Tips for readers and authors on effective reviews.

Reviews are readers’ gifts to authors.

We all want to know that our opinions matter. Make yours count.

We all want to know that our opinions matter. Make yours count.

In this marketplace of clamor, where even free books glut our email inboxes, how do readers decide what to choose? Word of mouth, and reviews. And reviews are written form of word of mouth!

This is not news to anyone in the book world. As a self published writer, with the traditional reviewers (mostly men anyway) closed to me, I rely heavily on readers and bloggers to review my books, and even with the John Locke fake review scandal, reviews continue to be the deciding factor for me when I’m choosing a book—even a freebie book, because I literally don’t have time to waste on bad books.

Recently an influential author recommended “his favorite book”  Hitman by Lawrence Block, a mystery/crime writer I’d heard of but never read. I checked the reviews, and they were mixed,  but many mentioned the challenging contradictions within the book, the way it “rattles” the reader. Sounded like my cup of tea, and I bought it. (I reviewed it, too)

What motivates readers to write a review? I’ve been thinking about it, wondering about it, and “researching” it anecdotally regarding my own books. It’s not pretty prose, or a sense of satisfaction in money or time well spent for an experience one expected to have—it’s an emotional reaction, a pause to ponder, a shift in perception that elicits a review.

That, and knowing the reviews are important.

Other writers have asked me how my books have collected so many reviews. I don’t really know, except this: they seem to touch an emotional chord for readers. Readers contact me all sorts of ways that aren’t reviews: they email me, they FB message, they twitter, they G+  and Pinterest and even Instagram me to tell me personally that the books touched, moved, or entertained them.

I’m touched in return. I know I’m doing something right when my books have become more than entertainment, they’ve helped someone. Helped them in an abusive relationship. Helped them go back to therapy. Helped them hope for love. Helped them remember Hawaii fondly, helped them reconnect with their roots, helped them celebrate culture. I never get tired of hearing from readers, and that’s when I ask them to leave a review. “Can you just say exactly that, where other people can see it?” is usually what I say, because they’ve already taken the time to hunt me down and compose their thoughts.

Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t—but I’m ever aware that they’ve given the gift of time and effort to share their thoughts, and that’s how I feel when I do a review myself. I want to know that my thoughts and opinions matter.

Tips for Readers on leaving effective, useful reviews:

  • If you take the time to review, say something useful and effective. Take the time to formulate a thoughtful paragraph, making your point and then supporting it. This is your “calling card” as a reader; you have clout. Represent yourself coherently and with authority.
  • Share something specific that you remember or responded to in the book. Good or bad, it’s the flavors that stay in our mouths that we remember.
  • Don’t do spoilers. Future readers are looking at your reviews, and especially in mystery and suspense, telling “who done it” in your review ruins the surprise for those who are considering buying the book.
  • Have a “policy” on reviews. I do. As an author, I’m cognizant of how small the writer world is, and that some sensitive author is going to take note of my review, remember my name, and be potentially hurt by it. I might end up shaking their hand at a convention or something and I don’t need to have “bad karma” out there. If I don’t like a book, I won’t review it. I email the writer if I know them and need to respond, like if I was given a copy to review and then didn’t like the book, or I review with 4 or 5 stars. (I don’t do many reviews because I don’t really like that many books, but the ones I do I truly shout out!)

Ideas for writers to get more reviews on their books:

  • Give away your books and ask for reviews when you do.
  • When people compliment your book, ask them to put it in writing so others can benefit from their experience.
  • Write a book that elicits an emotional response (I can’t say more on this, or how to do this. I don’t really know how I did it myself.)
  • Go through and “like” your book’s reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Readers get notification that their review was read, noticed and mattered. We all want to know our opinions matter, that they were important. I read all my reviews, even the ones I wish I hadn’t. They matter to me, because I know someone took the time to respond to my work.
  • Do a special “bonus for review” giveaway on FB or your blog. Have people email you when they’ve done a review on any of your previous books for a free copy of a new book.

Hope you all give the gift of reviews. Do it kindly. Do it effectively. But do it.

Got any thoughts on reviews to share?

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