IN AN IDEAL WORLD, ALL REVIEWS ARE EQUAL

Or, not all reviews are created equally...

Reviews are the lifeblood of an author. We clamour for them. We beg for them. Amazon tells us we need them. Bookstores ask for them. Magazines print them. Newspapers rank them. Bloggers give them, sometimes begrudgingly, and hopefully honestly.

But not all reviews are created equally. And just having Amazon reviews is not enough for some bookstores or libraries to agree to stock your baby.

Authors tend to pounce upon any review as mana from heaven. The crumbs the reading Hansel's and Gretel's of the world have left us. Stumbling across a fresh review on Amazon sends an author's endorphins through the roof.

Goodreads, another treasure trove of reviews and ratings. Even ratings are gratefully gathered around an author, lovingly coveted and caressed.

Of course the Everest of reviews are by those illustrious literary journals which pepper the world. Or decades old newspapers, whose opinion's are eagerly read by their adoring subscribers and discussed over long meals and expensive bottles of pinot noir. Those reviews are considered the gold class of reviews. 

Reviews in women's magazines. Sniffed at by highbrow literary journals, but read religiously every week by the biggest regular consumers of books, women. I don't sniff at those reviews. They are gold.

Reviews by celebrities. Even Kim Kardashian has started asking for book recommendations via her Instagram feed. Reece Witherspoon has a book club. Emma Watson is about as much of book vigilante as you'd expect from her decade of playing bookwork Hermione. She has her own book club too. Oprah started it all. The Richard and Judy Book Club. I'd donate a kidney to be reviewed or profiled by any of these bookish celebrities.

But some of the best reviews, the most considerate and considered, are by the associations and societies within which we operate. The various organisations who exist to support authors writing within their particular genre - Romance; Historical; Horror; Crime; Thriller etc. Reviews which are done by reviewers who understand the genre you are writing in. From the genre you are trying to market to the world. They get you. They understand you. They are gatekeepers though. They want the genre to be full of great works worthy of the title "Romance" or "Historical" or even "Erotica"...

The Historical Novels Society is one such gatekeeper. And in their February issue, Issue #79, they published a review of 'Fifteen Postcards'. You can imagine my response. I opened the link hesitantly...heart in my mouth, palms sweating...and here's the review:

"Kirsten McKenzie has written a very unusual novel: part time travel, part historical, and part antique review. Sarah’s adventures in other times and other continents, linked together by the postcards and the antiques, are well researched and entertainingly written. The twists and turns are a little frenetic, and the reader can sometimes feel as if they are running to keep up. At times the plot is somewhat convoluted and a little unbelievable, but Sarah is an engaging heroine, and the need to know what happens next overrides these minor inconsistencies.

This is a very striking debut novel with an ending that is unexpected and implies a sequel. I await that sequel with interest."

OVER THE MOON. Thank you Historical Novels Society. And yes, I've since asked them if they would be interested in reviewing The Last Letter. I now await patiently for them to respond. They don't always say yes to reviews.

So far Fifteen Postcards has done pretty well on the number of Amazon reviews front. Somewhat annoyingly, they don't collate all reviews across all platforms, so I have to traipse around the various country sites checking for new ones... Here's a snapshot:

You can see from the pictures above which platform most people use. Or maybe that's where most of my readers are. It's a tricky thing Amazon. If you haven't yet reviewed Fifteen Postcards or The Last Letter, please, please do.

You're welcome to pop a review over on Goodreads too!

Goodreads - Fifteen Postcards

 

So next time you read a book, take a moment to write a review. Just a few words, no spoilers. I'll give you a quick guide on what you could say:

  1. Did you like it? YES/NO
  2. What did you like most about it? PLOT/RESEARCH/CHARACTERS/THE END
  3. Who else would enjoy it? HISTORY BUFFS/SPORTY TYPES/NEW MUMS
  4. Do you want to read a sequel? YES PLEASE/THANK GOD IT ENDED
  5. Was there anything the author could improve on? EDITING/LENGTH/KILL MORE PEOPLE
  6. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera 

WHY WOULD YOU GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE?

There are thousands of blog posts on the subject. Q&As on Goodreads and Facebook, and on every other site purporting to help authors with their marketing. Long streams about the pros and cons of giving your books away for free on LinkedIn. Even Google+ has its share of posts relating to giving away eBooks on Amazon, and on the hundreds of other sites out there.

Book Stack

Each post talks up the benefits of giving away eBooks as a method of getting your name out there, of attracting a following, for marketing purposes, to generate reviews, to be the next Andy Weir. But does it work? Or are there millions of free unread eBooks mouldering away on Kindles, discarded and forgotten?

An Amazon search brings up 93,488 eBooks currently available for free. A plethora of erotic novellas, Game of Thrones-esque length fantasy books, fan-fiction, and self-help books feature heavily. The result of those 93,488 free eBooks? Readers expect more books to be free, and balk at paying less than the price of an average coffee for your average book.

There was a post recently detailing the circumstances where a reader, who’d enjoyed the eBooks they’d purchased on Amazon, had returned them, because, although they’d enjoyed them, they only wanted free books, and asked the author to list their books for free from here on in. They didn’t want to have to pay for them

Many people would be surprised to know you can return eBooks, or that such a facility exists on Amazon. Have you ever tried returning a book you’ve read to a bricks and mortar bookstore, and asking for your money back? There wouldn’t be many instances where they’d refund you after you’d read and returned a book you’d purchased. So why does Amazon allow it? The internet is littered with petitions asking Amazon to fix this, but nothing ever changes.

A book can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to write. Then, traditionally, authors have to find an agent, a publisher, followed by editing, cover design, marketing. Even self-published books need editing, formatting, a cover. It all takes time, and money.

I haven’t listed my book on Amazon for free. The eBook remains at the same price it was when it launched – $2.34. That’s about the price of half a cup of coffee but it’s still something. I put too much work into it to give it away for free. My book is in libraries. It’s in bookstores. I’ve done readings. I’m on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and yes, even Google+. I work hard, and damn it, I want to reap the rewards of that, in the form of quarterly and annual royalties from my publisher. You don’t get royalties from free eBooks.

In all the posts about the pros and cons of giving your work away for free, an overwhelming number of authors point out that giving their work away for free has not resulted in reviews, or increased exposure, or a stratospheric rise up the Amazon Best Selling Lists.

So my advice is: don’t do it. Put the effort in and do some old-fashioned leg-work. Make personal approaches to well-regarded book reviewers. Take a table at a local fair and talk to your potential audience. Approach your library.

Keep writing. Value the work you do. Because if you don’t value it, no one else will either.

Note: This post first appeared on The Spinoff : thespinoff.co.nz

6 July 2016