Being an author of two decades, this question has come up several times. Do you remember sitting in English class when you were a kid and you had to do a book report? I remember the groans of my fellow students. They viewed the task with a great deal of anxiety, and, despite my love of writing, I felt a bit queasy myself. What can you say that hasn’t been said? Perhaps writing isn’t the person’s strong suit. They skimmed through the book and fear they might not be able to speak with enough authority to do well. There are so many reasons that writing a review can send readers into a tail spin. I believe that the biggest cause for anxiety is that readers wonder what does an author expect from your reviews?
It’s pretty simple really. Authors, first of all, want your honesty. We’re not asking you to write only good reviews. Although we would love that to happen, we want to have earned the praise. Bad reviews serve a purpose: it teaches us about what we’re lacking and where we need to put in more effort. That said, writing an amazon review that reads like a pubescent conversation on the hot new video games of the month, is not at all helpful. Do write with tact regardless of how you feel about the work you’re reviewing. In the end, the review speaks more about you as a person than just the work. And, never ever bad mouth the artist. That’s not the point of a review. The point is to review the book, not speculate on the author’s personality. A book will never appeal to everyone and that is okay, but let’s keep it about the manuscript.
Writing reviews and book reports has evolved quite a bit for me. I like to write about the premise of the work and how it did or did not move me. Analysis is what I’m especially trained in, from a symbolism and sign perspective. I also enjoy talking about the intertext of works—how they relate to other cultural memes, media and ideas. For instance, have you noticed the nuance of Alice in Wonderland running through Trailokya? Or, the use of spiritual themes that wend through east and west creating one tapestry of a trans-dimensional people? And then, with that, you can start to see the touch stones of various science fiction and even fantasy. An author loves it when you notice these things. So mention what the work reminds you of in your review. This helps other readers determine if they will like the work by connecting it to other things they have already read or enjoy.
Tells us why you loved it. It can be anything (although spoilers can make readers and authors crazy). The simpler the better, because that often resonates with other readers. Was it a character, setting or a specific idea? Nothing is in a book for no reason. it’s all put in there to enrich the experience and/or drive the story. One reviewer left a review on OP-DEC: Operation Deceit telling why they hated my main character. This is great! Wait! How is that great? Because what one reader finds annoying or hard to accept, is another readers treasure. Each reader’s experience is unique and I am thankful for the candor of such a review.
Should you also include something of the plot? Well, no one can stop you, but here is my take: when writing a review, you are not writing a book report. While a book report requires a summation of the book to prove you read it, a book review is a short one or two paragraphs on why or why not you liked a book. Bogging down your review with the details of what happens not only spoils the reading for other readers, but it makes it too much to read. No one has time to read an essay to help them decide if they want to get a book. Reviewers don’t have the time to write essays. Truthfully, reviews and book reports aren’t all that entertaining. They’re essentially a sales pitch. Most commercials are only 30-seconds. Therefore your review shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to read. (Don’t forget, the book blurb is right there, so they already have what it’s about available).
Amazon, and I assume other sites, ask reviewers to title their reviews. I saw your gut cinch from here. Don’t fear. this is really no big deal. How do you do an epic title? How would you describe yourself in 5-7 words? Mommy of five loves this fantasy. Marvel fanboy couldn’t get enough. History know it all highly approves. Serious geek seriously surprised. And, so on. Titles like this tell readers that your review pertains to them and why in just a few short words. Follow up with why (or not) you liked it, and what it reminds you of without giving away important points and you have yourself a great review. Boom. 5-8 lines and you’ve fulfilled your civic duty.
The book came out several months ago to a year ago. Can I still review? Absolutely. There is no expiration date.
What about the rating? Amazon and other sites ask you to rate the work from 1 to 5 stars, five being the best. You can trust your gut in most cases about what you should give as a rating. If you have not read at least half the book, do not leave a review or a rating. This is not helpful to other readers or the author. I think it’s done to affect the rating of a book without overtly giving a tanking review, and with unfounded reasons. And, if your reading is incomplete, you should divulge this with a promise to return to finish the review later. It’s just as wise to leave off until you’re done (remember, there are no expiration dates).
Yes, folks there are trolls out there. There are also other writers trolling their competition. Such a sad state of affairs as always! Goodreads and Amazon are both attempting to stop this as well as paid reviews. All reviews are supposed to be supplied by actual readers, real customers. This doesn’t necessarily remove legitimate reviewers from review websites. Will your review be removed? A lot more talk has been going around about real reviews being removed because it is assumed the reader knows the writer and is padding the reviews to aid in better rankings. Yet, the point of reviews is to provide ranking and something the potential new customer can judge the work by. Technically, we writers have met most of those reviewers in some fashion, especially early in our careers. We have to engage readers one on one to build our readership, build launch teams and compete. Unfortunately, the system isn’t perfect, but don’t let that deter you from leaving a review. Keep a copy in a Facebook note, write it on your blog, post an image to social media with the review as the caption (which makes it shareable). That way, if your review is removed, you can replace it or put it elsewhere that readers will see it. Then your work isn’t lost and your time not wasted. Tumblr is a great venue to do images with small texts, as is Instagram. Snapchat is too short lived. Twitter doesn’t allow the space. Google+ isn’t as well populated, nor is Linked In, but you can just as well make a copy there, on the author’s pages, too.
All authors expect from your review is honesty, a few words of why you liked their work (that you noticed the things they put in there), what it relates to for you and a fair rating that corresponds to your assessment. If you haven’t read the book, you cannot in good faith leave a review. And, it’s never too late for a review.