After just releasing my first mystery, The Clock Strikes Midnight, I’ve been struggling to get reviews posted. As a reader I depend on reviews (or word of mouth) to decide what to read. I listen to radio reviews of the top bestsellers, and I also read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It helps me determine if a book is right for me. Not everyone likes what I like. That’s why I enjoy reading all the reviews. Then I often order a sample to taste the book before committing myself. My guess is many readers do the same thing.
The one difference between what I do as a reader and other readers do is I write reviews. After I finish a book, I go to Amazon and Goodreads and post my thoughts. I do this as a way to pay back all those reviewers who helped me decide what to do. I suppose I naively thought everyone did the same thing. I have many reader friends, avid readers like me. I assumed they did as I did. Read and reviewed books. I was mistaken. My friends, colleagues and connections read, but they don’t review. So many people have told me they have read The Clock Strikes Midnight, but they haven’t reviewed it. Why? “I’ve never done that before.” Okay, is that like listening to NPR and never giving. Ira Glass might say so.
What I hope this post will tell all those people who read but don’t review is we writers cherish each view. Here are my thoughts on what reviews mean to writers.
We have no other way to hear from readers. Not being bestselling writers, we are not hearing from people through fan mail. We depend on those reviews to see if all our hard-earned efforts paid off.
I’ve learned that my readers like the depth of my characters. But, some have said the characters were not all likable. Granted some of the characters weren’t supposed to be likable. But, I wonder which characters were considered unlikable. I do hope my main characters were likable in the end. This is something I would never know were it not for the reviews.
When you write a pithy sentence in your review, I cut and paste it for my Tweets. I also talk about my book in those terms. Amazon compiles what is said in reviews most often. I use those statements to help people understand what readers are saying about the book.
We don’t get paid very much (or anything at all). It’s through the reviews where we get our pats on the back. Recently one of my writer colleagues posted an amazing review in our Yahoo writers group. She did this to spread the word about her book, but also because she felt so rewarded by the review. We all loved reading it and getting vicarious thrills up our backs.
Indeed we know not everyone will love our work. That happens. I’ve written bad reviews of books, but I’m very careful. I want readers to know what I liked and what I didn’t like, but I don’t want to crush the writer’s spirit. If you write a bad review, think about that lonely writer sitting day and night at his/her computer. That writer has no one to share the work with. He or she must go it alone and hope others understand what prompted a decision to g
o one way or another. Be kind, but be truthful. There’s no need to crush a writer. Just share what you liked and what you didn’t like.
Bad reviews aren’t all bad. If the reviewer is honest, the writer can learn from that review and grow. In the end, as a writer we must expect that not every reader is going to love our work. But if they respect our work, it’s worth it.
Keep it up and remember your review means a lot to the writers and keeps us motivated to keep writing.
Susan Bernhardt says
Joan, this was an excellent post regarding reviews. I agree, it is important not to crush the author’s spirit. And I agree it is terrible not to leave a review especially if you know the author with a couple of exceptions.
An author I know said, actually a number of authors have said this, that if you can’t give a person 4 or 5 stars, it’s better not to leave a review. I know you would disagree with this. I’m reading a novel that you gave a 3 star review to and enjoying it. I would agree with the 4 or 5 star statement, especially with a new author. However, one can have their spirit crushed even with a 5 star.
I was once reading a novel by an author I knew and I contacted them and said that I cringed with each page that I turned and I couldn’t continue reading. They thanked me for being honest and we continue to be friends. It would have been terrible to leave a review on record with what I had just told them. I would never do that to a new author.
Again, an excellent post.
Joan Curtis says
Hi Susan, Thanks for stopping by today. Yes, indeed, those negative reviews (particularly those that say nothing) can hurt. But, we put our work out there and that leaves us vulnerable to the world. For me, it’s worth it. My goal was to publish my work so others could enjoy it. Granted it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s fine. But, if you don’t like a book or hate a book, don’t review it. UNLESS it’s a book that’s had thousands of reviews and yours will just become lost. I did give Gone Girl one reluctant star. I didn’t mind reviewing it that way because my review certainly wouldn’t upset the hugely successful book or author 🙂
Susan Bernhardt says
A couple of added notes, Joan. I bought The Swan Thieves from Amazon and received an autographed novel. Also I can see why you gave the book 3 stars because the protagonist goes beyond what would be considered psychiatrically ethical and I can also see why you wanted to give the novel 5 stars. 🙂
Joan Curtis says
Hi Susan, Yes, it had some wonderful points and definitely worth a read if you like art. But, the ending was really botched in my opinion. Can’t say why I think so in case someone is reading this who hasn’t read the book. But… Nonetheless, I’ve recommended it with reservations to my colleagues. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Maria Keffler says
Great thoughts, Joan. I’ve struggled to get people to post reviews, too. Same experience– great verbal feedback (good, bad, or ugly), but when I ask them to give it a star-rating and a few words on amazon, only about 10% of people I ask actually do it. Is it scary? Unpleasant? Or just doesn’t make it near the top of the priority list? If anyone figures out how to encourage readers to speak up, let us all know!
Joan Curtis says
Hi Maria, Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your thoughts about reviews. It’s pretty mystifying to me. I wrote reviews long before I published. I did so because I read reviews myself. I don’t think it’s scary on Amazon. Everything on Amazon is pretty user friendly. I think people just don’t think about doing it. Or, the majority do not. Every time someone tells me how much they enjoyed my book, I ask them to write a review on Amazon. They promise to do so and yet… they don’t. Amazon tries to get people to write reviews as well by sending them a list of all the products they have not reviewed. Most people ignore that. So, what’s a writer to do? Keep working at it like we do everything else! Nothing in this business is easy!