Just before Thanksgiving I found myself in an Outpatient waiting room reading a mystery on my Kindle Touch and awaiting the surgeon’s report. Across from me in the spacious and quiet atrium was another woman waiting to hear news about her loved one’s surgery. I noticed her because she had a fist full of papers and scribbled in a spiral notebook, and then in frustration, she’d yank pages out and wad them into a ball. I assumed she was doing math or balancing her household budget. I was wrong.
As luck would have it, we were both taken back to talk to different surgeons at the same time. During the mile long walk, okay, the mile is hyperbole, she asks me what I’m reading and I tell her. She tells me she’s writing an Amazon Book Review. I nearly stopped walking, and said, “Wow, you must have really loved the book.”
She said, “No, I hated it, everyone in my Book Club hated it, and it’s my turn to write the monthly book review for my club.” At this point we were directed into separate rooms.
Before Amazon Book Reviews, people spread news about books by word of mouth, email, or people walked down the beach and noticed the same cover over and over. I saw one woman rip the cover off a paperback in the airport and toss both in a trashcan. It was clear by her non verbal behavior she hated it. Personally, I’ve left books on chairs at the departure gate, when I didn’t like how they started, but I’ve never damaged a book I didn’t like. Now, book reviews have gotten a second life. A librarian told me she often finds quickie review notes on stickies inside library books for the next reader. I even wrote an earlier post, Reader’s United, that briefly touched on this topic.
Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect a reader would attempt to write an Amazon Review for a book she disliked, much less, not get it done in over an hour. I had to know more.
After the surgeons reports, we returned to the atrium to await our loved ones waking up from the anesthesia. I had decided she was uncomfortable with her writing skills, but that wasn’t it. She didn’t know how to write a bad book review. But the thing that really got me, was that she felt a responsibility to write a bad one. Wow.
For the interested reader, I did not tell her I was a SP author because I’m not comfortable pushing Body Wave when people around me are getting bad news about loved ones.
I told her about my reluctance to write reviews and how much I’ve enjoyed hitting the like button for instant feedback when I finished a Kindle book. I also told her I didn’t finish books that didn’t snare my interest, and that I deleted them from my Kindle. I even wrote out the instructions on how to delete books she didn’t like from her Kindle. She said she’d read over 300 pages on a book she disliked by page 20, and so did the other book club members. Isn’t that mental torture? But hey, they all downloaded the book and paid for it.
Being a little snarky, I asked her if they were paid for their reviews. She said, “no.” Finally, I told her I didn’t understand why she allowed writing a book review to take over her life, even make her frustrated in a waiting room. She agreed it was crazy and asked me to look at what she’d written. She wrote in the favored book report format. Trying to write a wordy review on something she hated had thrown her off balance. The book club overall ranking was 1.5
So, I asked her if book club members had expressed anything positive about the book in their e-mails. Yes, the setting was authentic, the secondary characters were fabulous, and they learned about an interesting dog breed. A light clicked on and she wrote a nice little blurb about the likes. Instead of focusing on the negatives, she went with something like this, “Despite the few glimmers of light mentioned above, the book unraveled and went off topic. Overall…and gave it a 2. It was short, it wasn’t vindictive, and it told the next reader information they could use.
I wondered afterward if the angst over writing book reviews had created a new symptom for the obsessive-compulsive disorders list?
Folks, it shouldn’t be this way. Amazon has no rules stating bad reviews are required or that bad reviews have to be as long as a good review.
Here’s what I think has happened. For years, I could only tell my best friends and family about books I enjoyed. Now, I can tell fans across the country and other countries, about the books I love. Yes, I did warn reading friends about books I didn’t like. But, I had to sit back fuming when books I loved were turned into movies I hated, I had to grit my teeth when paid reviewers rated a book I loved low, I had to sit back and shut up when publishing companies cancelled the book series I was following. I had no voice other than word of mouth.
And then there was the Amazon Book Review. I, the reader had a voice. Some readers are hesitant to use it and that’s fine, others feel an obligation that exceeds all bounds of the imagination. As a book buyer, I always scan Amazon book reviews before buying to save me money and time on books I won’t finish.
The primary purpose of the Amazon Book Review is that it’s written by readers for readers. It’s not for readers to send messages to authors; it’s not for authors to send messages to readers. Use e-mail for the latter.
Here are my tips for writing an Amazon Book Review for other readers:
1. Share the books you love, but be honest. If the action stalls in the center say so, if one of the main characters is wooden say so, if the ending was somewhat disappointing say so. Readers want to know.
2.Give a brief summary of the book in the opening but move into the heart and soul of the book. The heart and soul is the part of the book that you loved; a specific character, the tight plot, the heart pounding suspense, and the twisty ending you didn’t see coming. Write what you would have liked to have seen written before you bought the book.
3.A brief explanation of why you recommend buying the book or why you wouldn’t buy the book. “This medical thriller is unique, it’s riveting from beginning to ending, and when it does end, you’ll cry because the adventure is over.” “This book opening is so slow I fell asleep on the treadmill and broke my leg.” The key is to write the lead sentence with impact. Warn readers this book ends as the first in a series, but the book stands on its own, if it’s not mentioned in the book blurb.
4. Why review a book you didn’t finish? If you must, go straight to number 3 and state your case. Don’t fancy it up with a brief summary-you hated it right? Stick to step three. “If you want a thriller and not a bed time Hot Toddy, don’t buy this book.”
5. Drop the 1 and the 5 from the rating system from all books except the one you hated beyond description, or the one you’ve discovered is the best book ever written.
6. Most readers scan the book reviews and pass over the long ones that look like book reports. Don’t waste your time on hitting a thousand words. Aim for 250-300 if the point of your review is to help another reader buy a book.
You should feel good after writing a book review. You’re helping fellow readers and helping a book you enjoyed get noticed. If writing the review makes you feel angry or frustrated, then hold off for a few days and let it simmer. Some book endings are startling and deserve a little time for you to mull its merits over. Writing a review too soon might be one of the problems readers are having with writing short clear reviews.
Review this blog post. Send it to a friend and share it at your favorite social sites. It’s easy just hit the social buttons below this post. Let’s kill the imagery of book reviews being like book reports. Let’s make them fun, worthwhile for readers, and above all use book reviews to give a shout out to fellow readers about a great book you’ve discovered. Spread the word.