What’s the point of a book review? And why you should leave one

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Reviewing books can be work, especially if you didn’t enjoy any aspect of the story. For authors, reviews build credibility or detract from it, depending on the contents, of course.

It’s no secret that this blog is about building my author platform. In fact, every aspect of my online presence feeds into that goal. Whether I’m on Goodreads, Twitter or Facebook, I’m spreading the wealth of my personality.

What to include in a review

I’ve read one line reviews that said “I loved the book and read it in one sitting.” That’s almost as helpful as “Don’t waste your time with this one. The author doesn’t know how to write.”

A review must include something to make it useful. Reviews are for both readers and authors. Readers want to know if the book is worth picking up, and authors want to know what resonated with their audience and what they might need to improve for the next book.

These one-liners don’t offer aid to either camp.

Readers want to know about:

  • The story. You don’t have to give anything away, but you can say whether it had conflict and held your interest
  • The characters. Did you like them or not? Did you feel like you knew them or not?
  • The audience. If a young adult novel appealed to an adult reader, that’s something to include. If a young adult novel seemed too graphic for that age group, let readers know.

Authors want to hear about:

  • Their plot – was it original? Did it hook you? Did it build to a sufficient resolution?
  • Their characters – could you relate to them? Did you hear individual voices? Did you feel their emotions?
  • Their writing – sometimes a style doesn’t appeal to you and that’s okay to mention as long as you give a reason. If there were catchy turns of phrases or original metaphors, the author wants you to include that detail.

I don’t know about most people, but whether or not I’m the author, I don’t care to see things about:

  • How many typos or grammar errors are in the book
  • Opinions that aren’t substantiated with a reason or two. “It was boring” should be “It didn’t hold my interest because the main character spent too much time moping around, internalizing. I kept waiting for something to happen.”
  • Mean-spirited comments of any nature. If you don’t agree with the theme of the book, that’s okay to say, but say it nicely. “Read like propaganda” isn’t as helpful as “I felt like the author was preaching their anti-government beliefs at me and it pushed me out of the story.”

Why you should leave a review

I think it’s appropriate to leave a review as often as you can. Most of my reviews aren’t more than five or six sentences. This can be helpful if you include information about the important elements mentioned above.

If you loved a book, leave a review. Make sure you include reasons why it affected you. “I couldn’t put it down” doesn’t make me want to pick it up.

If you were disappointed in one element of the story, but you enjoyed it as a whole, it’s important for the author that you leave a review. If you mention the area you felt the story was weak, the author has constructive criticism to use to improve future stories.

It’s essential to leave a review so other people receive guidance when they’re searching for something to read. You help other readers with every thorough review you write.

Authors want reviews because it shows their audience that the book is being read. Even if there are a few low reviews, if the average is four stars or above, people will pick it up.

When not to review

If you can’t think of anything positive to say about the book, don’t write a review.

I’ve heard people say you should never give less than four-star reviews. This is especially true of writers. That author will remember your low review and pay you back in kind once your book is published.

This seems shallow to me. If I’m so worried about getting a bad review that I don’t give honest feedback, who am I helping? No one, and I could be hurting myself. People know about me by checking out my bookshelves at Goodreads.

If you can’t give sound reasoning why a book fell flat for you, don’t leave a review.

I have given one two-star review and several three-star reviews. I gave my reasoning behind both of these (or didn’t do more than rate the book). I’m pretty sure my three-star review of a Salvatore book isn’t going to set the man on a path of vengeance.

I hope when I mentioned weak character motivation or a slow-moving plot, the reviews resonated with the author, and they make changes if more people say similar things.

Sometimes, a book just doesn’t connect with me and millions of others love it. Reading preference is as subjective a choosing an ice cream flavor.

What do you think? Are there other things that should be included in a review? Perhaps you disagree about my reasoning regarding not leaving a review. Let’s discuss it.

2 thoughts on “What’s the point of a book review? And why you should leave one

  1. “’I couldn’t put it down’ doesn’t make me want to pick it up.” Brilliant! I’ll admit I’m not a very good literary citizen in that I hardly ever leave reviews. Not because of any specific philosophy, but, to be honest, I’m lazy (at least when it comes to that) and I read A LOT! And I probably wouldn’t leave a review for a book that’s already at the top of the lists–they don’t need any additional publicity.

    I’m going to be better about leaving reviews moving forward because through my own platform/relationship building, I now have friends that are authors, and I want to support them. What I would probably do differently with them is if their story didn’t really speak to me, or if I was thinking about giving it 1 or 2 stars, or I had other constructive criticism, I’d probably share that information with the author off-line vs. leaving a review, unless the author specifically asked me to do so.

    On its face, that might not seem like I’m looking out for other readers, but that’s not the case. If the author thinks my feedback is valid and they’ve self-pub’d, they could make changes to their book, which would be for the good of the reader (and the author too).

    I follow your say thought process about bad reviews–if I don’t like the book, I generally don’t say anything at all.

    This post is one I’ll refer to again as I’m sitting down to write my first review for an author friend. Thanks for a great one!

    1. Thanks, Kelly.
      I’m still learning what makes a good review for both authors and readers and was hoping some published authors would chime in with their hopes.
      If I was the author of the book being reviewed, I would want honest plugs about gripping plots, fantastic characters who felt real, crazy plot twists that made perfect sense by the end and something about a deep theme that had them thinking when they finished the book.
      Hopefully some parents will leave these sort of reviews because I can’t imagine too many of the young adults who would be in my audience doing it.

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