Madonna is quoted as saying “everyone’s entitled to my opinion”. We’re entitled to yours, too.
Back in the day I had a journalist friend on the Citizen newspaper who was expected, as part of her hectic job, to do all the book reviews. She never had time to read, so she gave me the free books, I wrote the reviews, and she put them in under her name. It created a mindset – I do feedback reviews on eBay and even sometimes on Amazon, on products I’ve bought, which included books, but they were for ages of the ‘I’m happy (or not) with the condition and the service’ type. This may sound odd, in light of the above, but I didn’t post reviews on the books themselves because, well, to be honest, if it wasn’t free, it wasn’t expecting a review, right?
Then a local author, at a book-signing, asked if I would post a review when I’d finished his book. What a novel idea! I’d paid for the book AND I was going to review it! I was a little taken aback by his other reviews. I wasn’t even sure we were talking about the same book, but I rather wished I’d read the version they’d all read because it was obviously way better than the one I bought. After that I would put on an occasional review, especially if I felt the ones it had already weren’t particularly helpful or accurate.
It was only when I bought a kindle and started downloading free books that I really started reviewing regularly. I still have the mind-set that if I get a free book, I have to review it, kindly but fairly. If it’s rubbish, and a few have been, I will pick out what good points I can (lovely cover!) but also point out that it would have been the better for editing, or didn’t live up to its initial promise, that sort of thing. I don’t download a free book if I don’t like the sample, so I could usually be fairly positive.
Then I published my own book and to my horror and shame some of my lovely, lovely friends have posted the kind of reviews that I hate the most. You know the type – “this is a wonderful book, 5 stars!” I think of them as ‘Thanks Mum’ reviews and when I read them on someone else’s book I translate them as “My friend wrote this book and I would rather die than say something nasty about it”.
I tackled one friend about it, she’d sent an email when she finished the book discussing it sensibly and enthusiastically, and I asked her if she could edit the review to basically say what she put in her email. She thought I was mad. “But we discussed the plot!” Yes, I know, that’s okay in a review .. she didn’t change her review and when I put out the second book she was even briefer and more glowing. Help!
Then there was a nice Twitter response (on a DM). Ooh, I said, would you consider putting that on a normal tweet so I can RT it? She went one better (she thought) with ‘You have to read this book, it’s great!’ Another Thanks Mum. Arghh!
Another hidden message, this time a PM on Facebook, “I don’t tell authors when I’ve bought their book until I know I’m enjoying it, this is just the kind of book I like”. I didn’t even ask if that one could be done as a public comment. I’ve learned my lesson.
What constitutes a fair review? We all cherish the 4 and 5 star reviews that actually talk about the book. I don’t think I’m the only one to value the 3 star ones above the Thanks Mum ones, because when I’m undecided whether to buy a book or not I read the hostile reviews first. I ignore the mean ones (unless they all are) and then I read the detailed ones – not the ones that tell you the whole story, the ones with real, considered, opinions.
If you’ve always been a Thanks Mum reviewer, and are feeling a bit deflated, think about editing your well-meant glowing but saying-nothing review. Put in a bit about the book. Positive or negative – “I enjoyed the interaction between A and B, although I found C quite annoying at first. The book started slowly but about halfway it caught fire and I loved the second half”. That sort of thing is a really helpful review. Readers know they aren’t alone in disliking C or wondering if the book will ever get going. I got one (from a Scot) complaining about some of the scots comments used. The same review called it a good story with a satisfying ending. That’s a helpful review (although unlikely to push up my sales in Scotland). Ironically my Twitter fan, and my Facebook one, were also both Scots, I do wish they’d add reviews as well to cancel out the dour one, but I’m not going to ask!
The only effective way of selling a self-published book is by word-of-mouth and, by extension, true reviews. Blogging, author interviews, social media, everything is aimed at spreading the word but until readers recommend the book to other readers, there won’t be sales. If you’ve read a book you liked (or one you hated, which had rave reviews) and you haven’t put on a review, I really hope this blog changes that!