Becoming a Gold-Star Reviewer

Today I'm honored to have a guest post from Amy Green of Bethany House Publishers.

There’s just something about the word “free” that immediately gets people’s attention.

See? Didn’t you just get excited?

As the fiction publicist at Bethany House Publishers, I oversee our blogger review program. That means that I give away free books, both physical copies and ebooks, to bloggers who agree to help me spread the word about our new titles. (If you’re not a member yet, you should check it out here.)

The problem is, a lot of people see “FREE BOOKS!” and, in a fit of literary excitement, stampede forward to get copies of new releases…and then don’t actually review the book. Or write the bare minimum word requirement in a quick post and move on to the next thing.


What they’re missing is a golden opportunity to grow the audience of their blog. Most discussions of blogger review programs focus on the benefits for authors—starting up the “buzz” for their novel. But what marketing people should talk about more are the benefits for you, the reviewer. Even if reviews aren’t the main focus of your blog, you can use them to drive traffic your way. Here’s how.

Cover the basics. Although I promise that wasn’t intended to be a pun, one of the main must-haves in a review is an image of the cover. (You can download it from the publisher’s website.) Here are a few other basics:

  • Plot summary (You can copy and paste the summary from Amazon, or you can write one yourself for a more personal feel.)
  • Your opinion. This should be a substantial part of the review—it’s what people care about most.
  • Links. Link the title to places where the book can be purchased, and link to the author’s website and Facebook page at the end of the review (the more links you have, the higher your Google ranking on this subject will be).

All of these things only take a minute or two, but you’d be surprised how many people leave them out.

Be unique. Find a format and tone that will make people want to read your review. Maybe that means starting with a brief excerpt. Maybe you’ll choose to list your “favorites”: favorite character, favorite scene, favorite line of dialogue, etc. Maybe you have a unique rating system with different categories. Maybe you’d like to find pictures of celebrities who you would cast as the main characters if the novel was made into a movie. Just find something fresh and interesting and do that thing consistently. Visual creativity—finding or even creating pictures that go with the review—always gets gold-star status for reviewers around here.

Don’t give away the ending. Enough said.

Take notes. As you read, jot down a description that brought a vivid picture to your mind, a line of dialogue that made you laugh, a paragraph where you felt like the author’s writing style really came through. Quote that bit in your review—people love getting a feel for the author’s voice.

Be constructive. Didn’t like the novel? That’s all right—no one’s going to love every single book. But remember: often, authors will read these reviews (in our program, we collect them and pass them to the author every few months). Also, other readers will read these reviews, and they don’t want to listen to a rant. They’d rather hear why the book didn’t appeal to you so they can decide if they should pass on it as well. Here are some pointers for writing a negative review:

  • Sandwich critique between praise if you can. Find something about the book that you liked and share it. Starting and ending with something positive makes people more likely to think of you as balanced. Then they’ll respect even your negative opinions.
  • Decide why you didn’t like it. Was it just not your genre? Did the hero get on your nerves? Maybe the ending was disappointing? Be as specific as you can.
  • Put yourself in the authors’ shoes. Your goal should be to make them think, “Hmm, that really was a weakness of my book. Maybe I can fix it next time.” Your goal should not be to make them cry.

Post, post, post! Go to Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, Shelfari, anywhere you can think of and post the review. (Usually just the opinion portion is fine—viewers can read the plot description elsewhere.) But don’t stop there! Find Facebook fan pages that might be interested in your review and post it there. Join groups of readers on Facebook dedicated to a certain genre or style of books and let them know when you have a new review up. Contact your local paper and see if they have a book review section, online or in print. It all adds up to more exposure for both your blog and the book you’re reviewing.

Become a fan. If there was a book that you just loved, consider putting extra time into the review. Pack it with all the “extras” you can find (see if there’s a Pinterest board, book trailer, Q&A with the author on the publisher’s site, etc.). Then contact the author through Facebook or the email contact information on his or her blog/website. Send a simple note of appreciation for the book along with a link to the blog post. The author may choose to post the review to their social media and send all of their fans over to your blog.

Anyone can have an opinion on a book. Only a few choose to join the ranks of gold-star reviewers. I hope that you’ll soon be among them…and thanks for being a reader and reviewer. We here at Bethany House know that we couldn’t promote our books without you!


Amy Green is the fiction publicist at Bethany House Publishers, which means she’s getting paid to be enthusiastic about writers and their novels. She’s also the moderator of the new blog. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook. (,