Thursday, September 1, 2016

Book Reviews: Why I Review (and 3 Reviewing Tips)

By Iola Goulton

I’m speaking at the upcoming Omega Writers Conference in Sydney, Australia. My topic is reviewing, and today is my deadline for getting my speaker notes to the organisers. So I’ve been thinking a bit about reviews and reviewing. So today I’m sharing three reasons why I review books (and think you should as well!), and three reviewing tips.

1. Reviewing Helps Authors Recognise Good Writing

Authors need to read. Stephen King says so:

I recently read an article which suggested authors should read for two hours for every hour they write. I don’t know that I would recommend any particular formula, but I do believe reading helps writers.

Reading in the genre we write gives us examples of what works and what doesn’t work in terms of genre, story, plot, structure, and characterisation. This enables us to figure out why something worked, and replicate that in our own writing.

Reading in other genres broadens our understanding of what good writing is, and gives us examples of good writing—whether at the sentence, scene or novel level. It also helps us understand what kinds of books specific publishers are potentially interested in (something which is especially important in Christian fiction because of the themes and content. Narelle Atkins wrote an article on acceptable content in Christian fiction, which you can find here).

2. Reviewing Helps with Your Online Presence

Reviewing under your author name on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads, and sharing those reviews on social media, will give you quality content to use in building your online presence. It’s recommended that authors share more than constant me-me-me! posts, and book reviews have the advantage of being by you, but about someone else.

Reviews of books in your genre is also easy content for your author website. I share one review a week on my new author website, This helps show Google it’s a real, active website (it would be even better if I was sharing new reviews, but I’m not. At the moment, I’m sharing reviews that I’ve previously published on Iola’s Christian Reads. Although I do have a few new reviews in the pipeline for September ...).

3. Reviewing Helps Other Authors

Authors need book reviews, so reviewing helps other authors, always a good thing!

Three Reviewing Tips

1. Sourcing Books to Review

You don’t have to buy the books you review on Amazon (or any other website) from that website. You can review hardcovers, paperbacks, ebooks and audiobooks. You can review books you already own, books you’ve borrowed from the library, books you downloaded free from Amazon or books authors have given you to review.

My favourite source of books to review is NetGalley (which I wrote about in this article). If your publisher isn't a member of NetGalley, well, they should be. And you can also join as an indie author, either by yourself or as a member of a co-op.

2. Follow the Rules

All reviewing sites have rules (sometimes called ‘Reviewing Guidelines’, but be aware: they are rules and disobeying the rules will have consequences).

I’ve written before on Amazon’s Reviewing Guidelines:
Reviewing Ethics: Online Book Reviews (Part One)
Reviewing Ethics: Online Book Reviews (Part Two)

Note that Amazon have now clarified their Reviewing Guidelines to state that “payment” for a review includes:
bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts

So you can’t ask your fans to email you a link to their Amazon review to enter them into a prize draw for a free book or a cruise for two, or to send them free bonus content such as extra chapters or an exclusive novella. Yes, I’ve seen that done. By Christian authors.

I’ve also looked at the ethics of reviewing as an author:
Reviewing Ethics: Four Sins of Online Reviewing (Part One)
Reviewing Ethics: Four Sins of Online Reviewing (Part Two)

3. Remember the Golden Rule: Reviews are for Readers

When writing a review, think like a reader (after all, you are a reader!). Tell the reader what you would or wouldn’t like to have known before you read the book. Say who you think might like the book. Mention other authors: fans of X and Y will enjoy Z.

But please don’t write reviews purely to promote your author friends on online stores (e.g. Amazon), or on reader sites (e.g. Goodreads). And don’t puff up a substandard novel (it will call your own writing into question).

Many author-reviewers choose only to review books they’ve enjoyed and can recommend. That’s great, but you might need to keep those reviews on your blog.

If you want to find out more about reviewing, then make sure you sign up for the Omega Writers Conference! Or sign up for my newsletter—I’m planning to turn this into a book one day, and then you’ll be the first to know about it. One day …

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more

You can also find me on:
Facebook (Author)
Facebook (Editing)


  1. Love this, Iola. Yes, I find all the talk about authors NOT reviewing all a bit tedious. Hey, we're readers or should be and why not encourage others like us by reviewing their work. Yes, it gets problematic when the book doesn't appeal to you and you find you want to give it a review that is less than complimentary. In those situations I will usually email the author (if I know them) with my review/comments if I believe it may be helpful to them.

    I think the other challenge is that we have a natural bias as authors and can get a bit too picky and/or self-righteous rather than allowing ourselves simply to be a reader. Some of the most fun books I've read have rollicking good stories even though there may be too much head-hopping or whatever but I let those go and allow myself to enjoy the story.

    I might join you for your session at the Conference.

    1. You're coming to the Omega Writers Conference? Fantastic! I'll finally get to meet you!

      I know what you mean about getting too picky as a reader/writer (and editor). I consciously turn off writer/editor brain when I'm reading, but I often find the writing turns it back on again.

      For example, in the last week I've read books by Amy Matayo, Christa Allen and Tammy L Gray. In each of them I found myself stopping to admire the writing, the turns of phrase. They were that good. Good stories as well, but good stories made better by great writing.

      Equally, some authors have writing quirks that I can't seem to skim over, to the point they stop me getting invested in the story. Those are the hard ones to review - and I decline the review request if I have the option.

  2. Thanks for this, Iola! I have my own little rule when reviewing books: if I can't find enough good points to post a four or five-star review, then I decline to review the book. My first priority is to encourage writers. I might add a sentence or two on how the author can improve their story, but I keep to the positive. I'd rather bring a smile to hard-working writers!

    1. Sara, I won't request a book unless I think I'm going to be able to give it 4 or 5 stars. But sometimes I get disappointed or find the story hard to engage with, and that can be difficult when it's a NetGalley book I'm obliged to review.

  3. Thanks for the post! I like the website ... yo-la, not eye-ola :)

    1. Thank you! And I'm pleased you like the website.

  4. Great stuff here, Iola. I find it really hard to turn off my inner editor when reading. And when I find that book that allows me to totally escape, I know it's a great one. Which is also why, I think, that I tend to enjoy books more that are outside the genre I write in. It's much easier for me just to read and enjoy.

    As for reviewing, I don't do it much at this point, but as several have said, if I don't enjoy the book and can't give it a good review, then I won't turn in a review.

    1. Thanks, Lisa.

      I suspect reading inside or outside the genre you write can be a little chicken-and-egg. While I don't *just* read contemporary romance, it is my favourite genre, which means I'm both more likely to like it, and more likely to have it not meet expectations.

      Thank goodness for romantic suspense! I can get my romance fix and not have to face that inner critic.

  5. Hi Iola,
    I love how you mentioned that as well as helping other authors, we also promote our own online presence. It's a sowing and reaping sort of action which I appreciate, even when we don't see direct results. I do find it a challenge at times when I've requested a book from Net Galley which I don't enjoy as much as I anticipate, and still want to come up with a kind review.

    1. That is the hardest thing - especially if someone recommended the title or author to me, but it doesn't gel with me for some reason.

      I do sometimes cheat and only review on NetGalley (so the publisher gets the feedback, but I don't have to 'fess up to not having finished the book).