I thought that, as an author reading other people's reviews of my book, I might want something very different. But, to my surprise, I've discovered that I am looking for exactly the same thing in others' reviews that I try to put in my own: a clear sense of the book, a reviewer's opinion about it, and some reasons or textual evidence to support said opinion.
Let me give you some examples. As a prize for winning the Georgian-Regency-Victorian category in the RWA Hearts Through History chapter, I was given the opportunity to list my book, A Rebel without a Rogue, on NetGalley for a month. Earlier this week, I received a report from the publicity agency through which my book was placed (Barclay Publicity), giving me not only the numerical details on its NetGalley performance, but also the actual words that NetGalley readers who had submitted reviews wrote about the book. Here are some excerpts from some of the 12 readers who submitted reviews.
An example of an unhelpful bad review:
1 star. Completely awful. I didn't like the characters or the plot.
This reviewer's judgment is completely based on his/her own "liking," with little to no thought of whether other people may share his/her tastes. No examples are provided from the book itself about why the characters were unlikable, or why the plot was, either. Unless you know and trust this reviewer already, neither a reader nor the author will find this review of any help.
Examples of unhelpful good reviews:
4 stars. Terrific! I highly recommend this book.
3.5 stars. (no commentary)
As a writer, I'm always happy to receive 4 star reviews, and words of praise too. But as a reader, I'd have to rely solely on the judgment of these reviewers, something I'm not likely to do unless I'm already familiar with him/her and know that I share his/her tastes.
An example of a slightly more helpful though slightly negative review:
4 stars. This was a good romance but I felt it was very predictable.
Here the reader gives the general overview "a good romance," but also adds a reason for why it wasn't a complete win for her/him. After reading this, though, as both a potential reader and as an author of the book, I want to know what exactly about the story felt predictable? Then I could guess whether or not I, or another reader, would also find it predictable. Helpful again for the reviewers' friends, but not so much for those unfamiliar with him/her.
5 stars. I was given this book in return for an honest review. Normally, I would put this sentence last, however this book gave me some trouble. It was a passionate, emotional, historical, heartrending story. It was beautifully written as well as attention holding. The characters and the depths of the story were magnificent. Okay, I would say because it was a little too much for me as a romance. I am certain that many would give this one a 5. However the depths were disturbing when I wanted a historical that would make me laugh instead of one that tore at my heart and my emotions. It has all the makings of an absolutely fantastic story. So being honest I give it 5 Stars for all of that and 4 stars from me personally.
This reviewer responds to the book based on her personal preferences ("I wanted a historical that would make me laugh"), but recognizes that her preference may not be shared by everyone else. She gives a strong sense of just what the book feels like, though, even if it is a feeling that made her personally uncomfortable. Now, people like the reviewer, who are looking for light, funny historicals will know not to pick up this book. But those who read for the emotions, who like a book with more depth, can also benefit from this review; even if they don't share the reviewer's taste, s/he has given them enough information to know whether the tone of the book is likely to be their cup of tea. And as a writer, I feel validated; I was trying to write a book that fell more towards the "heartrending" than towards the humorous end of the scale, and this reader felt I achieved it.
So, what are your thoughts about what makes for a good review? If you're a reviewer (Goodreads, amazon, LibraryThing, your own blog, etc.), what do you try to accomplish in your reviews? When you're a reader, what do you look for in a review? And finally, if you're an author, does what you're looking for in a review change from when you're reading a review as a potential reader?
The worst: Above the Law
5 stars: 5 Star Auto Care