Happy New Year, lovely blog readers! I hope 2019 is full of happiness for each and every one of you.
My New Year’s resolution this year is to spread a little happiness by reviewing an academic book each week. Academic books, even those that are widely read and cited, rarely receive public reviews. Yet public reviews online are the most useful tools to help potential readers decide whether or not to read a book. People are using reviews more and more: to find ways to meet their needs for everything from holiday accommodation to plumbers. I’m ashamed to admit I wrote more reviews on TripAdvisor last year than I did on Amazon.
That’s a sticking point, of course. Some people are ideologically opposed to using Amazon because of the company’s exploitative employment policies and avoidance of tax. Another option is Goodreads – though (little-known fact coming up) Goodreads are owned by Amazon, which I only found out as I looked them up online for information to share here. Yet Amazon and Goodreads are the most useful sites from a potential reader’s viewpoint because they are where most book reviews are posted.
For an ethical alternative, Wordery are independent and ship worldwide for free. There aren’t many book reviews on Wordery as yet; the website is more interested in promoting reviews for its business than in encouraging book reviews. This may be because it is a newish business, founded in 2012. But there is space to write reviews on Wordery.
Of course I could also review on social media, and sharing information about books that way is helpful. However it’s not as permanent, and doesn’t enable comparison of different viewpoints in the same way, as reviewing on a website. Reviewing on blogs is good, especially the more widely read blogs, but writing a whole blog post is much more demanding for the reviewer. A review on Amazon/Goodreads/Wordery need only be a few sentences long.
If you’re not sure how to review a book, here are two top tips. First, give an honest opinion of what you liked or disliked, or found useful/not useful, with reasons. Reviews that say ‘This book is pointless’ or ‘This book is marvellous’, without explaining why, are not helpful. An example from my own approach: I always deduct a star for an academic book with an inadequate index or no index at all, because for me this reduces the usefulness of the book. When I’m working I need to be able to navigate swiftly around a book’s contents and a good professional index is an essential aid. But this is a personal requirement, so explaining why I’ve taken away a star is helpful for potential readers who may have different requirements. For example, some people only ever read a book once and make careful notes as they read which they use for reference later. For those people, an index is much less important.
Second, say what kind of people you think will find the book useful. That could be people at a particular stage of education, or with specific interests or needs, or studying/working in a certain discipline or field. You can do more if you wish, but if you do those two things, you will have written a review which could help others decide whether to spend time and/or money on the book in question.
I’ve written my first review for this year on amazon.co.uk and copied it to Wordery. (I also tried to copy it to amazon.com, as I have done in the past, but found I’m ineligible because I haven’t spent $50 there in the last year.) The book I chose to review was Indigenous Research Methodologies by Bagele Chilisa which I have mentioned before on this blog. This illustrates another important point: reviewing a book a week doesn’t mean reading a book a week. I will review books I read during the year, and I will also review a selection of the books from my shelves that I haven’t yet reviewed. I plan to prioritise books by women, queer people, scholars with disabilities, Indigenous writers, and others who have to contend with oppression.
As an author myself, it would be disingenuous of me not to declare that reviews help authors too. Bagele Chilisa’s book has (at the time of writing) 1109 citations on Google Scholar, yet only one review on Amazon UK and three on Goodreads. While citations are great if you’re in academia, public reviews increase visibility for authors far more than citations. I have never understood why academic readers don’t take a few minutes to write public reviews like readers of other types of books. Though I’m guilty too… but that is going to change! The minute I publish this blog post I’m going to write my second review for this year.
You can join in if you too would like to spread a little happiness. All you need to do is take five minutes to write a short public review of an academic book. Perhaps a book you think should be more widely known, or that you would not recommend (don’t forget to say why), or that would help readers in a particular category. Even if you only review a book a month – or even a book a year – that will help potential readers, and authors too. I’ll be using the hashtags #reviewabook and #reviewabookaweek to talk about this on social media. Hope to see you there!
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This is a fantastic idea!!! Personally I find the stars much less informative/helpful/meaningful than the content of a review. However, folks should know that on platforms like Amazon the stars definitely feed into the search algorithm and affect whether potential readers even see the book or how far down the page it is.
And yes, Amazon has been changing their reviewing policies and you can only review there if you buy there. the 50 local currency minimum is a thing. They also sometimes delete reviews for unexplained reasons thought to be that they think they are not genuine. Close connections, etc.
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Glad you like the idea, Jo. Agree that stars are less useful but we have to give them on public platforms for some reason. As a reader or shopper, I do find an aggregate star rating useful if there are a lot of reviews and I’m trying to choose between various products, but it’s going to be some time (if ever!) before that applies to academic books.
Yes! I have started reviewing academic books, but I want to do more of that this year. Goodreads is my preferred platform for book reviews and recommendations so I will review academic books there as well. It’s interesting how I feel unqualified to review even though I’m a PhD student and would be reading books in my field. The peer review system has its merits but there is a place for public reviews from informed readers.
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Great! I agree completely, and I love that you are doing this too, Fariba. I think you are perfectly well qualified, so tell that impostor syndrome to take a hike! If you’re on Twitter or Instagram, please use #reviewabookaweek to share your reviews (even if you review monthly, or quarterly, or irregularly) – this will help to build the conversation. Thank you!
Thanks for the prompt Helen – I’m actually not sure I’ve ever reviewed an academic book (or any other book for that matter). I do wonder whether part of it for me is (embarrassing confession alert) that I often feel unqualified, as Fariba mentioned in their comment – who am I to be passing judgement on something someone’s spent years writing?? (Fariba, I’m not sure whether it will help or terrify you to know I am 8 years beyond my PhD and those feelings have still not gone away!)
So I’ll join in too (although I won’t promise a set number) – starting with your research ethics book which I’ve just found in a bag with a bookmark in the middle…
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Jenni, you star! And please do use the hashtag #reviewabookaweek to tweet about all your reviews. I’ll RT any tweets on that hashtag – let’s get this conversation going!
I think this is great idea. How do I get people to start reviewing my books?
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Thank you 🙂 and good question. It’s not easy. Some options are: mention on social media that you could use reviews; ask your publisher’s marketing people for ideas; or, if you self-publish, make sure all your books include encouragement to review. I wish you luck.