Writing a Thoughtful Review

reviewsCiao, SEers. I hope those of you who had a three-day weekend enjoyed the time off work. Did you go boating? Have a picnic? Lounge by the pool? I hope you had the time to read a good book or two.

I bring it up because I’m about to preach to the choir. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably an author. And if you’re an author, you know the importance of reviews, particularly on Amazon. (Whether they’ll actually allow you to post a review is another issue, and won’t be discussed today.)

Reviews don’t have to be complicated. A simple “I liked it, and here’s why” satisfies Amazon and will help an author. Equally simple is “I hated it, and here’s why” which also meets Amazon’s requirements, although it doesn’t help an author overly much. (They’re only helpful if the author carefully considers the comments, decides they’re valid, and both revises the story in question and changes his or her writing in the future with those same comments in mind.)

Many readers look at reviews before purchasing. Many writers consider all the feedback carefully. Yes, it’s enough to offer a single sentence. But we’re writers. Can’t we do better?

I’ve been told I write thoughtful and helpful reviews. I used to write them for a review site. People have even requested I write a post on the subject. Two hundred plus words later, here’s my “blueprint” for a review. (Note, I don’t always follow this to the letter, but it’s a good place to start if you want to write a comprehensive review.)

  1. If, as you’re reading, something strikes you as particularly good, highlight it or write it down. Hundreds of pages later, you’ll forget what/where it was, and it will be useful later.
  2. When you begin your review, offer an introduction telling readers why you read the book. Did the cover appeal to you? Did something in the blurb catch your attention? Is it set in your home state? Whatever it is, mention it. If people understand why you chose to read the book, they’ll have a better understanding of what influenced your comments about the content. (This should be one paragraph.)
  3. Offer a brief summary of the story. I in no way mean for you to give away the ending or any surprise twists. But the author’s blurb isn’t enough to tell people what the story is about. It’s nothing more than marketing designed to entice a reader. This is your chance to talk about the main characters, the villain, the plot, and the setting in general terms. Doing this will let readers know whether they’d actually be interested in the story. (This only takes one paragraph, maybe two if you have a lot you want to say.)
  4. Provide an objective analysis. Of course a review is your opinion, but this is where you give the reader your assessment of the story. Were the characters well-rounded? Was dialogue believable? Was the plot fresh and logical? Did the author follow through on whatever they promised (bring home the theme, provide an action-packed thrill ride you couldn’t put down, etc.)? This is a great place to include a quote or example from the book (see point one) as proof of your analysis. (This section can also be done in one paragraph, but it could go as long as two or three if you cover many points.)
  5.  This is where you give your actual opinion. This is the part of the review that people think of when you say “write a review” but it’s actually the least important part. Whether you liked something or not is far less important than how it was actually written. Have you ever received a one-star review that said something like, “Don’t waste your money. I hate noir, and that’s all this was.” Amazon doesn’t consider this a violation even though it’s not remotely helpful and is detrimental to an author. At no point does the reviewer say if the story was well-written, just that it wasn’t enjoyable. Which is no surprise, given the reviewer hates the genre. (Which also begs the question: why did he or she read it?) So, while this is the “review” part of reviews that everyone typically writes, you can see where it’s the least necessary. While I do say here if I liked it or not, I usually try to give the reader a comparison. Something like, “If you like dual timelines with a paranormal twist, you’ll love this.” You could also compare the book to another author so readers have a sense of what the work is like. “If you like Stephen King, you’ll love this.” You get the idea. (One short paragraph is all that’s necessary here.)

If you’d like an example of how I put all of this together, you can read my review of Sue Coletta’s Blessed Mayhem here.

This probably sounds daunting, lengthy, and hard. It’s none of those things. We’re writers, we work with words for a living (or because it’s a hobby we’re passionate about). Reviews only take me a few minutes to write. Yes, I could write “I liked it and this is why” a lot faster. But the extra couple of minutes I spend on a longer review is no hardship, and it’s helpful to both potential readers and to authors who study their reviews. I hope you decide to give it a try.

And if you don’t, well … those one-sentence reviews help, too.

Staci Troilo Bio

42 thoughts on “Writing a Thoughtful Review

  1. Pingback: Silver Linings, September, and The Week in Review – Joan Hall

  2. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  3. This is a great piece.on writing reviews Staci. I know reviews influence what I purchase now. Showing readers what is expected in writing reviews is very helpful because I had no idea what to put when I first started writing reviews. Always more to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Staci, this is a really helpful post on writing reviews. I never thought about highlighting a line that stood out for me, but I think that’s a fabulous enticement to include. Reviews are so important to authors. I know many non-writers balk at writing them, but even a few sentences one way or the other, thoughtfully addressed is a help.

    I tend to write a review within one day of reading a book, so the content is fresh in my mind. It also gives me a day to reflect on the story before I address what I liked about it. And it’s so important not to give spoilers. I was looking at a book yesterday that I was ready to purchase–until I glanced at the reviews (I do read them). In the third, the reviewer revealed that one of the lead characters was dead. She was proud of herself for figuring that out early on in the book. Grrr. That killed buying it for me!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Very good information, Staci. #1 is a great idea and now that most of us read eBooks, highlighting our favorite areas is easy. I hate to read reviews where the person state they dislike the genre. I’m with you, why are they wasting time reading it?

    All authors love those four and five-star reviews. On the other hand, I’ve read reviews where the person states they dislike a certain thing about a book, and I’ve bought it based on the negative statement. So, those can sometimes work in an author’s favor.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right about stating your reasons. I know pretty much any movie or television show the critics pan, I’ll like. I look into them based on experience—I like different things than critics do. So there’s an excellent argument to be made to state why you don’t like something just as much as why you do. Great point.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Why did I not think of number one! Number two, yes I like to picture the reviewer and their background and I enjoy mentioning why I read a book or where I’m coming from. It makes a difference if you are reading about a place you know well or reading because you have never been there, or were attracted to a story that promised to be dark or funny.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m guilty of skipping number one, and I always regret it. But it’s a good habit to get into if you write a lot of reviews. When I was reading paperbacks or hardbacks, I didn’t do it. I found keeping a notebook while I read to be too much trouble, and marking pages with sticky notes or slips of paper became cumbersome. (And I REFUSE to fold down corners or write in my books.) Reading on e-devices makes the process simple, though. It’s a great convenience for reviewers.

      And I, too, think the reason behind reading the book is important. It helps the review reader decide how much weight to put on your opinion. Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Great article on reviewing, Staci. I saw a review for Interludes yesterday. The person put ??? on the review title and gave the book one star, saying, ‘Didn’t buy for me so don’t know.’ I can only shake my head. If she hasn’t even read it, why the heck review it? And one star?!? lol. Hopefully, anyone else who sees that ridiculous ‘review’ will discard it as I have. It is not helpful to any potential buyer. I’m guessing she bought it for a friend, and I’m happy with another sale.

    Your point on highlighting is a good one, as my memory is awful these days and I would just forget, lol. 🙂 I have my highlights switched to private so that Goodreads doesn’t broadcast the errata I’ve noted to all and sundry on there. They are just for my own use.

    Pressed This on: https://harmonykent.co.uk/writing-a-thoughtful-review/

    Liked by 2 people

    • I only recently learned that Goodreads displays lines you highlight. I think it’s a great feature, if you want people to see the lines you love. I, like you, have mine set to private. Some of the stuff I highlight wouldn’t help anyone but me, and people don’t need that unfiltered access into my head. lol

      I hate reviews like the one you mentioned. It infuriates me that Amazon keeps those (which affect author rankings) but removes thoughtful reviews just because they think one author shouldn’t review another, especially if the two might know each other. Your attitude about it being a sale and ignoring the rest is quite healthy. I have to admit I stew over those things a little more than you do.

      Liked by 2 people

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