Eleven Ways to Get Better Book Reviews for Your Novel

by | Sep 2, 2015

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.

  1. Writing Mechanics

    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.

  2. 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.<

  3. 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.

  4. Style

    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.

  5. Pacing

    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.

  6. Character Development

    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.

  7. Plot

    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.

  8. Back 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Accuracy

    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.

  11. The Cover

    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.

You will find a comprehensive list of professional reviewers and what genres they accept at https://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 https://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 https://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: https://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.

Florence_Osmund_headshotx125After 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 https://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.
 
Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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28 Comments

  1. Elle Boca

    I just came across your article, thanks!

    I especially appreciated the links to your favorite sites.

    I agree that authors seem to be more critical of the grammar and writing that readers, and with the feedback on the reasons readers may forgive flaws if they like the story or the character. I would add to that the setting.

    Reply
  2. Cj Fosdick

    Great info Florence. You are a whiz at trolling for reviews! I was devastated getting a one star review on Amazon from a depressed and negative girl who was fired by my daughter–and admitted she read only a couple chapters. (Every other review was 4 and 5 stars.) I even wrote to Amazon asking to remove it as it was probably a vindictive response to the firing. No luck there! I loved your comparison of bad/good reviews on your books. It helps me to put everything in perspective! Do you give away a lot of eBooks for review?
    I know you once wrote about giving away the book(s) and how that garnered subsequent sales as a pay-off. My TP won’t allow freebies–only .99 eBook sales a few times a year. I have one on now til Dec. 18. My biggest problem seems to be exposure and with a debut book, that means so much time taken on marketing that it takes the “juice” out of writing a sequel! (Which the publisher says helps to market the first book!)
    Have you used Pinterest and Twitter to gather followers and attract readers?

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Cj – I too have asked Amazon to remove reviews when they were obviously written out of spite or meanness, but they’ve never done it. However, Amazon will remove a review if they think the reviewer knows the author. Doesn’t seem right, but it’s their game, so I guess they can make up the rules.

      The only time I ever gave away an e-book in exchange for a review was recently when I participated in Awesome Indies Read2Review program. Otherwise, I just hope people do it. At the end of my books, I ask the reader to take a few minutes to write a review. I think that brings in some.

      Since I’ve become active on Twitter, the number of visitors on each of my websites has increased, but whether that has led to any book purchases, I don’t know. When I post a book promotion on Twitter, it gets pretty good exposure, so I’m sure I get some sales from it. I have a Pinterest account, but I’m not active on that site.

      It’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling books. If I was granted one wish, it would be that whenever someone purchases one of my books, they have to let me know what led them to the purchase. That would make life so much easier.

      Reply
  3. Diana Schneidman

    Florence, I love the way you ask for reader reviews by writing, “If you enjoyed it.” So honest.

    I’ve been following so-called expert advice and asking for “honest” reviews. So ingenuous when I obviously want positive reviews.

    -d

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      I’ve done it both ways, Diana. I’m not sure if it makes any difference though. If someone really dislikes your book, I think they’re likely to take the time to write a negative review no matter how you craft the request.

      Reply
  4. KJD

    Succinct and very informative, Florence.
    A really important read for all indies.
    I particularly like the links which I’ve copied and will use.

    Thanks millions.

    Reply
  5. Nancy O'Neill

    I was anxious to read this post since Amazon has been making it more difficult for self-published authors to get reviews by rejecting reviews they “think” are from people that the authors “knows.” I liked the fact that you suggested authors understand the criteria reviewers use before they start writing. That was very helpful.

    But as I went through the list, I stopped at #2. The last paragraph made me wonder. If the ending of a book is supposed to do those three things and should leave the reviewer feeling satisifed, then it seems that many best-selling authors don’t follow this rule. There are plenty of books where the ending leaves the reader hanging or with an unsatisfied feeling. What are those authors doing that makes them still successful and get good reviews?

    I also stopped at #7 when I read the part about the plot needing to believable, creative, unique, … When a certain type of book becomes popular and the market is quickly flooded with copycat books with similar storylines, how are those considered creative or unique? There are very few truly unique books written today. Almost everything is based on something that has already been done before.

    I have a children’s series with five books so far but I’m taking a break from those and have started writing a mystery romance novel — something I thought I would never do but the writing process has been really interesting and educational.

    So the information you shared in this post has made me question certain aspects and the timing is perfect since I’m not too far into the story.

    I look forward to any other details you can share about the points I brought up.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      You asked some thought-provoking questions, Nancy. I’ll answer them as best I can. Maybe others have comments as well?

      My guess as to how best-selling authors can violate the rules and remain successful is that they’ve created a name brand for themselves and have a fan base that overlooks flaws. I suspect there aren’t many (if any) best-selling authors whose debut book contained major flaws. That said, there are exceptions to every rule. Most of us think that 50 Shades of Grey was a poorly written book on several levels, but look at its success. I have no explanation for that.

      Regarding copycat books, it may be a matter of definition. There are only so many plots an author can use–Christopher Booker believes there are only seven. But there are endless ways to make the story line stand out with sub-plots, unique characters, twists and turns, etc. So if by ‘copycat’ you mean the same plot, characters, setting, scenes, and everything else, my thinking is that books like that don’t do very well, and I would try to persuade authors, especially new ones, to be more creative than that.

      I hope I have addressed your concerns, Alice. I wish you the best of luck with your new project.

      Reply
      • Florence Osmund

        Oops…I meant to say ‘I hope I have addressed your concerns, Nancy.’ Where did I get Alice? Must have been one of my many senior moments.

        Reply
        • Nancy O'Neill

          Yes, you covered my questions well and I kind of expected those would be the answers.

          Like most rules, you can break them or get away with less if you have enough people behind you first, which is kind of sad because think of how many books, movies, or even other products are out there not being discovered just because not enough people know about them or the creator isn’t well-known enough.

          Good article. I’m bookmarking this one for future reference as I continue to write my first novel. :)

          Reply
      • Michael Mendershausen

        Hi Florence. You wrote “Most of us think that 50 Shades of Grey was a poorly written book on several levels, but look at its success. I have no explanation for that.” I think I have. I haven’t read “50 Shades of Grey,” but I’ve read other successful books in spite of the writing. In real estate it’s “location, location, location”; in novels its’ “story, story, story.” Steven James’s book “Story Trumps Structure” says it all. If the story pulls you in, you forgive some of the “bad” writing. Writers tend to be more critical of the “writing” than the average reader. A second reason, or maybe it’s the first, is the characters. Sometimes the reader is simply drawn to the character and wants to see what happens to it; I wrote “it” because they are not real people, but that darn “fictive dream” gets me every time.

        Reply
        • Florence Osmund

          Michael – I think you’re right. Authors do tend to be more critical than other readers when it comes to the craft. And if a story is intriguing, the quality of the writing will not not matter to some (maybe even most) readers. Valid points. I love the concept of the “fictive dream.” It’s where I want my readers to be when they read one of my books.

          Reply
  6. Iola

    To summarise … write a good book. I know, easier said than done.

    I review Christian fiction, so I’d add a 12th item to your list: Ensure your book fits the expectations of the genre.

    This is likely to be relevant to many reviewers of genre fiction, especially romance. I still remember the “romance” novel where the couple broke up at the end of the book. That’s not a romance, and my review reflected that genre fail.

    I’d also echo your point about only contacting reviewers who review in your area. As I said, I review Christian fiction with some sweet romance. That means I’m not the ideal reviewer for zombie BDSM (yes, I did get asked).

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Iola–Thank you for your comments. I certainly agree with your additional bullet point. Categorizing your book in the right genre is important. If you disappoint a reader by not meeting his expectations, you’ve probably lost him.

      As for your second comment, I suspect some people use a shotgun approach and hope they hit something that works. Perhaps not the best approach.

      Reply
  7. Dale Furse

    Great info and a reminder I have so many reviews to get out there. Thanks Florence and Joel. :)

    DaleFurse

    Reply
  8. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    And when quoting both kinds of reviews, always put the bad one first – the reader automatically goes to the second, and leaves with the sweeter impression. Very nice!

    Impressive number of reviews, too.

    The part about not being able to please everyone is so true – and so easy to forget, especially when you get ONE person from a demographic you don’t think you’ll attract: it doesn’t mean you were wrong, only that they don’t stereotype well. Universal appeal is a hard ideal to give up, but even the ‘classics’ are not universally loved.

    So back to the grind of finding where your potential audience lurks.

    I appreciate the links – reviews are on the To Do list.

    Alicia

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      “Finding where your potential audience lurks” is a good way to put it, Alicia. I wish there was an easy answer to that one.

      Reply
  9. Jackie Weger

    Nicely done! Florence Osmund. You nailed every point. Every indie author need to read this post.
    Jackie Weger
    No Perfect Secret

    Reply
  10. Sarah (S.R.) Mallery

    Much thanks, Florence, for giving us this very clear, informative article!! Very appreciated…

    Reply
  11. Florence Osmund

    Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on your blog, Joel!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Florence, this is one of the best articles on the subject of book reviews I’ve seen anywhere, and I’m very happy to host it. Thanks to you!

      Reply
  12. BigAl

    Thanks for the mention, Florence and Joel.

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      You’re welcome, Al. You have a great site!

      Reply
  13. P.C. Zick

    Thank you for this superb article on getting reviews. I’ve bookmarked it and will use it as a reference in the coming weeks.

    Reply
  14. Laurie Boris

    Great, helpful info! Thank you, Florence and Joel.

    Reply

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