Asking for it...
Authors are used to asking readers for feedback. We send out "advance reader copies" ARCs to people who promise to read our books before they're released to the public and post reviews on Amazon or Goodreads or their own blogs. We don't tell them what to write or that the reviews must be glowing. We leave that up to them and hope for the best. We also encourage people to leave reviews after the book is released because the more reviews we receive, the more the book is noticed by Amazon, Goodreads, etc. and the more people will become curious about it or even realize that we have a new book available. With thousands of books published every month, we need all the help we can get to reach our readers.
Writing reviews is a simple task for me (and, yes, I leave a review on most of the books I read), but it is a dreaded task for some. I don't understand why, but I suspect that some readers feel inadequate when they are asked to write something that other people (gasp! even the author!) will read. Since I've developed a thick skin over the years, having been charred repeatedly over the fires of public opinion, this is not something that I avoid. As soon as I finish reading a book, I write a review. If I love the book, I usually write several sentences about it. If it's okay, I write a sentence or two. If I really think it missed the mark, I might write a paragraph about why I think it could have been better. If the book just wasn't my cup of tea, I usually say that or I don't leave a review at all because it wouldn't be fair. I mean, it's my fault if I pick up a book with certain expectations and then realize I was wrong. It would be stupid to blame the author for my error in judgement. I note here, though, that I've had readers do this to me. They've written bad reviews because they were offended by the sex scenes or because the hero said cuss words. Those reviews add to the thickness of my seared skin.
Let me give some pointers to you readers out there who don't know what authors are looking for when they ask you to write a review. We're not looking for high-minded, soul-stirring phrases (although those do make us squeal with glee and melt our tough, little hearts). Imagine that you're talking to your best friend about a book you just read. Try writing like that. It can be something simple like, "This book is typical of what this author usually writes and I enjoyed it. The hero is sexy and the heroine is kind-hearted and I really liked her. He's a sports announcer and she has just opened a bakery. They have a cute meeting at a peewee baseball game where her six-year-old son is playing on a team against his six-year-old daughter's team. He's been divorced for three years and her husband died while she was pregnant. I read it in one day, so you can tell I didn't want to put it down once I started it."
What an author will like about this is that there aren't any "spoilers" -- nothing that reveals major plot points to ruin other readers' enjoyment. Also, there are a few sentences about the story and the reader mentions that she liked both of the main characters. That's important to any author. It's imperative that readers like and/or identify with the hero and heroine.
Now here's an example of what you might write if you had some trouble with a book. "This is a new author for me and I liked most of this, but I couldn't totally understand why the heroine acted like she did. She wanted the hero to pay attention to her and kiss her, but when he did, she'd get all huffy and push him away. Way into the book, she finally tells him that she was emotionally abused in her last relationship. I wish I'd known that at the beginning of the book, then I would have had sympathy for her."
Feedback like this is golden. An author with her/his head on straight will learn a valuable lesson from this reader. Also, the review isn't mean, but honest and helpful. It is criticism with a spoon of sugar.
Other helpful reviews point out typos or words that were used incorrectly or even misspelled consistently. Ouch! These hurt and embarrass us, but hey! We need to know this stuff. I have mentioned such things in reviews, hoping to let the author know that she/he has a bad habit to correct. For example, in one book I read a few years ago, the author kept writing "he must of" instead of "he must have." Drove me nuts! I noted this in the review and even suggested that she hire a professional editor.
Think of reviews as your way of paying it forward. A writer has spent months writing a book and is eager to hear what readers think about it. Other readers will be interested in your opinion, too. Ten minutes of your time versus ten months or more of frantic typing and editing. It's not such a big ask, is it?