If you follow any authors, publishers, or ghostwriters at all, you will recognise a few of our favourite topics – once you get past, ‘things people don’t understand about our job’, and, ‘books we really want to write,’ you’ll get onto the recurring subject of ‘reviews: please, please, please.’
Why do we care so much about other people think? Why do we continually go back to the subject? And, why are we just so damn needy? The answer is, unfortunately, because writing is our business, and reviews are part of our shop window. Every time someone hits that 5-star button on Amazon and leaves a few kind words, it means more than a simple buff to our egos. It means that other people see the book you have commented on, it is suggested as ‘readers who like that also like this’, and it is worth a great deal more than you could ever imagine.
In 2013, it was reported that there were between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – were self-published and, on average, they sold less than 250 copies each. Irrespective of whether your book is self-published or traditionally published, most online retailers will provide that option of reviewing, so, it matters to everyone involved in the business.
As a writer, one of the most frustrating things is when someone tells you they have read a book you wrote, loved it, but never left a review. Their lack of review action can be for a number of reasons, but the one I hear most is that there is a lack of confidence about what they can say. When I tell people that a 5 star click and ‘great book’ is enough, they are sceptical; I think that comes from the feeling that, if you are commenting on someone else’s writing, you need to be at a certain standard yourself. That is not the case at all – in fact, it tends to be people who don’t like a book who are the most verbose about it, and there may be a sneaking suspicion it’s because they are frustrated writers themselves. A few sincere, heartfelt words mean a lot – but this does raise the question of whether there are some that shouldn’t bother at all.
Naturally, those aforementioned frustrated writers with their one-star negativity who complain about the fact that ‘this sort of rubbish’ gets published while their twenty-volume sci-fi poetry extravaganza languishes in a collection of Tesco bags in their spare room, are one category. However, there are two more which frustrate a great deal, but whose motivations are – probably/hopefully – genuine.
The first is people who love the book but who don’t give it five stars – the fact that the writer is downgraded because George the Postie was a day late delivering it, doesn’t matter to Amazon algorithms, so please be a tiny bit more thoughtful before you blame us for the vagaries of the Royal Mail.
The second is the customer who just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ reviewing at all. In the past, I have had one-star reviews for a reader who bought the Kindle version despite the fact that they didn’t own a Kindle. From another who bought the same book twice. From someone else who was ‘not keen’ on the cover. From another who thought that it should be cheaper. All of them completely out of my control – and just as annoying as those who write immediate reviews, with low ratings, because they ‘haven’t read it yet – but looks good’, or, ‘no idea what it is like as I am saving it for holiday – think it will be great though.’ Hold your reviews! Wait until you read it!
The reason for these swift-but-useless responses comes, I think, from the fact that Amazon send quick emails themselves once you have bought something, asking what you thought, questioning whether the packaging was to your taste, and readers often see it as a personal summons. They immediately fire off a review which is no more than a general sense of whether George the Postie did indeed deliver on time, whether the cardboard was in one piece, and if they think Great Auntie Marge will love your latest tome when it is her birthday in 6 weeks.
So, please – review, review, review. But at your own pace. Your words are appreciated, they really are, but we’d rather have five stars next month than two today. We’d rather you wrote a few simple lines about how much you enjoyed it than cause you trauma as you think how you can possibly win a Pulitzer just by answering that Amazon command.
And, if you really appreciated it, let us know. If you have more questions, ask. Chat to us on Twitter, look out for our author pages. We’re a friendly bunch really, and the more you support us in what we do, the more fabulous books we can write for you.