Reviewing 101 – Part 4

BookglassesIn previous installments of this series I covered how to enter an Amazon customer review, how to write a short, yet useful review, followed by ideas to beef up your reviews to give potential readers additional information to assist their purchasing decision. In this final installment I’m going to throw out tips, hints, and other ideas to help refine your reviews to be even better and to help you get more out of reviewing.


While there are some readers who don’t mind knowing how a book ends (I’ve heard rumors that some people read the last chapter first), most would prefer to discover this on their own. Giving away a book’s ending or too much detail about critical junctures of a story is called a spoiler and considered bad form. The best approach is to not do it. If you feel you have to discuss something that would be a spoiler in order to adequately explain your reaction to the book, there are two approaches.

The first, which I prefer, is to be vague about the specifics, only explaining your reaction. For example, “the solution of the mystery was clever and took me by surprise, yet looking back the clues were there, if only I’d managed to put them together.” This communicates how we felt about the ending and that it made sense without telling the reader anything except it might take them by surprise like it did you.

I’ve yet to find a way not to describe my issue in terms clear enough to get the basics of my reaction across while being vague about the specifics., but if you find it impossible to explain your position without a spoiler, do everything you can to warn those who don’t want spoilers. Indicate at the start that there will be a spoiler later. Add a line in all capitals saying “*** SPOILER ALERT ***” as an additional warning.


Some authors will have book giveaways or offer a free copy of their book to interested readers with the request that they write an honest review on Amazon after they’ve read it. There is a Federal Trade Commission regulation, for those in the US, and a clause in Amazon’s Terms of Service (for everyone) that requires disclosure of this. In any scenario where the book is provided to a reader for free by the author this requirement applies. (It wouldn’t include “buying” an eBook priced as free on Amazon or another book vendor.) Adding a line somewhere in your review that says something like, “The author provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review” should take care of this requirement.

Other Review Venues

As you put more effort into writing reviews you may find that you have something in common with the authors whose books you’re reviewing: that you’d like more readers. One way to expand your readership is to post your reviews to other venues beyond your preferred Amazon site. These include other eBook vendors or Amazon sites (keep in mind that some sites require an account that has made a purchase from that site, some might also require the item you’re reviewing be purchased from them). Other venues are reader- oriented sites such as Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing.


Potential readers who use reviews as part of their decision making process are becoming adept at vetting the available reviews for credibility. This section could almost be a post on its own, but I’ll hit some of the high points. First, is how well you express or articulate your thoughts. If your review is full of bad grammar and badly misspelled words, the reader might rightfully question your ability to judge the writing of others.

Some reviewers will look at your profile where all your reviews are available in one place. If almost all of your reviews are five star and one star, a reader might question whether your judgments are too black and white with no ability to see shades of gray. Although some reviewers choose only to give positive (five, four, and possibly three star reviews), a reader seeing this might wonder if you “like everything.” On the flip side, a reviewer who only writes one star reviews will be perceived as a whiner who isn’t going to be satisfied with anything, and his or her reviews will probably be ignored or taken with a large grain of salt. The more reviews you’ve written, the more credible you’ll be to most readers if the overall body of reviews doesn’t raise a red flag.

If your review sounds just like several others of the same book, making the same points using similar language, some readers will pick up on this and find it suspicious. (I avoid reading other reviews until mine is written to avoid subconsciously being influenced in what I say and how I say it.) Last, there are some things that are said in reviews that are so clichéd as to be useless. My personal pet peeve is the statement that “this book is so bad, I’d give it zero stars if Amazon would let me.” (If I could, I’d give your review negative 99 stars.) If you hated it enough to threaten zero stars, you should be able to do better than that explaining why.

Start Your Own Book Review Blog

Reviewing isn’t for everyone, but some people find they enjoy it. If this turns out to be you, why not take the next step and start your own review blog? The considerations and how-tos of doing this go beyond the scope of this series (maybe I should write a book), but this is the logical next step. (If you decide to do this, once you get started be sure to get your site added to the book blog index at

Or possibly you’d like the potential added exposure your reviews would receive on a review site, but aren’t interested in the additional work that would be required. In that case, you might consider finding a blog with multiple reviewers that would be interested in having you join their team. (I can think of one that would be interested.)


Reviewing books is something that can be as simple as writing a quick, high-level impression of an occasional book to an enjoyable hobby that can suck up a large portion of your leisure time. Rumor is there are even people who get paid to do this. How far you go is entirely up to you.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

21 thoughts on “Reviewing 101 – Part 4”

  1. Nice wrap up to the series, Al. I’ve found it helpful in my process to post reviews. I don’t do many, but I would spend quite a bit of time to get it right. The process seems much easier now.

  2. Great post and superb series.

    If I had more time to read I’d write more reviews. I do write them for most books I’ve read, but I am one of those who won’t post below a three star. Just can’t, so I simply don’t review the ones I don’t enjoy. That said, if it warrants such a low rating it’s likely I didn’t finish reading it, either. My time is too valuable.

    1. Yvonne, Having forced myself to finish some 1 and 2 star reviews, I completely understand your point. There are a fair number of top Amazon reviewers and even review blogs doing the same.

  3. Interesting post Al.

    We all know that we shouldn’t ask family and friends to review our books, but what I’m curious about is how far does the ‘friend’ part of the equation extend? if I know someone via social media, does that mean I should refrain from reviewing their books that I’ve bought and read?

    A recent experience with Amazon suggests they are tightening their guidelines to exclude anyone ‘personally known to you’ no matter how remote the connection which makes me wonder about the future of sites such as Goodreads as a way of authors connecting with readers.

    1. I haven’t heard that, Mel, but I might not have either. However, I’ll go out on a limb (not very far though) and say that whatever rules Amazon uses to decide when to delete a review is a black box and we can guess, but I doubt we’ll ever know this for sure and, like everything with Amazon, as soon as it seems we have a handle on it, things will change.

      IMO, there are two main ways reviews get deleted. The first is because someone complains the review is outside of guidelines, a live body looks at it, and (using whatever rules they have for doing this) decide the complaint is valid. I have a post in process around this specific situation in process, although it will probably be 2 or 3 months before it will be published.

      The other way reviews *might* get deleted is some automated process. I’m not sure if we know for sure this happens, but there is at least some reason to believe it does because from time to time there will be several authors see multiple reviews deleted over the same night. When this happens everyone looks for the common denominator and theories get floated. I suspect the friends on social networks is one of those. It is possible they look at this, but it is definitely not something done across the board looking ONLY at that. I’m friends with too many authors on social networks whose books I’ve reviewed for that to be the case. (I’ve never had a review deleted.) Possibly they combine multiple factors (friends on social media where both parties are authors is one possible combination, although I don’t know if this fits or not).

      As for how close a friend is too close, I think that is a decision you have to make yourself. How close can you be and give a reasonably impartial review? In my case, I’ve reviewed some books by fairly close friends and declined to review books for others rather than do a negative review and I wasn’t going to give a positive one for a book that didn’t deserve it.

      1. Thanks Al, I look forward to your post on the complaints situation because while there needs to be a mechanism for reporting abuse of the system, it seems to me that unfortunately there is scope for people to use the complaints process out of spite, especially when the author has no chance to defend themselves against the complaint and, apparently, the reviewers, who are the only ones who can contest the removal of the review, are not notified that their reviews have been taken down.

  4. Great series, Al. I’m one of those who never posts anything below 3 stars, but that’s because I do a lot of vetting before I start reading (blurb, other reviews, look inside). If I don’t think I’ll enjoy it, I don’t even start it.

  5. Great wrap up to the series. And I finally got my spoilers questions answered. It’s good to know you’re against spoilage (I must say, spoilage is generally a bad thing, particularly with food).

    Certainly you’ve given people who review or want to review a great overview of how to go about it.

  6. Great post, Al, with excellent review-writing advice. I wish all of my readers would take a look… Well, both of them 🙂

  7. I’m a ‘shout it from the rooftops’ type of reviewer – meaning I only review books that make me go ‘Wow!’ The ones that make me grind my teeth never get a mention from me. Not exactly a balanced approach I know, but I didn’t realise how that imbalance might appear to others until I read this post.

    Thanks Al, I’m going to do some soul searching and maybe go back to a couple of books that didn’t quite hit my wow factor.

    1. Thanks for the comment, AC. As an author you also have to consider that a negative review has the potential of backfiring. But the books that “didn’t quite hit your wow factor” would at least show that everything isn’t a 5 star without ruffling too many feathers.

      1. My problem with negative-ish reviews is more to do with my own stress levels than any fear of a backlash. I’m all too aware that the difference between a good book and a great book is often down to the reader, not the writer. 🙁

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