Writing a Book Review for Amazon And Other Online Bookstores
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One of the biggest challenges we authors face is getting reviews. I remember getting emails from fans saying how much they loved my story, but when I gently asked if they’d post those thoughts in a review all I could hear were crickets chirping in the background. What is it about book review writing that is so hard, I wondered.
As I began to read some of my books’ reviews I realized the problem. Most people don’t know how to write a book review. Often they have paralyzing visions of the sixth grade and reading a book report in front of the class. If you’re one of the many people who’s ever wondered exactly how to write a book review for Amazon or other book retailers, this article is for you.
What is a Book Review?
Put simply, a book review is an evaluation of a book. Its purpose is to provide an honest opinion of the book’s contents so others can decide if they want to purchase it. The problem arises when people try to make it more complicated than that.
What a Book Review Isn’t
A book review isn’t a book report like you had to do in middle school. Those had a totally different purpose, mostly to see if you had read the book and could describe it in detail with proper grammar and spelling.
A book review isn’t a complete summary of the book. Or at least it shouldn’t be. I see a lot of these where the reviewer spoils the book ending for everyone. After reading a book review you should want to read the book, not feel like you just read the book.
A book review isn’t a place to complain about the bookseller. If you didn’t get your book on time or if it arrived damaged there’s another place on Amazon to leave seller feedback. The book review section is reserved for praise or complaints about the story itself.
The review you write should be tailored toward your audience, which is why this article is specific to writing a review for Amazon and other book retailers. If you’d like to learn how to write a review for a book blog, well, I’m working on that article for later.
How to Write a Book Review for Amazon
When shopping on Amazon you’ll typically see a book cover image, a description of the book’s plot, and down below, a review section. Because the description and cover image are right there, there’s no need to post those to your Amazon review. This makes it very simple. You only need to choose a star rating, write a title, add a description, and hit submit. But what do you write? The answer is anything you want to say about the book, but for those of you who need more guidance than that I’ll walk you through it step by step.
The Star Rating System
Amazon has a five star rating system for reviews. You get to decide what the stars mean to you, and from experience I know some people are very stingy with their stars. I’ve heard of people who don’t give out five stars unless it’s their favorite book. (It kind of reminds me of that teacher I had in college who wouldn’t give anyone a perfect score because he didn’t believe perfection existed. I couldn’t stand that guy.) Anyway, how you rate the books you review is your business, but from an author’s perspective it does hurt when someone writes all nice things in their review and then only gives three or four stars. The reason is it doesn’t tell us how we can be better and too many reviews with less than five stars can affect sales.
My advice would be to save the one and two star ratings for emergency situations when you’re very angry with the author and want them to know it. (It happens.) Use the three star rating when you can’t recommend a book to anyone and use four and five star reviews for books you would recommend to others.
If you’re a person who’s clever with words you may spend a lot of time creating a catchy title. If you’re not, simply use the book’s title or a few words about what you thought of the book. That’s it.
So, you have a title, but now you’re staring at a blank box and you know Amazon won’t accept it if it doesn’t have at least a sentence or two. What do you write? Here’s my super simple way to write a book review.
What the book was about. Nothing fancy needed here. Just a simple sentence about what the book was about. Imagine if your child or grandchild entered the room and asked what your book was about. What would you tell them? Here are some examples.
“Redeeming Love is a historical romance novel based on the story of Hosea in the Bible.”
“Treasured Grace is a historical novel about three sisters who journey west to Oregon territory.”
“A House Divided is a legal thriller about chemical exposure.”
If this makes you super nervous about what to say, just skip this sentence altogether. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
What you liked about the book. Try to think of as many things as you can because these are helpful to other shoppers who might be looking for the same things you liked. Use as many what-you-liked sentences as necessary.
“I really liked the side characters in this book because they felt like people I know.”
“I liked the way the author described the setting. It made me feel like I was really there.”
“I loved the storyline in this book. It was very unique.”
“The humor in this book was very well done.”
“This was a surprisingly original storyline.”
What could have been better. If there was something in the book that could have been changed to make the book a much better reading experience for you, write it here.
“I wished the ending would have been a bit longer.”
“I think the author could have described what the characters looked like a little better.”
“Some of the descriptions were a bit long for my taste.”
“At times I was confused about which character was speaking.”
Don’t be mean, be constructive. Know the difference. Just because you’re writing a review doesn’t give you license to cut an author’s work to shreds. Authors read their reviews and want to improve based on feedback—your feedback. So be sure to give it in a helpful way.
The wrap up sentence. This should be where you state if you were glad to have read the book or not. Would you recommend it to a friend or someone else looking for this type of book? Again, there’s no reason to be mean, but reviews should be honest, so answer the question all the book shoppers after you are asking, “Is this book worth my time and money?”
If the answer is no, first ask yourself if it would be a good fit for another person. Let people know the exact type of person who would enjoy the book or find it helpful.
Examples for sentence 4:
“Despite a few quirks, I would recommend this book to friends.”
“Everyone should read this book, it’s just that good!”
“It wasn’t for me, but if you like Amish romances set in outer space I’m sure you’ll love it.”
So there you have it, my super simple review writing method. Here’s an example of what a review written for Amazon might look like.
Forbidden Amish Love
This book was about an Amish school teacher and her crush on her next door neighbor, a man she can never marry.
I liked the way the author made the characters so flawed. (I’m seriously sick of perfect Christian characters who can do no wrong.) I think the book could have been better if the author had gone more into detail with what happened to the side characters at the end.
This is a great book for someone looking for a full-length Amish novel with a strong faith base.
Ta-da! Review done. Hit submit. The above was a made-up review for my real book, Forbidden Amish Love, by the way. But you can see how easy it is to write a few sentences about a book and let people know what you thought of it. If you’re not a play-by-the-rules kind of person, just write a couple sentences about the book and hit submit.
Remember when I said if writing the first sentence made you nervous to just skip it? The reason is that when there are many reviews people tend to rely more on the star ratings anyway. But if you want to be a “helpful” reviewer, be specific about what you liked and what you didn’t. Especially for a new book with very few or no reviews, anything written beside a five star rating is gold to the author. Especially when it’s a verified purchase, meaning that Amazon has verified you purchased your copy of the book yourself, rather than when it was given to you free by the author or publisher in exchange for a review.
Other Things to Consider When Writing a Book Review for Amazon or Other Online Book Retailers
Add a disclaimer.
If you received the book from the author or publisher for free in exchange for a review, you need to disclose that information. Even if you don’t think it changed your opinion in any way it’s still not honest until others know you had a connection with the author or publisher. Here’s an example:
“This book was given to me for free in exchange for my review. The opinions are my own.”
Easy peasy. (You can copy that word for word if you’d like.) If you have any other connections to the author or publisher you should also disclose that information, but if the author is your daughter, bestie, or next door neighbor’s son-in-law you probably shouldn’t be reviewing their books anyway. Amazon frowns upon it and they have ways of knowing connections (they own Goodreads and it’s connected to all your social media accounts like Facebook) so don’t chance having your reviewing privileges taken away to review a book that you shouldn’t be reviewing in the first place.
If you purchased the book on your own, even if it was during a free promotion, then you don’t need to disclose how you got the book.
Never accept money for a review.
Just don’t do it. Authors and publishers are well aware that this is not only bad business practice but also against Amazon’s terms.
No one cares if you can’t spell.
Seriously. No one. People will read your review and probably find it helpful anyway. And those less than perfect reviews have the added benefit of sounding more authentic. The only time you should even think about being super careful with spelling and grammar is when you say something really, really nice that an author may want to copy and paste onto their website for promotional purposes. In that case, do try to make it sound as nice as possible and proofread that part. Otherwise, a review is just social proof of whether or not you liked the book.
Report similar books.
If the book you’re reviewing is a lot like books from another popular author it’s okay to compare. This lets customers know what type of book they’re getting if they choose to purchase it.
Keep it short and sweet.
If you want people to read your review, keep it short and don’t let your paragraphs get too lengthy.
Don’t spoil the ending for someone unless you think the customer really needs to know something about the ending to decide if they should purchase or not. When this is necessary it’s a custom to mark the spoiler section with an asterisk and large letters like this:
And often a reviewer will also mark the end of the spoiler section so people who don’t want to know the ending can easily skip that section. Again, there’s very rarely a need for spoilers so try to avoid them if you possibly can.
Make it your own.
Feel free to make your review any way you want, but please consider reviewing the books you read on Amazon and other retailers. It helps us all to be able to make better decisions when shopping for books and it helps authors to be able to continue writing books for us to read.
Advice about negative reviews.
If you’re uncomfortable giving bad reviews and can’t offer constructive feedback to help the author improve then consider not reviewing the book. If an author has given you a book to review and you can’t give it at least four stars then consider politely giving your review to the author personally and letting them know you don’t post negative reviews and that you’ll be “declining the review.” This lets them know you did read the book but you don’t want to damage their reputation simply because their book didn’t suit your taste. You’ve given them your honest feedback and it’s possible they may want you to post the negative review anyway.
I hope this article was helpful to you and you’ll consider reviewing the books you read. You may even decide to start your own book review blog, which is a little different than writing a review for Amazon. I’ll be writing an article about starting your own book blog soon.