Potential customers often base their purchasing decisions on product reviews. A potential customer likely won’t buy a product that has a majority of critical and/or negative reviews. It’s the digital age’s version of what was formerly a neighborhood practice of referral via word-of-mouth. Our neighborhoods aren’t so close anymore, so we rely on the words of strangers to guide us.

This is no less true when it comes to book reviews. Reviews primarily serve potential readers, but they also serve authors.

Every author craves book reviews. Especially if the book is an Amazon exclusive, because once the book surpasses 50 reviews, Amazon puts a bit more effort into helping the author promote it.

No authors likes receiving critical or negative reviews: we all want those positive, glowing reviews that give us happy, feel-good feelings. Reviews comes less frequently than ratings, though. Ratings are easy: a couple of clicks or taps with a fingertip and it’s posted. A review requires more work. 

Ratings without reviews can boost or sink a product, but reviews are more valuable to both potential readers and authors for the feedback they provide.

When I’m trying to decide whether to buy a book, I’ll read the reviews. If a book has 1- and 2-star ratings, but no reviews, I give them little to no credence. A preponderance of critical or negative ratings may inspire me to use the “Look Inside” feature to read the first several pages of the book to determine whether there are any immediate flaws to dissuade me from downloading the book.

Ratings themselves do little good. As an author, I dislike negative and critical ratings—they sting—but I don’t learn from them. Especially with critical and negative ratings, I exhort customers to leave reviews. Tell the author why you didn’t like the story. Some reasons may include:

  • You didn’t like the characters. Perhaps a character was too deeply flawed or maybe too perfect.
  • You didn’t like the lack of realism or perhaps the story was too realistic.
  • The story ended on a cliffhanger … and the reader wasn’t forewarned of the pending cliffhanger.
  • The content needed editing.
  • The formatting was broken.
  • There was too much or too little violence, explicit content, etc.
  • There were too many inconsistencies or anachronisms or other things that didn’t make sense and jarred the reader from the story.

I don’t like and discount reviews that seem overly biased due to the reader’s lack of comprehension. A review lambasting a steamy romance for having explicit content makes no sense to me. If one picks up a steamy romance, then one should expect explicit content. A review blasting the book for faulty delivery issues makes no sense to me: it wasn’t the book that was the problem, but the delivery. That’s like negating the quality of a conference program because the property’s elevator was slow. One has no bearing on the other. There’s a certain expectations that the customer ought to apply some common sense in reviewing a purchase. Authors deserve candid feedback that pertains to the book, not to the author. Cultural appropriate and political correctness worries aside, an author’s demographics have no bearing on the quality of the story.

My being an author doesn’t stop me from leaving reviews on the books I read. I figure if I want readers to leave reviews, then I should do the same. I am candid in my reviews, always.

I recently left a critical review of a book. I was prepared to like the book, because it had several aspects that I enjoy: an alpha male hero, an exotic (to me) location, the promise of danger for the protagonists (suspense is fun). Reasons for my disappointment included:

  • A distinct lack of editing. The book was rife with missing words, wrong words, misspelled words, punctuation errors, and grammar errors.
  • Lack of verisimilitude. The story read like some teenager’s fantasy of a billionaire lifestyle and failed to suspend my disbelief. (I love fairy tales and can accept the most impossible of story premises and character environments, but the author must continue to suspend that disbelief.)
  • The book itself was miscategorized as a steamy romance when the characters did little more than expound in internal dialogue how attracted they were to each other.
  • A major plot hole. An important subplot—who is shooting at the protagonists and why, and why do the shooters appear to be targeting the heroine?—just disappeared without resolution as though the problem had been fixed when, instead, it could have been used to ratchet up the tension and add depth to the story.

There were other issues, but those were the big ones. Those and lesser flaws put that author on my “do not read” list. Her next book continues the series, but I’ve lost all interest. If the author keeps track of reviews on her books, perhaps my criticism will inspire her to at least hire a professional editor.

Lest you think I’m being unfair, there are authors whose book I don’t read because I find their stories disturbing. Those authors are excellent writers. They know how to tell a riveting story. However, their work is not to my taste. That doesn’t mean their work is bad or deserves poor reviews; it means I apply common sense and don’t buy books I’m almost certain I won’t like. I won’t buy a book I’m sure not to like and leave a negative review because I didn’t like it. That defies common sense and violates my sense of fairness. When dining at a restaurant, would you order a dish you detest and, after eating it, complain to the chef that you didn’t like it?

Personal preference does not indicate quality. Regardless, when you leave a review, inform potential readers why you rated the book as you did. Smart authors will appreciate the feedback, too.