Reviews are such an important part of modern life. If we want to order something on Just Eat, we take a look at what other people have said about the restaurant. We wouldn’t dream of going on holiday without first checking what people said about the hotel on Trip Advisor. Similarly, with much of our shopping done online we use reviews, almost as much as price, to determine which particular item in the sea of choice to go for.
I would argue that reviews are as important, if not more so, in the world of indie publishing. As a new author, and without the weight of a large publishing house behin you, it falls solely on you alone to work out your marketing strategy. I have already written a blog about the difficulties of advertising but none of that matters a single jot if you have few reviews or, worse of all, none at all.
There are various ways you can get some reviews against your name. Naturally you rely on friends and family to read your work at the start but that isn’t necessarily as easy as it seems. For all the congratulations they offer you for taking the plunge and trying to make a go of something you have always wanted to do, you know that many of them, no matter how hard they hide it, think you are mad for giving up your nicely paid job. So you then hide how difficult the process of marketing your work is and that, in turn, makes them complacent about reading the copy they were at great pains to show you they bought, and therefore unlikely to leave a review. But you can’t admit to them that you are hurt by their inability to spend 5 minutes supporting you on Amazon, because that would reveal how tough the whole process is and confirm their belief that your decision to become a novelist is just some form of mid-life crisis.
As I write this I know there is a good chance that my wife, who edits my work and manages the marketing side of things, will fear publishing this blog in case some of our friends, family and personal acquaintances that fall into this category read this and are offended. Well, what I say to her and them is that if you took the time to read this when it popped up on one of my social media feeds, surely you can take the time to be a little more active in your support, especially because my earlier blog where I thanked all those who have supported us didn’t manage to strike a chord. The Christmas card list will soon be out, so get those reviews in folks 😉.
But having got that off my chest, and for those of you who don’t know me outside of my work, I’ll get back to the more general topic of reviews. There are many other ways to get yourself those crucial first reviews, and don’t just think that they will come as a result of sales of your book. If the people closest to you are slack then strangers find themselves far less compelled to, no matter how much you emphasise the importance of reviews in your Afterword. Oh, and whilst I am on the topic, if you have a Kindle and it invites you to leave stars when you have completed a book, it does precisely nothing. Zip. Zero. It’s only those which are submitted on the Amazon website itself that count. So here was me thinking I was a good little reader and always filling in how many stars I thought a book was worth when, in reality, I might as well not have bothered.
I have digressed again and I’m sorry, as well as grateful that you have continued this far. There are plenty of people out there who offer to read your book and leave you a review for a fee. I might be willing to offer some free copies (somewhat grudgingly as I talk about in another blog) but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay someone to read my work. I’m not judging you if you think that’s the way forward, except to say that I think their reviews can be spotted a mile off. In their effort to supposedly provide value, they write them far too professionally and, to my eyes at least, just look bogus.
Do not despair, though, there are a number of sites that will consider reading your book and offering a review for free, even if they would prefer you to pay for a ‘premium listing’ or however they choose to spin it. Just make sure you are confident that your book is actually good otherwise you may find yourself disappointed with the result. Having said that, it’s satisfying to know that their 5* review of your book is a rare thing, when you look at their scathing comments about other novels.
Right, time for another rant about Amazon. Your reviews only come up on the web address for that country. So if you have 100 reviews and 50 of them were in the UK and 50 in the US then your book will only have 50 reviews attributed to it.
Okay, back to advice on chalking up reviews. You’ve written a good book; you know it’s a good book and those people who have read it have told you it’s a good book. You’d imagine that giving it away for free would get you loads of positive reviews. Nope. You may have provided them 8 hours of entertainment for precisely zero cost but most still won’t bother to even slightly repay your generosity by leaving a review.
But if this blog wasn’t bad enough then there are the trolls. Now we all know what trolls are but be careful in your wish to get lots of reviews. Some people are only too willing to leave them and they may not even have read the book. Take this example which happened to me: a guy left a 1* review, stating that he was going to read it because he liked the synopsis but was then suspicious by all the other reviews being positive. If that in itself wasn’t enough to piss me off then, given what I have already said about the complacency of friends and family, you’ll understand why I was incandescent with rage.
Yet I would like to leave you with a positive. I might have already given the impression that I am thoroughly underwhelmed by my experience of publishing on Amazon but, to their credit, they removed the review, and swiftly at that.