Does this book suck?

Last week I posted about the underground market for fake-reviews (link) and the types of problems they might create for authors and readers. This week I’m interested in why real reviews are important, what makes a good review, and key elements for writing one quickly.

If this isn’t your cup of tea, check out now and come back next week for anecdotes and other fun. . .

bookstack(Compressed)

Why review at all?
I don’t often write product reviews. Seems like a waste of time, given that most products on Amazon already have a few clever comments stacked in the margin by the time I find them. Nor do I aspire to being the next big Amazon Vine or Goodreads Guru. But occasionally I stumble across (1) something so awesome that I want to tell everybody about it anyways [Leviathan, audio] and improve its credibility in the market. Or I get (2) so many questions about a particular work (The Martian, cough, cough) that it’s easier to articulate my thoughts once and hand out a link to anyone who asks. Or I’ll write a review because (3) I think I have a unique perspective. There are other reasons, but these are mine.

What makes a good review?
By “good” reviews, I mean helpful reviews. A review that demonstrates knowledge of the product, hits the highs and lows, and reads like it was written by a normal person goes a long way for helping me get comfortable with bringing a new product home. For writers, this type of review also provides valuable market information for developing future content. An author can improve future work based on what customers have said, providing a broader ample base for market research.

What are the core components of a useful review?
Useful reviews are usually pretty easy to spot (or write) with the previous thoughts in mind. My favorites include:

  • An original tagline
  • A synopsis or demonstrated understanding of product
  • specific likes and/or dislikes
  • keywords
  • referrals and warnings

Combined with last week’s “Bot-Review” tips, these items can go a long way towards promoting worthwhile fiction, improving your favorite indie authors, and defeating the robot army. For specific real and fake review examples, check out the Sample Reviews post. I’ll update this occasionally after reading a particularly helpful review.

In the end. . .
Most writers don’t really want to read a bad review, just like no mother wants to be told her baby is ugly. But when a reviewer, editor, or critic provides actionable data, it’s much easier to swallow the bitter pill and get down to brass tacks. In addition, when you review a favorite author’s work online, you heighten their internet presence and make that work more discoverable. It’s a small thing, but that adds up big. Last week during a free promotional, DARTS held the top spot in two of its categories for several days straight. Thanks to all who have provided feedback to my writing now or in years past. It really makes a difference.

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1-Star Review: Acceptance Speech

I just received notification of my first 1-star review on Amazon. This is an important career milestone. I’d like to take a moment to issue my acceptance speech:

Thank you. Thank you all! I am both humbled and elated! I’d like to thank my publisher for letting me post my fiction without the least bit of professional editing, my beta readers (all twenty of you—you know who you are), and my mother, who has always told me I’m worth something, and been slightly supportive of my cheeky attitude, except when directed at her.

Oh well.

I’ve can’t say I didn’t see this moment coming, but I didn’t expect to see it so badly punctuated. (The criticism, not my preceding paragraph.) Bad punctuation is a disease, and it’s contagious. It also renders criticism—such as the following—difficult to decipher:

“Hard for Me to Classify…Sorry!  One for rainy days…glad I did not have to pay for this one. At least, it was short! But, not enough for me!”

Those last two commas are driving me crazy. Where are the grammar police when you need them? Is my critic somehow saying that DARTS was not enough for him? That he wanted it to be longer? Did they mean it would be easier to classify, by genre, on a rainy day, when life is less hectic? Or should I take this as a compliment? Houston receives about 50 inches of rain in an average year (NOAA.GOV). That’s a lot of opportunities for appreciating my novella!

Finally, there appear to be missing words.  Critics aren’t supposed to use ellipses to omit crucial words. That’s the sort of lazy trick we expect from college students. What good is half a criticism? For one thing, it encourages bad guesswork:

“Hard for Me to Classify all of these exclamation points, ellipses, and commas!  Sorry!  One for rainy days, isn’t it Gerard? It’s fortunate the commas and exclamation points are on sale!  I’m certainly glad I did not have to pay for this one. At least, it was short! But, not enough for me!”

What I would have liked from said detractor: a clear indication of what will make my stories better in the future.

Lacking that, I can only hope to untangle the riddle with time. Perhaps one of my alert readers—long live Dave Barry—can help clarify.

1-star review