In Part 1 of this series we started with a tutorial on how to enter a customer review on Amazon. That’s the easy part; now it is time for the hard part, actually writing that review. One of the reasons the first part is easy is it has simple steps that are straight-forward to define with no alternatives or choices to be made. There is only one right way. Writing the review is hard because none of those things are true of that task. There is no one right way. There are no clearly defined steps. And just like the contents of the review, which is largely personal, how you go about writing it probably will be too.
There is a good chance this post will be as full of opinion as a review, but I’ll at least try to explain my reasoning. While I’ll primarily be focused on writing a review of a book to post on Amazon, most of the ideas I’ll throw out would, with a little tweaking, be applicable to writing a review of anything to post anywhere. (I spent several years reviewing music for a magazine and a few websites before I started my book review blog and found more similarities than differences between the two.)
A good place to start is establishing what the purpose of a review is. It’s simple and maybe shouldn’t even need to be stated. Yet, this purpose is easy to forget. Many people who haven’t bothered to consider this write reviews with no value, get upset with reviews that are written, or create conflict in the process some other way. It’s so important I’m going to emphasize it.
The purpose of a review is to help a potential purchaser decide if this book (CD, lawn blower, restaurant, whatever) is one they’d be happy buying and reading (listening to, using, etc).
That’s it. That is where your focus when writing a review should go. Any other purpose the review might serve is a bonus and shouldn’t be your aim. You aren’t writing it to help the author sell more books (although it might have some small effect on sales, good or bad). A review isn’t a literary critique (we’ll leave that for more pompous and elitist venues than the pages of Amazon). It isn’t to help the author improve, although it is conceivable that something you say could be put to that use. You aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) writing it to get the author off your back so he or she will stop begging you to review their book. If that is your only reason, here is a generic review to use. Pick one of the choices given from each of the brackets.
I read this book and [loved it | liked it | hated it]. I [would | wouldn’t] recommend it to others. I [will definitely | won’t be] reading this author’s [next book | other books].
This meets (actually exceeds by one word) Amazon’s minimum requirement of twenty words for a review. It should get the author off your back. It’s also close to useless. It doesn’t help the potential purchaser, so it won’t sell more books, and thus doesn’t help the author either, but it is a good start.
However, if you’d like to give writing a review an honest try, it doesn’t have to be that hard. The generic review is really only missing one thing, the reasons why you feel the way you do. Using the generic review we’ll explore how you might do that. First, we’ll throw away the last two sentences (you’re reviewing this book, not the author’s other books, and the first sentence gives a good indication of what you’d say in the second). It should also be a given that if you’re reviewing the book that you’ve read it. We’ll drop that too. That leaves us with something like this for a start:
I [liked | didn’t like | hated] this book because …
Now write fifteen words or more telling the potential purchaser why. Here’s a couple of examples.
I didn’t like this book because the main character was constantly swearing (something that offends me) and jumping in and out of bed with every man she meets.
One sentence with twenty-eight words. Does it help a potential purchaser decide if it is right for them? Absolutely. Other readers like you who are offended by strong language or sexual content will know this isn’t for them. (If I’m on the fence your review might be the one that convinces me to buy this book. The author ought to be happy.)
Let’s try another one.
I loved this book. The main character’s sense of humor had me laughing on the subway which got some strange looks. I was so eager to see how it ended that I read the last three chapters after I got to work. I’m glad the boss didn’t catch me.
Wow. Almost fifty words. Does it help a potential purchaser? It tells them that at least one person found the book both humorous and a fun, compelling read. I think that’s a big help.
If a book you’ve read came up in a conversation with a friend and they asked what you thought of it, you’d be able to rattle off two or three sentences telling them what you thought, right? Writing a review doesn’t have to be much harder than that.
Although my reviews tend to be longer than these that’s partly because I’m not capable of answering a question in only twenty, thirty, or even a hundred words (ask any of my friends). But if you pick several things you liked or didn’t like about a book and write a sentence or two about each, the words add up quickly.
You’ve whipped out twenty or thirty words and you’re almost set. If you’re going to post the review to Amazon you’ll need two more things. First, a title or summary. This might be a few words to summarize what you say in your review (“Great Characters” or “Wasn’t for Me”). Or you can take the easy way out like I do which is to just enter the title of the book.
Last, you need to assign a star ranking, from one to five stars, one being the worst and five the best. Amazon defines the meaning of the stars this way:
1 star = “I hate it”
2 stars = “I don’t like it”
3 stars = “It’s okay”
4 stars = “I like it”
5 stars = “I love it”
It’s worth mentioning that Amazon’s definitions are different from those used elsewhere and, if you follow them, they’ll result in a typical star rating almost one star higher than some five star systems (Goodreads is a good example). I talked about Amazon’s star rating system more in one of my early posts at Indies Unlimited if you’d like more to consider when assigning this rating. If you plan on posting your review in more than one place, I’ll leave it up to you how to resolve the dilemma of the different rating systems. (There are different possible answers, none of them in my opinion are clearly correct.)
That’s it for today. Your homework assignment is to write a short, simple review and post it on Amazon. If you keep in mind its purpose (to help potential purchasers decide) and consider what you’d tell a friend to explain why you did or didn’t like it, this should be a slam dunk. In Part 3 I’ll give lots of ideas that should help those who want to do more, pumping those twenty, thirty, or fifty word reviews into two or three hundred word bloviations.