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! 😊