this hypothetical case), and write a few thoughts. If I wanted to go on longer, I could, but it isn’t necessary. Another nice touch is to list books, movies, TV shows, and anything else the work reminded you of. That lets readers with similar interests latch onto books they’re likely to enjoy. Hearing that my first book was a blend of Alice in Wonderland and the TV show Firefly was perfect. The reviewer could’ve stopped right there. I was ecstatic and ready to get up the next morning and write some more.
So, now that we see how easy the actual writing bit can be, what other roadblocks prevent every happy reader from rewarding the author with an honest review? Well, there’s also the technical hurdles to sort out. Which is why I’ve included the following, handy tutorial for those of you who have never written a review on Amazon.
The first step is to go to the book’s page. That’s as easy as searching for it on Amazon as if you were shopping for extra copies for friends and family (an excellent idea!)
Scroll down, and you’ll come across the first reviews for the book you’ve chosen. Off to the right, click button “Create your own review.”
The rest is simple. State that you’re over 13 years of age, click the number of stars you think the book deserves, then write a few thoughts in the text box below. As I explained earlier, keep it as simple as you like. Don’t stress about the quality of the review, just give the author a bit of praise for keeping you entertained!
When you’re done, you can add “tags” if you like, but it isn’t necessary. There are suggested tags below the box if you want to just click a few. Amazon will add them for you, and it’ll help classify the book for other readers. Nifty, eh?
The final step is to click the “Preview your review” button. This will give you one final chance to look over what you’ve written. If you’re satisfied, click the button that says “Publish your review,” and you’re done! You can also choose to edit your review further, but I bet it was perfect the first time.
See how easy it is? And now that you know how crucial these reviews are for a book’s success and an author’s sanity, perhaps it will compel you to take a few minutes after a good read to share your thoughts. Remember: there isn’t any pressure to write a perfect review (the only mistake is to not write one at all). And the steps required are few in number and pleasantly simple to follow. So what are you waiting on? Sit down right now and pay back those hours and hours an author spent writing with just a few minutes of your own. Start with the last good book you read. Trust me, the author will read what you write, and they will not judge you. They’ll be too busy dancing around the room and cheering in the company of another imaginative soul who has joined them in the world they toiled to create.
Hugh Howey is the author of the critically acclaimed Molly Fyde series, which landed on several Best of 2009 lists. The YA Book Queen named the first book, Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue her Best Book of the Year. The series follows the adventures and exploits of a small group of orphans, cast out from their diverse cultures, only to find one another and form a new family: The crew of the starship Parsona. http://hughhowey.com