1, 4 or 5 Stars: Why to Review Right Now
September 7, 2021 § 32 Comments
You can do something for me today. For every author you know. For even the authors you don’t. An act of literary citizenship that takes 7-10 minutes. Sure, you can spend time and/or money to be a literary citizen—hosting events, blogging, editing or reading for a journal—or contribute gently to your community by giving thoughtful feedback in your own writing group. But to actually help authors sell books, for free, right now:
Write a review.
Not “pitch a review to a literary publication,” although that’s great, too. Not “write a 900-word blog post balancing serious critique with just enough praise.” Not “read the book twice for fairness and highlight quotes and eventually put something up in a couple of months.” Just write and post a short review, right away.
- Write a review of 3-10 sentences. Maybe quote one line you really liked.
- Post to Amazon, where you can usually review even books you didn’t buy on Amazon. Copy your review before hitting “submit.”
- Paste the review to Goodreads. (Goodreads accepts reviews even before the publication date, allowing for ARCs or having read the manuscript.)
Feeling ambitious, or you like the author? Take a photo of the book or the cover on your screen. No need to style like #bookstagram—next to your teacup or against your houseplants is fine. Post to your social media. Tag the author so they’ll see it and feel supported and can repost on their own social media…which might get you another couple followers. Citizenship always comes back around. Posting that photo with your Amazon review helps your review show up, and tells the algorithm you own the book (useful if you supported your local indie bookstore).
Should I wait to have time to write something “real”?
Amazon reviews are not serious discussions of literature. They guide buyers on the fence: Look, someone liked something I know I’ll like, too. Buy. Look, someone had an issue with a plot element that’ll bother me, too. Nope. Reviews help algorithms decide how many people will spontaneously see this book. More reviews (the best-guess “magic number” is 50) makes a book show up higher in search results. More people not specifically shopping for that book will see it, and some of them will buy it. Goodreads reviews are often more thoughtful, but review now rather than laboring over a paragraph truly reflecting your literary prowess.
What if I haven’t read the whole book?
Your review is more valuable to your friend than reading their whole book. Think about it: would you rather I email you in six months, “I finally finished your book and I loved it!” Or would you rather I post that sentiment on my socials during your release month, even if I’m not on the last page yet? (Authors: do not pop-quiz your friends on your book. Trust they read what spoke to them and be grateful. If they want to thoroughly discuss your plot choices, they’ll bring it up.)
…Shhh…I didn’t actually like my friend’s book…
Helpful reviews are no stars, four/five stars, or one star.
No stars: Hated the book? Don’t review it. For a friend’s book, pick a sentence you like (there’s one in there somewhere!) and quote it with a photo on social media. Tell your moral compass you’re not recommending the book…you’re observing that it exists, pointing out one good thing, and supporting your friend.
Four/five stars: If you liked the book enough to give your time to review, choose four or five stars. Didn’t like it four stars’ worth? Go back to the no-stars plan. Three stars says, “I think your work is…average.” Two stars says, “Your book sucks, but it didn’t raise my anger or disgust enough for one star.” If you wouldn’t say that to their face, don’t say it with your review.
One star: If a book you regret reading is by a stranger you will never need goodwill from, and it really irritated you, go for that one star! A trash review is better than tepid, as long as you’re specific about what you didn’t like. Your poison may be someone else’s champagne.
You want your friends’ support when it’s your turn. They need your support now. Maybe they’re not even your friend—maybe they’re an author you hope will blurb you one day. The best time to start publicly supporting future blurbers’ work with reviews and social media is two years before you ask them for that favor. The second-best time is now.
If you have time, if you have a mass media or literary venue, by all means read that book like it’s your job. Make extensive notes. Write a beautiful essay placing the book in context with the cultural moment and your own love of literature. But if that’s not what you’re doing, read enough to know what you like and write a quick-but-thoughtful review, right away. What have you read in the last six months? Other than bestsellers, those authors need your reviews. You will make their heart sing that someone, somewhere, recognized their artistic contribution to the world.
I’ve been writing reviews all year, making deposits in the Bank of Goodwill. And oh look, my book is out today! You don’t have to buy it or like it, and I won’t ever hold that against you. Most authors won’t even notice if you don’t review them. But we’ll sure remember it with joy if you do.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!
This is such good advice, Allison! I often think I have to read through the whole book but you’re right, there’s enough in the opening few chapters to get a sense of the book.
Right?!? I finally realized, this is not a chance for me to show off my reviewing skills, just write the darn thing! Took a load off my mind and my TBR pile 🙂
Allison! I don’t reply often, but you leave me gasping for author-citizenship air when I’ve held my breath. This is your usual succinct and brilliant advice. I am reminded, and I have learned. I need to follow you around (or live in your head). Thank you!
Done. (I’m a bit long-winded though.)
Thank you thank you! I’m blushing ❤️
Reblogged this on Site Title.
Great advice- thanks Allison! I am really enjoying the Writer’s Bridge and look forward to reading (and reviewing!) your book.
Thank you so much!!
I made a promise on Twitter recently to buy three memoirs praised in the same review for their wit. I followed through and bought and read all three. Alison, this post gives me a useful to-do of how to go back and review the books myself. They are all so good and so different!
The books: “Black Mountain, Blue Field” by Trey Popp;
“To Hell with It, Of Sin and Sex, Chicken Wings and Dante’s Entirely Ridiculous, Needlessly Guilt-Inducing Inferno” by Dinty Moore;
and “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel.
P.S. Pre-ordered your book too–can’t wait till it arrives!
They sound great!! Gonna look those up for sure!
[…] 1, 4 or 5 Stars: Why to Review Right Now — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]
ordering today- will review-promise
This piece should be posted at every site and store where books are sold.
🙂 Thank you!
Love this, your blog, your guidance on craft, your hand-holding through platform building, and your advocacy for every author’s journey. Here’s a question tho – would you rather have a verified review on Amazon or on Bookshop.org. I’ll leave a review on both, plus GoodReads but still … I gotta buy from somewhere. (ps added your book to my Bookshop.org list that I share with my 400+ writers group.
Thank you soo much! Wherever is the EASIEST for you is just fine 🙂 And I’m proud to be on such a great list!!
I’m so thrilled to have the large-print Special edition. I just randomly open to any page and another little gem spills out. And just like Seven Drafts, this blog post overflows with resplendent wisdom.
Thank you thank you ❤
This post provides good advice that I don’t think is limited to books. On-line publications and the authors who write for them also benefit from (and appreciate) comments. Congratulations on your book.
Bloggers too—nothing makes my day like receiving a comment of any length from a reader.
Thank you! Yes – we all want to know someone is listening!
I attended your session at HippoCamp a few years ago. I was blown away by the energy of your presentation – standard aerialist energy? – and the practical advice you offered with a generous helping of encouragement. I’ve since taken a few of your zoom classes and attended some Bridge sessions. Here’s what I’ve noticed: regardless of the topic, by the end I feel cheered on, recommitted to my writing, with a renewed sense that the writing matters. (Of course, then I need another fix in a matter of weeks.) I pre-ordered your book and look forward to reading it and will review it. It’s the least I can do!
Thank you – I just realized a couple months ago that teaching is indeed what fuels my performer energy now! I am so glad you feel that way–that’s exactly what I hope to inspire!! Thank you ❤
What a helpful how-to for review writing! Can’t wait for your book to arrive so I can put it into practice – both the reviewing and the drafting.
Thank you so much!!!
Reblogged this on Cornelia Smith Fick Author.
Yes! Such a wonderful reminder and well said. Such a simple thing to do that most people don’t, even when they absolutely love a book.
Ah, great advice. Although I have to admit the 1* I once got from a total stranger hurt a lot. My otherwise perfect score went down a point or two or more. I’m on it, for a book I read, collecting notes I wrote. Your post points out the urgency, the value of a quick response, getting the review out there, where it belongs. Wishing Seven Drafts a long, long life in print and virtually forever.
[…] Review your friend’s book on Amazon. If you have five more minutes, copy-paste the review to Goodreads. […]
Reblogged this on B. Lynn Goodwin and commented:
For your consideration.
(sorry, I replied to a reply!) Allison! I don’t reply often, but you leave me gasping for author-citizenship air when I’ve held my breath. This is your usual succinct and brilliant advice. I am reminded, and I have learned. I need to follow you around (or live in your head). Thank you!