By Florence Osmund (@FlorenceOsmund)
As most successful novelists can tell you, book reviews are an important part of marketing and selling your books. The prospect of seeking out book reviews can, however, be a bit overwhelming. Today Florence Osmund is sharing her thoughts and experience on the subject and I think you may find what she has to say very helpful.
Whether written by a professional book reviewer or your average everyday reader, book reviews can be a valuable promotional tool for authors. Even a few negative reviews can be beneficial—opposing viewpoints often incite readers into wanting to find out for themselves which side they favor.
People who write book reviews use a variety of methods to voice their opinions—some write a summary of what the book is about, some state what they liked or didn’t like about the book, and others evaluate the author’s writing skills. For the purpose of this article, when I refer to book reviewers, I am talking about people who know what it takes to craft a story that sells. Professional book reviewers fall into this category. But so do everyday readers who know whether they like or don’t like a particular book, but unlike professional book reviewers, can’t always pinpoint the specific reason.
Here are eleven criteria commonly used by book reviewers, most of which are good for authors to know before they start writing.
Book reviewers like books that are well-written and professionally edited. In fact, many reviewers will reject books that contain errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, word usage, and sentence structure. Other reviewer concerns to consider are wordiness, run-on sentences, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, and having to re-read something in order to get the meaning.
The Beginning, Middle, and Ending
First impressions are crucial. Readers won’t waste their time on a book that doesn’t capture their attention with the opening paragraphs—there are too many other books readily available to them. Reviewers expect to be introduced to the protagonist and his/her primary goal very early on in the book, followed by a sense for the stage, mood, plot, and time period for the story.
The middle of the story has to be strong in order to sustain the reviewer’s interest—something needs to be happening all the time in order to keep the story moving forward at a good pace. Readers and reviewers like lots of conflict, tension, drama, intrigue, suspense, mystery, humor, surprises, twists and turns. A solid middle will be all about a protagonist who is on an interesting journey that is fraught with obstacles.
Endings should accomplish three things—tie up loose ends, resolve any unresolved problems, and make clear how the protagonist has changed as a result of his/her journey. A good ending won’t be too abrupt or drawn out. A good ending will leave the reviewer feeling satisfied.<
Point of View (POV)
The most frequently used POV is third person limited—where a narrator tells the story from one character’s point of view, usually the protagonist’s. If you choose to use multiple POVs as an alternative, I would advise limiting it to the main characters and keeping it consistent throughout the book. Reviewers frown upon head-hopping—when POV changes occur mid-paragraph, mid-scene, or even mid-sentence—so when using multiple POVs, make sure the transition from one to another is clearly delineated.
Your writing style will influence how reviewers assess your book. They tend to like styles that are inviting and engaging. They favor writing that flows with a natural rhythm and is easy to read. Reviewers generally don’t like excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, foreshadowing, imagery, and symbolism.
Reviewers will get annoyed with novels that read too fast or too slow. Too fast, and they may get confused or miss important detail. Too slow, and they’ll get bored. A combination of action, dialogue, and description controls the pace of the narrative, and striking the appropriate balance between them specific to each scene will move the story forward at the right pace.
Book reviewers favor characters that are three-dimensional, well-rounded, believable, interesting, and flawed. In order to keep them distinct and easily recognizable, characters need to stand apart from each other with their names, physical appearance, dialogue, and personality. Above all, each character needs to contribute to the purpose of the story. If they don’t, there is no reason to include them.
A good plot, one that reviewers will find appealing, is crucial to the success of your novel. Plot is the framework that holds the story together—a series of scenes that gives the characters something to do. Each scene needs to serve the interest of the plot. If a scene doesn’t serve the plot either directly or indirectly, it’s best to leave it out. Reviewers like plots that are believable, creative, unique, thought-provoking, and true to the genre and time period of the story.
Since most characters experienced life before your novel opened, some back story will likely be required. But too much back story bogs down the narrative and causes readers to skip segments of the book. Keep back story to a minimum by including only that which is essential to the story. Avoid including back story too soon in the book, and switch up how you present it by using a combination of flashbacks, dialogue with other characters, memories, and narrative summary.
Show, Don’t Tell
It is important to craft scenes that show the reviewer what is going on rather than tell the reviewer what to believe. My favorite quote illustrating this is from Anton Chekhov. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” The use of nouns and verbs allows readers to experience the story through the character’s actions, dialogue, facial expressions, etc., and form their own opinion on what is occurring. Reviewers look for that. The use of adjectives and adverbs, on the other hand, leaves nothing for readers to perceive on their own.
With the exception of sci-fi and fantasy, it’s not likely you will write a novel without having to rely on some real-life facts and figures to make the content of your story believable. Readers and reviewers take a dim view of misstated facts, so check and double-check everything you write.
With the advent of e-books, book cover design has become less of a criterion for reviewers, but I still see comments about covers in reviews, so I decided to include it in this list. Reviewers are no different than your average reader—they like front covers that grab their attention, are easy to read, show clear insight into what’s inside, and portray a professionally-designed image.
The Where and How of It
There are a number of ways to get reviews. The most obvious way is to ask for them. If someone tells you that they read your book and enjoyed it, ask them if they would please take a few minutes to write a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I include this request in the back of each of my books.
Thank you for taking time to read [title]. If you enjoyed it, please consider telling your friends and posting a short review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Word-of-mouth referrals are an author’s best friend and much appreciated.
I request a review in advance of someone reading my books in the e-mails I send to my fan base when introducing a new release. And on my website, I include a blurb on the importance of reviews to authors.
You can request a review from any number of professional reviewers who will then post them on their websites, Amazon, and Goodreads. Here are some of my favorites.
- Awesome Indies http://awesomeindies.net
- Big Al’s Books and Pals http://booksandpals.blogspot.com
- Indie Book of the Day http://indiebookoftheday.com
- Midwest Book Review http://midwestbookreview.com
- San Francisco Book Review http://www.sanfranciscobookreview.com
- Windy City Reviews http://windycityreviews.org
- Christy’s Cozy Corners http://christyscozycorners.com
You will find a comprehensive list of professional reviewers and what genres they accept at http://theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/.
A positive review from a top reviewer is a great promotional tool. The top five national reviewers are Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Midwest Book Review. Some charge for their services. Others do not. For a list of Amazon’s top reviewers, go to http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers.
Book bloggers—book lovers who like to talk about books with their followers—are another way to get reviews. Click this link for a list of bloggers by genre http://bookbloggerlist.com/.
The most important thing you can do when seeking a book reviewer is to pick the right one by finding out what kind of books the reviewer likes to review. There is no point in sending your YA fantasy to a reviewer who is primarily interested in historical fiction. The second most important thing to do is carefully follow the reviewer’s submission guidelines.
At the time of this writing, I have 800+ reviews on Amazon for the four books I have written. Roughly 70% are from people who have bought my books via Amazon. Another 25% were written as a result of the promotions I have run where I gave away numerous Kindle copies of the books. And the remaining 5% or so are from family and friends.
You Can’t Please Everyone
Even if you do everything that book reviewers want to see in a novel, keep in mind that you will never write a book that appeals to all readers. No one has, and no one ever will. What one reader loves, another one will hate. And it doesn’t matter how well a book is written—it will never appeal to everyone. Remember this when you get an unfavorable review.
To exemplify this point, I pulled some excerpts from a few of my Amazon reviews (all written by people I don’t know).
Regarding Anna (279 reviews averaging 4.2 stars)
- This might be one of the worst books I have ever read. (1 star)
- I loved the story and the way it was developed. I gave it 5 stars because I couldn’t give it more.
Red Clover (241 reviews averaging 4.4 stars)
- I quit reading this book after several chapters. Just didn’t care what would happen to these characters. (2 stars)
- This book held my attention from the first page. This is one of the few books I will not delete. (5 stars)
Daughters (86 reviews averaging 4.0 stars)
- Only read about a third and gave up because I lost interest. (2 stars)
- The characters are so well drawn and the story line so intriguing. Loved, loved, loved it. (5 stars)
The Coach House (201 reviews averaging 4.0 stars)
- It was the kind of book that you keep reading in the hope it gets better but it doesn’t. (2 stars)
- Very insightful and inspiring book. I couldn’t put it down. (5 stars)
Link to all my Amazon reviews: http://www.amazon.com/author/florenceosmund .
If you’re a book reviewer who uses criteria other than what is included here, I would love to hear from you. The more we know about your critiquing methods, the better writers we become.
After a successful career in corporate America, Florence Osmund retired to write novels. “I like to craft stories that contain thought-provoking plots and characters with depth and complexity—particularly ones that challenge readers to survey their own values,” Osmund states. She has written four novels in the literary fiction genre and is working on a fifth. Florence lives with her eighteen-year-old cat Miska in downtown Chicago on the beautiful shore of Lake Michigan.
Osmund dedicates her website http://www.novelelements.com to helping new authors—offering advice she wishes she had received before she started writing her first book. There she talks about the writing craft, building an author platform, working with editors, book promotion, and much more.