Making Those All Important Book Reviews A Little Easier

I know.

It’s Sunday!

What the heck am I doing in your inbox?

We’re all supposed to be eating pancakes in the shape of alphabet letters, still in our pajamas, doing nothing even remotely work-related to interfere with our family morning!

I agree completely. I’m right there with you! I’m even wearing my zebra slippers.

But I’ve been thinking about something (because I have book due out in two days – 2!!!) that I thought might have crossed your minds too (because a lot of you have books out, or will at some point, or you’ve been asked to write reviews), and this was an open day for a blog post 😊

I think it’s fair to say we are all readers. As readers, we have probably all looked to online reviews to help us make decisions on which books should get our hard-earned money. (Also which vacuum is most effective on dog hair, but that is another matter 😊) I do read the reviews, and know I have been swayed one way or the other by what I read. I depend on reviews to help me choose which books I’m going to buy. And even before I read the review, I’m much more likely to click on something that has 11,972 reviews than something that has 8. The sheer volume of reviews tells me people are passionate enough about that product (for better or worse) for them to spend their valuable time writing a review.

As writers, we have a tremendous amount of ourselves invested in getting our books in front of our young readers. We worked hard on our books, they mean a lot to us, and we want young readers to find them, read them, and love them. From where we stand, those reviews are even more important. In the vastness of the infinite bookshelf, how do we get our book seen when it’s only one of more than eight million?

We need reviews.

But they are surprisingly hard to get.

Here’s why.

Think about what’s involved in writing a review.

First, someone needs a copy of our book.

Second, someone has to take time to read our book.

Third, it has to have enough of an emotional or experiential impact to make them want to share (hopefully good things) with other people about our book.

Fourth, they have to go to Amazon (or B&N, or Goodreads, or any other book review site) and figure out how to post a review. On Amazon, just as an example, you have to scroll pretty far down the page to even find the tiny letters that say “Write A Customer Review.”

If they have an account, and they’re signed in, they are in a position to be able to start their review. If they don’t have an account, they have to get one. This will stop a lot of folks in their tracks.

Now. The review.

Is the name on the review their own? Will everyone know that it is them who have posted this opinion? This stops a lot of people too. They’d prefer their review be anonymous.

Next, they have to rate the title on a scale of one to five stars. But what is the basis for this rating system? Is it their own personal reaction to this one book in isolation? Or are they rating it relative to every other book they’ve read in their vast reading experience? Or is it a more global rating system where they have to somehow correctly place their rating in some grand scheme of all ratings done by everyone everywhere? How can they decide if it’s worthy or 3 stars, or 4, or 5? Sheesh! This is going to require some serious thought and evaluation! A lot of people bail out here.

If they pass the hurdle of rating the book, it gets really tricky. They are asked for a headline – a short, attention-grabbing synopsis that highlights what stood out most about the book. This is very hard for a lot of people. I don’t mind telling you, it’s very hard for me! Summarizing can be difficult. Summarizing and also being a little clever so people will want to read the review that follows is even more difficult!

Finally, if they pass the signing in, the issue of their name on the review, the rating, and the headline, now they are faced with the hardest thing of all: an empty white box that they somehow have to fill with meaningful words. Without any prompts, or any help. It’s like getting a writing assignment in school all over again. Lots of people run away at this point. 😊

So, when you think about it, if you ask someone to write a review of your book – even if it’s a picture book that only takes 2 minutes to read – you are asking A LOT! A lot of time, decision-making, summarizing, writing, and again, TIME!

But.

We still desperately need those reviews!

It sounds impossible. Insurmountable! How will we ever write reviews, or get other people to write them for our books?

We need HELP! Dr. Henry’s Emergency Lessons for People! (Sorry, I’m old. I used to watch The Electric Company on PBS 😊)

So how can we make it easier for people?

I think we can narrow the parameters a bit and give some helpful tips.

If you’re going to ask someone to write a review for you:

  • Provide links to your book on common review sites to make it easy for reviewers to find. (This is something I do on every Tuesday Debut post.)
  • Suggest they post reviews on sites they already have accounts on (so they don’t have to make a new account before they even get started.)
  • Let them know the review needn’t be long. A sentence or two is great. Easier for them to write, more likely for busy shoppers to read.
  • For those intimidating headlines, try checking the jacket copy or back cover of the book – there are often little snippets that make good headers. Or go with something like: Playful and Fun, or, Sweet and Reassuring, or My 5 Year Old Wants To Read This Every Night!, or, A Favorite With My Preschool Students
  • Give them some prompts to help them write:
    • – what did you like best? (or least? – we don’t want to sway anyone – reviews must be honest!)
    • – what was something that really stood out to you? or to your child?
    • – what was your gut reaction to the book?
    • – did the book create an emotional response for you?
    • – what kind of experience did reading the book give you?
    • – what was your favorite (or least favorite) moment in the book? what was your child’s?
    • – did your child enjoy it? (have they asked to hear it again?)
    • – did you find it enjoyable to read aloud? (or not – and why?)
    • – what did you think of the art? did it go well with the story?
    • – did the book prompt any kind of discussion/conversation with your child?
    • – what age is the child you read it to and was it a good book for this age?
  • Once the review is written, encourage them to copy and paste it to other review sites – they only have to do the work of writing once to be able to share it on multiple forums!

There is no need for them to give a summary of the whole book (unless they want to or that is easiest for them) because most publishers provide that and potential readers can look at the book jacket or the jacket copy online.

What people really want to know is, in the opinion of people who have actually bought the book and read it with their kids,

  • who is this book most appropriate for (in terms of age and interest, (e.g. this book is a winner for 3 year olds who love trains),
  • will their child like it (e.g. my 5 year old chooses this book every night),
  • will they like it enough to read it often (e.g. this book is fun to read aloud),
  • and is it worth their money (all four of my children have loved this book and I frequently give it as a gift).

It can also be very helpful to provide a couple examples that can help reviewers know what kinds of things are helpful and give them something to model.

In the final analysis, even a very short review that expresses an opinion, emotion or fact is helpful – best book I’ve read with my 2 and 4 year old this year!, or, the pictures in this book are so great! My kids love looking for all the hidden details and are delighted when they find something new! – are wonderful. Short, informational, clearly showing the book was a good purchase. No MFA in writing literature required 😊 The most important thing is to have reviews!

So. If someone has asked YOU to review their book and you don’t know where to start, hopefully this will be helpful to you!

And if you have a book coming out and are asking people to review it, hopefully this will be helpful to you AND them! Feel free to give them the link to this post and tell them to skip to the second half with the tips if you like. That way you don’t have to write it all over again! 😊

Now that I’ve got that off my mind and hopefully given you a little food for thought, back to your Sunday already in progress, morning pancakes and family fun time! 😊

51 thoughts on “Making Those All Important Book Reviews A Little Easier

  1. Norah says:

    Your pancakes look amazing! I hope Sam enjoyed them. 🙂
    I think you wrote this article about me. I struggle to write reviews. I especially find the star ratings difficult. What do I rate it against? As you said. But the time is also another issue. I have a stack of books on my desk waiting for me to get/make time to enter on my Goodreads page. They usually translate to Amazon, I think, but sometimes Amazon won’t allow me to review. I’ve never been able to figure out why. I think the advice you’ve given here to authors is great. If they ask for a review, then it’s helpful if they can make it easier for the reviewer. It’s also helpful information for reviewers too. Thank you for interrupting your Sunday to post. Back to those comfy zebra slippers now.

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      I think I wrote this article about myself, Norah! 🤣 I’m glad if it is helpful to you. And yeah, Amazon can be weird that way. Who knows why? The great thing is (and I probably should have said this in the post – maybe I’ll go back and add it!) if you write the review once, you can copy and paste it to other sites without having to do the work of writing all over again. Because most people have a preferred site they go to for reviews, whether it be Goodreads, Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or somewhere else, and they’re unlikely to read reviews on other sites, so it doesn’t matter if it’s the same. And the zebra slippers ARE comfy and very warm! 😊

  2. readmybook2002 says:

    Thank you for your insight on the process. This had to be said. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Your words needed to be shared, so I shared this on Twitter, Facebook, and my writing groups. Two days & counting for you, don’t forget to take photos/video and send them out.

  3. palpbkids says:

    Hi Susanna, You put a lot of time, thought and effort into this Post. Obviously, it is needed and from the heart. That said, it is a worthy wake-up call to all. Your outline provides a great direction making it easier for everyone to write a review. Thank you.

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      I’m glad if it’s helpful to you, Phyllis – or to anyone you need to have write a review for you! It IS something that weighs on my mind because reviews are so important, but it really is a lot to ask of someone. I think acknowledging that you’re aware of what you’re asking and giving people a little help to accomplish what you’re asking might make it easier for people to take the leap and write a review. I hope so, anyway! Everyone’s time so precious. I don’t think anyone has enough for all the things they want (or need) to do each day!

      • palpbkids says:

        I hear you Susanna :).
        Writer’s rely on the support of their readers and other writers. And by writing a book review is a great way to show that support.
        And now you’ve made it easy to write one!
        🙂

  4. kathalsey says:

    Love this, Susanna. How to help others write a review is an overlooked topic for when a debut or any book comes out! GENIUS and ty. Yes, I’m in my jammies, sipping coffee, so those ALPHABET pancakes look great. Excited about your newest book. And yes, I’ll review it! Soon!

  5. Barbara.J.Genovese says:

    This is brilliant, Susanna. Eerily timely. Thank you for thinking to do this and creating a template for how to sanely and logically think about this. All good things, Barbara ________________________________

  6. Patricia Tilton says:

    Enjoyed your post — especially your outline of good reviews and what to include. Will help with my website reviews. Look forward to your new book!

    I know how important ratings are for authors. A book with no reviews won’t sell well. Like Norah, Amazon hasn’t allowed me to post a review for years. I tried hard to find out why and received one of their standard comments that indicates many reasons, one of which was that they believe I may profit from my reviews. Not true. There is no one to call and talk to at Amazon. I let it go. So I always indicate that I’m reviewing a publisher’s ARC, an author’s copy, a purchased book or library book. Other reviewers have also told me they’ve been banned for no reason. I did publish my reviews on Goodreads for years, and backed away because of time.

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Pat. And thank you for all this information. I have also had reviews blocked by Amazon, but it didn’t occur to me to mention publisher ARC, author copy, library book, etc. Those are good ideas to mention.

    • Penny Parker Klostermann says:

      Here’s what I think…not that anyone asked LOL. I recently had a review blocked for the very first time. I did mention that I got an advance copy from the publisher (mentioned the publisher’s name) for an honest review. This is also the first time I’ve mentioned a publisher. I tired it again and got no response from Amazon this time but noticed they didn’t post my second attempt review either.
      So I read the guidelines and I think they might consider this solicitation for the publisher? So I’m experimenting and posting the exact same review (again!) without mentioning the publisher.
      I noticed one reviewer mentioned receiving a digital copy but didn’t name the publisher and maybe that’s why that review was posted. Who knows?

      • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

        Very helpful information, Penny! You might be right about the appearance of publisher solicitation, although I feel sure I’ve read that on other reviews that are posted… but who knows???!!!

  7. David McMullin says:

    This may be extreme, but I have a spreadsheet to keep track of my reviews. My columns are – Book, Author, Illustrator, Stars, Headline, Review, then I have columns for Goodreads, Amazon, and B&N where I can check off when I have completed the review for each. This way I write the review once and if I don’t have time to do them all in one sitting, I can go back and finish later. Congratulations on your latest book! I look forward to it.

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      Wow! You are thorough, David! And so organized! These are great ideas, and, like I was saying to Norah above, one good thing about writing a review is you can actually copy and paste to different sites once you’ve written the review once. Of course, if you’re like you, perhaps you’re wonderful enough to write different reviews for each site! 😊

  8. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    Yesss! Reviews help soooo much!!! Have you heard of #ChewyReviewy on Twitter? It was started by @Markeology. Check it out, if you haven’t! I’m going to post your excellent suggestions there. Cheers!

  9. cynthiahm says:

    Reblogged this on Books by Cynthia and commented:
    This is something I think a lot about. Book reviews are hard to get. If you like to read, they’re super helpful. If you’re an author, especially a debut author, it might be all you think about. Susannah wraps it all up in her post.

  10. Ashley Sierra (@AshleySierra06) says:

    I set a goal last September to leave at least two reviews a week. Someone even created a #tworeviewtuesday on Twitter. I’ve done it so much now it doesn’t feel like it takes long. But I do 99% of my writing on my phone. I have the Goodreads app and write the review in there because it’s easier to edit. Then I copy and paste the review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, and, Walmart. I usually end up doing one review Saturday and one on Sunday. This post gives me some great tips like I shouldn’t focus so much on the recap of the book and more on the reaction. For me, I only review books myself or my kids think are 4 or 5 stars because maybe it’s not for us or I know how much work making books are. I need to check if I have any reviews for your books Susanna. Thanks for the blog post! I’ll share on Twitter.

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      What a wonderful goal, Ashley! And how great of you to share your process here and keep up so well with your reviews! It is a real gift to readers and writers! I am the same way about reviews (hence Perfect Picture Book Friday 😊) I tend to only review books I really loved. I only want to post honest reviews, and I don’t like to say anything negative about someone’s hard work because, as you say, just because a book might not be to my taste doesn’t mean others won’t love it. So I stick with reviewing books I really think are great. There are so many! 😊

  11. viviankirkfield says:

    Such a great post, Susanna…and you are 100% right. It’s darn hard to get those reviews…even when you have lots of kid lit friends….and even when you are in author groups where everyone is supposed to be reviewing everyone else’s books. I’m not sure how some books get 1000’s of reviews…but my hat is off to them. What I try to do (but often don’t succeed) is to post an Amazon review right when I am doing a Perfect Picture Book Friday post for a book.

  12. jensubra says:

    I found this very insightful. I’ve (gasp!) never written a review. I know, slap me with a wet noodle. I’ve THOUGHT of it, but now I will be sure to go back and write them for the books I’ve purchased. I have a question: can I write a review for books I’ve not purchased but checked out from the library? I know Amazon will note: verified purchase. Would it be best to write a library book review on Goodreads or another site? Thanks for all the time you spent processing this process!

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      So glad you found this helpful, Jen! I think definitely, yes, post to Goodreads. I know Amazon can be weird, and they do put that “verified purchase” note, but I think you could post to Amazon and say in your review that you read a library copy (or an ARC if that is ever applicable.) People reading your review will know you read the book. Not everyone who reads Amazon reviews is in a position to purchase books, and it’s a more commonly accessible site for many people than Goodreads, so it’s great if reviews can be posted there as well. Knowing that you read a library copy may encourage them to make use of their local library. If your review makes them want to read the book, and they take it out from their local library, the book receives circulation, and when there is enough interest in a book, libraries purchase additional copies. If someone’s library does not carry the book, they can request it, and a new library purchase may be made as a result. Reviews are all about increasing awareness and readership, whether it’s individual purchases, or libraries, or school libraries. The more ratings and reviews a book has, the more likely people are to see it. And that’s good for readers and for writers 😊

  13. ptnozell says:

    Such a wonderfully helpful post. I, too, am guilty of reviewing books for PPBF, but neglecting to post it to Goodreads or other sites. I’ve found when I try to post to B&N that I had to have purchased the book there. As one of the few folks who has never had an Amazon account, I’m also not able to post there. But reading your post has convinced me to be more diligent about the Goodreads and indie reviews at least. Thank you!

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      I’m glad you liked the post and found it helpful, Patricia. I will never understand why the big online stores demand that you buy the book from them in order to post a review. The fact that you’re putting a review on their site helps them sell books! And it sounds like there are a lot of us who write reviews for PPBF but don’t get them as far as those sites… it should be so easy! We’ve already written the reviews! And yet, maybe because of the format of PPBF, my reviews often need a little rounding out to be posted elsewhere because I write most of my review in the “what I like about this book” section, but there are bits and pieces of it in other places, so I have to tidy it up a bit in order to make it work for other sites…

  14. marty bellis says:

    Great advice, Susanna. This is something I’ve not seen addressed before.
    Hooray for your Sunday morning inspiration of a blog post! Sending the link to one of my CP’s who has a book coming out next year.
    And hip hip hooray for YOUR book birth-day! May it land tons of reviews 🙂

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