Book Review Etiquette by Paula Hrbacek

Authors can’t sell books without reviews.  Especially now that a lot of authors are going the self-published route, book reviews are crucial elements that authors seek and crave.  Well, good reviews are craved.

Recently, there has been a trend for readers to post reviews before they have even read the book.

“A fellow author recently received the following ONE star review: "I did not read it I just downloaded it," says Raebeth Buda, author of ‘Silenced’ and host of the Writing World web site.  “Last year I also got a ONE star review that said, 'I haven't read it yet, I will leave a review when I do.'  They have yet to review it. That star has been sitting there hurting my rating ever since. And with only 10 ratings on that particular site, it hurts a LOT.”

It hurts the author because most book review sites give an average star rating, figuring all the reviews into one score.  It’s like getting straight A’s all semester, and then getting one F that pulls your grade average down to a C.

“It seems like common sense, but I think more people need to be aware of how much needless one star reviews can hurt. It's great you bought the book, [and] it's great you intend to review it. But leaving a one star 'placeholder' hurts the author much more than leaving no review at all,” Buda says.

Stars on a book review are pretty much equal to the five point grading system used in schools.  A five star rating is the same as an A on an essay.  It means you thoroughly enjoyed the book.  Four stars means the book was enjoyable, but had a few faults.  A three star rating means the book barely passed.  Anything below three stars warns other readers to pass the book by and buy something else.  A one star rating means the author should not have published the book in the first place.

When writing a review for a book, the reader should give a summary of the story to let the next reader know what the subject of the book is about.  It also lets the reader know that the reviewer did in fact read the book.  It should then point out the book’s virtues and weaknesses.  Is it well paced?  Does the plot make sense?  Are the clues foreshadowed, or does the answer appear out of nowhere?  Are the characters believable and likeable?  Is it well researched?  

The conclusion of the review then gives an overall reaction to the book: it was a pleasant read, it was a page turner, I couldn’t put it down, I highly recommend the book, I can’t wait for the next one.  The conclusion of the review should not be what is called a “spoiler”: the butler did it.  It’s acceptable to say that the ending was surprising, but not to say what the surprise actually was.

So, please, write your reviews, but follow the rules and format of a good review.  Even if your opinion is bad, every review posted should be good in quality, helpful to other readers, and a true reflection of the reader’s opinions.

Guest Blogger Bio 


Paula Hrbacek is the author of five books, including Stars Shine After Dark, a sweet Christian romance, available in paperback, Kindle and Nook.

Day Camp in Hawaii, a complete program guide for summer camp or summer school, is available in paperback, Nook and Kindle.  For more information see or her author page at

She also writes two columns for The Examiner, a free online newspaper; Children’s Arts and Crafts, and Book Reviews. 



Also in paperback at B&N.


  1. Thanks, Paula, for your article on "Book Review Etiquette." It hit a nerve with me, because it's challenging to get anyone to write a book review. Readers, and even some authors, act like it's "too much trouble." I find that reaction strange, given the amount of hours and words everyone spends on social media. Still, no one seems to realize the importance of writing a book review for an indie author. How can we change that perception?

    1. Yes, it is a challenge. I put "book reviews" on my Christmas list last year for my kids, and I didn't get any. That's why I included instructions on how to do it. Most of the excuses I get are "I don't know how".

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  3. Nice post! I wholeheartedly agree with you. I can't imagine why anyone would write a review on something they know nothing about. Tsk tsk! This is exactly why I always check the negative reviews. Sometimes the negative reviews are hogwash, sometimes they are complaining about things I don't care about, and sometimes they cause me to steer clear of that book. I am also with you on the format. It's my format exactly. I almost always write something negative in the review. It's just as helpful as the positive, IMHO. And I almost always write something about the ending, if nothing else but to prove I have read the whole book.

    (You can read my reviews at

  4. Enjoyed your comments. I am guilty of being lazy when it comes to reviewing what I buy, life seems to go by quickly and we need to be courteous and write more reviews. I am going to try to do better in my present and future purchases.

    Thanks for writing your blog!

    Hug-A-Bug hugs,
    Anna Church

  5. Having been on both ends of this equation, as a professional reviewer (mostly the Minneapolis Star-Tribune now, but the LA Times, Chicago Sun-Times, and NYTBR in the past) and an author, I'd like to add something. The puzzling part of a rating system, I think, is that it doesn't take into consideration what *type* of book is being reviewed and rated. I try very hard to evaluate the books I review on their own terms; if I'm really partial to, say, heady cerebral fiction, I'm not going to apply my personal standards to Stephen King or Helen Fielding. I'm going to say how the book works as the sort of book it's trying to be. But if I had to rate a book like that, on the basis of how much I *liked* it, as people so often do, where would that leave me? So I'd add to Paula's etiquette: don't review or rate a book on the basis of liking or not liking it if it's not the sort of book you'd like no matter how well it was done. (Or is that asking too much? It's pretty much the standard I apply in my workshops, when I don't allow my writing students to critique each others' work on the basis of taste, to the extent that that's possible.)

  6. Yes, I agree. I write a book review column for The Examiner, and I only review sweet and mild romance, mystery and suspense because those are the genres I enjoy, and the genres I am familiar with. I rate the book by how well it meets industry standards as stated in the guidelines for the major romance publishers as well as my personal reaction. Sometimes I read outside those genres, but still, there are common standards that all books should meet such as show don't tell, avoid information dumps, dialogue that sounds natural, pacing, adequate research, etc. I once reviewed a book that I didn't agree with the moral standards of the characters, and it insulted my religion, but it was still a well written story, so I gave it four stars.

  7. I have to admit I haven't written a lot of reviews, but I have for any of the indie authors I've read. We all survive on reviews so it's necessary to have them. So why not go a step further and lend a hand to those that need them? I will write more in the future. And now that I have several under my belt, I think I'm getting better at writing them. Your article is definitely going to help, Paula! :)

  8. You make some very good points, but I disagree with your description of what the top three stars of a rating system mean. Goodreads, for example, describes 5 stars as "amazing," 4 stars as "really liked it," 3 stars as "liked it." Amazon doesn't tell us what their stars mean, but Barnes and Noble says 3 stars is "good," 4 stars is "very good," and 5 stars is "exceptional". What you're describing is a system where readers are compelled to give 5 stars to every book they "like." That may be nice for writers, but makes the rating system non-usable for readers, and therefore as a reviewer is not one that I plan to follow.


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