Book Reviews

I saved this post in my drafts folder titled simply “book reviews.”  There was no further explanation to self about the intention behind my draft.  I’m sure I had one at the time. Now, I’m left with a title and too many things to say on the topic in a single blog post.  At a glance – here are the things that pop into my head as I consider this topic:

  • How hard they are for me to write
  • Why I don’t blog about books
  • How important they are for authors
  • How hard they are to get people to do
  • Why they matter, and why they don’t
  • My personal goal to complete more of them

I love books. I love to read. I love taking a worn, beloved copy of a favorite book and placing it into someone else’s hands.  I like making book recommendations, and I love getting book recommendations from people in my life.  When I do this, it is intimate. I’m handing you a tiny part of myself, and I hope you enjoy it.

I take great care to make sure a book with a lot of cursing won’t offend you. I make sure you even like a form of fiction before I try to foist my favorites onto your TBR.  I find out what you’ve read. What you’ve loved. What bugs you in books, and what brings you joy. Then I form a personal, significant response to your tastes based on my experience.  If I think you’ll like a book, I’m as likely to recommend to you a book that I didn’t particularly like as I am to recommend one that I loved.

Anyone who has spent significant amounts of time with me has received book recommendations from me.

Reviews aren’t Recommendations

A personal, intimate, hands-on recommendation is not what book reviews are about.  A book review is quite the opposite. It is impersonal. It’s public. It is easily misread, and often ignored.  If you read my goodreads reviews, you’ll see that none of them are particularly articulate. None of them are spoilery. They can be distilled down to either “I liked it,” or “Not for me.”   I never presume to tell other people what they should think about the work, because who the hell am I to say?  Art is art. It’s all subjective. Who am I to tell you what to love?

Honestly, I don’t read reviews. If I enjoyed a book, and I glimpse a negative review, it makes me doubt my experience and wonder whether I wasn’t reading critically enough.  This is ridiculous. I enjoyed the book. It is what it is. Why do I care whether someone else did or did not enjoy the read?  That’s their experience. This is mine.

Everyone has a different way of doing star-ratings. I find them just as arbitrary as the reviews.  For me, “3” means that it was a book I read, no lasting impact either way. I may or may not recommend it to someone else.  A “1” star rating is reserved for those books that I really, really disliked (there are very few). I can’t think of an example, but it would have to offend me deeply to warrant a “1”.  The distinction between a “4” and a “5” is usually re-readability.  I remember almost everything I’ve read. It’s hard for me to re-read things if there is not great love and affection for the characters, the world and the story.

All of the above is why I also don’t write book reviews on my blog. I might do an “on the shelf” post about my favorite authors (who consistently create my idea of 5-star books). I would have a great deal of trouble reviewing individual books.

Why Reviews Matter

So, on my other blog, I have a few drafts about “Amazon SEO” and getting to the top of Amazon search listings. One big way to do this is to get reviews.  Among a few other signals I’ve observed, Amazon uses reviews to determine what to recommend to readers and what items to list first on search result pages.

While I, personally, don’t read reviews, a lot of people do.  I have a friend who reads the reviews for socks before she buys them. So a balance of people who loved and hated a book might give an idea to a potential reader as to whether they’d enjoy it.  They can help or hinder sales, depending on the weight, clarity and reasoning.

The sad fact is that people who are hurt or angry like to take out that hurt and anger on someone. So, often it’s the cranky people with spleen to vent who write the reviews of things online. Happy people with busy lives and other books to read – those vital 3-4 star ratings people – they have better things to do than to scribble “I liked it. Not life-changing, but good,” and add some stars next to a title.

So they are vitally important to book sales and discovery, but it’s easier to get bad reviews than it is to get good ones.

My Challenge to Readers

I think we should organize a challenge. Something that encourages we bookish 3-4 star readers with busy lives to write more reviews online to help our favorite authors broaden their reach.  I think we should write a review for every book we’ve ever recommended to someone else as a must-read.

I’m going to start with my On the Shelf authors, and all of their books. Then I’m going to continue down my list of 5-stars on Goodreads. If I’ve already reviewed them on Amazon, I’ll add a review to Goodreads instead.

I’ve got 334 books rated on Goodreads, and only 23 of them have reviews.  On Amazon, I’ve purchased untold numbers of books, and written ONE review. I’ve probably star-rated a few dozen, but I’m not sure how much impact that has.   I have a review rate of less than 7%.   This is unacceptable for someone who loves books as much as I do.

I have 118 5-star ratings on Goodreads. At the bare minimum, those should be reviewed by the end of the year. That would get my percentage up to 35%, assuming that I will review everything I read this year.  That’s acceptable.

What about you?




10 thoughts on “Book Reviews

      • Most people do as the comments below suggest, i.e., they go with their gut. That’s as good an approach as any as far as I am concerned. But the main thing is that authors really need reviews, and they are very difficult to get, especially for the writer just breaking in. I don’t agree with the comment about a bad review being as good as a good one for the simple reason that Amazon weights the one-stars more than the five-stars in its algorithms. A one-star can really wreck a book. So authors are always in the nether world of wanting honest reviews but hoping those honest reviews are good. I think the best thing would be to eliminate the star system and just let the review stand on its content. Regards, SW

      • How do you know about the algos on amazon? Do you have tests and data? If so, please let me know and I’ll link to you in an upcoming post!!!

  1. I read book reviews pretty much only when hunting a new author. I want to know what makes other people crazy and if its something that I agree with I may pass that book by. I am guilty of not leaving reviews. But I try to at least give stars to my favorites. I don’t know that my star system is as well thought out as yours, I just go with my gut at the moment.

  2. An author acquaintance of mine always asked for reviews, insisting that either way, good or bad, they helped sell books. I don’t know–do bad reviews help? Or do they just grab your attention in the same way that car accidents do (e.g., “Look at that train wreck of a book! Man, I’m glad that’s not me! Whew!”). Either way, you’ve posed a great challenge. If we’re part of a community of readers/writers, we need to engage actively with each other, or books are just little beautiful things we hoard for ourselves.

    • Actually, my observation is that YES, even bad reviews move books up higher in Amazon search result lists. So, would increase sales.

  3. Pingback: Why I Blog the Way I Blog | A.K. Anderson | Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

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