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?