I’m honored to have Top Reviewer and friend Tracy Riva here today to offer an expert reviewer’s advice to help all authors. Thank you, Tracy, for visiting and sharing your wisdom!
Rachel, I’d like to start off by thanking you for having me today. As you know I run my own website, Tracv Riva Books & Reviews, but I also run my reviews in the Midwest Book Review and I am an Amazon Top Reviewer. Also, as a courtesy to the authors whose books I review, I also place a copy of their review on Goodreads. I also recently spent several months as a judge for the Second Annual Global eBook Awards because of my experience as a reviewer and as an editor. The reviewers who contract under me also place their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as on my site. I run a very professional organization and we are in demand by authors, publishers and publicists.
How do you tell reader reviews from reviewer reviews on Amazon?
The easiest way to tell a reviewer review is by clicking on the reviewer’s name. This will tell you how many reviews the reviewer has written if it is less than 25 or so you are generally safe in assuming it is a reader review. Also look to see the reviewer’s Amazon standing; if they have Top Reviewer status then they are definitely a reviewer.
The other way to tell is to look at the way the way the reviewer talks about the book. Does he or she use words like storyline and plot development? Does the reviewer speak of character development, round and flat characters, grammatical or spelling errors? These are often points the seasoned reviewer will speak of but the casual reader leaving a review will leave untouched. Also, if it is a “negative” review how is it presented? Does it mention any strong points the book had and then go on to mention the problem(s) the reviewer had with the book. Is the negative review done in a professional manner or is it a scathing review of the book? Most reviewers understand that books are kind of like the author’s baby and no one wants to hear they have an ugly baby, so we try to word our criticism constructively rather than flaming the author or the book.
Are there guidelines reviewers should follow?
The first guideline reviewers should follow, and in fact are required to follow by law, is to report any compensation, including free books, that they receive in return for giving their review. On my website there is a page labeled “Notice” and on that page we state that with a few exceptions where reviewers purchase books for review, books are supplied by the author or publisher in return for an honest review of the book.
On my website we have a policy that if a book is really bad, we contact the author and tell him or her what the problem is and make suggestions on how to fix it. We tell them any review we write on the book will be negative and why, and ask them if they still want us to go ahead and write the review. If they say yes, we write the review, but if they say no, we simply forget about the book. We only do this for books we would give a two-star or less review to. That may sound a bit dishonest, but I have discovered that indie authors in particular travel in packs and when one gets a negative review at least ten other authors jump on board to say they didn’t find the review helpful or write a negative comment about the review, so to preserve my reviewers standing on Amazon I suggest they contact the writer for reviews that would less than three stars. As for myself, the only time I won’t publish a review is if I find myself unable to finish the book for one reason or another. There has been one exception to this rule; I haven’t published a review of a good book by an indie author who got her historical facts wrong because I know that when I publish that criticism the pack of vultures will descend. I actually have the review written, I just haven’t published it yet.
As for other guidelines, I think the most important one is to be honest, which my previous guideline seems to contradict but we are always honest about our opinion of the book and the author knows our position, we just don’t always publish the review. It’s also important to give an approximate timeline for a review and do your best to stick to it. If you do have a delay you should try to let the author know about it, for example I am having unplanned knee surgery sometime next month which will push my review schedule back by a few weeks to as much as a month, depending on how long I am on strong pain medication. I have to inform all the authors in my queue, which stretches to Thanksgiving of the pending delay.
Another guideline I think is important is to stick to genres you really like because if you are reviewing a genre you can’t enjoy then it is going to be really difficult to give an honest review of the material because you won’t be able to truly appreciate it.
Don’t be afraid of saying your schedule is full and do not overcommit yourself – this is something I still struggle with. You will fall behind on your schedule and you will be viewed as unreliable. Try to always contact an author if there is some reason you don’t do a promised review to avoid the same problem. Generally speaking I write all the reviews I promise unless I can’t manage to finish the book.
Why do I think authors are behaving badly?
I’ve actually been extremely lucky in this respect, 90% of the writers I work with have been great, but there is that other 10%. I’ve been told off a couple of times for not wanting to review a book and I was told by one author whose book I wasn’t even able to finish that I had no taste.
I think part of the reason writers behave badly comes back to the idea that their books are their babies, they’ve poured their time, energy and in the case of indie publishers, their hard earned money into their books. They simply don’t want to hear that their work isn’t good or interesting or needs editing.
Another reason writers behave badly is a sense of entitlement. They don’t seem to realize most reviewers are volunteers and use what free time we have reading and then reviewing their books. Most of us are overwhelmed with review requests, we have our favorite authors we want to review for, our personal to-be-read piles, and lives and families we often neglect in order to read and review books. While we appreciate the author donating his or her book in order for us to review it, the value of the book, be it ninety-nine cents or twenty-five dollars, doesn’t buy a good review – it simply provides us the means to give an honest review. If your storyline is great, but your characters are flat or stereotypical, we’re going to tell you that. If your storyline meanders, we’re going tell you that too, and a reviewer telling you that is a sign of respect for you as an author. We respect you enough to be honest with you and we believe you are mature enough to handle the truth.
If you don’t like what we say it doesn’t mean you get to badmouth us, either where your review is posted or on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. It is a sign of immaturity. We are only offering our educated opinion of your work. Other people may love or hate it, everyone has different opinions and writers need to respect that.
I mean, how many books have you bought thinking they sounded terrific and then either never finished them or wished you hadn’t bought them? The same thing happens with reviewers and books, and writers need to be aware of this.
Even big name writers get some bad reviews of their work. It isn’t something most of them take personally. They don’t get their friends to gang up and go online to refute the review. They simply take it in stride and move on. It is part of the business of writing and writers need to realize that just because their friends all love their book, it doesn’t mean everyone else will. Writing is a business and just as you wouldn’t criticize a co-worker who gave constructive criticism of a report you had written, even when you disagree with them, neither should you criticize a reviewer. It looks unprofessional. I think that writers need to learn some professional etiquette.
What tips do I have to help writers connect to reviewers?
That is actually a tough question. I find most of my business comes by word-of-mouth, so my first suggestion is to ask around and see whom your friends are using for reviews. Join Goodreads and look for reviewers on the different groups that are within the site. Do an online query for book reviewers. Check for reviewers on The Indie View. Ask writers groups about who reviews in the area. And never be afraid to tell a reviewer “so-and-so sent me” because if we have had a good experience with that particular writer and his or her work then it gives you a leg up over the query from a writer who we know absolutely nothing about. Look at the list of Top Reviewers at Amazon and query them as to whether or not they would be willing to review your book. Most importantly don’t give up, it may take some time but given some effort on your part you really can find quality reviewers to examine your work.
Thanks Tracy for your comprehensive answers to questions authors often ask!
Tracy and I welcome your comments and experiences below.
Rachel Thompson is the author of newly released BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge: How to energize your book sales in a month - created to help authors market their book. She is also the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader's "Best of 2015" top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival), and the multi award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, IndieReader.com, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly. Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs, #BookMarketingChat (co-hosted with Melissa Flickinger) and #SexAbuseChat, co-hosted with certified therapist/survivor, Bobbi Parish all live Twitter chats. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.