Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How To Write a Book Review on Amazon

The following post by Gwen Perkins (used with permission) is a perfect follow up to yesterday’s blog on finding book reviewers. It 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.
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.
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.
Kathy here: If you read my book, The Ruby Brooch, I hope you'll write a review on Amazon. Matter of fact, I hope you write reviews for all the books you read! I know I will for now on. 
Here’s today’s running song to get you up and moving.

Happy writing and running, Kathy


  1. I'm glad you ejoyed Gwen's post. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Thank you for the information very helpful.

  3. I also wrote a post recently about reviewing. Of course, mine wasn't quite as eloquent as Gwen's. My feathers were a bit ruffled because of all the reviews I've seen lately that author bash. Yeesh.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  4. I also wrote a post recently about reviewing. Of course, mine wasn't quite as eloquent as Gwen's. My feathers were a bit ruffled because of all the reviews I've seen lately that author bash. Yeesh.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  5. This post is packed with great info. :)

    Here's how I handle reviews and why:

    I generally only review a book if I enjoyed it. Though I agree negative but thoughtful reviews help authors, I feel bad besmirching someone's review record. I'll let someone else do that.

    As for reading reviews, I now mostly abstain from reading them. I once got curious and began browsing reviews of a book I was currently reading (by my favorite author mind you). I found the negative comments were pointing out flaws I hadn't even noticed, and beginning to negatively color the author in my mind.

    I stopped reading them and went back to the book I was so enjoying in my own little world.

  6. Good post. I think reviews from regular readers are more than important than from reviews in major publications. Also, all great reviews raise a red flag for some as they aren't always all "real".

  7. I agree wit Lauren that I only review books I enjoy, but I do read other reviews when considering a purchase. And like Susan, I think readers' reviews are more important than most reviewers. I am very interested in what readers like and don't like. Thank you both for commenting.

  8. Thanks for sharing, very nice. I do post reviews for books i read, but do not know how i may get for mine. I got an accidental good review and was so pleased. Wanted to thank the reviewer, but could not find contact.

  9. Hi! Great post, I have never thought of posting my reviews on Amazon because I didn't think it made a difference. Thanks for the tips too! :) Happy New Year!

  10. Danielle, I've discovered that reviews make a huge difference. One of my resolutions for the new year is to write one for every book I finish.

  11. Thanks for your informative post! I am having a difficult time getting people to take the time to write a review of my book. Hoping this will help.

  12. Informative post, I've only done a few reviews on Amazon, small considering the amount of books I read.

    It is good practice too, being able to relate your ideas and feelings. I think it helps those of us who write as well...every bit of writing we can do gives us experience right?

  13. I always wondered why authors try to get so many reviews, Thanx for the info it was a great post :)~Jane~

  14. Lindsay and Jane, it's amazing how important a little one sentence review can be! Glad you found Gwen's post helpful.

  15. Love the post, particularly the mention of the relevance of non-English Major feedback. Because the literary community can often become a very insular community, I think it's important to remember that we're writing for readers who may not be members of it.

  16. Like others I have hesitated posting a review lower than 3 out of 5 stars unless it was because of spelling, grammar or publishing errors. The reason for this was just because I didn't like a book it didn't mean that many others might. I have read and enjoyed books that had low ratings and disliked books with high ratings, but after reading this article I will rethink my feeling and consider posting a review even if I didn't like the book and try to explain why.

  17. The number of stars you give a book on Amazon is super important. Anything lower than 4 stars will get the book penalized by Amazon, according to what I've read. One would think 3 stars is neutral, but that's not the way Amazon works.

    I'll never forget my first non-5 star review. Someone gave my book 4 stars and I just about freaked out. I couldn't understand why they would write a glowing review but give it only 4 stars. Over time, I learned to relax and realize not everyone would love my book. LOL

  18. Hello,
    I like youyr post it's detailed and self explanatory.

    I finish reviewing a book and will make it public soon. There something I did audio recording. Is there something like that? I mean reviwing with audio?

    I will like ti hear from you.

  19. Your post has encouraged me to start writing book reviews!

  20. Nice column: ) Book critique writing has always been demanding, because good book critiques are not easy to write. This column raises a lot of things we need to keep in mind when creating a book review.