Book Talk: Reviews from an Author's Point of View

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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Recently, Jessi posted a very interesting and enlightening blog on being a reviewer. Here’s the author’s point of view.

Imagine you are a parent preparing your precious darling for the first day of school. You have fussed over her appearance, dressed her in Sunday best. Now your eyes fill with pride. She’s everything you ever dreamed; witty and charming, possessor of an adventurous spirit and an intriguing backstory—all your friends have said so. Really, you can’t see a thing that needs fixing. With a kiss for luck you send her out the door to strangers.

Soon there comes a knock. The principal is on the stoop. He hands back your child. “Take her,” he says with a frowny face. “She’s awful.”

You gape at him in horror. “How can that be? I’ve worked so hard to make her perfect.”

He rolls his eyes. “Oh please. Her character is lifeless. Her dialog is stilted and…” He eyes you severely. “Her middle drags. I suspect her genre is crossed.”

“But…but…I love her just the way she is.”

“I don’t. If you have any others, don’t send them to us. As a matter of fact, do the world a favor and don’t produce again.”

Sending a book out for review generates a mixture of pride and abject terror. It’s not easy to allow your creation to be judged. Frankly, it’s less painful to hear criticism of a real child. After all, you can always blame her faults on the other parent’s defective gene pool, but if someone hates your book you have nowhere to pass the buck. That great steamy pile of manure is all your own doing.

 Marketing Tools

If reviews are such painful processes why bother?  For authors it’s a marketing tool. The hope is that a good review will generate enough interest to make a few more sales. Does it work? Some, but with 3500 new books published a day (yes, that’s right, a day) a lot of competition exists. You have to do something or get buried under the avalanche.

Some authors seem to think reviews from review sites are better, but Amazon and Goodreads don’t distinguish in their rankings. Raters are judged the same. When a new book is released, people who have a lot of friends and family who owe them favors are at a distinct advantage. However, review sites can give the author more exposure and, hopefully, level the playing field.

Getting someone to accept your book for review is damn difficult. Simply tracking down a site that fits your genre is a giant time suck. Some sites are open to all, but others have only specific categories. Let’s say, you write paranormal romance. Some sites want a lot of sex in their books. Some don’t. Some love the vampire or werewolf thing. Some are sick of them. Some will take a self-published author, some won’t. Some reviewers won’t accept a book unless it already has a minimum number of 4 and 5 star reviews. I’ve seen sites that want at least twenty ratings already before you submit a request.

Once you decided on the sites, then you cross your fingers and hope someone will agree to read your book. Reviewers are inundated. Many turn down more than they accept. I contacted approximately fifty sites and got three acceptances. I was extremely grateful to get those. I know plenty of authors who haven’t been able to snag any.

Even if a site accepts your book, you may still not get a review because no one connected with the site had an interest in the story. The author won’t be informed why. I understand. Most of these sites are run by either a single individual or, at best, a handful of people, all with other responsibilities. They lack time and manpower. So your book ends up in review limbo and its back to square one. It’s simply another frustration with which an author must deal.

Some sites request a book still with no guarantee of review. Now you must decide if the chance of a review is worth the cost. Will it generate at least enough in sales to offset what you shelled out? Authors don’t get unlimited free copies of their books. (I suppose Steven King doesn’t have to pony up, but the rest of us do.) My publisher allows me 1 free paperback and 10 uses of a PDF. Anything else comes out of my pocket. I receive an author discount, but costs add up fast. Besides reviews you must weigh other marketing options. Do I send a book to this contest and pay a $50 entry fee or I send a book to this site and hope for a review. Should I do an author give-away here or try for another review there? What will generate the most sales? Will anything? Damned if I know. The whole marketing process is one giant pain in the ass. I resent everything about it, including the time taken from my writing. Marketing is like swimming against a powerful current. No matter how desperately your arms flail about, you feel frustratingly rooted in place.

 Kindle Select

Another reason for reviews is the Kindle Select program. Many of us who are with small publishing houses are in it. Kindle Select requires the author or publisher to list exclusively with Amazon for three months after the book’s release. In return Amazon delegates a certain number of days for the book to be offered free and then at a sale price to generate interest. Does it? Yeah, sure. On free days, your Amazon rating skyrockets if you get the word out. (You also made no money, because you didn’t make a sale.) How do you get the word out? By listing on Kindle free day sites. Surprise! The best free ones require multiple 4 and 5 star reviews before they’ll feature your book. Many others charge fees to get a guaranteed listing.

Now did free days generate more sales for me after the free days ended? A few, but the real value was that the book went into the hands of many more readers. My hope is the people who read my first book for free will be more likely to pay for a second if I’m able to score another contract. Are you beginning to feel all this is a giant crap shoot?  Join the club.

 Critique versus Criticism

Another reason for reviews is for the critique itself. Not all writers strive for critiques, but I believe all should. (Even J. K. Rowling used a pen name to publish her last book, because she wanted impartial comments.) Unbiased, objective criticism is the only way to improve your writing. Trust me, bad reviews are like a knife in the heart. Your mama loves you. She’ll never admit your book has problems or tell you what they are. A good reviewer will.

When I send a book for review I cross my fingers and hope for critique versus criticism. What’s the difference? A criticism is something like this: “The book is stupid. The author is stupid. Her face is stupid. I hated this stupid book.” Now, maybe the book is stupid and the author’s face is stupid, but knowing that will not improve future writing.

An honest critique discusses the books strengths and weakness in a manner that has value to both the author and the reader.  The review should detail in clear language what was liked (I felt the heroine’s pain when she discovered her lover’s body.) and disliked (The hero’s secret was obvious and should have been evident to all by the end of Chapter Three.) Problems with plotting, characterization, or grammar should be duly noted. Suggestions can be offered either pro (“Hope a sequel about John is in the works.”) or con (“Deleting excessive detail would be helpful in moving the plot along.) Above all, if you loved a book so much it made your heart sing, let the author know. It’s the only thing that makes us believe all the marketing crap is worthwhile.

Meanwhile, the author must realize, a bad review doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad. Not everybody will like everything. That’s another reason to get objective reviews. With each one you get a truer sense of the impact on your intended audience.
Writing a good review is easy, writing a bad one is hard. You know the author will have hurt feelings. My only advice is to keep it as technical as possible and perhaps the author will learn something as a result.  Finally, in a perfect world a reviewer would keep personal prejudices out of the equation, but what the hell. We’re all human. If a writer pisses off the reviewer by an unprofessional attitude, than I’m not going to shake my finger and say, “Remember you’re reviewing a book, not a personality.” Arrogant author jerks beware. You reap what you sow.


L. A. Kelley is the author of The Naughty List. She’s married with three kids and lives in Florida where the heat and humidity has driven everyone slightly mad. She never cleans under her sofa. You can find her at http://lakelleythenaughtylist.blogspot.com

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Your insight on costs and programs such as Amazon are very informative. It's easy to forget on a reviewer's end that the book they receive may be one of a limited number. So, if they agree to review and then don't it's a waste of money and screws the author over. Mindfulness is important from both ends!

    ~Jessi

    ReplyDelete

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