Five Reasons to Review the Books You Read

Book reviews are a touchy subject at the moment. Between authors buying good ones and faking bad ones, a lot of people have recoiled from the idea of trusting reviews at all. But I believe book reviews online serve a valuable purpose. (That of informing readers.) And the best way to make sure the reviews on places like Goodreads and Amazon are accurate is to jump on the reviewing bandwagon.

Reviewing books takes time. And effort. And it often feels like no one cares. But whether you choose to review books on Goodreads, Amazon, your personal blog, or a different forum, there are at least five reasons to do it.

1. Trust me, I’m a reviewer.

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of disillusioned people out there right now. People are wondering whether they can trust online reviews, whether they should bother reading them, and whether there are better ways to make decisions about what to read.

Well, the answer is: Yes. 

  • Yes, you can trust online reviews…. if they’re written by someone you know and/or trust.
  • Yes, you should read them…. but take them with a grain of salt unless they’re written by someone you know and/or trust.
  • Yes, there are better ways to make decisions about what to read… like going by the recommendations of friends you know and/or trust.

We all know that we’re more likely to read a book recommended by a friend than we are to read a book displayed on the side of a bus.  And the great thing about social media is that we can connect with people (and friends) all over the world, in an instant. So instead of bemoaning the state of online book reviews, step up and be a trusted reviewer for your friends and contacts.

2. No, really. You have to read this. Right now.

There’s a beautiful feeling you get when you finish a particularly good book. There’s a moment where you sit, transfixed, your mind still deep in the story world as you close the cover. You’re part of the world. You know the characters like they’re your best friends. Or, in some cases, like they’re secretly you — just a different, more zombie-killing you. There’s a moment of disconnection from reality. A moment when you don’t want to let go of that imaginary reality. A moment when you clutch the book to your chest, as though you can write the story into your heart. 

And when that moment passes, there’s only one thing you want to do next. You want to reminisce.

“And what about the part where…?” “Can you believe he decided to…?” “How awesome was it when…?”

If none of your friends have read the book, you find them and you say, “You have to read this book. Right now.” Partly because you want to share the wonder of the story, and partly so you’ll finally have someone to reminisce with.

Well, that’s what a book review is. When you find someone and tell them what you loved about a book and why they should read it, you’re giving them a review of the book. So, why not write it down? Then you can tell everyone you know (and some you don’t) about a book you’ve loved without having to repeat yourself.

3. Stars belong in the Sky.

It’s not enough to just give a book a star rating. A review is so much more than just an arbitrary number between 1 and 5. A review helps your friends, and other readers, decide whether they’d enjoy reading the book themselves.

Not everyone has the same taste. Simple, but true. It’s easy to forget when we’re so enthused about the greatness of a book, but not everyone is going to enjoy it. In the same way that not everyone is going to hate the book you couldn’t manage to finish. For example:

  • Fifty Shades of Grey has 239,000 ratings on Goodreads.
  • 86,000 of those ratings have 5-stars.
  • 26,000 of those ratings have 1-star.

But none of those ratings tell me whether I would like the book or not. I could look at those numbers and decide that it’s more likely I’ll love the book than hate it. But what if I’m not like the 86,000 people? What if I’m more like the 26,000 people? How can I possibly make a subjective decision based solely on numbers?

But when I go and read some of the reviews, I find the following trends.

The majority of 5-star reviews include:

  • Christian is sooo hot. And dominant.
  • Anastasia is sooo innocent but doesn’t always back down.
  • “I don’t normally read erotica, but this is the best erotica I’ve ever read.”
  • “I was worried about the BDSM parts, but they weren’t very intense. It was just like reading about hot sex.”

The majority of 1-star reviews include:

  • There’s no real plot.
  • The characters are essentially the same as Edward & Bella with different names.
  • The writing isn’t very good.
  • The BDSM isn’t realistic.

And suddenly I have enough information to make an informed, subjective choice. So don’t just leave a star-rating. Leave real reviews, and your friends and contacts will be able to use them to make reading decisions.

4. It was awesome because it was awesome.

“You really should read this book. It’s awesome.”
“Yeah? What’s it about?”
“It’s about this guy and he does this stuff and… it’s just awesome. You should read it.”
“Is it a bit like that other book we liked?”
“No, no… Well, a bit. Yeah. But completely different. But it’s just awesome the way that he… He’s so amazing, and… You should read it. Because it’s awesome.”

Does anyone else have these conversations with people? Or is it just me?

I love it when I’m reading a book that’s so good, I barely notice the words on the page. I don’t remember what it said on page 68 or how the hero was described. I remember the way I felt when the hero triumphed at the end. When I’m reading one of those books, it’s easy to get so lost in the story, all I have at the end is a feeling that everyone should read this book. But when it comes to reviews, that’s not particularly helpful.

When I’m reading a book with the knowledge that I’m going to review it afterwords, I tend to read differently. Not with any less engagement, but with an eye for what makes the story work, as well as how it makes me feel. And, perhaps surprisingly, I find it makes reading even more enjoyable than normal. 

5. I just called to say I love you.

Reviews may or may not sell books, but they certainly spread the word and create the best kind of advertising possible: word of mouth. Looking at your book’s page on Goodreads, Amazon, wherever and seeing no reviews must be disappointing. And that’s why it must be so tempting for an author to buy or fake positive reviews. That doesn’t mean the practice is right, just that it’s understandable.

But do you know what would make it less tempting? If real people who really read the book wrote real reviews saying what they really thought. Show an author you love them: write a review of their book.

Do you review books somewhere online? Are you going to do so in the future? Do you read reviews written by your friends and trusted contacts?

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29 Comments

Filed under Writing

29 responses to “Five Reasons to Review the Books You Read

  1. I don’t review books (except for Pynchon, who I’ve written about extensively). I don’t disagree with your premises, but mostly it doesn’t appeal to me. The main exception is when I want to talk about writers who have been an influence on what I do.

    I do agree about just giving star ratings. That’s useless.

    I do review movies and have since the 1990s. I think that’s where I can contribute more, where I have more to say. And I have some idea what’s going on in movies today, where I have no idea what’s going on in books. Most of the books I’ve read recently have been between fifty and a hundred years old.

  2. I ALWAYS read book reviews from people like you and with YOU I don’t bother to write it down or save it in my phone because I know when it’s library time I can just go to Goodreads and look at your reviews and I’ll remember what I was interested in. I always found books by looking up a book I enjoyed on Amazon and then looking at “people who read this also read these” but now with Goodreads all of that has changed. Right now I’m waiting for a library chance so I can read “The Giver” and “Where the red Fern Grows” (again) along with one more I can’t remember because it’s been since the 7th grade (not The Giver) and now Noah is required and I want to remember the book when he reads them. Great post Jo.

    • Thanks, Kim. I’m glad you read my book reviews. 🙂 I always look forward to reading yours — and, as you know, I’ve read books WAY outside my normal reading preferences simply because of your review and recommendation. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve become a huge Goodreads convert. I like the way that the Updates page tells me what my Goodreads friends are reading, and that often encourages me to add books to my TBR list.

  3. Great post, Jo! I wrote one on the same topic a while ago, but yours is a lot more focused and clear.

    (Funny that we both used 50 SHADES as our example – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.)

    I will say, though, that sometimes I struggle to practice what I preach – just because it’s hard to find the time to write any kind of substantial review for everything I read. Sure, I can rattle off 2-3 sentences, but is that genuinely more useful than just a star rating? So the urge is to write a few paragraphs, but that starts to eat into my available time – and if I’m spending time writing, I’d rather be working on my own material than reviewing someone else’s.

    So finding the balance is tricky. But it’s a goal worth working towards.

    • 2-3 sentences is better than none maybe if you really love a book – it doesn’t have to be regularly, just heartfelt

    • Thanks for commenting Patrick. Your post is actually what inspired me to join Goodreads and start posting reviews online in the first place, so thank you.

      I’d forgotten you used 50 Shades as an example… I promise I didn’t copy you on purpose! But isn’t 50 Shades a great example of why reviews are important? It’s a book that polarises people. People either love it or hate it. But when you start reading reviews you realise that the reason it’s so polarising isn’t because people disagree on its merit, or its realism, or its value, it’s because people look for different things in their reading experiences.

      You’re dead right when you say it’s hard to find the balance. My system is that as soon as I finish a book, I jump on Goodreads and write a review and then move a book from TBR to Currently Reading. Until that’s done, I don’t physically start reading the next book. I look at it that writing the review is the last step of reading the book, rather than something entirely separate.

      • I think the value of 50 Shades as an example will linger on long after it vanishes from bookshelves.

        One thing I’d add about reviews is that without them, writers can be left fumbling in the dark to make sense of ratings. I recently got my first 1-star rating for THE OBITUARIST on Goodreads, which has had uniformly positive reviews so far, but the reader didn’t leave any kind of review. So now I’m stuck wondering why she didn’t like it, and what went wrong, and whether her issues are things I should consider or dismiss and AHHHH IT’S DRIVING ME CRAZY.

        Please, readers, don’t make writers crazy. Tell us WHY you hate our books.

      • That’s a very good point!

  4. changeforbetterme

    I just started to review books on goodreads and amazon. It’s kind of hypocritical of me as I don’t pick my books by reviews. But I know a lot of people do, so I put my reviews down. Whether someone reads it or not is up to them.

    • Congrats on getting started. 🙂 I tend to read the reviews of my friends rather than strangers, but if I’m unsure whether I want to read something, sometimes I’ll just go browse reviews to get a feel for the book. I think that as you expand your social network on Goodreads (feel free to friend me!), you’ll find more people read your reviews, and you may even find interesting books when you see what your friends are reviewing. 🙂

      • changeforbetterme

        Thanks! I will be befriending you on goodreads for sure. And you are probably right about how it will go, I actually enjoy reviewing. I’m pretty new at it though.

  5. I don’t believe star ratings are a complete waste of time. Individually, perhaps, but if you compare a single person’s overall ratings, you begin to see where each individual item sits in relation to the others. I have my own mapping, though, which works well for me: crap / meh / enjoyable / memorable / meaningful.

    I find it really hard to actually write about what I appreciated about a book; I’m not a writer and I can’t do the author’s writing any more justice than they can themselves 🙂

    • Hi Alex. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I see what you’re saying about an individual’s rating system, and I don’t think star ratings are a complete waste of time in certain circumstances. (Such as recording your response for your own record, or as a guide for friends/family who could ask you for more information if they wished.) However, it’s unlikely that I’d choose to read a book based solely on you giving it 5 stars — although I may be more inclined to learn more about the book and read other reviews to decide whether I’d be interested in reading it.

      Let’s say I said to you, “I read this book and gave it 5 stars. It was really meaningful.” Would you immediately add that book to your TBR list? Or would you ask me what I liked about it, or why it was so meaningful? That’s the information I’d put in a review.

  6. I write occasional book reviews for a newspaper (unpaid mind you), but there is decreasing space to get them published and length is hugely restricted. Your comments encourage me to post more online in future. thank you.

  7. As you’ve probably worked out from my GR profile Jo, I’m a reviewer, though it’s only really a recent thing (last 12months or so)… sometimes my reviews are good, other times not so much, still trying to find my style.

    I don’t usually pick my books based on reviews, I tend to read the blurb, then decide. Check GR reviews after that point and if my friends on GR have read/rated/reviewed it I’ll check out their thoughts. Sometimes this has swayed my choice, but not always.

    Great post! 😀

    • I am also, obviously, a reviewer. But I don’t consider myself a professional reviewer by any stretch of the imagination. I generally just stick to WHY I did or didn’t like a book, WHAT did or didn’t appeal to me, amd WHO I’d recommend it for. So sometimes my reviews are rambling accounts of my personal reaction to a book, and sometimes they’re a bit more structured.

      I do pick my books by referral more often than not (and what is a review if not a written referral?), since I don’t often find time to browse a physical bookstore — and I don’t have any good ones near me anyway. If I see one of my friends is reading a particular book, I’ll often click through and read a bit about it and see if I think it’s something I’d like.

  8. I used to review children books for School Library Journal. It was challenging, but really rewarding experience. I knew how much I counted on this publication as a reviewer source when making purchases for my library so I had to make sure I provided the reader with enough information to make an informed decision about whether to purchase the book for his/her library. I used a lot of emoticons and stars. J/k.

  9. Reviews are a way to give the author something back for the time that he/she spent writing. Also, I hope that, if I review other books, when and if my book comes out, some of these authors might review mine. One thing I try not to do is to pan a book – if I hate it, I tend not to review it. Maybe that isn’t fair to future readers, but writing is such a vulnerable career that I don’t want to make an author feel worse. I did send a review in private to an author who shared from her heart, but it was a memoir that went on for ages. I told her what I felt was good and what wasn’t. She never responded back to me. But I didn’t feel comfortable putting up a negative review on her website.

    • You make a good point about negative reviews, Heather. There are appropriate ways to write about books that you didn’t enjoy for one reason or another, and “panning” isn’t one of them. I’ve written a couple of negative reviews, and I try to be as matter-of-fact as possible, talking about the book itself rather than the author, and making sure to highlight anything that was particularly good as well. (eg. The characters didn’t feel authentic to me, and the plot was rushed. However, the writing flowed beautifully and was easy to read. I didn’t enjoy this book, but I don’t think I was really the target audience.)
      If I can’t think of anything nice to say, or I didn’t finish a book, I won’t review it at all.

  10. I started writing reviews for my blog last year, and in that time I’ve written 30 reviews. About halfway through that, I reactivated my old Goodreads account and started sharing them there as well.

    Ironically, I don’t think I’ve posted a single one of them to Amazon. I’ve done my star ratings there, especially on the e-books because it’s so easy, but I haven’t gone back and posted my reviews. I feel bad about that because as an author, I always want more reviews up on my Amazon pages. So… yeah, I really need to go post that backlog on Amazon and start sharing the new ones there as well.

    • Hi Dan. I always like the reviews you post on your blog — they always give me a strong indication of whether I’m likely to enjoy the book or not, which is, of course, what a review is all about.

      I admit that I don’t review on Amazon. I don’t shop through Amazon (we’ve talked about this before), so it just seems… redundant? Possibly my opinion on that will change in the future. Do people really read the reviews on Amazon when they’re making a buying decision?

      • As for reading the reviews on Amazon, I will typically look at one or two of the five-star reviews, though I’m hesitant to do so for fear of seeing a spoiler. However, if the book (or other product) has some 1-star reviews, I will typically skim those as well. It’s not that I necessarily think that the 1-star reviews are the true reviews, but seeing what folks complain about is often as informative as seeing what they rave about. If all the gripes happen to be about things I actually enjoy or don’t care about, then I’ll feel more comfortable buying.

        But lately, my biggest qualifier on buying books at Amazon has been the sample. I download it to my Kindle, read it, and if I want more at the end of the sample, then I buy it. At that point, I’ve already formed a mini-review in my head, and if the review says “slow beginning”, then that’s about as far as I get.

      • Samples are definitely a bonus when it comes to buying ebooks. It’s a bit like reading the first chapter in the book shop, I suppose. Except no one rushes over to check you’re okay or suggest that maybe this isn’t a library. 🙂

  11. This is true about lots of reviews. When I look at product reviews or hotel reviews I try to pay attention to the language they use and to what they are actually reviewing, rather than just the “score” they gave.

    • Having been in the travel industry up until a few years ago, I can guarantee that star ratings mean very little when it comes to hotels. It’s always the reviews that will give you the best indication of whether a place (or book) will suit.

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