Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Five Things Authors Want from Book Reviews

Has this ever happened to you? You are asked to read and review a book written by a friend or acquaintance or relative.  When you finish, you think, “Oh, no. What will I write about this book? I barely got through it. And my friend/acquaintance/relative wrote it.”

It can feel uncomfortable giving a negative review even to a stranger. But when it’s someone you know, it is even harder. You know the author worked hard and thinks it good enough to share with the world. But you know better. Maybe the plot is too thin or too thick. Maybe the dialogue is stilted or inappropriate. Perhaps you didn’t care about the characters you were supposed to relate to.

But all authors need to seek honest reviews of their work. And there are ways to phrase your review criticisms that make it easier to hear so authors can use the suggestions to improve future works. Whether they know it or not, authors are seeking usable, honest feedback.

Hard as it might be to hear, ultimately we improve more from well-crafted negative comments than from the rosy, glowing, “this book is perfect” reviews. The exception to that is if the “perfect” book reviews explain why it’s perfect. We want to repeat what we do well in addition to fixing our flaws.

And the number of reviews we get counts as well as the average rating for the book. There are big time, legitimate reviewing sites that won’t consider reviewing a book until it has a certain number of reviews with a certain minimum average rating. Getting reviewed by sites with tens of thousands of readers is huge for authors. That’s one reason we seek out reviews as soon as a book is published.

Here is my list of the five things authors expect from reviews:
1. If you accept a book for review purposes, review it.
I can’t tell you how many books I “gifted” to people asking only that they give an unbiased review in return. I am running about 50% for follow-through. I wonder why they don’t review it. Did they hate it and don’t want to hurt my feelings? Did they lose it? Did they flat out forget?

2. We don’t expect or need long reviews, but we do like specifics.
A book review doesn’t need to and probably shouldn’t get into too much detail about plot points. But, hey, if you’re going to give away something, put SPOILER ALERT at the beginning of your review so others will be warned.

That said, the review can be a short paragraph or few sentences, but don’t be too general. Give specifics. Instead of “great character interactions”, you might say “the relationship of the hero and heroine was complicated by lack of communication”. That is a specific that helps other readers. And it tells the author that part of the story was effectively communicated.

3. Don’t diss the book for the wrong reasons.
If the book didn’t arrive on time or the cover was damaged in transit, contact the seller. The author has no control over such issues. We get that you’re frustrated and want to vent, but a book review isn’t the place to do that. The author can do nothing about it.

Likewise, don’t be so critical if the book didn’t meet your expectations in certain ways. For example, I use various pen names for branding purposes. I do not want someone who likes my cozy culinary mysteries to pick up Streetwalker and start looking for the recipes. But if the book blurb signals the type of book and you didn’t bother to read it, don’t take it out on the book or author if it didn’t meet genre expectations.

That said, if the book didn’t meet your expectations because you know cozy mysteries are supposed to keep violence to a minimum and “off-stage” and this book had gory details like in police procedurals, then, yeah, take the author to task for violating expectations. Or if you expected the main characters to be people you can care about (per cozy mystery expectations), and everybody is a jerk, then the author violated expectations and should be called out.

4. Give a rating number that reflects your comments.
I admit to being puzzled by the three-star reviews that only say positive things. Okay. I get it that you reserve five stars for a very few books. But why isn’t it a four-star book? What do I need to do to bump it up to the next level? When you don’t give me specifics (going back to #2), I can’t always figure out how to move my writing up to a level you’d enjoy more.

5. Help the author of a book you liked by dealing with trolls and inappropriate or inaccurate reviews.
We all get them. The holier-than-thou folks who never met a book they liked. Or, sadly, there are authors who trash other authors’ books to cut down the competition. Or there are people who just didn’t get the book and write scathing but inaccurate reviews.

Please consider responding to those reviews in defense of the book. We like it when dialogue ensues among our readers and people chime in on the topic. As people argue for and against the book, we learn a lot about what is important to our readers and about how well we delineated our premise.

So there you have it. Authors want to hear from you. They want to know what kinds of books resonate with you. They want to get better. Help them do that.

Check out these tips about how authors can respond to book reviews.

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