What every prospective reader (and every writer) loves in a review

1207951_woman_reading_at_homeThis post is all about a topic I don’t often touch on, but one that I’ve been fixating on over the last few days: Reviews. Reviews reviews reviews. One star, four star, five star: all of them.

I know lots of fellow authors who can relate to the mixed feelings that come after a successful free promotion through Amazon’s KDP Select program. In my case, I moved about 3,000 e-book copies of “The Crimson League” last week.

And that’s really exciting. It’s also terrifying, because it means lots of people will be reading my book right now. Some won’t like it. And out of all those readers–like it or not–some will be leaving reviews. That’s every reader’s right in this day and age, even if the review is negative: as long as it’s respectfully written and truthful as to the aspects of the work that a reader didn’t like.

The thought of a new review coming in–good or bad–always makes me anxious. But that’s my problem. It’s an author’s duty to grow thick skin or to avoid reading the reviews. It’s that simple.

Anyway, this post isn’t about me. It’s about reviews in general.

So, you read a great book

Awesome! And you want to help the writer out with a positive review somewhere: Amazon, Goodreads, your blog. Please do!

First of all, please note this post is mainly for people like book bloggers, or those who have the time to leave quite extensive, quite detailed reviews.

That is NOT a requirement, or an obligation on your part. As a writer, I can promise you we are all deeply touched by honest, positive reviews, no matter how short they are.

If all you have time to do–or all you feel comfortable doing–is writing a sentence or two saying that a book really entertained you, and you enjoyed this or that character, and you thought it was really well done and very readable, that’s a wonderful gesture.

The simple knowledge that you enjoyed someone’s book, and took the time to say so, is enough to make an author’s day. There’s no better feeling.

So please, if you’ve read some good books lately–books that touched you, or drew you in–consider leaving a few words in a positive review for those authors.

Perhaps, though, you want to be more descriptive in your review than a few words will allow. I’ve been reading lots of reviews of lots of different books lately, and these are the aspects of the ones I really enjoyed/found helpful.

Writing an informative review: include these things

  • I enjoy when reviewers mention their experience with the genre of the book. Do they read a lot in the book’s genre, or are they new to it? If they’ve read a few books–or many– how does this book stack up against what’s typical? What makes it stand out?
  • Personally, I love reviews that include a short plot summary. One that avoids spoilers but describes the overall tone and the concept of the story in a way that’s a little different from the book’s official description.
  • I also enjoy when reviews go into describing a favorite character or two. What are they like? Why did you like them? What about them will stick with you? For me as a reader, character is what it’s all about!
  • A great review, of course, will also describe what a reader liked about the story. Was characterization great? Dialogue? Was the plot exceedingly engaging? Did descriptive passages blow you away? Some combination of these?
  • Some info about what the weak points. What were they? Were they a real problem, or not? Did they ruin the experience, or barely interfere?
  • Who do you think would enjoy this book? What kind of people? Fans of what other well-known works? What group of people would you especially recommend this book to as a must-read?

So, authors: what do you love to see in a review? What do you loathe?

Reviewers: am I forgetting anything that you routinely make sure to include in your reviews?

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56 responses to “What every prospective reader (and every writer) loves in a review

  1. Thanks Victoria, these are good tips for me. I do some reviewing regularly and this will help. For a while I’ve added some info on my own readership to every review – perhap I should continue doing that, although there’s of course a difference between reviewing on Amazon and my own blog. On my blog people can see what kind of reader I am I suppose. I do have my doubts about the plot bit though – many reviews on Amazon are cluttered by plot info. I try to be as brief as I can about the plot so I can focus mainly on the “reader’s experience”. But I’m keeping your tips in mind!

    • I don’t think a plot summary should be the focus of a review, for sure. Personally, I enjoy a sentence or two describing the concept of the novel, but I can definitely understand why some people don’t like plot summaries and choose to avoid them for a variety of reasons (including spoilers.)

      I feel you’re dead on to focus on the reader’s experience. Keep reviewing, for sure! πŸ™‚

  2. Most of the reviews I’ve had are by people I know… So I don’t really believe them :P. The rest have been critiques, which are good for writing, but not really a review. I suppose I just like to hear they’ve actually read it – So a mention of specific parts the person does or doesn’t like is always good. People taking the time to read my stuff is compliment enough.

    I really like reading reviews. I find a review that includes a lot of negatives, but winds up being a recommendation to be far more convincing than “ThIz BoOk iz aWezome bUy it Kgo!” It feels like the person has taken a very critical look at the story, and found it to be worthy.

    I might be alone in that, though.

    • I think you’re right here. πŸ™‚ At least, I agree!!! It’s very heartening to me, as a writer, when someone can say,” I didn’t like this aspect, but I still enjoyed the book. The writing and the story were strong enough overall that I still enjoyed it and I think you will to.” That can be encouraging.

  3. I honestly hate when people add “summaries” More often than not they can’t write one without giving a bunch of the story away… at least that has been my experience… so I don’t like to read them. That said, I do like when people say what works for them and what doesn’t… did they like the premise of the book? did the end meet their satisfaction?

    Yes I am going to answer all those questions differently than another reviewer, but I like to see how we saw the book differently!

    • that’s very true, what you say here. Writing a good summary–one that discusses the concept of the story in a general way without going into the plot in too much detail–is very difficult. I can definitely understand why summaries bug you in reviews.

      And I agree it’s great to see what other people think about a book. That was one of my favorite aspects of grad school in the humanities, arguing about the literature with my classmates and seeing how their interpretations and reactions were different from mine.

  4. As proof that all readers are different, I’m one of those people who does like a summary (but whiteravensoars’ reasons for not liking them make a lot of sense and I totally respect her view).

    I’m a picky reader so sometimes the summary tells me of a theme or a genre twist that turns me off the book and I’m much prefer to know that information before I purchase rather than after.

    I’m happy for reviewers to go into a book’s weak points as long as they keep their comments focused on the book and don’t start labelling the writer in some way (e.g. ‘what was he thinking when he wrote this?’). But that’s a personal preference.

    I’ll have to come back to your list when I’m writing my next review and see what I’m missing. Thanks! πŸ™‚

    • I love your points here, Jessica. Especially about discussing a book’s weak points in a respectful, open way without attacking the writer or insulting the writer. I can’t stand when people do that, and I feel so bad for the writers when that happens!

      While people have criticized my novel pretty harshly, I have to say no one has ever said anything to insult me in a review, and I’m grateful for that.

    • I totally agree with you, I really dislike when people start attacking the author just because they did not enjoy a book! There is no reason for that, because everyone enjoys different things!
      Just because I don’t like something about a book doesn’t mean someone else wont love it!

  5. I enjoy summaries, as long as it’s not a recap of what is already said on the back of the book– I’d probably enjoy hearing about the characters WAY more while reading a review. Oh? Mr. X is wickedly funny? The protagonist doesn’t seem like he guzzled forty protein shakes and can save the world just because he believes in himself? Fantastic! I want to read this book!

    It’s such a scary experience getting a bad review. I have a short story out right now, and I’ve put about 600 copies of it out into the ether through KDP, and have gotten five reviews so far, four of which were from friends. The anonymous review sent me souring. My friends rated me well, but they were totally honest in their reviews, which I really appreciated.

    It’s good to get a full range of reviews though. I can use these to better understand what people want and expect out of my writing, and as a reader, sometimes I really count on the negative reviews to decide whether I’m going to put my faith in a book. I recently bought a book that was rated 4 stars on Amazon and was so disillusioned by the end I realized that the negative reviews were the most truthful. Not always the case, but if I had read those few reviews before buying, I might not have bought it, and then the author would have had one less bad review. So, in a way, bad reviews can be really good for you, by steering away all of the people that won’t like your book!

    • *soaring. Darn it.

    • Very good point! There always will be people who won’t like your book. That’s just a fact of life. If it takes a couple of bad reviews to give those people the heads up not to read it, then that’s worth the price in the long run.

      • I totally agree with you two. That’s a great benefit of a bad review I hadn’t considered. A well-written bad review can definitely help people outside your target audience realize the book is not their cup of tea.

    • Reading about characters in a review is the best! πŸ™‚ I agree it’s good to read a full range of reviews when considering buying a novel.

      Bad reviews on my work are definitely hard. I have a couple myself that really set me doubting myself for a couple days. I have over 30 reviews now from amazon and goodreads, and a small number aren’t positive. I just tell myself not everyone is going to like my book and try to learn from legitimate points of criticism when I find them πŸ™‚

  6. I love to see details of why they loved or hated the book. Favorite characters and scenes are always appreciated because that can help me figure out what I did right. I’m not a fan of the vague praise and the vague hate. If someone writes ‘Greatest book ever!’ or ‘Worst book and the author should die!’ and it feels like they’re just trying to reach the 20-word minimum then it’s a little irking. I enjoyed the cartoon ‘The Critic’ where the review was many times ‘It Stinks!’, but that’s just a cartoon and not a viable review.
    What’s the definition of thick-skinned exactly? A lot of people I talk to act like it’s the ability to shrug off all criticism and negativity, but authors are human and rather emotional humans at that. Is it even possible to reach that level of nothing can phase me?
    Congrats on the big free download weekend. Hopefully it leads to a lot of good reviews.

    • I think thick-skinned doesn’t mean you shrug it off completely. I can never do that. Nor would I want to. I’ve received a few nuggets of great feedback in bad reviews I can use to grow as a writer and even to improve the respective novel when I’m able to seek out an editor or put out a second edition.

      I think thick-skinned means you take the time to evaluate the criticism. Do other people tell you the same thing? Do you have seven good reviews saying something completely different? If that’s the case, then maybe the book you wrote just isn’t this reader’s thing, and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer.

  7. I’ve reviewed a few books I’ve bought from Amazon but I’m by no means an expert so this post was very helpful. I am wary of plot summaries and have generally avoided writing them for fear of inadvertently including a spoiler or, more likely, giving away more of the plot than some readers would like.

  8. A thoughtful review is the most valuable to me as an author, no matter what the rating. Fortunately I’ve only gotten 1 bad (1*) review, and it wasn’t one of the trolls, it was a real review. I know not everyone is going to like my books, so as long as it’s legit, that’s ok. It’s like that old saying, “It takes 3 compliments to outweigh a criticism.” As long as most of the reviews are 3-5*, I’m fine.

    As a reader, I rarely read reviews of books. (I read reviews of products much more often.) I can’t even remember going to a blog or other source to find a longer review of a book. I read the back, read some inside, and decide. I’ve gotten a few stinkers, but overall, I know what I like in a story, what I like in characterization and writing style, and am rarely swayed by the opinion of others before buying. I guess that makes me stubborn?! πŸ˜€

    • I too don’t always read reviews before buying a book. Usually I know I want to read the book before I buy it, because someone recommended it by word of mouth or something. Or I know the author to some extent and want to read their work. Reviews don’t affect whether or not I’m going to buy a book in that instance.

      I totally agree a writer needs to put the bad reviews in perspective. If the good ones greatly outnumber the bad, that’s a sign you’re doing something right.

  9. As someone who reviews books for both authors and publishers upon request (honest reviews, though) you’re forgetting one thing: full disclosure. I don’t know how many reviewers do this, but every reviewer who receives a book/ebook from a source other than buying it themselves, having a friend lend it to them or borrowing it from a library should say where they got it from. NetGalley? A publisher? The book’s own author?

    Full disclosure is very important for me because although I accept books from other sources, all my reviews are honest. If I can tell people where I got my books from, they can hold me to account if it seems like I’m always giving authors 5/5 stars because they give me print copies of their books (just for one example). Being accountable is very important for all scrupulous reviewers.

    • oh my gosh, YES. Thank you: this is so important. Full disclosure is vital!!! Like you say, it’s important for scrupulous reviewers because their reviews are honest and they have nothing to hide concerning their relationship to the author/book in question.

  10. I agree with others that reviews can be both scary and exciting. One thing I’ve learned is that no book is for everyone and not everyone is going to like your book – just like you don’t like every book you’ve read. As for criticizing authors, yeah I’ve seen some reviews where someone would say, “I wanted to slap xxxx for doing this!” Yikes! That hasn’t happened to me…yet!

    • I’m so glad that hasn’t happened!!! There’s just no reason for making things personal against the author. A reviewer can most certainly criticize a book, and criticize it a lot, but to progress to attacking the author isn’t only wrong, but it makes a reviewer look like he doesn’t have the chops to legitimately critique a book on its merit.He can only resort to ad hominem assaults. Even if that’s not true, that appearance is given.

  11. HI Victoria! Loved this post and it will help me tremendously because you included some things that I have been missing in my reviews that I can incorporate..Thanks so much! The only thing that I would add is to make sure to include a nice readable image of the book cover. I made that mistake of not doing it when I first started. After I started doing that with a medium size shot rather than just a thumbnail, it got the reader’s attention. It also helps them find it when browsing. They will remember it. I have actually had readers tell me that they have purchased the book from the memorable cover. That would be a great reminder for your books as well. I haven’t had a chance to read them, but I would want to just by seeing the covers..they are so eye-catching. Best of luck in your reviews. I’m sure they will be glowing! πŸ™‚

    • thanks, Rebecca! That’s a wonderful tip for book bloggers, to really highlight the cover of a book they’re reviewing!

      My cover designer is so talented!!! I was really lucky to find him, because I love the work he did. πŸ™‚

  12. Just my personal opinion, but one of the main factors of being a good reviewer is knowing when to shut up and not say any more. Nothing ruins a good review or a good book faster than someone who lets a major plot point fly in their review without a spoiler warning. I am always cautious about what I say and how I word it.

  13. I have just begun to write some reviews so this was very helpful for me. I was worried about what exactly to include in my reviews, how much of the plot if any and how much of my personal views on the characters I liked or disliked. It’s good to hear an author specify what they want to read in a review.
    Personally, when someone reviews my work, I dislike it when all they say is ‘that was great or that was good’ or ‘well written.’ I like details because it shows they read it and didn’t just skim over it or are just being nice. Having said that, I would rather hear nice simple things than nothing at all.

    • Glad the post was helpful! I agree: a detailed good review is so wonderful! There’s nothing better. I definitely appreciate any reader taking the time to say they enjoyed my novel, but to hear why is so helpful when it comes to improving my writing and knowing what my strengths are.

  14. My goal was to get at least 6 reviews before my free promotion. I’ve got seven 5 start reviews. Those reviews were all from people who actually purchased the book. Some of those reviews gave me goose bumps. Tomorrow is my free promotion. I’m going to do it for two days in a row. We’ll see what happens!

    • oh, that’s amazing, Toni!!!! Congrats, and best of luck!!! πŸ™‚ I”ll have to drop by and see whether I could benefit from the goodies you’re giving πŸ™‚ Smart move getting reviews beforehand. People will be more likely to download knowing your book is legit.

  15. I cannot express how much I needed to read this post from you. It helped me so much because I do write short reviews but after reading this I will start anew. πŸ˜‰ Thank you so much!! Have a wonderful week.

  16. I started reading this post as an author, who anxiously checks his Amazon page each morning to see if any new reviews came in overnight. But then I continued to read the post as a reviewer, because I enjoy reading books and writing reviews. I post my reviews at The Times of Israel and on my personal blog, as well as on Amazon and Goodreads. Sometimes I wonder if I am including in my reviews everything that needs to be said about a book. Thank you for giving me pointers to utilize as a reviewer. (I will be thinking about them as an author as well).

    • you’re welcome! I too anxiously check my amazon page each morning to see if a new review has come in. I HATE that moment when I see I have a new one but I can’t yet determine its rating. I get so terrified it’ll be a bad one!

  17. Good article, Victoria, I’m sharing it. I also don’t bother much with plot because it’s there in the book profile and other reviewers have already included it, usually in great detail. I like to quote a good phrase or line to justify comments about writing skill or character descrip, and I also mention the level of violence, sex, and profanity, because I appreciate knowing that myself before I read.

    • Thanks for sharing! I love what you say about a quote: oh my gosh, I didn’t think to include that in my article and that’s FABULOUS to see in any review. Ranking the level of violence, sex, and profanity is also helpful to prospective readers, for sure. I appreciate your thoughtful comments!!!

  18. Thanks for this. Through my blog I’ve been trying to review most books that I read (mostly non-fiction on paranormal/spiritual topics). I kind of enjoy it. Any pointers for NF reviews?

    • hmmm…. for non-fiction it’s nice to know how deep the content delves as well as whether it’s presented in a way that’s easy to understand. That should be the key for a non-fiction book (unless it’s literary non-fiction, of course. Something like a memoir.) I have to say my spirituality is limited to orthodoxy, so I don’t think I’ve read the kinds of books you’re talking about if they’re non-fiction paranormal.

  19. Good post! I wondered if anyone was talking about what makes a good non- or semi-professional review. I got one yesterday (don’t ask, don’t read it, please) for my novel that told the ENTIRE plot, including every possible spoiler. So disappointing after spending years revising to increase the tension and then someone who happened to get a free book does that. I don’t even mind the few negatives – that’s the reviewer’s right (even if I could tell the book wasn’t read very carefully, as at least one of those negatives wasn’t factually correct). Makes the author feel so helpless to have those spoilers out there.

    As a reviewer myself, I would never give away anything crucial. What I like to do is focus on what’s unusual or creative about the book, as that’s the focus of my blog “Creating in Flow.” I keep it personal: why this book appealed to me enough to write about it, including what seemed lacking if something bothered me.

    • Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry a reviewer spoiled your book that way!!! People should know better. Why give everything away like that? It’s awful!!!

      I’ve never had that happen, and I don’t know how I’d respond if it did. I’d be crushed. 😦 I hope your future reviews pan out better, in that they’re better written!!! 😦 There’s a major difference between commenting on the genre and basic concept of what the story’s about–say a love story set during the Civil War–and giving away ALL the spoilers.

      • Thanks for the sympathy! This was truly outrageous. I figure more reviews will eventually make this one not show up very high on any searches. And it will make me even more aware of writing respectful reviews myself!

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  22. Great tips! I’d like to read less about the plot and more about what the reviewer thought about the book, in general. A quick summary is alright, but don’t go on for too long!

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