Why You Should Say Bad Things About Books

by David Walton

Why You Should Say Bad Things About Books

For an author, customer reviews are like gold. The more people review our books on Amazon (or Goodreads, Audible, etc.), the more likely customers are to take the book seriously, and—even more importantly—the more Amazon’s AI bots will promote the book and combine it with others. (“People who bought X also bought Y!”)

As human beings with egos, however, the reviews we tend to love are the ones that rave. (“This is the best book written this century! I would kill my own mother just to read it again!”) These make us feel better than reviews that mix the good and the bad, and we want to think they do a better job of convincing others to buy. If we think that, though, we’re wrong.

Imagine you’re in the market for a new widget. Knowing nothing about widgets, you check out the reviews. The first one has five stars and says, “This widget is so awesome you will want to marry it after one use! Never buy another widget again!” You roll your eyes, because this review tells you nothing. You wonder if maybe the widget-maker’s mother wrote it.

The next review you see has one star. It reads, “Stupid widget broke the first time I took it scuba diving. Piece of trash.” This is a little more helpful, because it tells you where not to use it. Since you had no intention of scuba diving with it, however, you read on.

The next review reads, “Widget did what I needed it to as a casual hobbyist. The self-cleaning feature left streaks on the chassis, but didn’t affect its function. Great value for the price, but consider model B if you’re going to be using it every day.” Now this is helpful! You are also a casual hobbyist, so you go ahead and purchase the widget.

The same is true of books. As authors, we admire the reviews that stroke our egos, but over-the-top praise with no substance isn’t useful to customers. We’re afraid reviews with anything negative to say will turn away readers, but in reality, it’s the balanced reviews that are more likely to result in a sale.

So…if you’re a friend, and you’re planning to review any book or even my own new novel Deadly Memory, go ahead and say what you really thought. The point of a review is to help readers find books they will actually like, and in the long run, that’s better for every author than unrealistically high praise.

About the author

David Walton

David Walton is an American science fiction author. His first novel, Terminal Mind, won the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award for the best SF paperback published in the United States for that year. In 2018, his book The Genius Plague won John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. The Wall Street Journal wrote that “Walton has brought hard sci-fi roaring back to life.” At the same time, David is an engineer, a Christian, and the father of eight children.

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