Monday, September 29, 2014

To review or not to review, that is the question...

Lately I'm making an effort to be a better author-friend, so I have a little something I'd like to get off my chest...

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I was a terrible reviewer.


*dodges rotten fruit*

Hang on, hang on, hang on! And put that squishy tomato down for God's sake...

This might not sound like much to the average person, but the thing is, book reviews by casual readers--yes, I lump myself in there as well, because I do read for pleasure--are extremely important to authors for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that we like to know someone enjoyed our book. Yes, it's that simple...if you liked a book, please review it on Amazon, B&N, iBooks, or wherever you bought it from. If anything, the author will do a little happy dance when he/she checks it out, and you  know you want to be responsible for someone's happy dance.

The other reasons are more technical. Retailers use algorithms to help sell (or not sell) your books. These can be based on sales, reviews, anything that can be quantified. I'm not an expert on this kind of stuff, but I am aware of it, and that it does happen. Exactly how it works, I have no idea.

This article here  and this other article here are a bit on the older side but, I think, still relevant. I'll summarize some of the main points for you, but they're worth a read (or, at least a quick skim) anyway. And yes, they're about Amazon, but please remember to review somewhere, be it the retailer you purchased from, or on Goodreads.

There's a "nutshell version" posted at the end of this, but please take the time to read it all anyway.

The number (and type!) of reviews can tell a retailer to start marketing a book. Often, writers notice that suddenly their book ends up paired with another once they reach a certain point in their reviews (be it a number, or even an average star rating...both matter!). Basically, Amazon says, "Hey, these people are really enthusiastic about this book! I'm going to pair it up with some other similar ones and/or recommend them to readers." Then Amazon "helps" market and sell your book. And the more your book sells, the more people will's the law of large numbers, though, sadly, only a small percentage of readers bother to review at all. The wider the audience, the more larger the chances reviews will come in.

To put it another way if you're not sure about leaving a review for a book...  I love TripAdvisor for planning trips. I scope out hotels and restaurants, reading the reviews left by consumers and visitors. What did they like? What didn't they enjoy? Were these points something I cared about, or wouldn't it matter? The same goes for books--I want to let someone else make an informed decision about something to read. And if it helps the author out too, then that's an added bonus.

So, lately, I've started to leave reviews. I don't leave long ones--I'm not a book blogger, and don't feel the need to dissect everything in the manuscript. Mine are usually a few sentences, but I will hit the high points, letting the author and other prospective readers know what I enjoyed, and what I felt was lacking. I also do my best to leave a star rating of 4+. I think, as blog post in the link at the bottom of this mentions, "Did the book deliver as advertised?", not "Was this the next Pulitzer Prize-winning novel?" and write a review based on that.

Let me explain the star ratings a bit, too, because sometimes that can be a bit fuzzy. First of all, for review purposes, Amazon really only considers 4 and 5 star ratings to be good, and will push those books more than others, even if you get a few crappy star ratings. "But what if I believe that 3 stars means "like", and I liked the book?" Well, too bad...Amazon might screw the author because of that. Think of it this way: Would I recommend it to a friend? If the answer is yes, or YES, give it 4 or 5 stars. I know a lot of people think of the star rating system like this: 1 star=hated it; 2 stars=just okay; 3 stars=liked it/book was good; 4 stars=really liked/great; 5 stars=loved/extraordinary. But Amazon doesn't think of it that way, unfortunately. Is that fair? Nope--it's inflated and decidedly unfair. So if you liked the book, please keep that in mind, at least with Amazon.

Even though this one is for video games, I'd say it's a good approximation for what to do on Amazon.

You might be thinking now, what if I came across a book I didn't like? Again, I'm not a book blogger, but I do realize that my review has a bigger impact than just telling the author that I enjoyed (or didn't) their work. Honestly, if I didn't like a book, I wouldn't review it--I feel like it would do more harm than good with the way publishing works nowadays. But if I felt compelled to write one, I'd try to find something I enjoyed about it.

So, if you'd recommend the book to a friend looking for something to read, take two minutes and write a quick review. That makes everyone happy.

Nutshell version: How many reviews you have and how good they are (typically a star rating, or average star rating), and your book ranking have an effect on how much "help" you get from retailers. So, a book with a 4.5 average star rating and/or 30 reviews will be pushed more by Amazon (or whatever retailer) than a book with a 3 average star rating and/or 10 reviews. Also, Amazon seems to think that anything under 4 stars is NOT RECOMMENDED (though it's not as bad as it used to be), so please leave a review and a good star rating and help an author out!

For some tips on reviewing on Amazon, check this post out.

How about you? Do you review? Are you like me and do it occasionally, but should do it more? What's your policy for leaving a less-than-awesome review?

xoxo Sarah


  1. I review everything I read, especially indie authors.
    One thing, though:
    It doesn't matter what your personal rating system is, pay attention to what the stars mean in the system you're using. 3-stars on Amazon is not the same as 3-stars on goodreads. The two sites angle their reviews in different ways, so you have to pay attention to what they think you're saying. (Yeah, I did a post on ratings, recently.)

    1. Very interesting! I'll have to check it out.

    2. Andrew, do you have a link? I can't find your post on star ratings. :-)