Writing Customer Reviews

Blue, five hearts review bars for ratingDo you pay attention to customer reviews when you are shopping? I admit that I do. That’s primarily what got me started writing customer reviews. If I appreciate knowing what other customers thought about their purchases, it’s only fair to share my own opinions.

Usually I review books, but I occasionally review other products and services. Although I seldom travel, I wrote a hotel review last year when my sister and I received exceptional service on our trip to visit my brother and his family. The hotel staff went so far out of their way for us that I wanted to let others know about our outstanding service.

I don’t like to be negative, but I do write honest reviews. Generally, I will try to mention both things I liked and things I didn’t like, if possible pointing out who might like something I didn’t. Something has to really bother me for me to write a completely negative review. I can remember only one book I ever gave a rating of one star. There were two seemingly disconnected plot lines. Neither especially intrigued me, but I kept reading because I wanted to find out how they fit together in the end. Rather than showing what happened, the book ended with the detective describing how he solved one crime. But instead of tying up the other thread, he ended the book with “I’m sure you’re wondering [about the second plot line]. For that, you’ll have to read Book 2.” At that point, I was really disgusted that I had read the entire book that I didn’t like just to find out how the two seemingly unrelated plot lines came together in the end—and they didn’t come together! The author expected me to buy another book to find out what happened in the second plot line. I was ready to throw the book at the author, but since I couldn’t do that, I gave the book a one-star review.

I have learned to abandon books I’m not enjoying. I’m getting to be like New York publishers and agents. If the book doesn’t grab me within a few pages, I delete it from my Kindle. I generally don’t review other products and services if I don’t like them.

I review every book I read on Goodreads and more recently on Amazon.com. Some reviews are very short; others are quite long. My goal with a customer review is to point out what I liked and didn’t like. In some cases, I can do that in a few words; in other cases, especially if I loved a book, I have a lot more to say.

If you would like to share your opinions and experiences with books, products, or services, here are a few tips:

  • You don’t need to include a synopsis of the book or a description of the product if you’re writing a customer review of a product or book described on the page where you’re leaving the review. Reviewers writing reviews for magazines or review sites need to include a little about what they are reviewing, but you have no reason to repeat information that’s already on the webpage.
  • Be honest. If your best friend asks you to review her book and you didn’t love it, you may want to decline to write the review rather than feel obligated to rave about a book you can’t get excited about. On the other hand, if you’re comfortable doing so, you can write an objective review, pointing out both positive and negative aspects. It’s always helpful to mention the kind of customers that might like what you didn’t. “I was disappointed in the cliffhanger ending, but readers who like the conflict to remain unresolved until the last book in a series would like this.”
  • Give a rating appropriate for your review. I’ve read customer reviews with a three-star rating saying, “I absolutely loved this book” and reviews with a four-star rating saying, “It was okay.” Not everyone has the same criteria for the different ratings, but those comments don’t seem to match with the star rating. I consider three stars average–a book I enjoyed but not something I will remember long after I’ve finished. Five stars means the book is exceptional—not perfect; no book is perfect—but a book that made an impact on me in some way. One star is reserved for books that make me wonder why I bothered to read them (which is why I usually don’t read far enough to give one star). Two is between poor and average (this may mean a good story with editing flaws), and four is between average and exceptional.
  • Be kind in your criticism. Rather than saying “The book was filled with terrible grammar and spelling mistakes,” say “A good editor could have improved the book and made it easier to read.”
  • Make the length of the review commensurate with what you have to say. Don’t pad your review if your opinion can be summed up in a few words, but don’t make it shorter than it needs to be to let readers know what you think.

Some customers and some readers on Goodreads rate books without writing a review. That doesn’t mean much to me—when I’m looking at what others have to say about a book or product or service, I want to know why they gave it a particular rating. I won’t enjoy a series book with a cliffhanger ending no matter how many other readers give it a five-star rating. The rating alone is meaningless without context.

Have you written customer reviews? Do you read reviews by other customers? Is there something you think is important in a customer review that I’ve omitted or something I’ve said that you don’t agree with?

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