Saturday, 19 April 2014

Are Reviews Important?



If you are following me on Twitter, you will be familiar with this:

Read it? Loved it? REVIEW it!
I tweet it quite regularly to encourage readers to think about putting their thoughts (hopefully positive) onto a review site. There has been quite a furore recently about writers commissioning ''sock puppet'' reviews to boost their popularity, and conversely, people taking 'revenge' on a writer by posting one star reviews.
So what are reviews for? I think they fulfill various functions. Firstly, they help other readers decide whether a book is for them. A slew of interesting and varied reviews (by this I mean at least 3 cogent paragraphs of analysis, not just: 'Ooh, I sooo love this book'/'I didn't get further than page 5') help one to decide whether to download/buy. Or conversely, whether not to waste your time. We are all time-poor. Reviews are therefore an aid to connecting the reader to the right book.
As a writer, I find reviews of my own books useful as a gauge to measure whether or not I am hitting the reader satisfaction button. Are they enjoying the story? Do they get it? Can they follow the plot? If not, how can I improve the reading experience for them in the next book.Reviews are also a personal encouragement - the writers' lot is an isolated lot most of the time. It is good to receive a little praise for one's efforts, especially when the serendipitous happens: a reader finds a whole new layer of meaning that had never occurred to me. Reviews can be a writer's best learning tool, if you let them.
Reviews are also very important in boosting sales.That is why I welcome the way sites like Amazon and Goodreads allow ''ordinary'' people to post reviews, and I get annoyed when some writers are sniffy about ''non-professional'' people expressing their thoughts and ideas,because believe me, the chances of most of us small/self published authors getting our work reviewed in mainstream papers or magazines, which is what we'd all like, are pretty remote.
It seems there is a Catch 22 situation here: you cannot get taken seriously by a ''big'' journal or paper unless you have unbelievably good sales...yes, you are ahead of me. I recently contacted a book reviewer on The Observer with what I thought was a great angle for a story: Book deemed unpublishable by top London Agency ends up on 3 prestigious award lists. Her response: how many copies had I sold and did I get a socking great advance from my publisher?
The other problem is that only a minority of journals will accept a digital review copy. It's a shame, because it offers the most efficient way of accessing the book, not to mention the least problematic way of disposing of it once reviewed. We live in a digital world, but publications prefer print, it appears.
Let's end by going from the ridiculous to the ridiculously sublime: For me, a special and unexpected reviewing source has also come from all those followers on Twitter who tweet a few lines saying how much they have enjoyed one of my books. Or, as someone did recently, treat me (and all my and their followers) to an excellently succinct chunk by chunk commentary on Diamonds & Dust as they read it on a long train journey. Interactive reviewing 2014 style. I never experienced this when I wrote teenage fiction and it has been a revelation.
Reviews. They come in all shapes and sizes. Welcome or unwelcome. What's your experience?


If you would like to read a sample of Diamonds&Dust: A Victorian Murder Mystery you can do so here. US readers can do so here.





30 comments:

  1. I love getting long and fulsome reviews for things I've written, but when I read reviews on other people's, I only read the shorter ones. Great post, as always.

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    1. I read a couple of long ones as I know they are probably ''serious'' and not ''mates'

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  2. I love reading reviews myself, Carol, and I definitely decide whether a book by an unknown author is for me or not by reading a range of the reviews. As for receiving them, they give me my gauge too. Like you, I want to know if I've hit the right mark, so I'm immensely grateful when someone takes the trouble to write a full review for me on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. It would be lovely if more people would do it, but many readers don't appreciate how much it means to the author. It is also very good to see blog reviews too, and these are even more meaningful, even if they are not as visible as the Amazon reviews, so yes, I am a great fan of reader reviews and as a reader, I always write reviews of books I've enjoyed. It must have been great to have the Twitter commentary, though. That's real 21st century style!

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    1. thanks Val. When I wrote the Spy Girl books (see right) I rarely got reviews as kids don't tend to write them) Thus the surprise at the response to Jigsaw Pieces and D&D. The ''Twitterview'' seems to be the way a lot of people review and personally, I love them! Also use them to promo the book -- just as reviews are other people's opinion..so Twitterviews fulfil the same function.

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  3. we haven't had many reviews, but those we did receive were wonderful and helped to dispel the growing fear that our books were rubbish. (it's still lurking around though!)

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    1. I keep forgetting you are two people!!!and no, you books are not rubbish!!

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  4. I feel that a book review is an essential aid to both author and reader but neither party should underestimate the power of such a report. Not only can a review determine which way a potential reader leans when deciding whether to purchase or not but to some extent a review can influence the authors decision making regarding their own choices and future writings.
    With this in mind, therefore, I think it's important to provide an honest review whether good or bad...there's no room for feathering egos or buffering tantrums...truth must reign and, after all, a review is but a personal log of our own individual considerations and opinions...so it's not the end of the world should a negative critique manifest itself...............( unless it's something I've written in which case I will make it my lifes work to seek this person out and destroy all they love!! )........Interesting post Hedges....I've had to condense my original comment as, once again, it began to morph into a dissertation......

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  5. Like Francis, I love to get the long analytical ones, but on other books, if I'm reading with a view to buying, the ones I read and find the most useful are the ones with one or two short paragraphs. The problem for readers who haven't read the book yet is that the long ones that analyse the plot are sometimes not so relevant. I love reading them if I've read the book, though; I like to see what other people thought.

    I am more than happy with the one line 'ooh I loved it' type!!! Don't underestimate them - the overall star rating and amount of reviews matter, too. If a book has 50 reviews, it means it's been of enough interest for many to comment on it, in my book, so it's all good!!!! Like you, I learn from the odd bad one, but I see reviews as mostly being for the benefit of the reader - which is why I am so against the exchange of 5* ones that some (amateur!) writers do. I had a review yesterday in which the reader said that she was often cautious about downloading a book with loads of great reviews, as she had often done so and been disappointed. My attitude - even if it's your best mate, try to be as honest as possible!!!

    Excellent article, Mrs H, with many very interesting points, including the one about the Observer.....

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    1. Agree ---- the reviewing of writers you ''know'' is a tricky one..as we both know. Some writers automatically expect a 5 Star review coz they ''know'' you... and I have been cold-shouldered by one writer whose book I (generously) gave a 4 star review to. Some writers need to grow up a bit!!

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  6. Great points Carol! I particularly liked the one you made about the Catch 22 surrounding literary success. If the only way to measure the success of a book is by how many copies it sells then of course the big publishers always win - nobody can compete with them as they have a monopoly on big media reviews and book shop sales. So they are always 'right' about the books they select for publication as small presses can't compete. I suspect that in time the digital revolution may level the playing field a little though - we shall see.

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    1. That was my publisher's comment - as a digital imprint pub. he finds it well nigh impossible to break into the mainstream media..tho CC has only been going 2 years, and the will get there...

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  7. I don't get enough reviews, Carol.

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    1. You're nearly at the top of my TBR pile - sorry, can't read other people's books while writing one of my own..just one of those weird things. As have now written sequel to D&D, am commencing on TBR pile!

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  8. I read a lot of ebooks from Amazon and have only recently started reviewing them on amazon as well as my blog. My reviews tend to be 150-300 words, perhaps as I gain confidence as a reviewer this will increase. However, I think there's a fine line between writing a longer well considered review and going overboard as some reviewers do. (After all, whose the author here?) I don't bother reading reviews where they psychoanalyze the plot or dissect each and every character, or worse where the reviewer includes a "SPOILER ALERT". When I choose and read a book, I like to enjoy it on my terms without knowing what comes next!

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    1. Sounds a good length to me! And thanks!

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  9. I am going to make a bold statement. I have never written a review on anyone's book. It's not because I haven't enjoyed the reads. It's because I don't feel qualified to pass judgement and because a lot of things I hate, like Lord of the Rings, are said to be excellent books and because it's too late to suggest changes or highlight excellent bits. That's better done in a crit group before publication. And possibly because there have been books that I've read which I didn't like and so if I comment only on the ones I do like that's not acceptable and I don't feel qualified or inclined to write bad reviews.

    I've agonised over this decision but there, I've said it. I don't write reviews.. and neither do I read other people's reviews. They might be the sort of people who love Lord of the Rings so what's the point?

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    1. Fair enough. Yup, I did wonder why you never reviewed any of mine, but now I know and that's clear. On the same lines, I am constantly contacted by people asking me to read and critique their books...and I refuse too...coz I know what will happen if I get presented with a load of tosh!!

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  10. Like Ros, I don't write reviews - I've read so many that sit in the 'this is wonderful' or 'this is tosh' camp that I take little notice of them. I wish there were a way to encourage reviewers to be more reflective - 'this worked for me because ...' which would be more helpful for both writers and prospective readers.

    Which is, I know, contrary of me, for I can't help that little frisson of excitement when I get a good one, even if it tells me nothing.

    But I'd love to know the stats - whether reviews really do sell books. I know the received wisdom is that they do, and I don't propose to publish anything with the proviso 'please don't review this cos I want to know if it sells on its own merits.'

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    1. You present us with a dichotomy ....if you like reviews on your work, should you not reciprocate and allow other writers the same ''frisson'' that you experience? Just a thought...

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    2. I take your point - and do see the contradiction. At the same time I'm not sure that 'this is wonderful' is really useful. And I also know I'm a pedant and if I began writing reviews I might end up with something looking more like a critique - which is also unhelpful, given that the book is already published.

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    3. Indeed. Tho many readers find reviews very useful, nay, essential. So I think maybe a revission of your thinking (and Ros') would be good. I'd certainly value your 'take' on my books!

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  11. I enjoy constructive reviews, even if negative - it's a good way to learn. I sometimes thing we should review reviewers though. My book had a 1 star from someone who hadn't read it, just didn't think the tenses in the blurb were correct! But when people make a valid criticism, it's noted.

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    1. Thanks Isabella, and welcome to the blog. I agree about reviewers (alas) I have a one star (American ) based on 5 pages. As my book is 'pastiche' and relies on a sound understanding of the genre and of Victorian literature, I think the reviewer is showing more of her ignorance than of the value of the book. Sadly. BUT people are allowed to express their opinion...maybe our sub-job as potential purchasers is to, as you say, review the reviewers!

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  12. As a book reviewer myself I obviously do think book reviews are important. On my blog I only review books I have really loved and give them a four or five star on Amazon etc when I post up the reviews there. I don't write wordy two page reviews because I feel they aren't necessary on my blog. When I choose a book as a reader I want to know if it was enjoyable not if the writing is as sublime as daffodils waving. I have written those type of reviews in the past, anaylising and critiquing, but are they going to tempt anyone to buy the book more than a review which simply states clearly how enjoyable it was in a few paragraphs? My guess is no although I would imagine the author would enjoy them and why not? I think it is a huge shame some authors do tit for tat reviewing, whether positively or negatively. Book blog reviewers, of course, are impartial and so (plug) pop over and see the book you fancy by someone who reviews it for the love not the game. Great post, Carol :)

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  13. An interesting post and yes, I think that reviews are important, either from a personal or a professional point of view. As books connect people on many different levels, I always value the opinion of whoever's been kind enough to read it and leave feedback.

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  14. I am not entirely convinced by reviews, as there are so many different reasons and ways to review. I am not saying this is bad, only this is a consideration when reading them. As a writer it is great to have them but one must keep in mind one can't please everyone and as a reader I tend to have already decided to buy a book based on other factors before I read the reviews. However I am probably in a minority and I know reviews are really important to readers and authors. I did a similar post on my own blog last year so it is interesting to see someone else discussing this.

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    1. It is easy to pick out the 'my mate's book' reviews. And also the spiteful ones ...sadly. However, some of mine have been mini-theses and very very helpful to me as a guide to whether I'm getting the story over. I think in these interactive days, people like expressing opinions and reviews give them a chance. Like you, I choose books by other criteria..mainly by picking them up in a bookshop and reading a chunk. But reviews can I am told move you up Amazon's charts, so are important.

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  15. I'd just like to add, I write far more reviews now, since I've been a writer than I ever did before. I don't review every book but I do most of them. So guess I need to make up my mind about what I feel about reviews....:)

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  16. My very first review came in about ten hours after I published my book from a friend/colleague of my editor/friend who happens to like romances, so my editor had off-handedly suggested she should give it a try. It was a five-star rave review that left me gobsmacked, because while I (obviously) like my own book, I was never expecting anyone else to like it as much, and certainly not within less than a day of me publishing it.

    It's still the biggest confidence-boost I've ever had, and it's one of the reasons why I've decided to try and review every book I read, especially if I liked it.

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    1. Hello and welcome...Isn't it amazing when someone really LIKES your book ...such an ego boost, as you say, one never thinks anybody really will.... almost addictive...Reviews: the crystal meths of writing...

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