When you add a review on Goodreads or Amazon or mark off the number of stars you deem a recently-read book worthy to receive, you may not realize how important your rating is to your favorite author. And likewise, if you hurry on to the next book without bothering to leave a comment or mark the stars on a book you’ve just finished, it may not occur to you that you’ve done a slight–but important–disservice to an author whose work you’ve enjoyed and want to see more of.
Once upon a time, people bought books in bookstores and depended on either newspaper/magazine reviewers or knowledgeable booksellers for recommendations, as well as their friends and families. In today’s world, a large percentage of books are purchased online, without the opportunity for readers to ask a friendly bookstore worker for advice, and many people live far away from the friends and family members who share their reading tastes. Newspapers and magazines have drastically cut ‘lifestyle’ sections like book reviews. And while it’s true that citizen journalist reviewers have rushed in to fill the void, their work is less accessible than the reviews that were delivered with the morning or evening daily newspaper.
That means readers looking for a new book or a new author make spur-of-the-moment decisions based on the free online excerpt available on sites like Amazon, or decide whether a book will be helpful or to their taste from the reader comments, ratings and reviews either on Amazon and other bookselling sites, or on Goodreads.
Even established bestselling authors like to hear from readers who have enjoyed their work. I’m not sure that any author outgrows wanting to be told that someone liked their book. And even famous authors wince when at negative reviews, particularly if the language is unkind. (Yes, authors read reviews, even though everyone tells us not to. We celebrate the good ones and despair over any that are less than glowing.
But beyond sending a message to your favorite author, book ratings, reviews and stars are increasingly important as bookselling becomes an online transaction instead of an in-person interaction. With the shrinking number of physical bookstores, it’s difficult for readers to wander the isles searching for a cover or title that strikes their fancy. And since many of the existing stores have cut back on inventory, they’re less likely to stock as many specialty and special-interest books as before. Small press books rarely make it onto bookstore shelves unless the author is local or the subject is of local interest.
Add to these trends the reality that the big publishing houses have cut back on new books from many established authors who are well-regarded but not quite mega-bestsellers. These authors then bring out their new books with smaller publishers, and may have difficulty getting shelf space in stores. Advancements in digital printing and ebooks have dramatically increased the number of self-published and small press titles. Readers looking for a new book face clutter, confusion and a fragmented marketplace.
Reader reviews, stars and ratings, as well as citizen journalist book bloggers are the beacons in the storm, helping baffled readers find the books best suited to their interests.
If you like a particular author or enjoy a certain series, the best thing you can do (in addition to buying a copy of the book and encouraging your friends and local library to do the same) is to rate and review the books you enjoy. By helping your favorite books and authors rise above the crowd, you’re helping to ensure that their sales sustain the publisher’s interest in more books in that series or by that author.
Likewise, please think twice before down-rating a book for anything other than poor writing. Slow shipping, damaged covers, and other production mishaps are out of the author’s control. I’ve seen authors given a one-star review because the reader didn’t like the package Amazon used to ship the book! Trust me when I say that the author was not the one doing the shipping.
I’d argue that “I wish the book had done X instead of Y” is also not a reason for a poor review. The author wrote the book in the way he/she saw the story going. It’s his/her story, and that’s the author’s right. If you feel strongly that a different story would be better, write that different story with your own characters and settings. Many a career has started this way!
Ratings on Amazon factor into how often a book is suggested in the ‘if you liked this, you might like that’ bar. Amazon’s algorithm to suggest books, as well as the visibility boost that comes from being paired to a similar bestseller, is one of the most valuable things that can happen to a book. Your comments help the books you like to get the attention they deserve.
So if you like an author or a series and want to see more, use the power of your voice to give the ratings/reviews that will help more people discover the book!
The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts and readings, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 28 awesome partner sites around the globe. For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com.
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies.