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Opinion: Book Reviewing Begins At Home

Opinion: Book Reviewing Begins at Home

Debbie Young headshotDebbie Young, Commissioning Editor of this blog, shares her heartfelt views about book reviewing, and explains why she’s changing her strategy.

Around the turn of the New Year, I had a revelation: that, like charity, book reviewing should really begin at home. I don’t mean review your own books – although, startlingly, I’ve just come across an author who has done just that on Amazon (5*, natch) and got away with it. Instead, I mean put your own interests first when reviewing books.

Put Yourself First

It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing what everyone else is doing, and to feel pressured to post your book reviews on more and more sites. I’ve even had a request from an author whose book I’d reviewed on Amazon to replicate my review on a long list of other retailer sites, as if it was his automatic right, without a word of thanks or any recognition as to how much time or effort this might take me.

Part of the problem is that there are now so many places where authors would like their books reviewed. Until recently, I felt I’d failed unless I’d posted each new review on at least the following:

  • Amazon UK (because that’s my home territory and where I am compelled to buy any Amazon-sourced books)
  • Amazon US (because it’s the biggest market and will help authors)
  • if the author is Canadian or Australasian, on Amazon Canada or Amazon Australia, as appropriate
  • on Goodreads (if I found the site less irritating, I’d use it more often)
  • on my own website

Although it’s largely a question of cutting and pasting the original review for the first four sites on that list, I’d change the wording for my own website, so as to avoid being penalised by Google search engines for duplicate content. Consequently, the more books I read (typically 2-3 a week), the less chance there was of finding time to add each review to my own website, and so to drive more traffic to it.

Why I Set Up My Own Book Blog

So at the start of 2015, I decided to cut to the chase and start my own book blog:

www.debbieyoungsbookblog.com

(Always one for the obvious title, me).

Although creating more work in the short term, that step brought the following benefits:

  • I can say what I like, rather than having to comply with other sites’ rules
  • I can operate it separately from my author blog, which makes for a simpler life (I’d been running the reviews as pages rather than posts, which was more time-consuming and also made the reviews harder for readers to find)
  • I avoid the irritation that comes whenever someone votes my review “unhelpful” on Amazon (a questionable facility that allows authors or fans to vote down a review that they dislike, which, they may not realise, also downgrades the reviewer’s rank on Amazon – something that really rankles with me when I had set my heart on reaching the top 1,000 status)
  • I don’t have to give a star rating (boy, do those unhelpful star rating systems drive me nuts, as they’re applied inconsistently and often in error)
  • I can guarantee that my reviews won’t be deleted without explanation or justification for reasons known only to the site owner
  • My book blog will drive traffic directly to the author’s website, which will benefit the author
  • It will also drive traffic to my own author website, which is always welcome
  • I can gain affiliate income streams that would not be available to me if reviewing a book on a retail site

book blog

The only affiliate link I’ve set up so far is the obvious one to the Amazon Associate system. This was quick and easy to do, and although the commission per item is tiny, it applies not only to the item featured in your link, but to anything the clicker buys in the next 24 hours. Wow. My first Amazon Associate commission was gained was for a DVD that I’d never even heard of. Don’t all authors want other income streams to bolster their earnings from their books? I certainly do.

At the same time, I want to remind readers that online stores are not the only places they can or should buy books. At the end of each review, I’m therefore inserting a call to action to buy from their local bricks-and-mortar bookshop if they can – and I’ll also be adding some enticing reviews of independent bookshops that I know and love. Couldn’t do that on Amazon…

So in future, I’ll be putting myself first for a change and reviewing books first and foremost on my own book blog. If I have time, I may copy a shorter version to Amazon, Goodreads or anywhere else that takes my fancy, but I shan’t feel under pressure. The text of the review remains my copyright – and if an author wishes to quote it, that’s absolutely fine, provided they credit me and my book blog for the original review.

My book blog, my rules!

I feel so much better for saying that! This transition to my own book blog has made me recognise that I’m actually as indie in spirit as a book reviewer as I am as a writer.

I’d love to know if other indie authors are moving in the same direction. Do you share my views, or do you think I’m just being stroppy? Do you fancy setting up your own book blog? Do tell!

For more information about the Amazon Associates programme, visit: https://affiliate-program.amazon.co.uk/ (change the suffix according to the territory that you are in). 

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This Post Has 14 Comments
  1. Thanks, Debbie and commenters for some great food for thought. I had the a-ha recently that since I was having a hard time finding good review sites for nonfiction, which is what i’ve written so far, that I could just start reviewing nonfiction myself! It’s a great time to be an Indie, isn’t it? I love your idea of having a separate blog just for reviews. You’ve no doubt saved me time and headache.

  2. Haha, good for you, TT! One of the reasons I don’t join many groups on FB or Goodreads is that I can’t be doing with the barbed conversations that you refer to there.

    As a natural optimist, I reserve the right to be upbeat and positive, and find it so draining when people aren’t. My reviews are still entirely honest – if I really hate a book, I don’t review it. And if I’ve resented the time spent reading it, why should I prolong the agony reviewing it too? Life is too short.

    As my new book blog beds down, I’m noting that there is the odd occasion when I’ll put a quick review up on Amazon, if it’s a book I’ve found ok but don’t find it worthy of the time and effort to do a longer review on my blog. Like you, I’ll only be adding to my blog the books I positively recommend and endorse. The subtitle of my blog is “Sharing the Book Love Across the Ether”, which is actually what it’s all about for me.

  3. You know, I think this is a great idea, Debbie. I have a section on my website (www.ttthomas.com) called Book Reviews I Write, but it doesn’t contain a fifth of the reviews I’ve actually written. Why? Because everyone wants their review on Amazon and Goodreads, and the Author side of me is no exception! However, I think I’ll put my reviews up on my own website FIRST, and, like you, if I have time, I’ll post on the ‘buy’ sites. If not, other authors can pull quotes or the whole review from my site (with attribution, of course). I think that I, too, will get rid of Stars, though I may come up with something different. In my case, (my case being oh so different from everyone else’s case! LOL–not!)…but in my case, I have so far written reviews ONLY for books I love, can recommend and that enable me to focus as much on the writing talent and skill I see. As an author, THAT’S what moves me; as a reader, that’s also what moves me. I read 100 times as many books as I review, and as I look upon reviewing as a kind of public service (rather than an art where I impose my own artistic hand), I think I can and do review books that other writers LIKE ME would appreciate. This will leave out a lot. Doesn’t mean the ones left out are bad books or inferior in any way; just means the book didn’t appeal TO ME! Imagine that—my book reviews my way, as you said. I did think of this notion some time ago, but the whole area of authors reviewing other authors is fraught with so many potential land mines that I never took the idea seriously. No instead, I allowed far too many people in various groups to which I belong, make their snide and passive-aggressive slams at me and others who review books they like. Comments like “Always gives 5 stars” and “this won’t help our genre” and “too many favorable reviews is a disservice to our community” etc. etc. Inter-Office Memorandum: I don’t write literary critiques; I write book reviews. Of books I like. So bite me! Good post Debbie!

  4. Good luck, Debbie. Amazon review rules are perverse and whimsical. A lady posted a 5-star review for one of my books but it never appeared. Querying Amazon, she got a form reply referring her to their Rules. ‘But I haven’t broken them!’ she protested. She hadn’t. To which, answer came there none…

    At least, Goodreads is more friendly in its review procedures, although perverse in its own sweet ways.

    1. That’s definitely one of the most frustrating things about the Amazon process, John – you can do all you can to comply with the rules, but still be deemed by the powers that be to have flouted them. That’s simply not cricket!

  5. I’ve considered posting book reviews on my blog as well as on my Goodreads page, but I haven’t started doing that yet (partially because my blog is more geared toward book cover design and only occasionally at writing posts). Wasn’t sure how helpful it would be to post reviews. Though it would help bolster those weeks when I don’t have anything to post right off hand. I tend to post reviews on Goodreads, and sometimes on Amazon, but rarely any place else.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having an actual blog for reviews. 🙂

    1. I can see from your website, Stephanie, that you’ve got lots of different activities going on there too – another reason that made me set up a separate book blog. I have two other website that are exclusively mine – one for my book promotion consultancy, Off The Shelf Book Promotions (http://www.otsbp.com) and my author website (http://www.authordebbieyoung.com). I started out by putting my reviews on the Off The Shelf site but I was worried that they might be misconstrued there as being paid promotional reviews, so I then switched them to my author site – but that became confusing because I also have pages of other people’s reviews of MY books there. I like a simple life and the standalone book blog seemed the right answer for those problems too!

      1. That does make sense. That’s part of the reason I only occasionally host an author guest page, especially if it involved a cover reveal (then people thought it was a cover I’d done, so I started making sure to make a clear note about who the artist was, so as to avoid confusion). I haven’t really set up anything different, since I’m worried that I wouldn’t be able to provide content at a reasonable pace (I don’t read books fast enough to do it weekly or bi-weekly, and I tend to forget I have a blog– the schedule feature is a close-friend).

        Thanks again for sharing. 🙂

  6. I’m totally with you on that Debbie. I wrote a considered review on amazon and never saw it again, though I put a lot of effort into it. And goodreads just defeats me, it is as you say complex and irritating. I’ll pop over here and see what you’re reading next.

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Debbie Young

Debbie Young writes warm, funny feel-good fiction, including the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, which begins with the bestselling "Best Murder in Show". As ALLi's Author Advice Center Manager, she also writes guidebooks for authors. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, she is a frequent speaker at other literary events. Find out more about Debbie's writing life on her author website www.authordebbieyoung.com.

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