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The book review. It is often the instrument used to spear the author’s dinner and then also spear the author. It is the author’s bread and butter and also the mold that rots the bread. It is the elevator to the top and the escalator to the basement. Are you tiring of my analogies yet? My point here is that authors heavily rely on reviews for their books, although they are definitely a mixed bag. Okay, no more clichés, I promise. Reviews make and break books, but nothing breaks a book harder than no reviews. So let’s start there.

I always extend gratitude to readers for supporting my books. However, they are also hounded regularly to write reviews for my books. When they tell me they read one of my books, I’m slap down the review link so fast that I almost break my mouse. Yes, I could be taking that moment to enjoy a bit of pride that someone read one of my books. I could also be savvy enough to push the next book in the series at this reader who has taken the time to contact me. However, a review is a prized Pokémon and if you collect as many as you can, well, you kind of win. That number next to the review count is more important than the one after the dollar sign. In my experience, readers see high review counts as an indication that the book is enjoyed by most, regardless of the overall rating. Strange, I know. But think about it. From a reader’s perspective, if over a thousand people reviewed a book then there’s got to be something about it worth checking out. So ask readers to review books, both yours and books that you want to succeed.

Now, I’d like to turn my short and often strained focus on how reviews should be written in order to benefit the reader. Yes, authors need reviews to be successful with a book, but readers need them to decide if they are going to purchase. For a review to offer valuable information, it does need to be somewhat objective. Reviewers are free to say whatever they like, but unfortunately I’ve met a few who take the power to their head. 

I once received a one star review that said they couldn’t finish the first chapter of my book. I’m hoping that’s because an earthquake knocked the book from their hands and it fell into a ravine, never to be seen again. And I hope the reader is okay after that natural disaster. However, a book not fully read, or really at all in this case, isn’t one deserving of such a low grade. Reviewers need to put things in perspective. Why couldn’t the reader finish? Did they not connect with the character? Was it just not to their taste? That may be more of a two or three star review. So grading accurately is important here. 

The reviewer who gave my book a one star went on to say the book wasn’t their genre. One star reviews are for books that are awfully written. They are for books that have no storylines. The best reviews are ones that point out what worked and what didn’t. They are ones that aren’t abusive or insulting. Reviews that offer the reader simple pros and cons, give them a chance to make an informed purchase. Was the story executed in a way that was enjoyable? Was it a fast read? Did it stay with you? Would you recommend? And if not, why? Give something that your fellow readers can work with. My point here is that reviews need to be constructive, not abusive. I won’t even tell you about the review I got that involved memes of people getting sick. Oh wait, I just did. 

Reviewer, you hold an important power. The opportunity to share your experiences while you were in the company of a book. It won’t always be a pleasant account. Hopefully often it is full of entertainment. Regardless, share your experience in order to benefit all. Reviews matter. They matter for the author and the reader.


by Sarah Noffke  (TopShelf Columnist)

Twitter @RealSarahNoffke / SarahNoffke.com