Books, publishing, reading list

Reviews: What’s the big deal?

Around this time of year, you will often see posts on social media saying something like, “give an author the best gift imaginable: leave a review for their book!” As an author, I agree whole-heartedly with such posts. I got to thinking the other day, though: if I weren’t an author myself, would I understand just why reviews are so important? And I realized, probably not.

So I thought I might take some time to explain why authors will often sound almost desperate in our pleas for reviews for our books.

The first reason has to do with algorithms. Ugh, I know. In the world of bookselling as it exists today, algorithms are what determines how easy it is for potential readers to find your books. On, say, Amazon, if you type “magic most deadly” into the search bar–well, I scrolled through fifteen pages before I gave up on finding my book actually titled Magic Most Deadly.

Sorry, Maia and Len–according to Amazon, you don’t exist

As for From the Shadows, well, that one remains firmly in the shadows so far as bookselling websites are concerned.

Back into the shadows with you, Riss! No joy for you!

So, why is it that my books don’t show up in searches? Because they don’t have enough reviews. The general rule of thumb is that it takes about 50 reviews for the computer programming that runs Amazon’s search pages to decide your book deserves to appear sooner and more frequently in searches.

So then, the #1 reason authors beg for reviews is simple: more reviews = more visibility, more visibility = more chances for people to buy our books.

The #2 reason is also pretty simple. The vast majority of buyers online are always going to check the reviews before they purchase. This goes for anything, not just books. I do the same! I want to make sure I’m not buying a dud. And when it comes to stories–especially self-published books, which, unfairly or not, have a reputation of being of lesser quality than traditionally published books–readers want to know if this is going to be worth their time or not.

(This is one way in which a detailed negative review can also be helpful, by the way. If I, a potential reader, find a 1-star review that says “This book is awful! The characters just talked to each other and nothing ever happened. It was well written but so boring, and there wasn’t even any romance,” I am suddenly much more interested in that book, because that sort of story is exactly to my taste.)

Visibility and buyer confidence. That’s what our need for reviews really boils down to.

But Louise! I hear you say. Reviews are a pain to write! I never know what to say.

Never fear, I am here with a very simple template you can follow for almost any type of review. Think of this as Mad Libs for reviewing. Ready?

Glowing review: “This is a [positive adjective] book! I especially liked [character or event]. If you enjoy stories with [descriptive noun], you will enjoy this book.”

For example, and I’m going to use Magic Most Deadly here because why not: “This is a wonderful book! I especially like the friendship that developed between Maia and Len. If you enjoy stories with well-developed characters, you will enjoy this book.”

Temperate review: “This is a [mildly positive adjective] book. [character or event or stylistic choice] was particularly well done. I thought that [character or event or stylistic choice] was [negative adjective], but overall, a good read. If you like [descriptive noun], you will enjoy this book.”

And the example, still using Magic Most Deadly: “This is a pretty good book. The relationship between the main characters was particularly well done. I thought that the pacing was slow, but overall, a good read. If you like stories that are more about the characters than the plot, you will enjoy this book.”

Negative reviews are a little trickier, but you can use a basic template for them as well: “I did not enjoy this book at all. It was [blank] and [blank], and it did not work for me. I am sure there is an audience for this book, but I am not it.”

And here we go fitting that to MMD: “I did not enjoy this book at all. It was slow and the writing style felt pretentious, and it did not work for me at all. I am sure there is an audience for this book, but I am not it.”

And there you have it! Obviously you will want to fiddle with it a bit to make it your own, but generally speaking, opinion of the book + one or two reasons for that opinion + why people might or might not like the book = amazing reviews.

Now you know why authors plead so much for reviews, and you have an easy template for writing those reviews, so hey: go make an author’s holiday extra bright by leaving them a review on Amazon or wherever you bought their book!

7 thoughts on “Reviews: What’s the big deal?”

  1. I agree with most of what you say here, and I especially like your templates. I’m a big fan of templates to help accomplish all those little bits of writing that absolutely do not need to be original to be helpful and effective.

    I thought I’d just add, though, that the idea that a book has to have fifty reviews to activate Amazon’s algorithms is an urban author legend. It’s a very, very popular one–I used to believe it, and when I had an agent, SHE used to believe it and to urge her authors to work on getting those first fifty in as quickly as possible. But when you look at the materials published by tech people who have actually studied what’s going on at Amazon (David Gaughran, et al.), reviews carry relatively little weight. Much more important are sales conversion and rank. Reviews do remain very important for social proof (as you point out in your post), and there are a number of advertising sites that will not promote books that lack a minimum number of reviews, but usually that number is around ten. I highly recommend Gaughran’s book Amazon Decoded as a terrific resource for explaining how those bewildering formulas actually work and how authors can take advantage of what they offer.

      1. So true! The internet can make it so hard to figure out which sources are credible, especially when it comes to something like understanding Amazon’s algorithms, since the company itself is silent on the matter.

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