Friday, September 30, 2011

Any book can be a star (or four or five)

At the time I am writing this blog post, Dating A Cougar has 37 reviews on Amazon US, 44 reviews on Amazon UK, and 30 reviews on Apple just to give you an idea. The number of 3, 4 and 5 star reviews mostly outnumber the 1 and 2 star ones, but I would lying if I didn't admit those low ones are painful. My author friends (bless them all) pointed out to me that the reviews swing the full pendulum of either loving the book or completely not liking it which undoubtedly comes from the book being read by someone not in my target audience (bless John Locke for pointing this out).

Still, I often hit a low point reading the wide mixture of comments and wondering what it all means. Recently the wondering sent me to investigate some of the biggest selling authors of romances or romantic comedy that I personally like to read, such as Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, and Jennifer Cruise. Guess what I discovered? Their work garners hundreds of reviews and they all have their share of 1 and 2 star ones. They would probably change places with me over some of the reviews. Theirs are usually from long-time disappointed readers which undoubtedly sets the writer in them cringing.

Oddly enough, I wish I could have at least a hundred more reviews on each of my Amazon sites, in Apple land, on my Goodreads site, and any other site where readers review my books. Why? Because if the reviews equaled the same number of my Facebook or Twitter followers who comprise what I consider to be my "real" audience, and each contained what I've heard from those readers personally, I believe it would create a much different public picture.

After reading the negative reviews, I usually have to bounce back over to Facebook or the guestbook on my website to convince myself I'm good enough to still be writing. It may surprise some who are reading this blog post to learn that writers are not armadillos. Even the well-meant, good criticism that is a natural and necessary part of this work hurts because it's like getting a lecture from a parent or teacher or boss telling the writer they did a bad job.  However, the unhelpful, mean-spirited kind of review is damaging without benefit.

Here's a tip I've learned that I happily pass along to my fellow Indie writing friends. If you find reading the reviews stop you from writing (and they sometimes do), consider asking author friends to help vet reviews. The more unbiased they are about your work, the better the help will be.

Many best selling Indie and Traditional authors have sworn that rankings don't mean sales and negative reviews don't mean lack of sales, and I can certainly attest to that being true from the perspective of my few months of selling experience. Sales follow interest and only a "real" audience will buy all your books. If a reader liked Dating A Cougar, in the majority of cases the person bought all the other three in that series. I know because I watched it happening in some channels, and beyond the sales reports, readers have also written to tell me.

So what do I think all the reviews mean and what should a writer do about them as the author of the books? I honestly have no great ideas. For me, they remain something to just read occasionally and try to see if I can improve anything further.

Originally, I wanted to use the negative reviews to help me determine areas of my work I could improve. That's been the case for only a small fraction of them. The biggest change I made was to add more editing and now a proofreader on the end of the process. Mostly, I think reviews provide a guideline for future purchasers who do not know my work. I will not be a hypocrite about the importance of reviews pretending I don't use them myself as a reader because I certainly do. I've bought two books lately from favorite authors, but I haven't made time to read them because I fear being disappointed in the storyline which I determined might happen because of reviews.

I know reviews are important. I just don't know how important. I care, but I also can't let the negative ones stop me from further productivity. So I tell myself that my "real" audience will find me if I keep standing out in the open and trying to find them. When I finish my second series in late November, I plan to go to the site of every book author I have loved and write a review. I figure it will take me at least two weeks to do this, but I have definitely learned the value of it to the writer. If I loved their book, I want to go down in history as one of their fans who gave them credit for what they did.

If you haven't reviewed a book for an author whose work you love, consider making time for it someday.  It is a gift to them--a huge, huge gift.
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