Tell us what you want, what you really, really want…

(…thank you, Scary, Posh, Baby, Ginger, and Sporty…)

It’s funny, isn’t it, how one sentence, just a few words, can stop you in your tracks and make you go…aaaargh!  Let me explain…

I review books; some of you may know this, some perhaps not. How did that happen?

I’ve had a Kindle for a couple of years now, and I was pretty much instantly hooked. I became a bookworm…or rather, an ebookworm. When some Facebook friends started their own reviewing blogs, I had a ‘Eureka’ moment and thought, gosh, what a good idea! In my case, this was a solution to the ‘closure’ I wanted after reading a book, and it was a nice neat way of recording all the ebooks I’d read on my can’t-leave-home-without-it Kindle—an anthology if you like. And if ‘virtual’ passers-by dropped in…well, even better. How nice!

So, armed with a few hints and tips from a couple of review sites for whom I’d reviewed some books, I mapped out what I thought would formulate a worthy review: something I’d be happy to look back at (and not cringe at with embarrassment). I decided long drawn-out reviews with endless analyses and explanations of the plots were just a big yawn…a short synopsis would suffice, I reckoned. Then again, one- or two-line reviews don’t satisfy me either. I’m clearly not clever enough for those punchy, concise, but all-embracing reviews I so admire (viz. Rich Meyer (a learned member of our team), Ed Drury (a frequent flash-fiction flyer—and winner!), so I knew I had to leave those to the smarty pants (Rich Meyer, Ed Drury).

Well…would you Adam and Eve it…I suddenly found myself inundated with review requests. My ‘anthology’ suddenly became a busy book-review site. My basic little formula seemed to suit a good many authors. How chuffed was I!  (For the uninitiated, Adam and Eve is cockney rhyming slang for ‘believe’.  I can always be relied on to teach you something extraordinarily useful.)

And then…Pow! Zap! Bang! Crash! One utterance by a prolific reader knocked me for six. “Why do reviewers feel the need to tell us the story of the book when we’ve already read the blurb,?” she asked.

I beg your pardon? Oh no! Don’t tell me I’ve been doing it all wrong. Have I?

My blog is my anthology…I need a reminder of what the book is about. I don’t want to have to go to Amazon for the blurb. I don’t have time to doctor my reviews: one for my blog, one for the retail sites where the blurb is right above the review.

Every reviewer is different of course: each has his/her own style. There are many, many reviewers out there I admire and respect and of whom, if I’m honest, I am slightly envious. For every review I write, there are heaps about which I always say, oh hell, why can’t I write like that?

I’ve always considered my reviews are for both the reader and the author: for the reader to help decide whether or not the book is worth buying and the author for valuable feedback. There are so many novice authors out there, who better than the reader to let them know if they’re getting it right? Even the most experienced and successful author needs to know he isn’t losing his touch. I can’t speak for other reviewers, however. Some may agree, but some may think their reviews are solely for the reader or the author.

Anyway…let’s get to the point. That reader’s comment made me quite wobbly for quite a few days. Hang on, I thought, there I am, writing my reviews for me and the author, but…but, but, BUT…wait! Have we, the reviewers, actually stopped to consider it from the author’s  point of view? Exactly what does the author like/want to see in the review of his book (apart from ‘outstanding’, ‘novel of the decade’, ‘eat your heart out, JK Rowling’, ‘buy this now’—superlatives and praise are a given, naturally).

It has been suggested to me that a short two-line review with nothing but words of excellence is just as treasured as a more detailed one. Of course it is. But what if that two-liner had nothing but ‘dire’, ‘don’t buy’, ‘waste of Kindle space’, ‘lost a precious three hours of my life’…you’d want something a little more, wouldn’t you? Perhaps a reason for a reviewer thinking a poke in the eye would have been better than reading your book?

So, the floor is open to you my lovely author friends…what would you like from your (faithful) reviewers? Let’s get it from the horse’s mouth. What do you want to see in your book’s review…whether it’s good or bad?



Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

46 thoughts on “Tell us what you want, what you really, really want…”

  1. Good morning Cathy. I have been fortunate with my reviews to date. The reviewers have shared my strong points and weaknesses. This has helped me look at my work in a different light. The mention of a consistent weak area has allowed me to go back and focus on developing my characters with greater detail. Without the comments, I might not have noticed. I think the feedback also helps a reader decide if they want to dive into the book. As long as a reviewer isn’t rude or vicious, I am happy to hear whatever they have to say.

  2. Great and funny post Kathy! And what about a reviewer who leaves a one star, two-liner that says, that it was trivial, and glad the book wasn’t expensive since they got it free on Bookbub! Why even bother to do a review or leave any star? Thanks for sharing Kathy.

  3. Great post, Cathy, thank you! I like a little synopsis in a review, as long as not too much of the plot is revealed. I think it helps a reader, who may not have the Amazon page handy at the time. It also sets the review in context. Yours are a nice mix of commentary and synopsis, in my opinion.

  4. Interesting thoughts Cathy. Much though I love a positive and thoughtful review, as an author, reviews need to be for the reader first. And actually, a short summary of the plot from your point of view is extremely useful to an author anyway. The blurb is written from a marketing perspective, your take on things is interesting because it’s about what the book achieved, in reality, for you. So it’s helpful for most readers (one griper excepted) but also for the author, to see if they achieved what they set out to. And anyway, it’s your blog and your review, you can do it however you like! Ah yes, you asked a question, where was I? I like to know how the read made you feel. Did you laugh, did you think, did you learn anything? And you always deliver, keep doing what you do. 🙂

    1. Now that’s something I hadn’t thought of: that the perspective of the blurb might be serving different purposes. And yes, by golly, you’re right! It is indeed my blog!

  5. Great post, Cathy. I think many of us expect different things from reviews. For myself, I think it has to cover all bases at least a bit. Like Laurie I like to see a brief inkling of what the book is about. Also mention of what you liked – or not – and why, what the strengths weaknesses.And lastly, a statement about whether you enjoyed it and would recommend it.

  6. Nice post, Cathy. I think in these cynical times of sock-puppetry, a review should be well-balanced to appear independent and reasoned. Glowing reviews which do nothing but heap praise on a book are great up to a point (certainly for the author to read!), but in terms of reviews which may interest and encourage others to pick the book up, I believe that a little even-handedness can go a long way.

    1. So true. I don’t believe…unless I just haven’t read one yet…that a book is so bad that nothing of just an itsy bit of virtue cannot be found. Just writing a book, to me, is a brownie point!

  7. If I review a book I give a general outline (not a synopsis, and definitely no spoilers) of what the book is about. I will talk about what kind of effect the writing had on me, how it made me feel, and then if there is any, in my humble opinion, constructive criticism to add I will do that near the end of the review, and then finish with the most positive part, which should be the recommendation to read the book.

    I don’t do many reviews, it takes up not a small amount of time and energy and I feel, with all of the extra curricular activity associated with being an indie author these days, I should stick to what’s most important to me. The occasional reviews that I do I post on Goodreads, and on occasion I’ll post one on Amazon or with whoever the distributor is. As a general rule, I won’t write what I consider to be a bad review; if in my estimation a book doesn’t warrant a reasonable review I simply won’t review it.

    Do unto others.

    Excellent post, Cathy.

    1. Thanks. There are indeed some who can bash out a review in seconds. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people. I find that the more time I spend on a review, it makes me reflect in greater depth about the book and I sometimes find more goodness in it than I originally thought.

      1. I do very few reviews too, I find them exceedingly hard to generate, even if I loved the book I struggle to put it into words, takes me weeks. Which is why so few reviews get as far as my blog, Thanks to TD for the reminder to add that reviewers are very special and important people! 😉

  8. Cathy, you’re doing it right. See Carolyn Steele’s post above. 🙂

    Reviews are for the reader, not the author — which is something review-hungry authors tend to forget. But since you asked…. I like to see a short, spoiler-free synopsis, so the reader has some idea of what the book is about and whether they’d be interested in the subject matter. Then I like to see the reviewer’s take on both the best bits and the bits that didn’t work for him/her. If the book is a muddle, a hint of that would be good, too. 😉

    Now that I’m doing my own reviews (which I started to clear the backlog of indie books I’d read but not reviewed), I am beginning to see where the path meets the edge of the cliff. Kudos to you, Cathy, and to other reviewers who manage not to fall off on a daily basis. 🙂

    1. I think you’ve hit on something else, too. Those particularly review-hungry authors may also forget that the reviews they’ve so very persistently and insistently chased may not be quite as good as they hoped…

  9. Excellent post, Cathy. I agree with what everyone else mentioned above, with an emphasis on not including spoilers. Recently I’ve had a few readers write spoilers in their reviews on GoodReads for one of my books. I can’t stress enough how unhappy that makes an author after all the hard work of writing the darned thing. Of course, most professional reviewers know better (such as yourself 🙂 ).

    Your reviews are entertaining and informative, and I love that you don’t mince words if you didn’t like the book. Great job!

    1. If I’m at all worried I might be revealing more than I should, I always check the original book blurb. I don’t reveal any more than has already been. As you say, I’m not afraid to say if I didn’t like a book, but I do hope that’s seen as a personal pov, not as a for-heaven’s-sake-no-one-buy-this-book pov!!

  10. Nice piece, Cathy.

    I like when the reviewer shares feelings and impressions, what worked and what didn’t, what the reader discovered about him or herself. I honestly would get rid of stars, would make reviews such as “didn’t like it”, “not for me”, “waste of money”, “unputdownable”, “great read”, “it really hooked me”, completely useless, finally 🙂

    1. That’s it exactly. If an author has aroused passion in the reader, whether it’s negative or positive, he’s done a good job. Either way, the book is talked about. Remember 50 Shades of You-know-what?

  11. I like any review that is written with the objective of matching a book to readers who will like it, even if the reviewer didn’t particularly like it.

  12. Cathy – so happy to read a new IU post from you :)) I read this as a reader reviewer, as someone who wants to encourage other readers to try the books I love.

    Insightful as always and am enjoying the comments too!

  13. Thank you for your posting. I gained insight into the world of reviewers.

    I need some basic information on how to get reviewed. I have 5 books at 4 publishers, but have yet to really break-through. I can use hints and clues that you may know.

    I assume that reviewers don’t want to buy a few hundred books every year, so authors should supply copies to reviewers, but how do I gift a book to someone’s Kindle?

    Other than cold calling, I don’t know the proper etiquette for approaching a reviewer. Can you offer some advice on this?

    Thank you for being a reviewer.

  14. Authors do indeed supply a free copy to a reviewer. You can either provide a pdf, if that is acceptable to the reviewer, or a Kindle version which you can either send by email (if you have been able to convert) or, as many authors do, by gifting it via Amazon. I believe there is an option for authors to ‘gift this book’. Cold-calling is the way to go, after all, if the reviewer is not keen on the genre, then a polite ‘no, thank you’ is all that’s needed. Most reviewing sites will state the procedure for review requests. Some, I have found with regret, are a little draconian, others, thankfully, are very straightforward. What you will have to bear in mind is that yours isn’t the first book a reviewer receives for review and you may have to wait a little while. There are also a number of Facebook reviewing groups where you can request reviews.

  15. I think it’s a benefit to have a paragraph “synopsis” of the book in a review. So many authors don’t do a good job of writing their book’s description, and by including that synopsis, you’re providing a service for everyone by helping them determine if the book is right for them. Kudos!

    1. It’s quite interesting how one person’s view of what the book is about differs from another. I’ve read one book blurb about a book I’d read that almost had me thinking I’d read a different book!

  16. Not everyone reading your review will have read the blurb. I think summarising the plot, without giving away the ending, is the correct thing to do – In Australia, at least. Best wishes, and thanks for taking all that time to help authors.

  17. I think there is a continuum between ‘scholarly’ reviews and straight reader feedback. Reader feedback is usually about how that individual felt about the book. Scholarly reviews are more objective. As a reader I look for reviews that hover somewhere in the middle.

    That said, as a writer, one of my most loved reviews was from someone who must have stumbled onto my book almost by accident. He didn’t get all the hermaphrodites… but he gave me 4 stars anyway because he really enjoyed the /story/. Plus there may have been a marriage proposal in there somewhere… 😉

  18. Nice post Cathy,

    I really just look for honesty. I don’t mind some criticism as long as it’s backed up with examples so that I can learn from it. There worst thing is when it is reviewed by someone who doesn’t get it. Like a reviewer that is specific to a genre reviewing something out of their genre. It can get a little annoying.

  19. Quite so. I won’t review a couple of genres simply because I don’t like them. I don’t ‘do’ religion, so Christian fiction would be pointless. and zombies make me laugh, which I don’t think is the right reaction. So whilst I hate turning authors away, there’s no point reading a book for which I can’t give an objective review. I kept turning one author away for just these reasons, but she was like a flipping boomerang. She kept coming back. In the end, I said ok. I did my best to focus on the peripheral qualities of her writing, which, when all said and done, were good, but I couldn’t in all honesty apply the same praise to the content. Whether or not her persistence paid off, is something she would have to confirm!

  20. Thank you, Cathy Speight for this informative post. I started writing my reviews to help promote the Indie authors that I enjoyed reading. My Kindle opened up a whole new world for me and I wanted to share the treasures I found. BigAl found me on the low lit corners of the Amazon forums and offered me a home. He is trying to teach me how to write a more comprehensive and polished review, for which I am eternally grateful. I am a reader, not a writer or an editor, and all I can offer is my opinion. I have tried to remain objective, but I find that extremely difficult. I think that is why I enjoy reading how other reviewers approach writing reviews. Thanks for asking authors what they really, really want. 🙂

    1. You have an excellent teacher in Big Al. He is another at the top of my ‘I wish I could write them like that’ list. I will look out for your reviews. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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