Tuesday, 1 September 2015


The last couple of posts here have been book reviews. This isn’t a book review site, but sometimes there’s something that seems really relevant or grabs my attention, and then I may write about it.

It’s an odd thing, this desire to review other people’s books. After all, why should any of you care what I think? Yet book review sites are popular. Even in the old, non-digital, world, newspapers carry book reviews. (My wife loves to read them because she says it saves having to read the books.) So, obviously, there are people who are interested in what reviewers write. My blog statistics suggest that some of you even care what I write, so, if you are one of them, thanks for reading.

Some people might suggest that the last thing the world needs is more book reviews, but they’d be wrong. The joy of digital publishing is that there are more books out there than ever before. The trouble is that sorting the gold from the dross is becoming nearly impossible. There used to be a fond notion that you could rely on publishers, but even big publishers have started to turn out some very questionable stuff when they see the possibility of riding a trend and making loadsamoney and there are some extraordinarily good books that are self-published. (Jodi Taylor, whose books I keep raving about and who is now published by Accent, started by publishing them herself and giving them away.) So when people try to sort good books from bad, they increasingly turn to reviews to help them. And, for better or worse, the reviews they turn to are the ones on Amazon. (You can review books on Goodreads too, but the most commercially important is – love it or hate it – Amazon.)

Amazon reviews matter. They matter a lot. Not only are potential readers attracted by positive reviews, but the robots that decide which books Amazon recommends check the ratings as well. The more reviews you have, the more Amazon recommends your book, and those recommendations are vital if anyone outside your immediate circle of friends (or you lovely people reading my blog) are going to find your book. There are well over a million books on Kindle: people are unlikely to come across yours purely by chance.

Readers have told me that they like my books but they are not sure how to go about posting a review on Amazon. It really is easy. You do need an Amazon account, but it doesn’t matter if you bought the book from Amazon. Go to the page for the book and under the title (next to the star rating) you will see that it says how many reviews it has. That's a clickable link. Click on it and it will take you to the reviews. There, right underneath the bar chart showing how many people have given it whatever star rating, it asks you to rate the book and write a review.

One thing that you really need to know about the rating system is that Amazon class four and five-star reviews as positive and one, two or three star reviews as negative. This drives lots of people nuts if, like me, you feel that a three star review means that the book was just fine, but nothing special. It's worth knowing, though, that as far as Amazon are concerned you are saying that you didn't like the book. If that's what you meant to say, that's okay, but if you did like it, then do give it a four or five star rating. It would be lovely if everybody read your reviews rather than just judged on the rating, but research suggests that if a book is going to sell, it has to have a rating of four stars or above. Three star reviews that say "approaches that ranks of Sarah Waters in storytelling” (and, yes, that has happened to me) are particularly frustrating.

As to the review itself, just write what you feel. Something a little more than, “This was a really good book,” is going to be more helpful to your readers, but any review is better than silence. Amazon used to have a minimum length for book reviews, but they seem to have dropped this, so short and sweet works well. (Or short and bitterly acerbic, if that's how you feel.) People tend not to read very long reviews anyway.

Publishing reviews lets you share your opinions with other readers. It's a nice thing to do for the community at large and the single best thing that you can do for writers – short of buying multiple copies of their books and giving them to everybody you know. (We’re into September now, so it's not too early to start thinking about Christmas presents.)

Writing reviews is also one way of making contact with authors. I'd love for you to write to me through the comments space at the end of this blog, but not that many people do. One of the ways I can find out what my readers are thinking is to look at their reviews. Some authors claim never to do this (though I'm not sure that I believe them), but I do read my reviews. I welcome all feedback on my work, either here, or on Amazon, or Goodreads. Oscar Wilde said, "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about." When it comes to book reviews, he was definitely right.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Tom. It opened my eyes. I had no idea Amazon considered anything less than 4/5 stars as negative. I am not good at writing reviews as I never feel qualified to dissect a piece of work and then rate it. Just lack of confidence I am sure. I am always thrilled if someone likes what I have written and if they post a review I am like a kid at Christmas, so I do understand what it means to others to get feedback. I do my bit by trying to connect with other authors, sharing their links when I like something they've done, and commenting on FB etc. I've even hosted a few on my WordPress author page (interviews and features)...so I do try. I guess I need to overcome my temerity and go for it. :)