It’s a common thing you hear from writers at all levels: if you liked a book, leave a review. In fact, this picture by a fellow Harper Voyager author has gotten around quite a bit on Twitter and Facebook.
But what if you didn’t love the book? Or, even worse, what if you didn’t like it at all, or hated it? Well, I’m not going to tell you how to write a review or what you should put in it. That’s something for you to decide. Personally, I tend to keep my negative reviews (and I’ve done a few) straightforward. I just say what I didn’t like: I couldn’t connect with the characters, the story line didn’t hook me, I had trouble following the plot, etc. But even if you didn’t like the book, you should still leave a review.
Let me repeat that. Yes, you should leave a review, even if it’s going to be a bad one.
Now obviously there are people who have no problem doing that. Yes, some reviews can get ugly, and that’s just part of the business. I wrote about that here when an author on Goodreads replied to a review. No, this blog post isn’t for those people. They’re leaving reviews and for that, I sincerely thank them. Yes, I just thanked people for leaving ugly reviews.
Here’s why. All reviews help sell books. Yes, you read that right. Studies show that books with only positive reviews don’t always sell as well as books with mixed reviews (though usually with a positive average). Negative reviews show potential readers that real people (not bots, or just the author’s friends and family) have read the book. No one, not even us starry-eyed authors, expects everyone to like our stories. Of course we’d love it if they did, but we know that isn’t going to happen. So if you’re worried about hurting our feelings, thanks, but don’t be. I promise we’ll be okay. We have other writers, friends, family, beer, and chocolate to give us solace. If you’re worried about hurting sales, again, don’t be. As I said, you’ll actually help. Not to mention that most authors I know try to approach negative reviews as a chance to learn. Obviously we’d go insane (or more insane) if we tried to adjust our writing for every bad review, but if there’s a criticism that readers keep bringing up, it helps to shine a light on something specific we can reflect on and possibly use to help us grow as artists. I say this speaking from personal experience. Like I said in my last post, here, it wasn’t until my first book came out that I saw the tropes and stereotypes I was using. You can’t improve without seeing both what you’re doing well and not so well, and I know I always want to be improving my craft.
Here’s something else you might not know. Amazon.com, and probably Barnes and Noble as well, use an algorithm to look at how many reviews a book has. When it reaches a certain number (there is considerable debate over what that number is, and Amazon isn’t sharing) it starts showing up on the recommended books section of users’ screens. This is a HUGE benefit to authors and can mean the difference between drowning in a veritable sea of books or standing out enough that someone sees it and buys it.
Yes, I realize all this could come back to haunt me. It’s entirely possible that people who were holding off on bad reviews will suddenly come out of the woodwork and my book ratings will plummet. That’s okay, I’ll deal with it. Like wise, it’s entirely possible there is now a Kickstarter campaign with the sole purpose of hiring someone to kill me. Please don’t contribute to it. But, please, review the books you read. You don’t need to leave long reviews, and they don’t have to be glowing. In fact, the only thing a review should be is honest. You owe that to yourself, to other readers, and even to the author. Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, wherever, just please, pretty please (with sugar on top) leave a review.