Image Credit: Images used from The Chameleon Theatre Group were kindly supplied by them for previous CFT reviews.
Reviews. Do you love them or loathe them?
I find them useful. I use them regularly too in checking things out on Amazon, my online food shop delivery service, and so on. I don’t necessarily take them at face value either but if 50% or more of a review of a new product is good, then I am likely to give that product a chance. That goes for everything from a new CD to a new book to a foodstuff new to me. That policy has served me well. I’ve rarely been disappointed.
From a writing viewpoint, I like reviews. I would like more of them for my two books. Every writer wants more reviews for their books. This is partly due to it being good marketing material but also if you get up to a certain number of reviews (50 as at the time of writing), Amazon will start promoting you through their newsletter etc. The thing Amazon has going for them is their size (and resulting clout) and every writer wants to be able to tap into that if they can.
But reviews have to genuinely be honest to be any good to a writer. This is why an honest one or two star review is actually better than a five star one that Amazon finds out comes from your mum (and once they do find out, as they tend to, that review comes down).
The good news is reviews don’t have to be long. One to two line reviews are especially effective and are easier for a writer to use as quotes or in marketing. So if you want to help a writer out with a review (and it really will help them), it doesn’t have to take up much of your time.
My Policy on Reviewing Books and on Obtaining Reviews
My own policy on reviews is to review books I have read. I know that sounds like I’m stating the obvious but it doesn’t always happen. Amazon do take down reviews they suspect are fake.
Oh and a big no-no is paying for reviews. It isn’t ethical, Amazon again will take down anything they think is being paid for. There are no short cuts here.
Authors do have to ask for reviews. You can go to book blogging sites and ask for reviews. I had one not long ago from Big Al and Book Pals for Tripping the Flash Fantastic, my first from an American site, which was great.
But you have to do some research, ask nicely, accept not everybody will reply (and even when they do, some will say no), and, even when you have acceptances here, it will take a while for your review to appear. Book bloggers are inundated! But once you have that review, you can use it for marketing, share it on your website etc. Reviews tend to attract other reviews but it is a slow and ongoing process.
I will always be promoting From Light to Dark and Back Again and Tripping the Flash Fantastic. In giving my books a mention here I’m doing it again (!) but there is no “best by” date here.
New writers especially have to fight the temptation to “panic” about promoting. Yes, there will be plenty to do in the run up to a launch, at the launch, and for a short while after it, but the rest is ongoing. So plan out what you are going to do here, work out a schedule, and try to do some marketing regularly. You are after the cumulative effect.
I base my working week on a mixture of creating new material, including for Chandler’s Ford Today, and marketing my books etc. I include in the marketing bit submitting stories for competitions and markets because, if they win, are shortlisted, or are published, I can write about them for my Facebook posts and website. It also adds to the old writing CV.
I am working on a long term project I hope to be submitting to publishers later this year. The more I can have on that CV the better. Being able to show reviews written by others, being able to show someone else thought you were worth publishing, all helps too but nothing in the writing world is that quick. You do have to accept that.
As you know, when it is possible, I like to write reviews for The Chameleon Theatre Group’sshows (and I am so looking forward to being able to do that again). What do I try to do with a review?
I like to give a flavour of what I have seen, without giving spoilers. I like to find out the background on the play being staged and its writer(s). And I obviously like to review the performance. (For the Blackadder production memorably staged by The Chameleons, I reviewed their set as well given they made this themselves and it was simply brilliant).
When I watched All My Sons, all I knew about Arthur Miller, its writer, was that he had once been married to Marilyn Monroe. It would never surprise me if that was what most people knew about him! Writing for Chandler’s Ford Today is very good for exercising the old research muscles (!) and it was interesting finding out more about him and the play (though I will ‘fess up now and say this would never be my specialist topic if I ever went on Mastermind).
So the overall review gives a good indication of the kind of night out that the latest performance by The Chameleons has given. I hope that kind of review encourages others to check them out too.
And reviewing the National Theatre Live productions Janet and I have been to has been wonderful because (a) I love the concept of NTL and (b) I have seen plays I might not have seen otherwise. Therefore it is an absolute joy to review what I’ve seen here and hopefully promote the idea of going to NTL productions. It really is a fab idea. (I am so looking forward to when Thornden Hall is fully reopen as that does make a great venue for this).
The Hatchet Job
I have no time for these and we’ve all come across them. To my mind, they say more about the writer behind them rather than what it is they’re trying to review. And this kind of review always makes me suspicious.
I have no problem with someone saying they didn’t like something because… that’s fine and fair enough. I do have a problem with someone saying X’s book is rubbish without saying why (and by implication saying X must be rubbish too).
People forget that there are real people writing the books and those people get hurt by reviews like this. It can damage confidence, it can squash creativity, and the review is useless to a writer.
We do need to know what people liked, what they didn’t like so much and so on. That kind of useful information gets buried in a hatchet job.
So who is getting the benefit of these things? Err…. Not the poor writer that’s for sure. Ego trip for the hatchet job writer? Quite possibly and it is not unknown for rival writers to do this kind of thing to someone who is also writing in their field.
It is pointless by the way. No two writers have exactly the same way of telling a story. We all have our own unique voice. There is always room for quality and well crafted stories. Someone doing a hatchet job on Writer A’s book is not necessarily going to find their own sales shoot up. Indeed if people find out, their own sales will plummet. People rightly don’t like that kind of thing.
Reviews are useful then. It has been said they are for the reader rather than the writer and it is true. I love reading reviews of other authors’ books as, when well written, these give me a good idea of whether I’m likely to like the book or not. A review should seek to enlighten others even if the review is not a positive one.
Oh and reviews on this post are welcome in the comments box, as always!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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