How to Write Great Book Reviews

A Guest Post by Larry Froncek

anita rodgers mystery writer
Image courtesy of rawpixels.com

Every year, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of novels are published in each of your favorite genres. In an earlier era, a new novel may only have had to compete for your attention with other recently released books and time-honored classics on the store shelves; however, in today’s world of near-permanent availability and infinite digital shelf space, any newly released novel is essentially in competition with every other book that’s ever been released in its genre. Without word of mouth, it can be almost impossible for a new writer to cut through the noise and gain traction.

That’s why it’s so important for readers to write reviews and share them on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, as well as their reader groups and their social media accounts.

I recently surveyed our VIP reader list to find out what they consider to be the top things they look for in a review when considering a new novel. Here are their most common responses, in no particular order:

  • The author’s unique voice.
  • Couldn’t put the book down.
  • Didn’t see plot twists coming.
  • A new take on the genre.
  • Would read more by this author.
  • Already purchased the next book in the series.
  • Great world building.
  • Total sensory experience.
  • Vivid imagery.
  • Character growth.
  • The book reminds them of an author, book, movie, or TV show.
  • Can’t stop thinking about it.

On the other hand, there are the things readers don’t like to see in reviews:

  • Spoilers (revealing plots twists, whodunnit, etc).
  • A summary of the book.
  • Rudeness or snarkiness.
  • Penalizing a book because it’s not in a genre you normally read.
  • Short reviews like “I loved it!” are fine but sharing WHY you loved the book is more helpful to a potential reader.

What to do if the book didn’t work for you?

Sometimes we give a book a shot and it turns out to be outside of our wheelhouse. Maybe you normally enjoy epic fantasy but thought an urban fantasy sounded interesting, but then found you just didn’t enjoy the book. That’s fine. Just note that in your review. Something like, “I normally prefer epic fantasy and wanted to try this novel. It didn’t work for me, but I can see how urban fantasy fans would really enjoy this story because of X, Y, Z.”

Just remember that if you’re reviewing the book of an up-and-coming author, they will likely see your review. So just remember there’s another person on the other side of the screen who invested months, if not years, of their time to create that story.

What to do if you have criticism for the author that you think might help them?

First, write it down and sit on it for a day. If you still think it’s useful, contact the author privately via email or a form on their website.

Letting them know about a weird spelling error or formatting problem might be helpful but editorial advice is likely worthless. They’re not going to rewrite the book to suit your tastes. If the fantasy novel you just read didn’t have enough romance, that’s your preference, not theirs. Every novel isn’t for everyone.

Once you’ve written that great review, spread it around

The best thing you can do with your new great review is share it on social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads and tag the author. If you know their email, send them a link to the review. Not only does it give them a heads up that you reviewed their novel but if they’re smart, they will tag you on their list as someone they can approach to review their next novel.

Need some inspiration to help you write a great review?

Every day I post my favorite new review on the Voracious Readers Only Instagram account and Facebook group. If you want to see some great reviews that you can model your own after, that’s a fantastic place to start.

I hope this short article has given you a useful perspective on the purpose of book reviews and how to write them to best help readers and authors find one another. Perhaps I’ll be reading one of your reviews someday soon!

Larry Froncek is the owner of Voracious Readers Only, a service that connects avid readers with authors in the genres they most enjoy. Since September 2017, Voracious Readers Only has made over 95,000 reader-author connections. For more information about Larry and Voracious Readers, please visit the Voracious Readers Only Website.

Advertisements

Self-Publishing on Amazon: 4 Crucial Tips for First-Time Authors

Guest Post by Savannah Cordova

 

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Self-publishing a book on Amazon is a big step for any author, but especially if you’ve never done it before. No matter how much research you’ve conducted or reassurance you’ve gotten from friends, putting your book up on Amazon is always an intimidating process — there are so many little details to remember, and therefore many little things that can go wrong.

Luckily, there are also concrete steps you can take to insure your self-published book as much as possible. And while no single measure will guarantee a successful launch on Amazon, doing all of these things will certainly maximize your chances! Here are four crucial tips for authors who decide to self-publish on Amazon, covering everything from uploading your files correctly to planning your marketing approach.

Tip #1: Polish and upload your manuscript effectively

Before you even think about putting your book on Amazon, you need to get your manuscript and cover in tiptop shape. Not only does this mean writing the best book you possibly can, but also hiring an editor or proofreader to sweep for inconsistencies and errors — not just proofing it yourself or asking a friend. Paying someone else to do the job, someone whose livelihood depends on their abilities, is a much safer bet than trusting inexperienced eyes.

You should also invest in a professional book cover design. Repeated tests have shown that a professional-looking book cover gets you way more clicks on Amazon, and you don’t want to lose up to 50% of potential buyers just because of your cover! So bite the bullet on the cost and get that gorgeous cover for your book.

Once you are absolutely, 110% sure that your manuscript and cover cannot be improved, you’re ready to prepare your files for Amazon. As you may already know, the Amazon Kindle Store uses MOBI files. This means that no matter what kind of file you upload, it will be converted to MOBI — which can have adverse effects on your formatting. So before you upload, ensure that your file is already a MOBI to prevent Amazon from converting it.

As for your book cover image, pretty much all you need is for it to be 1,000 pixels tall x 625 pixels wide, in the form of a TIFF or JPG. If one doesn’t work, try the other — the cover upload function can act up sometimes, so you may need to re-upload a couple of times.

Tip #2: Optimize your description and keywords

With your files safely uploaded and looking beautiful, you’re ready to write the description and set the Amazon keywords for your book! The more you can optimize these elements, the easier it will be for your readers to find you, and the more sales you’ll make. Annie’s already touched on how to write a great Amazon product description, but here are a few things you can do in terms of keywords specifically:

  • Try to get into your target reader’s head

It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many authors go straight to using keyword tools rather than thinking about it from a human perspective. Simply imagine that you were a reader looking for a book like yours, type all the keywords you can think of into Amazon, and check which titles are ranking for each keyword. If they’re similar to your book and have decent rankings, you can bet that’s a strong keyword, and you should add it to your own details.

  • Focus on high-traffic, low-competition keywords

Of course, though you want to be using some of the same keywords as your competitors, you’ll benefit even more if you can find a few niche keywords with high traffic but low competition. If lots of people search for a certain term, but not too many books are actually a good match for that term, this could be your chance to fill a gap in the market!

  • Use Amazon’s ad system to your advantage

This is a tip for after you’ve put your book up on Amazon, but it’s just as effective (if not more so) than trying to optimize your keywords beforehand. Once you’ve made some sales, you can go into your KDP dashboard and “create an ad” — but instead of actually setting up Amazon ads, just check the suggested target keywords for the ad that you would make. Amazon will tell you exactly which words and phrases readers have been using to find your book, meaning you can go back into your description and re-optimize to capture even more readers.

Tip #3: Weigh your options with KDP Select

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the various pros and cons of enrolling in KDP Select, the program that offers various promotional opportunities in exchange for Amazon digital exclusivity. As in, while enrolled in KDP Select (which lasts 90 days), you cannot sell your eBook anywhere other than Amazon — though you may distribute print copies if you wish.

The KDP Select program has several concrete benefits, including:

  1. Free and discounted price promotions, which help you get tons of downloads and gain visibility by ranking on two different types of lists (the free store and the paid store on Amazon).
  2. Having your book on Kindle Unlimited, which is basically Amazon’s “Netflix for books” that allows subscribers to pay $9.99 a month for unlimited ebooks. Authors take home a very small percentage of royalties from this (only about $0.0044 per page), but the massive exposure to millions of KU subscribers and subsequent rankings boost makes the actual payout more or less irrelevant.
  3. 70% royalties in extended territories such as Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico, as long as your book is between $2.99 and $9.99 (though with non-select, you still get 70% royalties in most Anglophone territories).

Of course, the program has drawbacks as well. For example, KDP Select is great for reaching readers in the US and UK, where Amazon overwhelmingly dominates eBook distribution — but other countries like Canada and Australia have a much less autocratic ebook market, with companies like KOBO and Apple Books taking 20-30%. Though this is still less than Amazon’s share of the market in those countries, it’s enough to potentially hurt you if you go Amazon-exclusive for your book launch.

You should also steer clear of KDP Select if you’re trying to get onto bestseller lists other than Amazon’s. Not many people know this, but one of the prerequisites for lists in publications like The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, etc. is that you sell your book on multiple retailers — i.e. Amazon exclusivity is a deal breaker.

The takeaway here is that only you, the author, can decide whether or not KDP is the right path. Carefully consider both sides, and whichever you choose, keep track of what works and what doesn’t so you can make an even more informed decision with your next book.

Tip #4: Prioritize getting reviews

Finally, once your book is up and selling on Amazon, you have one goal that should take precedence over all others: getting (legitimate!) five-star reviews. Naturally, five-star ratings in and of themselves are important, but you also want to have as many people as possible leaving written reviews on your book’s Amazon page.

Why? Because you have to anticipate poor reviews and have a buffer in place just in case. Nothing pokes holes in a buoyant Amazon ship like a burst of one-star ratings, and nothing sinks it like a one-star review, especially if it’s the only review on the page. The more glowing reviews you have, the less likely that a potential customer is going to see that one-star review and decide that your book isn’t worth their time.

To that end, maximize your reviews by asking everyone you know to leave one, publicizing your book through your email list, and utilizing promotional sites and services. Of course, you should never pay FOR a review, or even “review swap” with another author — if Amazon suspects anything fishy, they’ll come down on you hard.

But don’t worry: promoting your book in other ways should lead to plenty of organic reads and reviews. And while you can’t guarantee that everyone you ask will leave a review, the more work you put into this stage, the more reviews you’ll get out of it.

So there you have it: polish your book, optimize your keywords, calculate your odds with KDP Select, and focus on reviews. No matter what kind of book you’ve written, these tips should significantly contribute to your self-publishing success… and perhaps even equip you to make a name for yourself in the cutthroat world of Amazon.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She’s very interested in the self-publishing industry and where it’s headed. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

How & Why Authors Can Podcast (Guest Post by Eric Z)

In this post you’re going to learn the easiest and most effective way to start a podcast, and with all free tools!

Also:

  • Why you especially need to start a podcast—as an author.
  • The best platform— that broadcasts automatically to 11 different big platforms like iTunes, Google Play, and and and…
  • Killer tips on the technology and sound recording required.
  • An awesome way to put a book together—fast!
  • And even a killer tip for generating more traffic to your podcast!
  • Go to this link if you want to watch the presentation.

Or…

You can listen to the podcast

Download the PDF

Why You Should Podcast

Instant Authority

Once you start podcasting — it automatically raises your authority, regardless of your genre or niche.

Influencer Outreach

When you start a podcast you get to meet amazing people.

You also instantly improve the conversations you have with people— and you get to ask questions you would normally would never get a chance to ask!

Increase Traffic to YOUR Platform!

When you start a podcast you will almost instantly increase the traffic to your platform:

  • Blog/website
  • YouTube channel
  • Whatever you choose!

Especially when you start re-purposing your content, you can really squeeze out the “Internet juice” to the last drop!

Did you just make an Instagram video? Guess what? That can also be a podcast!

Not only can you publish on the normal podcasting platforms (see the “HOW” section) but you can also publish your podcast on YouTube— Free advertising!

The Easiest Way to Start a Blog – Ever…EVER!!!

Do you want to start a blog but don’t know how or what to publish? —get on that podcasting!

  1. Make a “wish list” of all the people you want to interview in your niche.
  2. Then start that outreach campaign.
  3. Don’t stop til you have your 1st guest…
  4. No excuses!
  5. Everyone has to start somewhere…go listen to my 1st podcast if you want—the audio is terrible. And what was the topic? Audiobooks! (Ironic eh?)

“Virtuous Cycle” Upward Spiral

Once you start a podcast you will automatically start networking with influencers and in general, people that can help you and add value. It might be a book collaboration or package deal of some products…or…they might just send their 10,000 followers to your blog.

Either way you look at it, it is a win-win deal for both participants.

The Fastest Way to Get a Book Together

Also part of this “virtuous cycle” or deal flow…

You can get a book together real fast by podcasting. Just make sure you inform your guest beforehand that you intend to make a book. This way they can avoid any problems that might pop-up. Some big gun authors are bound by their publishing contracts—and won’t like it if you publish your podcast as a book before they do.

How to Podcast

Recording Sound:

There is only one thing you need, and that is a noise canceling microphone.

Regardless of which setup you buy, make sure to read the product description and see if it has some kind of noise canceling feature.

I use a Sennheiser U320 a middle-of-the-road setup for gaming which costs less than $100

Make sure that your headphones come with an adaptor  so that you can use it with a computer, a laptop, or smartphone.

Which Platform?

There is only one to really consider now, and that is Anchor.FM. It’s so easy anyone could do it…seriously! They also have a really handy episode builder. So you only have to record your intro and outro once, upload it to the platform, and then you can tack it on to any audio or video file you upload.

The folks at Anchor are also starting a sponsorship program, which matches up content creators (you) with paying clients and companies who would just love a tiny little advertisement on your podcast. (Remember that keyword “deal flow”?)

Always have a back-up, or 2 or 3!!!

My first pic for podcasting is Anchor but you can also use Zoom or ScreenCastify + Chrome Browser if for some reason Anchor doesn’t work for you. It’s always good to have a backup plan. Regardless of which platform you use to talk, Skype, Zoom, etc., you can record it all with Screencastify. Here’s a video of me recording a podcast call with Tom Morkes.

Other options in podcasting include: MP3 Recorder (free download compatible with Windows and Mac), Google Hangouts+Screencastify, YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Google Talk, Easy Webinar, and more.

Be Prepared

Share a Google Doc with all of your Questions with your guest, even questions that you might not ask.

  • Typically, a full page of questions, (14 pt Ariel, double-spaced) is more than enough for an hour-long interview.
  • You can add comments on the document as needed.
  • Also, be sure to ask your guest if there are any topics they don’t want to discuss or need to avoid, so that when the interview takes place you are both on the same page and no bad surprises happen.

Watch Your Speech—No “um’s”.

This one is challenging… But help is on the way…Toastmasters! Toastmasters isn’t just a good way to practice speech, it is also a fabulous way to network. You will gain readers and buyers of your books when you go to Toastmasters. And…remember that virtuous cycle/upward spiral? This is part of it. It’s a win-win all around.

Don’t Interrupt!

It’s super exciting to talk to one of your mentors or heroes, but you gotta…go… deep!

  • If your guest is on a roll—don’t stick to the questions.
  • Stay with it and let them flesh-out what they are talking about fully.
  • Your listeners will love you for it (or hate you if you don’t).

Custom Thumbnail

Cover art is important. I highly recommend making a custom thumbnail for each platform:

  • Pinterest
  • YouTube
  • Facebook

Canva is great for these, it’s free and easy to use, plus they have templates for each social media platform. And you don’t have to be a graphic designer to make it look good.

Follow UP!

Very important, yet often forgotten (especially when you start interviewing a guest a week, or more). Make sure to thank your guest, and ask them for leads! You can hop from one guest to another this way—never worry again about where you’re going to find your next guest!

So, there you have it, the crash course in podcasting. After all of this, the question is now: “Why WOULDN’T you start a podcast?!”

A Writer’s Meme…

I sort of stole this from another blog – but I thought it would be a fun Friday post.

Name a novel(s) that inspired you to write.

So many… but three that come to mind are: The World According to Garp by John Irving, Of Captains and Kings by Taylor Caldwell, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

What’s your favorite genre to write and read?

Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense. Love puzzles and can’t resist trying to solve them.

Do you prefer to write stand-alone or series?

Series are great because you get to spend more time with beloved characters and watch them grow and develop. Although some stories are meant to stand alone. So, I guess I don’t have a preference. Although, most of my books at present, are part of a series.

Use 3 words to describe yourself.

Funny, stubborn, determined

Use an image that reveals your latest book’s Main Character or story setting.

anita rodgers mystery writer

Yes, bad things happen in the creepy woods. Hehe

How long did your first book take to draft?

Six months. Then I promptly trashed it. It’s okay, it was utter drek.

Who is your author idol?

Michael Connelly – the best crime writer out there, in my opinion.

Share a writing memory that made you determined to keep writing.

After reading a historical romance I wrote (inspired by a poem) my writing professor told me that I wasn’t ready to write novels yet. He said I needed to get more life experience first. Though he didn’t specify what that experience needed to be. Nothing like being told you can’t do something to make you want to do something.

Tell us something surprising or unique about yourself.

I’m very shy in real life. (Nobody believes me about this)

Share the hardest part of being a writer.

It’s very easy to feel as though you are all alone in the world. Writing is a solitary activity and it can make you feel isolated. You doubt whether what you’re doing matters, is good enough, and whether anyone will really care about what you have to say. You have to learn to be good at self motivation, giving yourself pep talks, and letting your intuition guide you. But despite this, there is nothing more amazing than creating a story you are proud of and want to share with others.

What’s your favorite social media and why? Share your link.

I think Facebook. It allows for a lot of interaction and enables you to connect on a deeper level than most of the other venues. I’ve made some lovely friends and found some wonderful readers on Facebook.

Share some uplifting wisdom in six words or less.

Believe in yourself. Believe in others.

Thanks for reading this fun little writing meme. Feel free to ‘meme’ yourself in the comments.

If you’re a writer: What is your favorite thing about being a writer? What is your least favorite?

If you’re a reader: What do you most like learning about your favorite authors? What book do you wish an author would write?

Have a lovely Autumn weekend.

Cheers,

Annie ❤