Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Originally Posted September 20, 2020 by Joe K.
Last Updated November 20, 2020

You’ve poured your heart and soul into your latest story, made sure the writing was crisp, the errors banished, and you released it out into the big, wide world. It’s exhilarating, the kind of rush that almost feels like you’re about to go down a huge, steep hill on a favorite roller coaster.

You hold your breath in anticipation of the reviews. Every day you check to see if somebody commented on it yet. Did they like it? Love it? Are they begging you to write the next book? Or did they say the ending was flat? The characters were two-dimensional? Or the plot had holes and inconsistencies?

Reviews can elevate you and crash you within a moment of reading one, when you’re first starting out. That’s not to say that you won’t care the further into your career you go. You will. How you react on the other hand, may be different. Let’s look at a couple of things to consider when it comes to reviews.

First and foremost, a bad review is not a personal attack against you as a person. It is simply one person’s opinion of a story you wrote. Good reviews are wonderful, and trust me, they feel amazing when you get them, but most stories will end up with a mix of reviews. Why is that? You simply can’t please everybody, and somebody who isn’t your target audience may have read the book and it wasn’t a fit.

Who are Reviews For?

A good question to ponder is who reviews are for. Are they for the author, or are they for other readers? Think about how you shopped for a book prior to being an author, whether online or at a bookstore. You may have scanned the reviews on Amazon, or maybe you flipped the book over in your hands at Barnes & Noble to see if there were comments on the jacket, or any other details that might give you more information about the book.

Reviews are for readers. It’s not to say that you can’t work with your reviews and pivot or make changes to future work, but when it comes down to it, people review books to share their thoughts with other readers. We just happen to be privy to them, thanks to modern technology and star ratings on multiple websites like Apple Books, Kobo, or even book sites like Goodreads (which Amazon now owns).

Below, you’ll find a few more questions that come up when reviews are discussed. We’ll go through each one briefly to help you understand the basics. Nothing is written in stone, but this comes from both time, experience, and understanding the rules of multiple retailers and book websites.

What Else to Know About Book Reviews

Should you respond to reviews, good or bad?

The best advice I can give you here is not to respond to reviews. Public spaces are open for viewing, but a reader isn’t leaving a review for you to comment on. They’re leaving their thoughts on the book or story, so other readers can decide if it’s a book they’d like to read or not.

It’s in bad form to respond to reviews. This is the customer’s space. Allow them to not feel watched. If somebody emails you something about your book, then feel free to speak with them, but above all, guard your reputation if you disagree with them. Remember, you’re a public figure, and to use that discretion for the best results.

Can you ask for reviews?

A polite note at the back of the story that encourages them to share their thoughts is fine. Asking for a five-star review is tacky. Something like, “please consider sharing a review for others who might be considering this book,” or in that nature is simple, acknowledges that a review is appreciated without coming out and asking for it. How you word things really matters in this aspect. There can be no sense of there is a reward for you if you do this for me. Reviews should be freely given, not bullied out of a reader or bribed.

Can you reward people with gift cards or other bonuses for reviews?

Speaking of rewards, this is considered a form of bribery which makes the review unreliable…even if the person really did love the story. Think of this. You’re about to buy a new car at the dealership. It’s a big investment. They pay somebody to rave about a particular model and sell you on all the benefits. Just another customer, who’s happy, happy with their purchase…you walk through the showroom with a smile.

Great, they really seemed to love that car. What if you found out they were staged there, a paid actor, to tell you this? But, they didn’t inform you until after you bought the car? You’d feel snookered, right? That’s the thing, even the smallest things like that $10 gift card, or review my book and I’ll send you a new e-reader loaded to the hilt with my books…you’re bargaining. You do this for me, and I’ll do this for you. It’s shady. Don’t go there.

Also, Amazon says this:

Customer Reviews should give customers genuine product feedback from fellow shoppers. We have a zero-tolerance policy for any review designed to mislead or manipulate customers. We don't allow anyone to write reviews as a form of promotion.

Be sure to read the full list of terms, which list them one by one, so you have a clear picture. You’ll find the section on customer reviews here. It includes things such as any kind of financial tie, a close friend or family member, biased reviews, and more.

Now, take in mind, every store will be different, but there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be publishing to Amazon, and they are the biggest ebook store. If the rules go here, they’re pretty solid.

Should you review other books? Can you swap reviews with other authors?

As an author, you are probably a big reader, too. The thing is, the rules have changed. You stepped across an invisible line in the sand. Can you review other books? Technically yes, but sort of no. First, it looks bad if it’s in a category in direct relation with you. If you desperately want to leave a review, try Goodreads or your blog, maybe a Facebook post, but Amazon looks down on authors reviewing other authors’ books. This used to be a gray area, but eventually, they made the shady gray clearer. And swapping reviews with other authors is considered biased.

Can you get a review removed?

This question needs its own section, because there are varying factors in getting reviews removed. Technically, yes, there are situations where you can get a review removed. Does it mean they’ll do it? Not always.

Here are a few instances where you might want a review removed:

  • Spoilers, the book gives away important details, twists, or the ending
  • The review was put on the wrong product and doesn’t make sense. Example, it’s talking about a toaster, and quite obviously, your product is a book
  • They loved the book, raved about it, then gave it a 1 star
  • A competitor left a bad review, then they link to their own book as a better option

Let’s take a look at these.

Spoilers: Nothing is worse than seeing your big, old twist plastered there for everybody to read. It will ruin the reading experience for others. Or, they reveal “who did it” and destroy the ending for others. Here’s the thing, Amazon, Apple Books, whoever, will make the final call on this. You can request they remove it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Frustrating? Very. You can always try asking again. Sometimes it comes down to the rep you get, quite honestly. Some will work with you, others simply say, nothing I can do. It’s worth trying.

Wrong product: Obviously, your book is not a toaster. In most cases, the customer simply mixed things up. A lot of times, you can get these oddly placed reviews removed.

Good review, bad rating: This probably won’t get taken down. Frustrating? Yes! Here’s where the problem comes in. If you’re told to rate something from 1-10, some people thing #1 is THE BEST, where others think of #10 as THE BEST. We often see top rated lists online go through countdowns…and the #1 best is… Probably nothing you can do. It is what it is. Move on.

Competitor, with link: Yes, it will most likely be pulled down if you contact the book distributor. This is an obvious slur and is not acceptable.

Credibility, Visibility, and Social Proof

Reviews offer credibility, visibility, social proof, acknowledgment, and suggestions. As an author, I like to read my reviews. Some people avoid them like the plague. I never comment on them, and simply try to get the general feel of what readers thought. What this does is help me understand my readers better.

Did they comment about certain plot points in the book, characters, did they like something, not like other aspects? I use this to see how I’m doing. What would make my stories stronger? Is there something I overlooked? Do I need to tighten my endings?

Remember, one review is simply one opinion. Don’t let one single opinion touch you. I like to collectively see them and get a bird’s eye view. This way, I can give my readers more of what they enjoy and consider reshaping future books in ways that will make my readers love my books even more. And bad reviews? I let them wash off my back. I absorb what I need if it’s constructive and know it’s not a personal attack. The thing is, you get out of reviews what you want. For me, I see it as a way to improve my craft. I may also recognize in the review that they prefer darker, more angsty books and I write lighthearted stories. Wrong audience. They learned I’m not the author for them. That’s okay, there’s plenty of books to go around, and we all have different things we like in books.

On that note, get that book finished! What are you waiting for?

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