What Makes a Review Popular?

I’ve only been reviewing on Goodreads for a couple years, but in that time I’ve noticed some contradictory trends. The most-liked reviews can be thousands of words long or two sentences; disjointed ramblings or concise analysis; gif after gif (screen captures of moving or still images from TV or film) or pure text; strewn with typos or perfectly honed; personal or detached; gimmicky or straightforward; gushing praise or forthright dismissal. In other words, I’m somewhat puzzled as to what makes a review popular.

To some extent it’s down to the popularity of a reviewer: the more friends and followers they have, the more likely people are to ‘like’ their review (if you’re not familiar with Goodreads, it has a ‘like’ button just like on Facebook, and reviews of a certain book then arrange themselves in order with the ones with the highest likes on the top). But this isn’t a sure thing. Although top reviewers probably account for a good percentage of the most popular reviews, there are always those sneaky book reviews that come out of nowhere and go viral.

Here are my thoughts on what is likely to make a review popular, thinking not just of Goodreads but of other sites I’ve worked with:


The book has buzz already, and/or has won a major prize.

By far, my most popular review ever is of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries [458 likes]. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2013.

fikryMy second most popular review ever is of Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry [264 likes]. It was a New York Times bestseller and especially successful with the bookish types on Goodreads.

To my knowledge, our most popular article ever published on Bookkaholic was a book debate we did about Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. I rated it 3 stars, while my opponent, an Australian blogger, gave it 5.

There’s thousands of 5-star ratings for Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, the 2015 Pulitzer winner, so while mine is not one of the top reviews by any means, it’s still my fifth most popular one at 62 likes.

You get in there early.

h is for hawkMine was one of the first reviews of The Luminaries to hit Goodreads, thanks to an advanced reader’s copy sent to me by We Love This Book. I also managed to review A.J. Fikry a few weeks before the publication date thanks to an Edelweiss download. With an early review, you can sometimes set the trend.

Helen Macdonald’s superb memoir, H is for Hawk, was released in the UK about a year before it finally arrived in the States, so that allowed my review time to gain some momentum (though not as much as a review that contained lots of photographs, something I still haven’t figured out how to do in html). It’s my sixth most popular review at 48 likes.

You epitomize the positive (or dissenting) response.

tale for the timeMy third most popular review is of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being [138 likes], one of my favorite books from 2013 or any year. That was an unreserved 5-star rating. My 5-star review of Jo Baker’s Longbourn, my fourth most popular at 64 likes, went up the week of publication and started off strong before being overtaken by some other positive reviews.

By contrast, my reviews of The Luminaries and A.J. Fikry are lukewarm and critical, respectively. For the latter, I seem to represent the negative response: people who were disappointed by how clichéd and sappy a promising bibliophile’s novel turned out to be.

[Note: The above numbers were correct as of October 12, 2015; I will now stop updating them as it was taking up too much of my time and memory! My Goodreads teaser for A Little Life has now overtaken H is for Hawk as my sixth most popular review.]


Do you have any theories as to what makes a review popular? If you’re a blogger and/or reviewer, what have been some of your most popular pieces?

All comments welcome!

8 responses

  1. Interesting question!
    I’ve always assumed that the more ‘friends’ you have the more likely you will have your review ‘liked’ but maybe it is more complex than that! I’m so impressed you have a review with over 400 ‘likes’. That’s amazing!
    My H is for Hawk review (my most popular by far!) has 31 ‘likes’ and that seems a high amount to me.
    I do feel that some people must put a LOT of work into their reviews – mine get written in 5 minutes!


  2. The Luminaries review really took off in a way I wasn’t expecting. I was lucky to have WLTB send me a copy so early, and then to get my Goodreads review up just as, or even before, the Booker buzz got started. You can tell the book remains popular because I keep picking up likes for that review, at least a few a week.

    I love that you can write however much or little you want on Goodreads. I truly admire people who can keep their reviews to a few sentences or one paragraph. My intention, if I’m only writing for Goodreads and not for another site (either paid or unpaid) is always to keep it short, especially for 1- or 2-star books, but I often end up writing more than I mean to. In any case, I consider review writing as practice, so it doesn’t go to waste.

    I’m always impressed by people who don’t post a review on Goodreads very often but, when they do, make it incredibly long and detailed, with loads of images and links. You can tell that for them it’s a real labour of love.


  3. I’ve given up trying to increase my reviews’ popularity (unless it’s a Shiny one). Having just moved to my own domain, I’ve lost nearly all my previous followers and am starting again effectively! Although I do love having people read my posts, I try not to be obsessed with the stats, and have never got more than a dozen or so likes on a post. I did manage to reach the UK Lit Blogs No 1 spot for 2 months running at e-buzzing/Teads and felt so big-headed for a while before the inexorable slide back down, it cured me of any pretension about personal stats, although I’m in awe of those who have the time to work it.

    I have a Goodreads account, but rarely use it for reviews, as you lose CR over anything you post I believe, there and at Amazon; I’ll do a hugely cut-down rewritten version if I do.


  4. I only started this blog in March, so I’m trying not to get hung up on stats (though I do check them occasionally). I don’t know how people get into the thousands of views. They say your blog has to fill a particular ‘niche’, but I’m not marketing-minded enough to think about that. I just write whatever occurs to me and if some other people enjoy it too, all the better.

    The copyright issue over Goodreads and Amazon reviews never occurred to me; are they not licensed via Creative Commons 3.0? If I’m linking to a review I originally posted elsewhere, I usually just post a short teaser of a few sentences. I’ve occasionally thought about taking on the massive project of transferring all my reviews over to Amazon to be in with a chance of joining their Vine early reviewers programme…


    1. Rebecca – see here Section 8 for Amazon’s right to your reviews posted… Amazon owns Goodreads so sim applies I assume.


      1. Huh. That’s a little disturbing. I don’t imagine they’ll abuse the privilege in any way, but it’s not nice to know that they effectively own my words. Do we bloggers have a copyright over what we publish?!


  5. Rebecca, I meant to ask you – do you have a time limit for liking a review? I sometimes read reviews that were written several years back and in those cases I always dither about ‘liking’ them. But thinking about it, I don’t really know why! I’m somehow more comfortable with liking reviews that were written fairly recently.


    1. Hi Penny, I imagine reviews accumulate most of their likes in the first few days and weeks after they’re posted, but I enjoy unearthing older ones, too. So if I’m looking up older books through author recommendations, for instance, and see that some friends have reviewed them, I might give them a like. The nice thing about older reviews is that they’re often written retrospectively and are just a few sentences long!


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