Writing a Review on Amazon or Goodreads…It’s Not So Hard To Do

blue-forest-pathWHY Do a Review

There are several reasons to provide an online review.

As a reader, you can offer a recommendation to your fellow readers on a writer whose work you like. You are doing that writer a BIG favor by providing the review; just by adding an additional voice to that book’s virtual shelf. Any voice is better than no voice at all. This is why I generally don’t do negative reviews: just by adding a review (good or bad) you are adding to the voices associated with that book. I prefer to concentrate on adding a positive voice to the conversation. I’d rather spend my time helping and supporting writers and works that I like than bashing works I don’t care for. So, if you like a writer / book, letting other readers know right where the book is selling is a very effective way to help.

water-is-amazoncan-usa

Figure 1. Amazon Canada reviews of “Water Is…” (with added Amazon USA reviews)

Online reviews on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon (primarily Amazon.com, but also Amazon.ca for Canada, and others throughout the world) are very useful and much appreciated by writers who you are reading and who want to keep writing for you. Goodreads (a primary book review and recommendation site) is another excellent site to place a review. It’s a free website for book lovers, who can feature their bookshelves, write reviews and rank books.

last-summoner-goodreads

Figure 2. Goodreads reviews and ranks for “The Last Summoner”

Reviews are one of the best ways to give back to the writers you wish to support. And, believe me, writers need that support! With Christmas coming around the corner, now is a prime time to get that review out that you’ve been thinking of doing to help your favorite writer or book. As a writer, if you aren’t writing reviews or making some recommendations on books and authors you like, you may wish to read my article on reciprocal altruism and the case of the vampire bat.

natural-selection-amazon

Figure 3. Amazon USA Kindle reviews for “Natural Selection”

HOW to Do a Review

I think so many of us get into thinking that we must write a “book report” like the one we hated doing in high school. But a review—particularly a good one—is not a book report. It is not the same as a critique, which may go into depth about artistic interpretation and symbolism. A review for a bookseller, like Amazon, Kobo or Barnes & Noble, is a lot simpler and serves a different purpose.

A good review provides key information on how the book resonated—or didn’t—with you. It’s really not that hard to write. Here are some tips:

  • A book review is NOT a plot outline. You don’t need to tell the potential reader all the ins and outs of the story. In fact, to get a good sense of the book, particularly if it is a non-fiction reference book, you don’t need to finish the book before you review it. What you do need to have done is read enough to have the book “speak” to you in some way.
  • Reviews are about connection and resonation. What did you like most about the book or what bothered you the most? The best reviews have a balance of both positive and negative things. But they don’t need to. Are you glad you bought it? Why? Did you learn something? Did it change your perspective? How did it touch you? Would you buy more by the same author? Would you recommend it? And if so, why. Think of your fellow readers. In fact, that’s a good way to write the review:
  • Write in a conversational tone as if you are describing the book to a friend you are recommending it to. You don’t need to get all technical or “literary” or use fancy or clever language. Write in the language that feels familiar to you. Remember, you’re writing to other readers.
  • Just be honest. What’s the first thing that comes to you? Write from the heart: “I loved this book because…” Perhaps it’s the memorable main character. Or the rich setting and history. Or the incredible world. Or the imaginative idea and twists in the story. Or the unforeseen but appropriate end. Did the book linger with you? Tell us why.
  • A book review can be short and work very well. I’ve seen a single under 10-word sentence for some reviews of my books. But those less than 10 words mean a lot, especially if they say: “Amazing wealth of information!” Or “A wonderful read.” Or “brilliantly written!” Short is direct and clean—like a poem—and distills your impressions down to an essence that will appeal to many. It will more likely be read in a sea of longer reviews. See examples in Figures 1, 2, and 5.
  • Combine this with a good title and you have a very powerful statement. I’m talking about the space that Amazon also provides for a “title” to your review (see examples in Figure 1 and 3), which appears at the top in bold and is, therefore very prominent. Be mindful of this title as readers may skim through these and use them alone to gain a sense of the reviews. Think of it as a one-line book tag, a distillation of how you felt about the book (e.g., This book changed my perspective on water; I want to be her when I grow up), or who you are, even (e.g., Limnologist Recommends…)
  • Ranking a book is useful. Most bookseller and book review sites include a place for you to rank the book, without even needing to put in a written review. These all help a reader sense the book’s popularity. You can also help by “liking” other people’s reviews, helping to give them importance.
darwins-paradox-goodreads

Figure 4. Goodreads rankings for “Darwin’s Paradox”

WHERE to Do a Review

I’ve already mentioned the main sites that either sell books online or talk about books. The major bookstore sites include: Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Indigo. There are many other online booksellers, but the ones I mentioned will get to the most readers; so, your review will serve its purpose more powerfully there.

Just a note here about Amazon: I’m a Canadian and my books sell on Amazon.ca as well as on Amazon.com (in the USA). My books also sell in Japan, Australia, UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, just to name a few countries. Each of these countries is represented by its own Amazon online store (like Amazon.ca for Canada). If you write a review on Amazon.ca, it will only show up on Amazon.ca. If you write a review on Amazon.com, it will show up on all the other Amazon sites (see Figure 1). Generally, it’s best to write your review on the site from where you bought the book; but, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. I’ve bought a book on one Amazon site and written a review on another.

Goodreads is one of the best book review sites, given its popularity and large, diverse and active membership. Goodreads readers—and their authors—take books seriously. But even there, reviews can vary from extensive to a few sentences as shown in these reviews for my writing guide “The Fiction Writer” (Figure 5), and in Figure 2 for “The Last Summoner.”

fiction-writer-goodreads

Figure 5. Goodreads Reviews for “The Fiction Writer”

WHAT Reviews Look Like

I’ve included throughout this article examples of reviews for my various books which show you a range of style and impression—both positive and negative. Writers do want an honest review. Yes, we’d rather see all positive reviews. But the negative review has its place, the very least, to demonstrate to readers that the critique forum is objective and unbiased and embraces free expression.

Notice that Goodreads embraces a platform that shows a combination of review and rank, which works very well (see Figure 2). Also, notice the Goodreads ranks for my first novel, “Darwin’s Paradox” in Figure 4, which represent a healthy range from 1 to five stars. Figures 6 and 7, below, demonstrate the full range of reviews a single book can get, in this case for the first book, “Outer Diverse”, of my space adventure trilogy, “Splintered Universe”.

outer-diverse-goodreads2

outer-diverse-goodreads-neg

Figure 7. Another Goodreads review of “Outer Diverse”

So, have fun writing your review; but go and write it!

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

Surfing the Hybrid Wave of Publishing

wave2-clark-littleBestsellers have been migrating online since Amazon.com opened its virtual doors in 1995. Now ¾ of them are online, e-books and print combined. A few years ago Borders shut its doors. Mike Shatzkin of the Shatzkin Files tells me that Barnes & Noble continues to close stores as leases expire.

Our very own Chapters/Indigo in Canada is rapidly turning into a gift store. Mid-listed and lower listed authors are finding their print books returned to them (I know; I’m one of them). Further to that, I can also state that the digital version of my books—available in multi-formats including print, audio, e-book, and graphic novel—is selling at a ratio of at least 5 to 1 over any other format sold. Amazon recently revealed that Indie and small-press books account for half of the e-book sales in its most popular and bestselling genres. In a startling and controversial statistical report, Writer Hugh Howey determined that 92% of the top-100 best-selling books in the top-selling genres (based on Amazon sales) are e-books.

Despite the challenge on the use of statistics and data reporting in the Howey study, some of the overall trends he discussed (though the study may not have proven this) are becoming obvious.

Over the past six years a mass migration into e-books has occurred—thanks to Kindle and Kobo (and several other online venues). We’ve had three years of great “hand-held delivery” of graphics—thanks to the iPad. Novels and non-fiction have blossomed over the Internet and into our cherished smart phones and other portable devices. It’s only time before consumers of illustrated books and children’s books embrace this market. One of my colleagues is counting on it. She has just completed an annotated version of an Edwardian illustrated guide to pets that is splendid with old plates and wonderful anecdotes. And it will be sold only as an e-book.

A bazillion ebook retailing models are sprouting to embrace the flourishing of individual expression and readers who use Kindle, Kobo, and other portable reading devices. For instance there’s Safari, 24symbols, Oyster, Scribd, Entitle, and Librify. Then there’s Amazon’s PRIME, a kind of “library” lending service for its subscribers. They also have Kindle Fire for kids.

The big publishers have shifted majorly to ebooks to improve their margins and profitability. Even literary agents are dabbling in the publishing business now (e.g., E-Reads, Diversion, Rosetta, Curtis Brown, Writer’s House).

This is all great news for the self-published author, who is increasingly relying on the ebook format and Internet distribution platform of social media to earn a living as a writer.

The number of self-published books that succeed is still a tiny fraction of the number of books published overall. However, this needs to be seen in the greater context: the number of successful books (as gauged by various measures of “bestselling-status”), no matter how published, has always been a crap shoot, with many books not enjoying the kind of success their authors would wish—or deserve. The number of books mid-listed and below has always been a very high percentage of the total. As with most niche markets, publishing success and sales has followed and continues to follow a long tail, with the few earning a lot stretching its long tail to the many earning a little. “The number of people reading wasn’t enough to support the number of authors publishing traditionally,” author Hugh Howey points out in an article called “I See it Half-Full”; no matter how a book is published or by whom.

What does this mean to those of you just getting started and still choosing which route to follow?

Those of us in the industry have been hearing some interesting back and forths spanning from writers like John Green who passionately maintains that he would “never self-publish” and that there is an advantage to publishing the traditional route to others like Brenna Aubrey who turned down an auctioned offer from a Big Five publisher to self-publish with no regrets and to great success.

In an article entitled “the Third Way of Book Publishing”, successful self-published author Mathew Mather argues for a hybrid approach. In the article, he shares how he became a successfully published author without the help of any of the Big Five publishers and the results were incredible:

“By self-publishing and without any help from the Big Five, I’ve gathered nearly 200,000 readers in under two years. This was only possible because of the new platforms and outlets that became available to authors in the past few years. Without them, I wouldn’t be an author, or at least, not a ‘published author’. And, because of my self-publishing success, 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to my second novel, CyberStorm.”

Mather suggests an alternative paradigm that mixes self-publishing with traditional publishing and involves the author’s rights. Mather says that “If a writer manages to get out a self-published book that is successful, they can separate out rights for: domestic US, Canada, UK, rest of world country by country, audio rights, film and TV rights and so on.” Mather himself kept self-publishing in the US domestic market (both print and electronic) and sold off rights for foreign markets through an agent or through larger traditional publishers.

Mather cites the example of Hugh Howey, who kept his electronic publishing rights while doing print deals with other publishers.

I’ve done the same for several of my books. While I collect small royalties (12%) from my American Indie publishing house who has bought the rights to the print version of The Splintered Universe, I kept the rights to the e-book version, which I sell on Amazon KDP for a much higher royalty (70%). I make more per e-book despite its reduced retail price; and, as I mentioned above, I sell more e-books than print books, by about 5:1. Howey provides more interesting statistics for writers to consider.

This is an exciting time. The writing and publishing industry is experiencing a tidal wave of change. If you like waves and don’t mind getting a little wet, chances are you’ll enjoy an awesome ride. Publishing success now and in the future will not rely on any single model. It doesn’t matter if you use a longboard, gun, fish or bonzer. Just get up and surf that wave.

As with other facets of business, art and expression that have been touched by the Internet, storytelling is currently experiencing a renaissance of individual expression that will involve many different ways to express, communicate and distribute “story”—some yet to be imagined.

wave-clark-little

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.