What are Reviews?

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Thursday teaser from Book Review Secrets for Author Success

By Barb Drozdowich

A book review can run the spectrum of a few words to several pages of critique.

Perhaps this is why it is so difficult to characterize and perhaps this is why many readers are so intimidated at the thought of leaving a review for a book they have read—they imagine it to be a much bigger deal than it actually is.

Or…perhaps readers are having flashbacks to high school English class and don’t want to go there…

Regardless, we as authors need to not only get better at characterizing what a review is (so we can help our readers understand what we want them to do), but also recognize the need or use of various different types of reviews.

Let’s start with what a review is, throw in some rules and then move on from there.

In its simplest form, a review can be “Great Book!” or “Loved this book.” These words can be accompanied by some stars or other type of rating. As I said, on the other end of the spectrum, a review can be pages of critique on various aspects of the book. These brief, or extensive thoughts, can be sent to you by email, they can be posted on a private blog or website, a commercial blog or website, a social media site or a retail site.

With respect to these reviews, certain commercial platforms like Amazon have rules that reviewers have to follow regarding content and most commercial review-granting organizations have guidelines or expectations posted. 

But for the most part, there are no rules. This isn’t high school English class and the teacher hasn’t just handed out a paper for an assignment.

However, a review can still be: “Great book!”

Perhaps this is the crux of the problem. How are we to help our readers understand what we want them to do unless we can be a bit more concrete?

Let’s divide reviews into professional reviews or commercial reviews and reader reviews, as I’m sure you can agree the standards can be expected to be different.

A reader review is the chance for a reader to share their thoughts about what they thought of a book. Keep in mind, this is something that readers have always done—even before the creation of Amazon—we would chat with fellow book lovers. In my mind, there is nothing better than chatting about the latest book I’ve read. I know that urge to shout to the world about a really good book was one of the driving forces behind my book blog creation.

Since the advent of the internet, reader reviews, which were once an in-person activity, have also moved to online. Not only can readers leave reviews on their (or other’s) blogs or websites, but readers are encouraged to leave reviews of books purchased from any of the book retail sites—and will likely get a reminder email from the retailer to do so. In addition, there are various social media sites like Goodreads which encourage readers to list and review books.

Several years ago I was at a conference and a presenter on the subject of reviews said that “reviews” which occur before a book is published are reviews for the author; “reviews” that occur after the book is published are for readers. I initially tried to push back on that thought, but the more I mulled it over, the more I realized how correct it was. As authors we generally see pre-publication reviews as critiques, but they are generally devices to help us improve—to polish our book before it is published. Once published, the book is available for purchase by readers; any one of those readers has the ability to share their thoughts.

We don’t qualify who can and can’t purchase our books. They are available for sale to anyone who has enough money to pay for them. In a similar vein, we can’t control the reviews that are shared about our books. It is true that some people go out of their way to be unkind in their thoughts when reviewing, but in my experience the majority of reader reviews are honest and forthright. In many cases, reader reviews can be quite helpful to us as authors. 

A short story before we move on from this topic. One of the first books I published was on the topic of Goodreads, a reader-centric social website. I was determined to explain to authors how to navigate this rabbit’s warren of a site and take advantage of its powerful features. To help with the navigation of the site, I carefully created 250 color screenshots and other graphics to include in my book in order to help with my step-by-step instructions of “click on the blue button,” etc. I tested the e-book on my 27-inch computer and it looked beautiful! One of the very first reviews I received was very critical and complained that the graphics were too small to be seen on a smart phone screen. My first thought was “why the hell are you reading this book on your phone?” Of course the graphics are small on a tiny phone screen. Trying to be helpful, I replied to the review and suggested the reviewer view the book on a larger screen, perhaps a desktop computer. I was told the only electronic device she owned was a smart phone—she did everything from her phone.

Although I didn’t like this review, it was justified and I learned from it. The next edition of the Goodreads book had links to a video course and the screenshots and other graphics were gone. 

I am the type of person who reads most reviews—especially at the beginning. I find I learn from them. That being said, if you are the type of personality that is easily thrown off by comments from readers, don’t read them.

Let’s move on to professional or commercial reviews—or perhaps we should call these “non-reader” reviews. 

This is a big category and what fits in here can be open to interpretation. To add come clarity, let me define what I mean by “professional or commercial” reviews.

A professional or commercial review, whether it is something the author seeks out or not, is a review that is written by an experienced person generally following a stated set of guidelines.

As I mentioned, the reviewer is typically experienced, and may have an educational or experiential background in reviewing books. An example of this would be a book reviewer for a major newspaper or literary publication. The reviewer may be a person who is well versed in the genre of the book, or an expert in the field if the book is non-fiction. An example of this is a peer review in an industry publication for a non-fiction book.

Focusing on a commercial review—or a review that an author pays for—these reviews, generally speaking, are carried out by an experienced reviewer and follow a stated set of guidelines. Or in other words, if you purchase a review, you should be aware of what may or may not be said and what may or may not be shared publicly. We’ll go into details in a future chapter, but authors should have access to an FAQ of sorts about what they are paying for and if the review is not favorable, they may have the option of preventing the review from being made public.

As I said at the beginning of this chapter, although a review can run the gamut of a few words to several pages of critique, when talking about a professional or commercial review, they are unlikely to be only several words and are much more likely to be at least several paragraphs in length or longer. 

Are you any closer to understanding what a review is? Can you describe a review to your readers when you ask them to share some thoughts? Ultimately, it is part of our job as authors to ask our readers to leave a review. Before moving on to the next chapter, perhaps take a few moments and jot down a blurb asking for a review that you can put in the back matter of your next book!

Book Review Secrets for Author Success

Feel like it’s impossible to get more reviews for your book? Discover a comprehensive guide to every single review gathering method in publishing.

No idea where to start to get reviews for your book? Worried about hiring a professional service or contacting blogs to get those five-star marks? Award-winning author and professional reviewer Barb Drozdowich knows reviews inside and out. As the owner of the world’s largest reviewer database, let her break down the complex and confusing world of author testimonials to help you get the feedback you need to make your book a success.

Book Reviews for Author Success is a step-by-step handbook that describes all possible methods for getting more reviews for your work. From contacting literary and commercial services to bloggers and readers, Drozdowich’s conversational style demystifies the jargon in her laundry list of strategies. Intended to educate authors of all levels, the book leaves no stone unturned in the quest for your first or thousandth review.

In Book Reviews for Author Success , you’ll discover:

  • The rules and guidelines authors must use to earn professional reviews
  • A list of every type of review and how to start getting them
  • The power of social proof and why authors must seek testimonials
  • Practical exercises to help you better understand review gathering
  • A full glossary, pages and pages of extensive resources, and much, much more!

Book Reviews for Author Success is a packed, professional reference for any author looking to generate reviews. If you like easy-to-follow systems, complex subjects taught in plain English, and expert advice from key players, then you’ll love Barb Drozdowich’s superb manual.

Find it on Amazon.

About Barb Drozdowich

Social Media and WordPress Consultant Barb Drozdowich has taught in colleges, universities and in the banking industry. Now she brings her 15+ years of teaching experience and a deep love of books to help authors develop the social media platform needed to succeed in today’s fast evolving publishing world. She delights in taking technical subjects and making them understandable by the average person. She owns Bakerview Consulting and manages the popular blog, Sugarbeat’s Books, where she talks about romance novels.

She is the author of 15 books, over 40 YouTube videos an online Goodreads course and an online WordPress course, all focused on helping authors and bloggers. Barb lives in the mountains of British Columbia with her family.

Visit her Bestselling Reads author page, her Amazon Author page, or on social media:

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