Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Guest Post: How To Write a Book Review on Amazon

Hello, you lovely people, you!

I came across this post on book reviews, and thought I'd share it.  To be honest, every time I decide I want to review a book on Amazon (which, to be TOTALLY honest, I don't do very often), I always sit here staring at the screen, wondering, "What the hell should I write?"  That's a terrible thing for an author to admit, isn't it?

Anyhoo, I found this post really helpful, so I added some cute animals, and here it is (I'll be back at the end to comment a little more):
"Loved it."  "Hated it."

How To Write a Book Review on Amazon

The following post by Gwen Perkins (used with permission) walks you through how to write an Amazon review and the impact reviews have on sales.
As anyone who is or knows an author knows, many of us frequently go around wishing and hoping that our book will receive reviews on that book giant, Amazon. (I also wish and hope for Powell’s and Barnes and Noble’s but as more and more authors publish exclusively through the Big A, that’s what this blog post is about.) I thought that I’d explain my own reasons for wanting reviews and how they work. I’m choosing to address this via questions that I’ve received from friends and family.
1) I’m no good at writing an Amazon review. What do I say?
The beautiful thing about Amazon reviews is that you don’t have to be Roger Ebert. You can click a star rating and then write a couple of sentences about the book. Reviews can be as simple as “This book was really good. I wish there was more romance” or really elaborate.
Here are some things you could put in a review:
Adjectives that describe the book (it was good, it was awful, etc).
Say something you liked about it. Things that you could focus on could include the plot, a particular scene, characters, how things changed during the course of the story, etc.
If there was a moment or character that personally impacted you in some way, don’t be afraid to say so. Put yourself in the review. Authors love to know their readers and I know that I’m always touched when I can tell someone made a personal connection with what I wrote.
Talk about what you wanted to see more of or what needs improvement. Do you wish another character was in the book more? Say so. Did bad spelling distract you? Tell us that too.
"Write better, you bastard!"
Tips to remember:
Don’t be afraid to be honest. Do, however, remember to be helpful. Don’t just say “it sucks” but tell everyone why it sucked.
Don’t give away the ending of the book. You can allude to it very vaguely (“the ending surprised me”) but don’t say specific plot details.
You’re not being graded. Write a review as long or short as you want. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of art—think of it more as a conversation or what you might tell people you know about this book.
Make sure that you read the book before you review. This seems like it should be obvious but… it’s not.
2) Do Amazon reviews actually affect a book’s sales?
I have to be honest with you and tell you that I don’t yet know for sure as I don’t have the “magic number” yet. This is what I understand to be true from conversations with my publisher and other authors:
Around 20-25 reviews, Amazon starts including the book in “also bought” and “you might like” lists. This increases your chances of someone finding your title.
Around 50-70 reviews, Amazon looks at your book for spotlight positions and the newsletter. This is HUGE. This is my personal goal although I use Amazon reviews for other reasons (more later on in this post).
Number of reviews may affect Amazon sales ranking. (Again, this is anecdotal–I have no actual proof of it.)
Some websites will not consider or promote your book unless you have a number of reviews on the page (this is very true of those sites that highlight free promos—I can attest to this).
And, of course, readers may read through your reviews and decide to purchase or not purchase the book based on this.
3) Whatever. I don’t care if you sell this wonderful/awful book. Why should I write a review if it doesn’t change how you write the next one?
Oh, but it does.
When I read my Amazon reviews, they tell me things that my editor might not. Let’s face it, an editor is only one person and even with beta readers, you’re working in a group of people who are familiar with the craft of writing. What an author also needs is the opinion of the average reader, that person who just picked up their book and doesn’t have an English degree.
While you have to have a tough skin about reviews, as an author, they’re very helpful. They can reaffirm something that you were already working on. For instance, I’d already decided to make one of my minor characters in my first book a point-of-view character for the second—my reviews have told me that people wouldn’t be uninterested in him. They can also point out things that you need to work on. In my case, exposition!
Likewise, positive reviews tell you what you’re doing right. If people rave about your characters, then that’s likely a good place to keep going. If reviews talk about the fighting scenes in a positive light, then you know you’re making a difference.
So, in short, yes, what you write in that review is fairly likely to change something about the book I’m working on now. Writing is a process.
4) But I really hated the book! Should I still review it?
Here is where I probably differ from some other authors so I’m going to speak only for myself here.
"Seriously, guys--this is giving me a headache."
Yes. Absolutely. How will I know where to improve unless I get reviews that tell me so? Yes, it can be painful to read some reviews but am I ever going to say that there isn’t truth in them? No. After the initial sting, I’ll read it again and take something home from that. I’ll be a better writer for it. To be honest, not everyone likes every book. There are people out there who hate Harry Potter. It would be a little presumptuous to think that all of my reviews would be golden for any book (they’re not now and I don’t expect that to change. Especially not if anyone reads this post.).
The only thing that I ask is to please make sure you have something to say about why it is bad. The only review that I’ve ever been really irritable about was a one-star on an old short horror story I posted for fun where the reader said they were underage and hadn’t read it.
Having said all of that, it is really tough to be a small press or self-published author (I am the former). Bad reviews can kill a novel if they’re the first ones a book receives or if they’re all that the book has. Please hold this in mind if you decide to go forth. This post by Anne R, Allen does a good job of explaining the impact in more detail than I’ll get into here.
(Feel free to share this post or copy it for your own blog. All I ask is that if you do, please keep my author note.)
Gwen Perkins is a fantasy novelist who is always on the hunt for Amazon reviews for her first novel, The Universal Mirror (Hydra Publications, 2012). She can be contacted through email at gwen@ironangel.net.

Hi! It's Giselle. I'm back. 

Wasn't that a useful post?  I'm going to consult it the next time I write an Amazon review, which, as I mentioned earlier, I don't do very often.  I review music sometimes, but something holds me back from reviewing books.  

Okay, I can better articulate that "something": if the book was written by an author I know personally (or if I'm published by the same publisher or have ties to the editor, etc. etc.), I don't want to say anything even remotely negative because I don't want to hurt their feelings or create bad blood.  

"Who you callin' a puppet?"
On the flip side, if I have only wonderful things to say about the book I'm afraid my review won't seem credible.  I'm also afraid people might think I was paid or persuaded to give a book a good review, even though that goes totally against my personal code of ethics.

Reading reviews?  Well, I don't read reviews of my books.  Why?  Because I'm a wuss.  Bad reviews (particularly the venemous, hate-spewing ones) depress me--in a clinical, can't-get-out-of-bed way.  So, in the interest of being a productive non-suicidal person, I just stay away.

But... I do read reviews of OTHER people's books and, let me tell you, it's not the 5-star or 4-star ones that get me interested.  When I see a book that's got a billion 1-star reviews, that's when I go, "Hey, hey!  Now, this I gotta see."  

Often, reviews that tear a book to shreds (as long as it's not mine, right?) make me want to read the book, even if it's in a guilty-pleasure/schadenfreude way. Or sometimes readers will hate the book because it's too dark, or too fetishistic, or OMG the characters are lesbians.  I see that and think, "Wow, sounds like a great book!"  That's why, to reiterate a point Gwen made above, it is vitally important to articulate WHY you hate a work.  Your yuck could be someone else's yum.

Anyhoo, enough from me.  I told you what I really think.  It's your turn now.


Award-winning erotica writer Giselle Renarde is a queer Canadian, avid volunteer, contributor to more than 100 short story anthologies, and author of numerous electronic and print books, including Anonymous, Nanny State, and My Mistress' Thighs. Ms Renarde lives across from a park with two bilingual cats who sleep on her head.


  1. Very helpful post - but I have a question for you: I heard Amazon was taking down reviews by authors and barring authors from writing reviews, as part of their response to the fake review snafu. Are you running into this? If you leave a review, does it stay posted? (If so, I'll go review Oubliette, which I loved :)

  2. Adriana--funny you should mention it, because I started writing about Amazon banning author reviews, then I erased it because I felt like I was talking too much. I just checked the only review I've written of another author in this genre (that I can think of), and it's still there. I'm surprised. I'm usually the first person to get censored.

    And than you for the compliment about Oubliette. Selling lesbian stories ain't easy.

  3. Giselle, I really want to say thank you for posting this. Most people say they can review such work, but they don't know the true basics on how to be both helpful and honest. I am also a writer of lesbian erotic romance. So I do agree with you, selling lesbian stories are hard. LOL. I was hoping to use this article for my website - AfterDark Online.