I enjoy book reviews. I read reviews of books I might want to purchase, reviews of books I’ve read and loved, reviews on the works of authors I I know and love, reviews of books I’ve just finished, reviews of my client’s work. And I read reviews because, well, I really love listening to fellow bookworms talk about books.
Reviews are important to any author’s success, of course, but they’re especially important to the Indie author. Indie authors can promote any number of ways, but reviews are the crucial fuel for sales. Readers rely on reviews, especially if the author is new to them; Indie authors rely on reviews to find readers. It’s this fact that makes me so crazy when a review is an elaborate retelling of the story, complete with outing all the twists and mysteries as well as the resolution. That isn’t a review; it’s a damn book report.
I can feel my head begin to explode when a reviewer prefaces a sentence with ‘spoiler alert’. That’s not a pass to spill the beans. It’s a glaring neon sign declaring that this reviewer, this self appointed arbiter of storytelling, has kindly read the book for me. Now I can save my money because reviewer person has graciously taken care of that grisly chore of actually reading. (Audacity always makes my blood boil.) I mean, what about the word ‘spoiler’ don’t you understand?
A book review should give me some indication of why and how the book affected the reviewer. Specifics are welcome, the more insightful the better. Perhaps the author’s voice is particularly unique and pleasing, or the plot was a refreshing take on a well-loved genre. Maybe it’s the characters that win the day, or the book presented a world view that made the reviewer thoughtful. And if the reviewer didn’t like the book I want to know why. If the book was terrible, what made it a stinker? If some aspect of the story was off-putting be fair; not all readers like the same thing, which doesn’t necessarily make the work bad.
It’s not about the author. If a reviewer dislikes a book because the F-bomb and it’s numerous cousins were used it does not mean the author is in need of spiritual counseling. If the political bent of the tale does not suit the reviewer it does not mean the author could use time in a re-education camp. A review is about the story.
Being of mostly open mind and generally democratic spirit I’ll take the one or two line reviews of the “If you like fill in the genre then this is a must read” or “I spent a great winter weekend with this book. Highly recommend” variety. I may not have any specifics but there is something wonderfully persuasive about that kind of joyful sharing.
You may say I should just give a pass to the book reports and the spoilers, and you would be right. But I raise my pen-sword in defense of every Indie author I know, and those I’ve yet to meet. Insightful, honest reviews are sustenance to a writer. They impact sales and the writer’s heart. When you review, do it with substance. Please don’t retell the story – it’s the author’s story to tell and the reader’s tale to enjoy, and for the love of the muses, don’t give away the best bits. You’re going to make my head explode and I do not want my heirs to have to clean that up.
Readers are smart and they recognize that review for what it is. I once got a low star review by a woman who wrote, “I haven’t read the book yet.” She was honest, I was not happy, Amazon said it met their standards so that was that. I didn’t spend anymore time thinking about it because there was nothing I could do. Luckily, the next review was a five star. Have a glass of wine. This too shall pass.
There’s not a great deal you can do with these reviews. Some can be flagged and you can ask the retailer to get rid of them, but there must be CLEAR evidence that the reviewer has not read the book and is not reviewing the item for sale. Sometimes retailers will leave the review in place if the company printing or dispatching the book is at fault, even if the book itself is perfectly good. If it’s a single one-star review amongst a sea of kinder reviews, then I would shrug my shoulders and move on. Most readers will have the brains to look through the reviews and decide which ones are reliable. We have to trust them to do that!
If it’s your first and only review, and you know it’s not to do with the content, presentation or delivery of the book, and the review isn’t going anywhere, then I might consider republishing the book. ONLY in those circumstances, however.
Negative book reviews cut deep. All writers experience it at some time. Writers have to live with it like dancers have to live with blisters. Amazon has help sites where an author can manage reviews. I don’t know of any proactive response an author can make if a poor review shows up on book review sites or newsletters or blogs or anywhere else a rotten review can appear. I get how painful that can be, but one bad review does not sink your career.
The best approach is to learn something from bad reviews. It stings, but consider how the negative reviews measures up to the positive reviews. Compare them for any mention of shared issues. It could be that some readers were captivated with the story even while the manuscript had issue – issues important enough to mention. It could be grammar, characters, plot or just a lack of a good edit. Listen to that and take steps to improve. Hear your readers. It’s their ear you want to woo.
I’m not sure how one can determine that a review was written by someone who hadn’t read the book. People don’t process the same information in the same way. Interpretation is everything. Maybe they just didn’t get it. Maybe they just don’t get anything. I’ve read reviews that left me wondering if the reviewer and I had even read the same book. You know what story you told and if one person didn’t see that then it’s worth a shrug at best, but not a meltdown. Carry on.
And there are those types that cannot pass up a chance to point out errors of any kind. I hope it’s a hobby but it feels like an obsession. You can find letters to the editor on every newspaper site where a reader takes issue with some slip like non-agreement of verb and noun, or a misplaced comma or apostrophe. That misstep is so important to that reader they feel justified in doubting any part of the article.
Those naysayers abound and humor is the best response. There are a number of books where authors have addressed the readers who’ve picked at their work and the best one are really funny. This one is black humor like much of Ruth Rendell: Piranha to Scurfy. Read it for a little happy therapy. Bad reviews are a fact of a writer’s life.
You have two choices. You can get over it or you can obsess over it. Both are pretty hard to do. If you go the get-over-it route, you need to sell yourself on the idea that the reader was stupid and mean-spirited, blamed you for something out of your control like a late delivery, or simply didn’t even read the work at all. Any of those could be true, but probably it is even a simpler issue. Your book wasn’t exactly what the reader wanted in the moment. Sometimes, I want to watch Columbo but I end up tuning in to Silence of the Lambs. I would like to blame Amazon Prime for the mistake, but when I do, most people can figure out where the fault really lies. Expect a similar response from others who see your horrible one-star review. If you decide to follow the obsess-over-it route, you can dive deep into the nefarious waters of tracking down the reader and starting a fight about it. Not a great way to go. Energy doesn’t deserve to be wasted on someone who clearly didn’t read your work and gave you a horrible one-star review. Be aware. Watch for legitimate constructive criticism. Let the rest go.
I am finally doing something I should have done a while ago…set up an Advance Reader Group.
I made a poor first attempt at this about a year ago. I say poor, because only one person responded. I’m not sure why the response was so poor, but it was.
This time, I’m attacking ARGroup recruitment a lot differently. Instead of a small mention in my newsletter, I did a mass mailing to my entire mailing list. I reviewed ARGroup requests from other authors and came up with one that worked for my brand. [See below]
Advance Reader Group Request
Do you love my books and want more?
You can join my advance team and read them FREE. ARC reviewers play a huge role in the success of an author’s books and I hope you’ll be part of that success by joining the team.
What is an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) and why is it so important to authors?
Prior to publication, select readers will receive an early copy of my work — Advance Reading Copy (ARC) — before it is available for mass distribution. These ARCs are sent out for free in exchange for an honest review of the book.
Publishers and authors know that reviews are the best way to spread the word about a book. After all, you tend to trust the opinions of fellow book lovers.
When reviews are posted to Amazon in the first week of a book’s release, it’s an amazing thing for an author. It’ s like finding that perfect pair of black pumps.
What does it mean to join my Advance Review Group?
It means you get to read my books for FREE before I release them to the world.
Sounds good. How do I join?
There’s just two steps to join my Advance Reader Team.
1. To qualify, if you haven’t already done so, you must read one of my books and post the review on Amazon.com and Goodreads. (I can’t give out unlimited ARCs, so I need to know I can count on you to give thoughtful, honest reviews).
2. Send me a message [firstname.lastname@example.org] to let me know you want to join my Advance Review Team and include the links to your reviews on Amazon.com (Do this by clicking on your name under the star rating of your review. This will take you to all your Amazon reviews. Click on the review of my book and send me that specific link). I’ll follow up with you from there.
Here’s a little incentive. If you respond by August 31st, you can read my upcoming release “Unexpected Love” before everyone else.
Hope to hear from you,
I sent this email out twice. I’d like to say everyone signed up, but they didn’t. Instead, 33 people unsubscribed from my list. I got twenty recruits to my ARGroup. YEAH! I’m so excited. Another great thing that happened, reviews. I picked up a few reviews. Another reason to cheer.
Once I received the initial sign ups, I sent out a Thank you email. I wanted my readers to know how much I appreciate them and their participation. [See below] As you can see, I gave them an option to bow out.
I’m so excited to have you on this ride with me. Thank you for posting your reviews. I really appreciate your honesty. Which leads me to a little review about the group rules.
Please confirm your acceptance to the group with an email to: email@example.com. This step is just in case you’ve changed your mind about joining the group and don’t want to participate. If I don’t get a confirmation email, I’ll assume you’ve changed your mind about joining the group.
See you next month.
I am a very lucky duck to know book reviewer and entertainment journalist Tracy Miller Tracy is also a gifted and prolific poet who has published over 20 books of poetry! After working diligently for over two decades as a lawyer (after winning full scholarships to Temple and University of Pennsylvania Law School), she is now fulfilling her life-long dream of writing full time. And Tracy doesn’t just write poetry and reviews of books and television – she uses her talent to write birthday poems for people she knows, admires, remembers, as well. On July 4, she and her twin sister Stacy celebrated their birthdays, so I wrote Tracy her very own birthday poem and pasted it all over Facebook this past July 4 . And Here is the birthday poem I wrote for her:
A peculiar Lady stands in line
At Whole Foods and the bank.
And if you try to suss her out,
You’re sure to draw a blank.
She speaks into a hand-held mike
And says the strangest things
Of plots and tropes and characters
And poetry that sings.
Her mind’s forever active
And her heart’s always replete.
She’s composing all the live-long day
Her demons to defeat.
She celebrates the lives, the art,
The love both here and gone;
The memories she yet holds close
Their might she pushes on.
She’s like a warm and searching poker
Stirring ashes ‘neath the grate
To find the embers burning there
And make them glow. But wait-
No, not a piece of iron
To grow cold when set aside.
But a lively torch that catches flame
To light the air on which it glides.
Like a Firefly she bops along
Brightening the dark,
Building fires or fanning flames, or
Nurturing a spark.
That well sprung magic of her own …
Oh! Such poetry transports.
To be precious, mentioned, known so well ..
Or just to read these dear reports!
It’s not just about her poems though
That makes her heaven-sent.
The prose she writes in her reviews
Is truly incandescent.
To know that someone’s work reached out
And lit another fuse …
To share the secret, bounding joy
Of audience and muse!
When someone’s efforts speak to her
She tells it to the world
In such detail you’ve never read
Creation is unfurled.
Writing is her full-time gig
After decades of the law.
She made her precious dream come true.
Tracy Miller I applaud!
Tracy, Girl, I know that life
Has hurt along the way.
But know that I am grateful
You and Stacy have this day!
When she was a kid in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Geralyn Vivian Ruane Corcillo dreamed of one day becoming the superhero Dyna Girl. So, she did her best and grew up to constantly pick up litter and rescue animals. At home, she loves watching black & white movies, British mysteries, and the NY Giants. Corcillo lives in a drafty old house in Hollywood with her husband Ron, a guy who’s even cooler than Kip Dynamite.
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