Once upon a time, not so many moons ago, there were four magical journals in which authors hoped to find reviews of their books. There was Publishers Weekly (read by nearly everybody in the industry), Kirkus (with its reputation for snarky, cutting reviews), Booklist (a kinder, gentler approach to the review process), and Library Journal (reviews written by librarians throughout the country). Of course, there was always the chance that one or more of these publications might print a book review that sent an author groping for her fainting couch. Still, it was more than vanity that made an author willing to take that chance. These publications were the kingmakers, their reviews influential enough to help determine which books would be purchased in mass quantities by bookstores and generously promoted by the media. These reviews mattered.

Flash-forward a few years. Drop in on any Amazon book page and scroll down to the reviews. You’ll still see snippets from trade publications, newspapers, magazines, and published authors. But if you keep scrolling, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a true internet creation: the customer review.

Almost everything is reviewed online these days, from applesauce to zithers. So, it should come as no surprise that readers are more than willing to publicize what they think about the book they just finished reading. But what may surprise you is just how important these user reviews can be. Some of it is obvious. Clearly, a book with many reviews sends the subliminal message that this is a title to take seriously: after all, look how many people wanted to read it! But, of course, it’s more than that. Nobody wants to waste their time or money on a book that has gathered a slew of one- and two-star reviews. So, not only does an author feel the awful pressure to gather armloads of reviews, there’s also the awkward, scary reality that those reviews need to be good.

Internet reviews and ratings often supplant the “word of mouth” book buzz that readers once found via publication reviews and libraries. They give bookstores, editors, and potential readers an idea of how well a book is being received by the public, often influencing sales and promotion attempts. They make authors quake. (Would you believe me if I told you that every time someone leaves a one-star review, an author keels over? No?)

Most authors I know recognize the need for reviews but hate asking for them. We don’t even like to ask our relatives, so you can imagine how difficult it is to prod readers we’ve never met to visit Amazon or Goodreads and let everyone know what they thought of our work. Worse, there’s no polite (or ethical) way to say, “Um…we’d prefer that your review be positive.” Naturally, that’s what we’d like to see. But, if we’re being fair, we understand that we can’t encourage readers to share their thoughts and then try to tell them what those thoughts should be. We have to take our chances, just as the reader did when choosing our books in the first place.

So, even though I’m swallowing hard as I write this, I’d like to invite you to leave a review of NEWPORT after you’ve read it. Amazon, Goodreads, wherever you’re comfortable. Just … be kind. It takes an awful lot of clapping to revive a wilted author.