Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reader Reviews Revisited

While compiling some of my best reader and critical reviews for a new section on this website, my thoughts returned to a previous post about what I think makes a good review. The gist of that post was this: Short reviews are fine for average readers and they can still do a ton to help with the credibility of a book, helping an audience find that book and making the author aware of how they're doing in terms of producing stories people want to read.

Certainly, critics and bloggers need to go a little further than sharing only short, snappy reviews because their readers appreciate having a more robust explanation of why a book was good or not. But readers rule the roost. Most often, in this digital age, a potential reader will happen across a book page on a seller's website and peruse the reader reviews long before they'll stumble across a review at their local newspaper's website or even on a book blog.

I'll highlight a recent reader review of one of my own novels, a short one that I find hits the mark, even though it isn't very long or involved. This one's for my latest novel, THALO BLUE and I felt it captured the spirit of the book, explained why the reader liked it but didn't re-hash any plot for potential spoilers:

You WILL get hooked, and be begging for more...Here is why you should read this book. If you can handle paying attention to detail, and you like a book that's a little complex, you will enjoy this. If you like a story that stays with you throughout the day, nagging at you until you can sneak back to read a bit more..You will LOVE this! If you crave a story you cant figure out two chapters in...Baby, this story will drive you WILD! I think Jason McIntyre is just what you need...what we all need, when taking a break from reality. Thalo Blue, Get it, read it, thank him when you're done. :-)

For me, this is an effective, short, to-the-point review -- aside from the fact that the reader loves the book and that, as its creator, makes me feel like a million dollars. Again, this kind of reader review can be approached in a much different way than a critical review or a blog review because it's done by a reader. There are no rules for this kind of short, snappy, eye-catching review and this reader took the opportunity to have fun with it but still cover a few basic things that potential readers will probably appreciate:

1. It has a title that is more than just the name of the book. This reader wanted to catch other readers' attention and did so.

2. It begins with a very simple invitation to learn more: "Here's why you should read this."

3. It explains how the book will appeal to you IF you like certain things. ie. Complexity, intrigue that pulls you back to keep reading.

4. There is no re-statement of the plot. If this is on a website like Amazon, Sony or Apple's iBookstore, the book will already have a blurb written by the publisher. If it's done well, there's no need for Joe or Jane Reader to even touch plot details.

So, what do you think makes a good reader review? If there's some interest here, I may come back and do another post on blogger reviews and how they can be different and informative without offering spoilers or heaping praise that make it sound like nothing more than the review of a book by the blogger's best friend.


  1. Well, that sparked an extremely long, thoughtful comment in me (LOL). Starting over . .

    I'd like to get this type of review from an average reader too. The sentiment of "Buy this book, I liked it, you will too" is most appealing to my writers ego.

    But honestly Jason, as a reader, I wouldn't buy the book off the review. Just cuz one reader liked it doesn't mean I will. I would want to know what specifically the reader enjoyed about the novel.

    Unless this reviewer was Stephen King or Dean Koontz, then I might buy the book b/c they are horror writers and if they liked the book, and I like them as writers, then I know I'll enjoy the book if they did, without any further details of what appealed to them.

    But, I'm not just a reader anymore. Perhpas I've always been a writer at heart, b/c I've never been satisfied with a simple "this is good" review (not even on a Stephen King book).

    There's been a lot of talk around the blogs about what an acceptable review is from a fellow blogger and aspiring/inde pubbed author should look like. Probably because of ABNA, and the invitation to post reviews on posted excerpts in the create space preview gallery. But also because there are so many self published authors on the blogs.

    Some of the "reviews" (at ABNA) have been more like critiques. Not acceptable at all to the majority of authors. Some nasty things being said in a couple of those discussion threads.

    (I don't mind, I appreciate all feedback, even if the reader didn't like it. Usually those that don't like a story are more detailed in what turned them off and its easier to make a decision if you will make changes based on the opinion.)

    Where am I going with this comment you ask? I'm not sure; you got me thinking too much in another direction (lol).

    I do not think, however, that "authors" - aspiring or published in any medium - can be "just readers" to fellow bloggers. A review posted by a well patronized blogger can pull a lot of weight in the blogger community.

    But does that have any effect on sales in the general public? I don't know. I haven't published a novel; yet. I'm waiting for the mythical Agent to notice me . .


  2. You ask some valid and big questions here, Donna.

    I think my intent with this post, and the preceding one, is to warm the cold waters for average readers who have never written a book review on a site like Amazon before. They think they need to write pages and pages of literary criticism (which is fine for critics, bloggers, fellow writers and the like) but definitely not a requirement -- in my opinion.

    No question, Donna, the short review I included in the post is a major ego stroke. It feels good as a writer to get these cheerleaders. Is that I why I highlighted it here? Nope. I'd like to show that a simple review of a couple sentences that doesn't necessarily get at anything deeper about the book is perfectly fine. Readers can feel free to say anything they want.

    As a reader, I still appreciate this kind of review too. It might not make me buy the book based on that one review, but chatter is chatter. It can be additive and cumulative to the consciousness of a readership, even if, on its own, its not very specific.

    I believe that you're right: one of these kinds of reviews is not going to make me buy the book either. Two or three of them probably won't either. But if it's an indie book (which always have a harder time garnering reviews and sales anyway) then fifty short reviews like this with decent star grades will aggregate into a somewhat more meaningful picture of the book.

    Imagine what a hundred and fifty would look like to the average potential reader. Or three hundred.

    I sell hundreds of books and have, to date, a few hundred reviews across the many vendor sites where my books are sold. Imagine if a fraction more of my readership felt comfy enough to give a star rating and a couple sentences about the fact that they liked my story. Imagine what that would do for me and for countless other authors.

    Thanks for your comment! Like I said, you raise a ton of good points and I may tackle my thoughts on some of them in a future post.

  3. I rarely read reviews and dont tend to write them. I find most of the reviews too detailed, too long, and more about the reviewer than the book by the time its done. Tell me WHY I want to read the book, not names, dates, plots, and a timeline. Let me have the pleasure of getting to know the characters without your opinion of how well "developed" they were seeping through and tainting my story. I'm not a writer, I don't even play one on TV. I am just a reader with yet another opinion.

  4. I tend to agree, Anon. Somebody recently said or wrote, "Hey, it's not a book report. You're not getting graded on how well YOU read it."

    Thanks for your comment!

  5. Great post, my friend. One thing I feel compelled to add, is that reader reviews are the most important factor, in regard to an author's success. That four or five extra minutes a reader may spend to offer a summation of our work is the greatest gift we, as writers, can receive. These "testimonials" give our efforts weight and validation...something that "talking our own game" can never achieve. As I writer, I'm always so appreciative when someone commits a block of time from their busy lives to read my work, but that extra little chunk of time spent to share what they thought about the story is the greatest gift of all. Readers...thank you in advance. Your commitment means the world to our careers. The ability to successfully pursue our passion lays squarely in your capable hands.

  6. Al, I do agree that all it might take is three or four minutes for a reader to offer something extremely valuable and meaningful to the writer of a book: their review.

    However, for me, the verdict is still out on whether a whack of reviews is the main reason that a book is successful or not. They're important, no questions. I think, in the early stages, positive 'ice breaker' reviews can get more eyes on it, but it's tough for me to see any cause-effect value between lots of great reviews and equally big sales numbers.

    We've all seen those books with 150 mixed reviews that are selling incredibly well and showing up in all the top sales lists, despite getting a great number of 1-stars and 2-stars plus readers who clearly hated it.

    To me, it appears as if the sales come first based on the attention the book and author receive elsewhere, and then, a burgeoning number of reviews crop up, usually proportionate to the number of sales. Not the other way around.

    At any rate, thanks for your comment, kind sir!

  7. Mr McIntyre, I agree to an extent, however, there is the new "trending" of social media to consider. Could one not argue that "trending" is now a factor to consider when seeking an increase in popularity and public awareness? If you have enough people chatting about your work with your name attached, it can bring about an increase, albeit small, at the beginning, compounding dramatically and swiftly as in the recent case of Singer (?) Rebecca Black...just food for thought.. Rock on Word Warrior

  8. Absolutely agree, Kimba. The trending or 'chatter' of social media and really every form of socialization can make or break a book/movie/album early on...or down the line from a release. Certainly, a pile of reviews, good or bad can add to or subtract from the greater pile.

    I suppose I was just wondering out loud if reviews on their own could truly be considered the biggest help towards sales success. I believe it's all part of a bigger puzzle that fits together to help drive attention to the creator's work.

    Thanks for your comment!

  9. Jason, in my opinion, the biggest factor in sales success, SUSTAINED sales success, is quality driven demand. I believe word of mouth and publicity can create immediate success. However, the success I assume authors want is a loyal fan base that will buy each book without fail within a day or two of publication. That is achieved by giving the reader a standard of quality they can trust and will expect. Again, this is all my opinion, bloggers yes important, reviews perhaps, publicity always, but the ability of the writer to work his magic on the reader is the key. Take care, kimba

  10. Jason, I'm kind of on the fence about this. I know some writers spend a lot of energy trying to accumulate reviews before the book ever goes live, with the hope that great reviews will generate sales, or move up their ranking within Amazon. Personally, I tend to be wary of a new book with numerous 4/5 star reviews. To me, this appears, for lack of a better word, coerced.

    Sure, it's a great pleasure to get feedback from readers, good or bad (OK, who am I kidding? Good's better), but if they were to write reviews and post them to Amazon, would it help move my sales? Not sure. I still think the more important aspect to sales is developing relationships with readers, other authors, and getting the word out there as often as you can without being completely annoying about it.

    Like you, I think there is a connection between good reviews and sales, just don't know to what degree. I'm just grateful to get them.

    As for what I think makes a good reader review? The most important elements - sincerity and genuineness. Not all readers are writers, so I don't expect them to write a review to try and sell my book, but instead, if they express their enjoyment for the book in some way, stating a particular chapter/scene/character that touched them, then I think that goes a long way. The rest is really up to the author.

    Great post, btw,

  11. Eden, we are officially fencing! I share wonderment on this issue of how valuable reviews are to generating sales. Pre-launch reviews that all glow with nothing but goodness and five stars do paint a dubious picture. Even ones after the fact are suspect if there's no criticism in the bunch.

    You have a good point about readers not being writers and the fact that sincerity plays a key role in whether a review will spark not only the writer's happiness about it but also other readers' attention to possibly buying and reading.

    You raise another interesting point. I believe you are correct when you say developing a relationship with readers is key. But you also lump other writers in there. I have to pose this now: does developing a relationship with other writers really help sell books? Sure, if Stephen King drops a blurb about the Hunger Games onto the back cover of Suzanne Collins book, millions of people buy it.

    But will a blurb from Jason McIntyre on the back of Eden Baylee's book do a darn thing to sell it? If Jason McIntyre talks up Baylee's book to his Twitter friends, will that create a surge in sales? If two hundred writers at Jason McIntyre's level do something similar, will that blast sales skyward?

    Thanks for your comment -- my pleasure that you were able to stop by!

  12. Kimba, shine on you crazy diamond! Like Eden and you, I agree that creating this comfort zone with readers is vital to any author's success. If a reader believes I'm going to hit it out of the park next time they will stick with me, I think, and give me quite a few chances. At least, that's the golden hope!

    As always, thanks for your thoughts!

  13. So, I was off to bed, and then I had to check Twitter again, damn, now I'm back here! Will a good review from Jason McIntyre sell my book? That is the question.
    My answer: I don’t think it will hurt.

    Reviews and sales likely have a circuitous relationship, metaphorically like a “perfect storm.” If the stars are perfectly aligned, I’ve got 56 great reviews, and I just tweeted out for the 1085th time that my book is on sale, then KABOOM! My sales will start skyrocketing!

    I’d just hope the one constant or defining fact about great sales is the book is at least well-written, but as we all know, that’s not even the case.

    The duel continues.

    Good night,

  14. A good night's rest shall be your first en garde, Eden.

    Who knows what that 'secret ingredient' in the 'secret ingredient soup' may be. I suspect the tipping point is different for each success story. We just try adding spices and tasting. Add some more, then taste. Then, hopefully, we don't over-do it and make everyone at the table sick.

    Enough of my rambling metaphors. I need to join Eden in bed. Whoops.

    We all know what I meant. (And I know she'll get a kick out of the double entrendre. En garde!)

  15. Ok, so this is my first big laugh for a Monday morning, thanks Jason! And I love your rambling metaphors, illustrates the point perfectly.

    I guess you know that wordplay is akin to foreplay in my books (this is so bad, but it's still early!)

    Hope today is the start of a great week for you.


  16. Thanks, Eden! Wordplay akin to foreplay? For all of us writers and readers out here in the Reaches, that sounds so incredibly hawt!

  17. Ha! It is Jason, and I'm sure you know better than most how seductive words can be, so before this conversation goes x-rated, I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

    After all, foreplay without a satisfying conclusion is like reading a book with the last chapter missing ...very frustrating. ;)

  18. Yes, words can be incredibly seductive (as you know full well, Eden!) which is likely why I spend so much time on this issue of reviews.

    I don't believe a bad reader review can kill the desire for another person to pick up a book. But I do believe a short, well-written, and even seductive group of reviews -- that offers more of a 'feeling' about the story and less of a 'paint-by-number' text dump -- can definitely do the opposite: turn a fence-sitter into a reader of that particular work.

    Thanks so much for the extended dialogue on this, Eden.


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