Do I need reviews?

Are reviews important?

Reviews are important if you are looking to make sales.

You could set the price of your ebook to £0.00 to entice readers to download your work. After all, they are only “risking” a bit of time. Generally, this will get people to download your book because it’s free. But they may not read it because they didn’t pay for it.

However, with physical copies; there’s no way to reduce the price of a physical book to zero. Therefore, you need reviews to prompt an exchange of cash for product. When someone pays for a book, they’re more likely to read it because of the transaction.

But a consumer will be reluctant to pay for a book that only has a few reviews. And I don’t blame them. I am often cautious of spending on a brand that I don’t know. I am happy to pay a little more for a recognisable brand vice an unknown name. And this is the same for our readers.

Reviews show the potential buyers that others have read your work and it was strong enough to warrant writing their opinion. Good or bad.

Types of review

Customer Reviews. Amazon uses these but they are general reviews about the product and customer experience. They are not necessarily critiques from reputable book critics. Anyone can write a review and it may not be about the product. It could be about how the product was delivered, or problems about the ordering process. Remember this if you ever get a low score because the delivery driver was rude etc.

Book reviews. These can be found on Goodreads or book blogger sites. They are left by readers about the reading experience. The reviewer may love the story, character(s), sub-plot, etc, or they may dislike them. But in a book review, the reviewer will give their reasons.

Don’t take them to heart

Reviews are opinions. They are a product of someone’s experience. I love listening to Evanescence, but my wife can’t stand the band. She enjoys watching The Walking Dead, but I would rather go and watch the grass grow. All of us are different. Nothing is good or bad. Everything is subjective.

Keep that in mind when (if) you read your reviews.

One day, you will be someone’s favourite author. You just have to find them, or make it easy for them to find you. And in the beginning, for a self-published author, word of mouth and self-promotion is your ticket. Check out THIS article for some advice on getting your name and book noticed.

Bad reviews

There are people out there who use reviews as weapons. They have a bad experience with the delivery – they leave a negative review. They were constantly being disturbed by someone/something when they were reading – they leave a negative review.

I once read a review that said “delivery driver was rude,” so the reviewer left 1*. Another was “I couldn’t settle into this book. My neighbour’s dog was barking for hours,” so they left a 1* review. This is not fair on the author because it directly affects the potential for future sales. But Amazon reviewers don’t understand this.

However, if a review is about the writing or about the story, cover, blurb etc, then it might be worth asking what prompted that opinion. If it’s one out of a hundred, then it can be considered an outlier – one person wasn’t 100% satisfied. It happens. But if lots of people say the same thing, maybe it needs to be examined as to why a lot of people are saying it.

That’s not to say it’s bad work. Like I said earlier, books are subjective and there are people who will love your work, and others who won’t.

Even competitive authors will try to sabotage another author’s work. They will read the work as a writer instead of trying to enjoy it as a reader. Then, to reduce the ratings (and lower the competition), they will leave a negative review. It’s sad, but it happens.

Good reviews

Family

I wrote my first novel for two reasons:

First, I need to let off some steam because I was stressed. I couldn’t get out from under the dark clouds and needed a healthy way to vent.

The second, which became my driving force, was to write a story as a gift to my wife. She loves to read but always guesses the endings. So, I set about writing something that would keep her guessing until the end. And it worked.

Her reaction was all I needed to be happy. She was hooked from page one and I didn’t hear from her for hours. And when she finished, she was speechless (which is great motivation to write more). This was technically my first review.

The next few came from family members. My sister, mother, father, mother-in-law, sister-in-law. They were full of praise, but the swell of pride came when my mother (an avid reader), said “I forgot it was your book. It was like a real author wrote it.” Then she apologised for the wording and went on to explain that it was like reading a novel written by her favourite author, Harlen Coben. What a win!

Non-family

A good review is the fuel to keep going. Being told that your book is great by family members is a wonderful feeling. But having a review from a stranger is absolutely exhilarating. You’ll want to ask them hundreds of questions about why they liked it. But you can’t.

My first Amazon review came from a gentleman who said, “Every Holmes needs a Moriarty and the author does a terrific job of creating a twisted villain, right up there with Hannibal Lector for cunning and evil.”

I almost fell over when I read this.

This is your target audience at work. If your book isn’t selling organically, ask a book reviewer/book blogger to read and review your book. If they are willing, send them a copy.

Reviewing standards

Book reviewers don’t wake up and think “what author shall a ruin today?” They love books and give feedback in the form of reviews to highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly. They champion books that are well written with a strong prose. But they also warn readers off poorly written, time/money wasting novels.

But remember, each reviewer has their own benchmark.

This can be tricky. Some book bloggers will only ever give 5* if the book changed their life. This is almost unattainable and is quite sad. The majority of writers are writing commercial fiction to be enjoyed by the masses. They don’t target English Literature post-graduates.

Think about Master Chef. A famous and successful chef comes to judge, and that judge has a pallet that can detect the faintest hint of every flavour. They are presented with a dish so wonderful; the general public would thoroughly enjoy it.

But the super chef will turn their nose up and say something pretentious like, “the broadness of fruity crunch was a bit dull, and the hint of chestnut was far too overpowering for me.”

Yes, that might be your expertly trained taste buds saying that, but I bet your customers wouldn’t have the faintest clue what you’re referring to.

And it can sometimes be the same with book reviewers. Because the book wasn’t a masterpiece that will be studied by academics of the future, it’s only worth 4*?

I find this to be harsh. The public see anything with less than 5* as second rate. They demand 5* products. It’s called commercial fiction and the purpose is to entertain the masses.

That being said, I have seen disclaimers on blogging sites that say they will not issue anything less than 3*. This is out of respect for the author and the effort it takes to self-publish a book. But not every reviewer thinks like this.

What can we do with reviews?

Not every author will read their reviews. I can understand why negative reviews can make you feel like a failure, and positive reviews can make you complacent. But reviews are a great tool to measure what works and what doesn’t.

Reading the points raised in reviews can allow you to see what works. Then, you can apply the lesson in future books.

If the review is constructive but negative; do the same thing. Analyse your work and apply the findings to your next book.

But don’t let them hurt you. The ones that are uncalled for like “delivery driver was late,” etc, get in touch with Amazon and ask them to consider removing the review. If it has nothing to do with the author’s work, it shouldn’t be on there.

If it’s from a blogger, again, get in touch. Talk to them and try to understand their issues with your work. And if the conversation is constructive, maybe ask them to remove the review.

Remember, no one will benefit from arguing. If you publicly argue with a reviewer on Amazon, you could find your product being removed. They see this as trying to influence an honest review.

Also, if a blogger has taken the time to read and review your book (on your request), but you don’t like their opinion, try to see why/what they didn’t like, then thank them for their time and move on.

Finally

Reviews are the main reason why someone will click ‘BUY’ or walk away.

It is your job to market your book to the right people so you can collect good ratings and reviews.

Target reviewers and bloggers who read your genre. Read the books they recommend and look at the reviews they leave behind. If your novel can sit on a book shelf next to them, you should engage with that reviewer and ask for them to take a look at your work.

Keep a list of reviewers/bloggers you like, then approach them with personally written emails. Don’t mass produce your requests. Let them know that you enjoyed their review on a certain book and why. If you like the way they write or deliver their review, again, tell them. And ask if they would be interested in reviewing your book.

Most of these people have TBR (To Be Read) stacks from floor to ceiling, so they may not be able to jump into your book this weekend. But they will give you a rough timeline on when they can.

Be engaging, be patience. But most important of all, be human and appreciate that we all love and loath different things.

Feel free to share your reviewing experiences in the comments section below.

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