ALL WRITERS NEED REVIEWS. They are essential for sales, of course, but they are also a great source for information as you’re working on your next book. Writing is a craft, and just because you have a natural talent for it doesn’t mean your skills can’t improve. All good writers continue to polish their skills. We can’t be too proud to listen to valid criticism.

So, once you get a few reviews, how do you use them?

Reviews reveal what elements of your book connected with readers and what didn’t work for them. But, remember that each reviewer is unique. They may love or hate your book for reasons that have nothing to do with your writing. You can’t take it personally if a 20-year-old reader who adores vampires and sci-fi doesn’t like your book about an aging, alcoholic detective. Nor can you totally believe your mother’s assessment that you are the next John Grisham. So, I go by the 90/10 rule.

Looking at all of your reviews, probably 90% are valid and useful. Your family and friends are all going to give you 5 stars, even if you didn’t write War and Peace. On the other end of the spectrum, trolls, frustrated writers, and people who probably should not have had that last glass of wine before they hit ‘Post’ delight in lancing you with 1 or 2 stars with lengthy rants about why you should never be allowed near a keyboard again.

But, the majority of reviewers leave an honest review. If 90% of my reviews say they love my main character, dialogue and descriptions, or how I weave several plot lines together – if I see those compliments showing up in every review – I can feel confident that I’m on the right track in those areas. By the same token, I pay attention if several readers say they would have liked the action to come sooner in the book. But remember, it’s still your book, so if readers want to see more sex or more violence and that’s not your thing, you don’t have to change it. You just need to find readers who like your type of book.

So, how do you find them? Whether you are 100% self-published, went the hybrid-publishing route, or got picked up by a publisher, you will still need to do a lot of marketing, including finding reviewers. Amazon’s has a ReviewGrabber tool that’s worth the price of admission. Divvy up the work with your publisher, find an intern to help, or dedicate an hour a day and start tracking down reviewers who like your kind of book.

The ReviewGrabber tool allows you to find Amazon reviewers who have already reviewed books in your genre. You can even search by author or book title. I am just beginning to use this tool and love it so far. You will have much better luck in finding people who want to review your book AND will potentially like it, if you see they have read and reviewed several other books like yours. The site has many other great marketing ideas for new writers and publishers.

Sometimes the shoe is on the other foot. I am often asked to review someone else’s book. If it’s a good story, well-written, no major flaws, I’ll give it a 4. If I love it, I’ll give it a 5. If I don’t like a book I’ve read, I don’t leave a bad review. If the author has asked me for my honest opinion, I will privately email or message them to tell them what I think could be improved. Most writers value honest feedback, which includes criticism as well as praise.

We all have a chance to be reviewers when we finish reading a book. I used to skip that page, but now that I understand the value of readers’ comments, I always leave at least a few sentences describing the book for anyone deciding whether or not to buy it, and what I liked.

So, whether you’re pounding out the last 100 pages of your next novel, writing a review for someone, or browsing for a new beach read, here’s to a 5-Star Summer!