What does the average author, with a book “out there”, want from their readers? Well, we obviously want you to enjoy what we’ve written but what we would appreciate are reviews on blogs, certain famous online retailers, Goodreads and so on. Why?
Book reviews are a lifeline for writers. Reviews help spread the word about the book. Given every writer must be prepared to do their own publicity, (even the big publishers save their efforts and budgets for the blockbusting author, everyone else has to “hit the campaign trail” for themselves), reviews give a helping hand.
Writers can share good comments on websites and social media and the long term hope, given most of us plan to produce far more than just one book, is to build up a list of people we know will read and comment on what we do. The idea is, of course, to increase the number of people on that list over time. (And of course that helps sales!).
I use reviews to gauge whether I’m likely to be interested in a book. (I even use reviews for my online grocery shop when trying out a new product but that’s another story!).
Bad reviews, funnily enough, are not necessarily off-putting as, especially if it is the odd one or two and the majority are good, those can be put down to not being able to please all of the people all of the time. It also helps prove the reviews are honest, which is phenomenally important if you want them to appear on Amazon. (Frankly why wouldn’t you want an honest review? You need reviews that are meaningful and a dishonest one will not help the writer).
Over the top praise reviews can be off-putting, perversely, because you do wonder who has written them. Amazon have cracked down on reviews to try to avoid “sock puppetry”, where authors under another name try to destroy a rival’s book, and the kind of reviews that have clearly come in from the writer’s Granny/Grandad/better half/latest lover and so on. These good people will all be keen to please the writer for a variety of reasons but it does mean their critical capacity has to be open to question. This makes the review useless from the viewpoint of someone trying to decide if the book is for them or not.
Honest reviews are required, stating what someone likes about a book, what they hate about it and so on. I’d like to say a big thanks to those who have commented on From Light to Dark and Back Again so far as, yes I’m thrilled they all like the book, but it has been the specific comments that have been most useful. More than one reviewer has picked up on the thought that flash fiction makes an ideal read for journeys and so on. Quite right – and it’s one very good reason I’ll be having a book signing at Chandler’s Ford Railway Station on Saturday 8th July! (Between 9.30 am and 12 noon and I hope to put up a notice about this nearer the time).
A good review is also obviously great for the writer’s ego but, far more importantly, they can be a source of vindication for what you do, writing-wise, and an enormous help in improving what you do write!
Why vindication? Partly because someone has taken the trouble to read your book and comment seriously on it. That in itself, regardless of what is said, can be justification. (Not that all writers need this but some do and I have in my time, especially when I was starting out, I need this less now though it can still be reassuring and useful). It also proves to yourself you have work ready to be judged by your peers. A scary thought in some ways but also an exhilarating one (more so if the reviews are positive, admittedly!).
Why help in improving what you do? Simply because you spend a lot of time at your desk, writing alone and reviews give you feedback as to what works and what doesn’t. A good review (especially if it criticises fairly and points out problems) can save a writer a lot of time in the long run. You can be too close to your own work to see the faults. Sometimes reviewers will pick up on things the writer misses.
Writing, knowing you are hoping for reviews, means you are more likely to target your required audience better as you know you are writing for them and not just for yourself. Writing just for yourself is, of course, absolutely fine, but to be published regularly, you need to be able to reach out to your target readers so must have some idea of what they want to read and are you the person to supply that? If not, you need to find who you are writing for.
What then makes a good review? It is one which tells you enough about the book without giving too much away. It makes you want to find out for yourself if the reviewer’s thoughts were correct. It is objective. The impact of the review on other readers should be to help them reach an informed decision as to whether the book is likely to appeal or not. I like the Look Inside feature on e-books. It’s a great way of getting a free sample of the writer’s work and that probably is the single best way of gauging whether you are likely to like their stories.
There is no right length for a review either. The ones so far for my book range from a couple of sentences to a few paragraphs All have something relevant to say and are complete in themselves.
I review books and share these on Amazon and Goodreads in particular. I sometimes share to a writer’s blog (if they ask for that) and I will link on mine. It all helps get the word out there and can show those who follow my blog what I like in terms of story. A review, like any article including this one, is all the better if it follows a structure.
Of course, the great thing is reviewers do not always get it right but, even then, they are talking about books. How can that ever be a bad thing?!
Finally, for the very definition of an honest review, see the link to Mark Twain’s thoughts on the writings of Fenimore Cooper. For example, just after quotes from others who reviewed Cooper positively, Mark Twain’s reaction is:-
“It seems to me that it was far from right for the Professor of English Literature in Yale, the Professor of English Literature in Columbia, and Wilkie Collins to deliver opinions on Cooper’s literature without having read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read Cooper.
“Cooper’s art has some defects. In one place in ‘Deerslayer,’ and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.”
Further on, there is the thought “There have been daring people in the world who claimed that Cooper could write English, but they are all dead now”.
Ouch! I wonder what this did for Cooper’s sales?
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.