Reviews are to books what “Consumer Reports” is to electronics. A book can live or die by review buzz—whether written or by word of mouth. Reviews are important for new releases, especially important for debut authors. Authors understand this; readers not so much.
debut novel, The Accidental Wife, I didn’t know about marketing early
for pre-orders or even that an ARC was an Advanced Review Copy.
Blogging, tweeting, street teams and book tours were foreign terms and
interviews were something you did only when asked—after your success was
validated. Trolling for reviews and endorsements was something
extroverts did, and swapping reviews was almost as uncomfortable as
paying for them. It took a year of discovery and networking with other
authors to learn the truth.
For my earliest reviews, I trusted
my most important Beta readers—both of whom were experienced writers and
editors. I was married to one, but had lost touch with the other —a
colleague who co-produced a Minnesota anthology with me thirty years
ago. After reading my finished manuscript, both Betas gave me the
equivalent of five star reviews.
Could I trust them to be
impartial? Hubby—not so much. More to lose there, according to his POV
(point of view). Also, his left brain talent at IBM had him editing
technical manuals; He never even read a time-travel historical romance,
though he does love history and suspense and epic storylines in movies.
Plus, he is great at editing grammatical errors and relentlessly honest
in the larger picture.
My old colleague labeled me a “helluva
writer” and admitted she laughed and cried while reading The Accidental
Wife. Known for her encyclopedic mind and creative fantasy, she had
poems and two published books of her own: Minnesota Trivia and Growing
Wings. It had been years since we touched base after she moved to
another state, but I trusted Laurel Winter and loved the review she
I warmed up to inviting others to read and review IF
they liked the book, but I hesitated to ask other family members to even
read it. Particularly my 80 year old stepmom and my daughters, as I
worried about their reaction to the sex scenes WildRose Press rated
“spicy.” All were fine with the sex, but my stepmom said she did not
believe in time travel. Still, she got a print copy accepted in her
local library in Wisconsin. Sometimes nepotism has a silver lining.
Though my short stories and articles were published for decades,
many people knew me only as a horse trainer. Discovery and Acceptance
precede sales which precede reviews. Fishing for reviews for a novel was
going to be hard for a new “minnow” suddenly swimming in an ocean of
writers all hoping to hook readers. Harder still for a technophobe inept
at posting in Facebook and new to Twitter, Goodreads, and other social
media apps and opportunities.
I celebrated my debut by ordering
“Novel CJ”—a vanity license plate for my car, then spent months of
self-education, embellishing my website, writing a newsletter titled
“Accidental Connections,” even distributing business cards and stocking
up on print copies to sell. At a Historic Home Ec Club appearance, I
laughed when an elderly member asked if I thought sex sold more books.
(I side-tracked her with my cookies.) Both Accidental books have scenes
involving historic cookie recipes. Armed with recipe cards and baked
samples, the cookies were always a hit at subsequent Book Club
appearances. I also donated a dozen copies to my local library for their
book club program, reasoning discovery is more important than sales,
then followed through by giving away as many debut books as I sold.
Whichever way a copy found a new reader, I couldn’t count on an
instant review. Busy people took longer to read and when I ginned up the
courage to ASK for a review, I sometimes got an intimidated deer in the
headlights response: “You want ME to write a review?” Some readers felt
unqualified to write one, some didn’t know where to post or how to
navigate online. Eventually, I plugged little cards into all the print
copies I sold, explaining the importance of reviews and listing the link
sites. I even sent a “click list” to one reader who told me her
grandchildren might be able to show her how to add a review on Amazon.
There are three other review sources, aside from betas, family and friends:
1. Unsolicited reviews, also termed “organic.”
2. Paid Reviews.
3. Swapped Reviews.
Every writer is happy to collect unsolicited reviews, especially if
they are three to five stars. Paid reviews vary in cost and value,
along with results. The WildRose Press publisher warns against them.
If time is money, swapping reviews also has a cost factor beyond
the fact that Amazon and other sites frown on them. I thought swapping
was an inexpensive way to add reviews, even though I read as
deliberately as I write. My editing eye zeroes in on errors, and faulty
research. Knowing first-hand how much work the writer invests, however, I
always find something affirming, and try to suppress the niggling
dishonesty that gives four or five stars to a review that merits less.
Isn’t it tacitly understood that getting five stars means giving the
same in a swap? Wouldn’t it be less of a head game if we gave a STARLESS
critique? It might increase the number of reviews with no risk to
writer or reviewer, especially if they share a connection!
Recently, I was asked by a fan to endorse her friend’s Indie fiction
book for her cover. This helps to sell the book if the endorsement
normally comes from a successful writer or celebrity. I was flattered
into reluctantly agreeing, telling myself this was only to save a fan.
It turned out the first 67 pages were an info dump. Dialog was stilted,
with hundreds of he said/she said dialog tags, even with two people
conversing. Supporting characters were more sympathetic than the main
characters, and the ending drifted. I affirmed that she had an editor,
and asked her if she truly wanted my honest opinion. Her editor also
worked with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and since Watergate, Bob
has written eighteen non-fiction books. Okaaay. I emailed my notes
anyway, with suggestions. For three days of work, I received NO RESPONSE
back. File that under A valuable lesson learned…on so many levels!
Endorsements and good reviews aside, ultimate best sellers—even
those by well-known beloved writers seldom hit the mark with everyone.
If you are counting reviews, even bad ones can be a plus. Think about
the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James, which hauled in more than 60,000
reviews over the last six years Over 30% of them earned 1 to 3 stars,
with even the five star reviews holding some objection. Lower ratings
usually indicate disregard for subject matter or writing skill. But
Fifty Shades got people talking, saved a publishing house and planted
erotic books firmly into the mainstream. True then, some best sellers
are the gift of public curiosity—niche readers who take a chance on a
book outside their favorite genre because it has an intriguing hook and a
lot of buzz. Refute the idea that only good reviews pay off. Mixed
reviews mean a broader reader base penning those cherished unsolicited
With The Accidental Stranger—the new sequel to my debut
book—I’m working the review game smarter, investing more marketing
time...and money while still conceding that reviews come easier to
veteran writers with devoted fans and a broad base that may take years
to cultivate. Unless, of course, I come up with a novel hook that
flutters through demographics like a contagious flu.
series author, Diana Gabaldon, has sold 26 million books in more than
40 countries. Outlander, her first book published in 1991, has
accumulated over 22,000 Amazon reviews, with only 7% of them pulling one
or two stars. I met Diana twice at HNS Writer Conferences. She has said
in interviews that she won fans “ten at a time,” until she caught on.
Inarguably, she may have the largest fan base of any popular author
today. She is my social proof and inspiration. We both love
character-driven time-travel with multi-genres in the mix. My dearest
fantasy is asking her for…an endorsement!
Cj Fosdick--would LOVE reviews of her new release, The Accidental Stranger