Book Reviews: The Butter on the Toast for Self-published Authors

For self-published authors, marketing is not easy. We need to sell the vision—the story, the characters, the world—we put so much of our heart and soul into with a very limited budget. Authors with greater resources can afford to buy advertising, but most of us don’t have that luxury. So, we have to market to the audience most readily available to us: our family and friends.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being aggressively marketing to—or at—by family or friends. (And I have a strong suspicion that most people are like me.) For this reason, when it comes to my blog or my book, I will put out a general invitation, but not target my social media circle specifically, with only a few exceptions. It may not be the smartest strategy, but I like to think it’s at least respectful.

There is a marketing strategy we can all contribute to, though most of us don’t do it often enough. Every reader who reads a book can write a review. I’m sure most people use reviews when deciding whether or not to buy a book or other product online. If you ever have, you know how helpful they are. Even if you don’t feel you will present your thoughts eloquently enough, your effort will make a difference. Honesty is what matters most.

Personally, I try to write reviews as often as I can, whether I like a book or not. If my friends on Goodreads or Amazon have tastes similar to mine, I’m sure they’re grateful for the insights I provide. On the other hand, if I dislike a book for content that others enjoy, I’m sure my 2-star review will make someone else eager to read it!

Which brings me to another point: honesty in reviewing. I’ve read of an author who gives every book she reads a 5-star rating, whether she liked it or not. I know there are egos in this world that need to be stroked, but such ego-stroking is not helpful. If a flawed debut novel receives only 5-star reviews (in a 5-star review system), where is the room for improvement? There is nothing wrong with a 3-star review. I will still consider reading a book with an average in the 3- to 3.5-star average range. These books, despite their flaws, are worth a read. But artificially inflating the ratings of a book, when there are so many books in this world to read, is a disservice to all of the other good books out there.

To help you understand how I interpret ratings, here is a breakdown:

5 stars – Although no book is perfect, the things I love about a 5-star book far outweigh its flaws. This is a book I could read over and over again without getting tired of it.

4 stars – A 4-star book is great, but not fantastic. I was surprised by how much I loved it or I loved it for the most part, with a few minor issues.

3 stars – This is a neutral rating. The book was good, but not great. I don’t feel like I wasted my time, though I’m not likely to ever read the book again.

2 stars – I was very disappointed by this book. It had objectionable content I wasn’t expecting, or it was full of plot holes, or the storytelling was lacking in a way I just can’t overlook.

1 star – This book was a complete waste of my time. Why didn’t I stop reading it? I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Of course, this is just a guideline, not a set of fixed rules. There will always be emotional factors that go into a rating that I can’t anticipate until I’ve actually read a book. I have read books that make me say, “I don’t know why I love this book so much, but I do.” Not every reaction can be put into words. It’s helpful to try, though.

A rating is good, but a review is even better. It doesn’t have to be long or detailed, just enough to help other readers find their next favorite book. After all, if you read a book and enjoyed it, wouldn’t you want others to read and enjoy it, too?

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