Q&A: Why Write Amazon Reviews?

Courtesy of Boni Idem.

As anyone who is or knows an author knows, many of us frequently go around wishing and hoping that our book will receive reviews on that book giant, Amazon. (I also wish and hope for Powell’s and Barnes and Noble’s but as more and more authors publish exclusively through the Big A, that’s what this blog post is about.) I thought that I’d explain my own reasons for wanting reviews and how they work. I’m choosing to address this via questions that I’ve received from friends and family.

1) I’m no good at writing an Amazon review. What do I say?

The beautiful thing about Amazon reviews is that you don’t have to be Roger Ebert. You can click a star rating and then write a couple of sentences about the book. Reviews can be as simple as “This book was really good. I wish there was more romance” or really elaborate.

Here are some things you could put in a review:

  • Adjectives that describe the book (it was good, it was awful, etc).
  • Say something you liked about it. Things that you could focus on could include the plot, a particular scene, characters, how things changed during the course of the story, etc.
  • If there was a moment or character that personally impacted you in some way, don’t be afraid to say so. Put yourself in the review. Authors love to know their readers and I know that I’m always touched when I can tell someone made a personal connection with what I wrote.
  • Talk about what you wanted to see more of or what needs improvement. Do you wish another character was in the book more? Say so. Did bad spelling distract you? Tell us that too.

Tips to remember:

  • Don’t be afraid to be honest. Do, however, remember to be helpful. Don’t just say “it sucks” but tell everyone why it sucked.
  • Don’t give away the ending of the book. You can allude to it very vaguely (“the ending surprised me”) but don’t say specific plot details.
  • You’re not being graded. Write a review as long or short as you want. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of art—think of it more as a conversation or what you might tell people you know about this book.
  • Make sure that you read the book before you review. This seems like it should be obvious but… it’s not.

2) Do Amazon reviews actually affect a book’s sales?

I have to be honest with you and tell you that I don’t yet know for sure as I don’t have the “magic number” yet. This is what I understand to be true from conversations with my publisher and other authors:

  • Around 20-25 reviews, Amazon starts including the book in “also bought” and “you might like” lists. This increases your chances of someone finding your title.
  • Around 50-70 reviews, Amazon looks at your book for spotlight positions and the newsletter. This is HUGE. This is my personal goal although I use Amazon reviews for other reasons (more later on in this post).
  • Number of reviews may affect Amazon sales ranking. (Again, this is anecdotal–I have no actual proof of it.)
  • Some websites will not consider or promote your book unless you have a number of reviews on the page (this is very true of those sites that highlight free promos—I can attest to this).
  • And, of course, readers may read through your reviews and decide to purchase or not purchase the book based on this.

3) Whatever. I don’t care if you sell this wonderful/awful book. Why should I write a review if it doesn’t change how you write the next one?

Oh, but it does.

When I read my Amazon reviews, they tell me things that my editor might not. Let’s face it, an editor is only one person and even with beta readers, you’re working in a group of people who are familiar with the craft of writing. What an author also needs is the opinion of the average reader, that person who just picked up their book and doesn’t have an English degree.

While you have to have a tough skin about reviews, as an author, they’re very helpful. They can reaffirm something that you were already working on. For instance, I’d already decided to make one of my minor characters in my first book a point-of-view character for the second—my reviews have told me that people wouldn’t be uninterested in him. They can also point out things that you need to work on. In my case, exposition!

Likewise, positive reviews tell you what you’re doing right. If people rave about your characters, then that’s likely a good place to keep going. If reviews talk about the fighting scenes in a positive light, then you know you’re making a difference.

So, in short, yes, what you write in that review is fairly likely to change something about the book I’m working on now. Writing is a process.

4) But I really hated the book! Should I still review it?

Here is where I probably differ from some other authors so I’m going to speak only for myself here.

Yes. Absolutely. How will I know where to improve unless I get reviews that tell me so? Yes, it can be painful to read some reviews but am I ever going to say that there isn’t truth in them? No.
After the initial sting, I’ll read it again and take something home from that. I’ll be a better writer for it. To be honest, not everyone likes every book. There are people out there who hate Harry Potter. It would be a little presumptuous to think that all of my reviews would be golden for any book (they’re not now and I don’t expect that to change. Especially not if anyone reads this post. ).

The only thing that I ask is to please make sure you have something to say about why it is bad. The only review that I’ve ever been really irritable about was a one-star on an old short horror story I posted for fun where the reader said they were underage and hadn’t read it.

Having said all of that, it is really tough to be a small press or self-published author (I am the former). Bad reviews can kill a novel if they’re the first ones a book receives or if they’re all that the book has. Please hold this in mind if you decide to go forth. This post by Anne R. Allen does a good job of explaining the impact in more detail than I’ll get into here.

Now that you’ve read all of that, if you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll try to answer them. I am speaking from an author’s standpoint but perhaps others will chime in with their own thoughts on the process.

(Feel free to share this post or copy it for your own blog. All I ask is that if you do, please keep my author note here at the bottom.)


Gwen Perkins is a fantasy novelist who is always on the hunt for Amazon reviews for her first novel, The Universal Mirror (Hydra Publications, 2012). She can be contacted through email at gwen@ironangel.net.

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62 thoughts on “Q&A: Why Write Amazon Reviews?

  1. Thank you so much for this blog. It explained a lot to me that I needed to know. I have a very good story buried on Amazon right now. I don’t know if I can ever get it to daylight but I’m going to try. Oh by the way, the books name is The Tower. It is a YA mystery. I hope you have a happy and blessed Easter.

    • Thanks! I’m glad I could help. And please feel free to share it–I think there are many readers out there who don’t understand how very important they are to us authors. 🙂

    • Hi Shirleymclain930: I went looking for your book on Amazon, and wasn’t able to clearly identify it. Are you Jade Varden? 🙂

  2. As a book blogger I can tell you that many bloggers prefer not to post their reviews on Amazon because of their Terms of Service. They claim copyright for any reviews you write and for typical reviewers this may not be a concern, but for bloggers who also post their reviews on their blogs (and elsewhere) it can be a large problem. I still often post limited reviews on Amazon, but know many bloggers that have been burned and won’t review there at all any more. Just my two cents 🙂

  3. That’s a good concern to have. Thank you for bringing that up here since there might be bloggers who aren’t aware of it.

    From my point of view, a blog review is just as valuable, if not more, as an Amazon review (and often harder to obtain). I called out Amazon specifically as I’ve read/heard these questions from non-bloggers and thought that it might be useful information to have.

  4. Gwen, thank you for writing this. I have tried explaining the importance of reviews so many times to so many people and I’m just not sure why folks don’t see how critical reviews are to our work. May I please share your post with everyone I know and also include it in the back of all my future books? (just kidding)

    Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

    • You are very welcome! (And please do share the post, however you like.)

      I find myself encouraging people who tell me about good books to review them on Amazon and then the response is always “but I don’t know what to say/it doesn’t really matter.” So I hope that this little blog will inspire others to realize that all voices count. 🙂

  5. Gwen:

    I completely agree with your reasoning for Amazon reviews, and I appreciate your advice and encouragement for how readers can be helpful in their remarks – even when they didn’t like the book. Indeed, reviews affect the author more than people realize.

    On that note, “Universal Mirror” has already received amazing reviews! I suggest everyone try it out for themselves and discover the beginning to Ms. Perkins’ wonderful series.

    All the best~
    Rachel

    • Awww, you flatter me, Rachel! 🙂

      But quite honestly, I’ve learned a lot from my reviews and I think it’s making my second novel a better book for it.

  6. Gwen – I found your article by following a link from another site. Not only did it provide insights that I’ve never considered (both as a writer and as a review) the dialogue that has ensued in the comments have built on your foundation. All I will add is that I am a ravenous reader and film addict. Although I have been instinctively following some of your tips in my reviews, you also provided me with additional things to focus on to assist the authors. My sole priority has always been to either encourage or disuade other potential buyers of the product. Your article has added a second consideration – what the actual creator of the work can use as encouragement and/or honest and constructive criticism. It also helped me decide whether or not to read reviews of my own works as I begin publishing them. I’ve long felt my skin had the necessary “thickness,” but I now see how even negative reviews can provide an education in the best ways to refine future projects. Thanks so much!

    • Bruce, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’ll be honest–like you, that was how I approached reviews until I started publishing. I’m still learning a lot about the process (I hope that I never stop learning) and most of that’s been from just talking and listening to people. But I definitely approach reviews differently now.

      I hope that other writers will also see what you have–that reading reviews shouldn’t be about how “thick” your skin is but rather on how open you can be to finding something to take away from each review. I think it’s a bit of a balancing game–you can’t make everyone happy, after all, but in the end, this is how we become better writers. 🙂

  7. Thanks for the informative post, Gwen. It’s interesting to see more information on this inner world of what makes things tick at Amazon. Wouldn’t all us writers like to know more about that! Just a side note on the number of reviews in your first point – I have 9 reviews (they are all great, yay!) but because of KDP Select, my books now have several pages of ‘also bought’ and ‘also viewed’. That program adds a whole new wrinkle of information to the mix.

    My worst review came over the phone from a brutally honest friend who’d just read my last book. She loved the story, but had a few choice words to impart about a couple of my characters, and I’ve taken those words to heart. Reviews do make you at least attempt to tell a better story.

    Thanks again!

    • Hi, Jolea,

      Thanks for the information about KDP Select–you’re right, I think that does add a whole other wrinkle to the list of information. I expect in a few months, I’ll be writing about my own experience with that. 🙂 (I’ve only been through one free promo with my books so I definitely don’t feel ready to evaluate it yet.) I wish I knew whether Amazon changes the rules for KDP books–I think that they must but don’t have any direct information on it.

      There’s something to be said for honest friends. 🙂 Though that’s the area that makes you wince the most. I’ve had friends beta my work and walked away with a better book but a slightly-bruised ego. But hey, no one’s perfect! *grins*

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  9. What a fantastic, informative post. Thanks much for the shout-out. And many thanks to Miss Becky for her input about Amazon owning your reviews. Major issue there! In fact, I just heard from a book reviewer who said she was going to give me a rave on Goodreads, but no longer reviews on Amazon. This explains it.

    And I do want to especially agree with what you say about giving negative reviews. Readers need them. But they need to be helpful to the reader– not a way for somebody to vent their rage at an overdone genre or a bad hair day. I once read a one-star review that made me buy a book with one click. Everything they hated is stuff I love (Some people don’t get humor.)

    Also, people need to know how important those stars are, especially on Amazon. I don’t know if the algorithms still are based on star count, but they used to be. Plus many sites like Pixel of Ink won’t feature you unless you have 4 and 5 star reviews only. (Yeah, kind of discouraging)

    Thanks for this. I’ll FB and Tweet like mad. Glad to find this great blog.

    • Hi, Anne,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I loved your Amazon post and couldn’t resist recommending it as well since it does highlight points that I did not.

      I actually find it distressing that there are sites that feature you if you only have 4 and 5 star reviews. Look at how many of the classics have 1, 2, and 3 stars! Reviews are always going to be a matter of individual taste–that’s part of the beauty of them. 🙂

      Gwen

  10. Wonderful post! I concur with MissBecky. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burned by Amazon in this very situation. As a book blogger I’ve not only had my reviews stolen from Amazon (by other “book bloggers” even), but also had a hard time feeling as though they were appreciated.

    In Anne’s post her point number three really hits home. Sometimes people leave a “liked” or “unhelpful” on the reviews I post, but often there’s nothing at all. Reviewers take a lot of time writing and sharing their thoughts about a book, usually for free or in exchange for a copy of the book they read. To suddenly have an “unhelpful” with no explanation or nothing at all, not even a “like/helpful”, can be discouraging especially if the author specifically asked you to post your review on Amazon.

    Basically what I’m saying is if the book reviewers are taking the chance on posting their review, potentially having their writing & thoughts stolen the least we deserve is a click of a button saying essentially “thank you”. Of course, if you felt the review was lacking, definitely click the unhelpful button but perhaps politely say that you wish they’d expounded on whatever the issue was in more detail. Most reviewers who are grown-ups can take that and may even offer that explanation.

    Okay…rant over. Sorry about that! I honestly do think this is an excellent post! Thank you so so much for bringing up these great points. I may be adjusting my Amazon reviews a bit even because of them. Thanks! 🙂

    • The problem with commenting on reviews for my own book is knowing whether or not the reviewer will find it odd or disconcerting. To be honest, I always give the reviewer a “like” since that’s something I feel I can do to recognize the work that they’ve done. Even if I don’t understand what they meant (I don’t think this has yet been the case, I’ve been fortunate), I want to say thank you in some small way for doing it. And of course, there’s many a post on the internet criticizing an author for leaving a comment on said reviews.

      You’re completely right–it can be very thankless to leave a review since there isn’t always a good feedback loop for it. I hope that others read this and spend some time “liking” reviews. 🙂 A huge thank you is deserved to you and all others who review books on whatever medium!

      • Oh, I completely understand. I’ll be one of the first to admit that the book blogging/reviewing community is very tight knit and when there’s even a hint of blood in the water, even fake blood, we swarm like sharks to protect our own. So unfortunately even when you ask something out of honest concern, trying to be civil it can sometimes blow up in your face. It’s definitely a tight line to walk. On the flip side…make friends with a book blogger/reviewer, write something they truly love and you may be surprised at the doors that are opened.

        Oh the joys of writing! I’ll say this though…some of the best experiences I’ve had in my life have been the ones with the authors I’ve met and interacted with. Writers are some of the best people out there! 🙂

  11. I’m a top 1000 reviewer at Amazon. This is a great read.

    One thing you didn’t mention that I like to include in my reviews is mentioning who may or may not like the book (or item under review). So I might say something akin to, “I loved the book as it really appealed to me as a fantasy reader. However, my wife couldn’t get through the first chapter, but fantasy is not her genre. If you are looking for a good fantasy, pick this up! Otherwise, it may not be for you.” I’ve received some comments before that they appreciated that in helping match to a specific read. I could give it a 5-star review and love it to pieces, but I don’t try to convince people from picking it up if they are going to hate it. This is a service to the authors. Sure, they miss out on that one sale (or a couple of sales) but they don’t later end up with a 1-star review because they couldn’t stand it.

    Great post!

    • Thanks, James!

      I really appreciate the insight from a reviewer. I agree that not every book is to every taste. I personally read the Amazon reviews carefully before I buy–to be honest, the stars on ratings don’t influence me as much as what the reviews actually say.

  12. Yes, the reviews give some idea of what’s in the book. The fact that someone liked it may help sell books. There are some problems with Amazon reviews. One of which is that they are all pen-names, which takes credibility away from the good ones, which people might think are all written by your mother, and it also makes it easier for mischievous children to slash books they haven’t actually read. I got a bunch of one-star reviews, so I wrote a novel based on the same character which is doing well. Even a totally erroneous review forces us to anticipate criticisms and try to do better.

    • Luckily not ALL reviewers use pen names, and Amazon puts a “real name” tag on reviews by people who are using their real names (I do.) As a reader, I always give those more weight. But you’re right there are nasty people out there who leave anonymous one-star reviews of books they’ve obviously never read. In fact there are professionals who will leave bad reviews for your “rivals” for a fee. And Barnes and Noble still allows trolls to leave anonymous one-stars with no review, so they can go around destroying a book’s ratings with the click of a mouse.,

      • Thanks, Anne, for catching that.

        I will add that I do dislike the practice of anonymous reviews in that respect. It’s good to have a name associated with a review, I believe, even if it’s not a real one.

  13. Tremendously helpful and informative article, thank you for writing it, and thank you for the valuable insights. I had no idea about the number of reviews it takes to be spotlighted. Now that I have read this article, I have a goal to get 50 reviews. I personally like to review indie books, to read indie authors and support them, being an indie author myself. I try to be positive and honest at the same time, if possible. I will not write a review that deliberately sabotages an author.

    • It’s a good goal, I think! Though I fully expect it’ll take me a long time to reach. 🙂

      I review indie books more often than any other, to be honest. There is a world of wonderful, largely undiscovered material out there.

  14. Great article. Reviews certainly are very useful as I can attest myself as a kindle author. I invite people to email me with their feedback too as a bad review can definitely damage your rating and put some people off. I think often the bad reviews you see are unsubstantiated, or picky, which is a shame.

    Best of luck with your book.
    Amanda

    • True though good reviews can often be just as vague. The truth is, a review’s a pretty hard thing to write. I hope that some of the tips I gave here will inspire future reviews. I made notes about things that help me personally as an author when I read them.

  15. Excellent post. There’s a lot of stuff here I didn’t know about Amazon reviews, I am particularly intrigued to discover that the number of reviews affects how they include you in lists. I’m off to beg everyone who’s read my books to review them. Thanks

    • Thanks for dropping by, Jenny.

      I actually do think that it’s somewhat unfortunate that the number of reviews affect how the book is marketed by Amazon (given that I think it perpetuates the false review system) but I do understand the rationale. It at least gives them a benchmark to go by in terms of evaluating who to push to the forefront.

  16. Great post, and so much information – even the comments had more info for me! As an indie author it is so tough to get those reviews, and getting 20+ seems like such a daunting task. But I’m crossing my fingers and hoping to get there someday!

    Armand Rosamilia

    • I agree–it’s taken me a long, long time and a lot of work to get reviews. And of course, soliciting honest reviews means that your book doesn’t show up with quite so many five-stars. 😉 Though it has been so, so helpful to use my critical reviews in writing the second book.

      But you will get there!

      Thanks for dropping by, Armand!

  17. I’ve been writing reviews on Goodreads for years, and still haven’t imported them to Amazon. I’m simply not part of that little cultural group yet, but keep pondering bringing there, or to B&N, or other destinations. Along the way I’ve run into many people who are afraid that they’ll sound foolish or get yelled at. It’s discouraging that book culture could even get that pre-emptively negative. I try to support others, especially for the books that moved me.

    • I agree and I think that’s an absolute shame. It’s hard to know what to say when you’re writing a review. It can take me hours to get something down just for that very reason. Maybe that’s why I treasure every review I get. It’s such an honor to think that someone was thinking that hard about your book that they responded to it, whether in love or hatred.

  18. Excellent tips on how to be a better reviewer, especially as a fellow writer! I am part of a new imprint and have been timid to offer up reviews because I wasn’t sure how to best approach them. Your post has inspired me to come up with some kind of template that I can use to write fun, constructive reviews without undue anxiety on either side.

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  20. Reblogged this on Kerry Dwyer and commented:
    A few days ago I shared a picture on my facebook page called ‘How to help your favourite author’. It was about clicking those buttons on Amazon to help your favourite authors. I wanted to know more about how reviews and ‘likes’ affect ratings. I was also asked how to write a review. I am no expert but this article gives some common sense advice. It also details how you reviews effect the author’s next book.
    Am I posting this because I would like people who read my book to review it? Well of course I am. I shall certainly review books I read having read this.

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  26. It is amazing that you take the time to respond to each of the comments on your blog! I love to read and have a book review blog as well (www.PriyankaReads.com) – I post my book reviews on my blog and on goodreads.com. Would it make sense to repost those same reviews on Amazon also, and should I include a link to my blog when posting these reviews on other sites? Thank you!

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