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Reviewing 101: Basics

Welcome!


So all of our 101 articles cover basics, but with our first reviewing article we wanted to cover basic basics. This is our day 1 style introductory course to reviewing.


We'll be talking about when/where to review, what general etiquette is, and where we stand on some of the reviewing debates that spring up from time to time.


As we write more articles for reviewers we will get more into the specifics, but this particular entry is more aimed at creatives or friends of creatives that want to be more supportive but find the reviewing space to be daunting.


Why Reviews Are Helpful


Reviews help authors in a lot of ways. Word of mouth is the life blood of sales in the indie space, especially for horror (which tends to get suppressed on big platforms.) Recommending and reviewing books can directly help to sell them.


It also does behind the scenes work if you're leaving reviews online. Reposting a sale link with a simple "loved it" helps boost visibility in a social media algorithm. Leaving literally any kind of review on a review site or sales site also helps increase visibility on that platform.


When authors and publishers say that "reviews help" this is what they're referring to. We're not asking people to go sell the book in the streets, even just acknowledging that you've liked or read or bought a book can actually do a lot to boost it, even if it seems simple.


Who Reviews Are For


This is really important. Even if you're leaving reviews specifically because you want to help authors, remember that the reviews are not for them. They're for other readers. When you're writing a review, keep in mind that your audience is people who have read or might want to read the same book.


This is a more heavily debated issue than it should be, but the general consensus is that authors really have no business being in review spaces. Your words in a review are not for them. Even if they ask for reviews. Even if they send you a copy. Remember that you're talking to other readers while you're writing.


"Always" Leave a Review


People say all the time that you should "always leave a review", and this is me formally giving you permission to ignore that. Saying that you should "always" do that doesn't take into account the time and effort and personal space of reviewers. It turns reading into a chore if people think they are morally obligated to leave a review.


Let me absolve you of that notion right now.


I am a struggling writer in an indie space, and I'm telling you, it's not your responsibility to review my book. Even if you've read it. Even if you re-read it. Even if it's your favorite book. You don't owe me anything. You bought the book. You interacted with the book. I'm grateful. Anything you do beyond that is a deeply appreciated bonus, but no one is required to put in that extra effort.


Now, there are some interpretations of "always leave a review" that I do agree with.


For instance. If you're worried about leaving a review because you didn't like something, I'd say review it anyway. Not every book is for every person, and even negative reviews help boost a book in the algorithm. I'd argue that I actually buy more books directly based off of negative reviews than positive reviews if they're thorough enough.


It's also a good starting point if you are already actively searching for ways to help authors. If you're looking for a good, free way to support people in the indie space, leaving a review is always a good thing. It's a good first step of support and it's one of the easier things that can be done.


Finally, I agree that any review is better than no review. Is a one word review likely to sell a hundred copies of a book? Probably not. But one hundred one word reviews could boost a book right to the top of a book seller's site, and that could sell a lot of copies. If you don't have it in you to do a deep, thought provoking critique of every book you read, you can still leave super short reviews and it always helps.


Ratings


If ratings stress you out, don't leave them.


Clicking on a star rating is a one click, low effort way to boost a book. If you're comfortable doing this, I'd say you should be rating even when you don't have time/energy for reviews.


But.


The caveat here is that some people really struggle over how to maintain an honest, reliable, 5 star rating system. If you're an over-thinker, or have anxiety, or are putting off doing reviews because the rating stresses you out for whatever reason, just don't rate them. It's uncommon, but it's not bad to leave a review with no rating on platforms that allow it.


Ratings are also things that the more sensitive authors can get really worked up about. I feel like whenever there's an indie author making us all look bad, it has something to do with their book not getting five stars.


I think that's very silly, but it happens. If you're a reviewer and you're afraid of that happening, I can't even tell you it's an entirely irrational fear, because we see it way more than we should. I can tell you most writers (and certainly Scoop writers here) will have your back if you're being attacked or harassed about a rating. But if you want to avoid that hassle altogether, I don't blame you.


Where to Leave Reviews


If you want to do the most amount of good, cross promotion can help a lot. Posting a couple lines about book you've read is great promotion on social media. And just like you could post that content across Twitter, Instagram, BlueSky, and Facebook, you can copy and paste entire reviews to the different review platforms.


But if that sounds daunting or like a lot of effort, again, it's all about helping out without creating too much hassle for yourself. So if you prefer to establish yourself on a single review platform... which one is best?


I have a feeling a majority of authors will tell you flat out that the best option is Amazon. Which makes sense. They're a huge platform, they do direct book sales, a lot of indie writers publish through the site, and they're very algorithm driven. There are drawbacks to Amazon however.


For one, you won't be eligible to review unless you spend $50 a year on the site. (Most people don't even know this because it's so natural to spend way more money than that annually on Amazon. But if you are one of the people that tries to buy locally and gets your books directly from authors/presses, there's a good chance you won't be eligible to review here unless you are willing to pay for the privilege.)


Another downside is that while they have a lot of Amazon exclusive titles, they might not have other exclusive titles (like Godless Exclusives.) I'm not saying that Godless is a practical platform to start reviewing in if you're just getting started. But if all you read is disgusting indie horror and your main goal is to share your reviews in a place where they have more weight and less competition, then Godless could actually be a great platform for you.


I personally like Goodreads as my primary platform. It's owned by Amazon, but I don't have to pay them money to review books there, and it logs how many books I've read. It's also pretty rare to stumble across a book they don't have listed. (It happens, but less often than with Amazon.)


I also appreciate that the book reviews tend to be longer, have more substance, and be less about the product. (Amazon will prompt your review with questions about the product that have nothing to do with the book itself, and this annoys the hell out of me. It's particularly grating because I have seen Amazon authors get upset at reviewers for leaving complaints in the review about the product being late or wet or crunched which has nothing to do with the book. While I understand the frustration, these are Amazon's prompted questions, it's an issue with the platform, not the reviewer.)


Storygraph is a great alternative if you like stats and charts. BookSirens and NetGalley give away free books to reviewers, which can be a great perk but also totally derail you from a reading list and eat up all your free time. It's all about finding what works for you.


Do What You Can, When You Can


On that note, that really should be the one takeaway from this.


It is so fantastic to help authors by leaving reviewers, whether you're doing it for your favorite books or your friends, or you're making it a point to do it all the time. You're doing a good thing, and supporting smaller books, and that's amazing.


So please, don't let it feel like an obligation or a punishment, or beat yourself up for not doing it in the "right" way. There is no right way. Make sure it's fun, and try to enjoy it.


Final Tips


  • Don't Stress

  • Don't Let Anyone Make You Feel Bad

  • Be Honest

The most important thing about reviews is that they reflect your honest feelings -- good and bad -- about a book. You don't have to be rude or nasty when you don't like something, but no one expects you to lie either.


There are, sadly, people in the industry who will tell you that you could be doing better or doing more, or try to make you feel like you owe people 5 star ratings and reviews. If you are buying and reading indie, that is already so helpful.


Remember that, and take it easy.


Remember also that if you're wanting to become a regular in the review space, to keep an eye out here. All of the topics that we mentioned briefly in this article are topics we'll be delving into a little more. We'll be comparing platforming, getting into the implications of star ratings, how to leave bad reviews, and other etiquette tools here! (We'll also be responding to some specific questions we've received, and doing more review-related story times, so stay tuned!)

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