Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reviews - This is a big one, And these are only MY thoughts!

As a new Author I wanted 'reviews'. Lots of family and friends had told me that my finished novel was 'great', 'brilliant', 'really good' and so on - BUT they're family and friends, and with the best will in the world they're not going to tell you any different. OR, your book could really be that good and they're just being honest. For the sake of your expectations think around the first option! So I wanted people that had an unbiased opinion to read my book and tell me the truth. There are some more established Authors that questioned my logic around this but for me it was a no-brainer.

Here’s why, and it starts with a bit of a confession: At my age there's not a great deal that worries me. It's safe to say I've experienced many things in my life, some good, some not so good. I've been reasonably well travelled, had my fair share of knocks and done stuff that would turn a normal persons hair grey. BUT none of that gave me reason to believe I could write a quality novel. It was complete unchartered territory, and it would be fair to say that I was apprehensive. Self-doubt is not something I have ever suffered from, but it was smacking me in the face here, and that's why I needed the reviews. I wasn't expecting 5 star reviews, after all this was my first book, so 3 stars and up would be enough for me to feel ‘accomplished’, and that I had not embarrassed myself. I would feel that I had earned my place on a book shelf. If you've read the earlier posts or the website ( you will know how the story came about so I'm not sure just how much I had to do with it. The 'reviews' were the real test, in the real world by real people. Contrary to popular belief I'm not stupid, I wanted to give my completed novel every chance of success so I took a few precautions when it came to finding reviewers.

I suppose I should briefly describe what a ‘reviewer’ is because there are a lot of stories. Reviewers are just readers, but they tend to be avid readers, with a passion for their preferred genre, the written word and for being entertained by a book. They are NOT lonely old people that sit in a rocking chair by the fire, wrapped in a shawl or blanket talking to books as if they are their friends (mainly) – they’re actually quite normal, everyday folk BUT most reviewers have more of an idea of what makes a good ‘read’ than many writers. (I am so going to get into trouble for that one!)

Onwards. There is not a single book on the planet that everyone is going to like so firstly identify the 'genre' of your book. The 'genre' is the descriptive category that you will file your book under, the 'section' in the library where it is most at 'home'. When you seek reviews it makes total sense to ask ONLY from those that review in the genre of your writing. Think logically, would a romance or children's story reviewer be the best person to read a book about gut ripping, entrails eating Zombies - probably not.

I trawled the top 3500 Amazon Reviewers to find suitable reviewer candidates. Those that did qualify by way of genre preference were short listed. From that, the ones that actually had a contact e-mail address on their profile were highlighted, each then received a personalised email requesting a review, offering a free copy of Russian Redemption in their preferred format for review purposes. I figured that seeing as they were doing me the favour this was the least I could do. Also, by ordering them from the Amazon site and getting them delivered to the volunteer reviewer it meant that sales were registered against my book, which meant my book ‘moved’. AND, I also get the pittance commission off of the sales so it works out reasonably cheap: A win-win situation. Some reviewers prefer to source their own copy, don't be offended they have their reasons.
Anyway, off went a few hundred emails and I sat patiently in expectation of that 'ping' heralding the arrival of email response after email response on my machine. Erm, it wasn't quite like that. There are a couple of things that I wasn't aware of that might help you to understand why:
Amazon reviewers don't get paid to review, it's a hobby, a passion, fun, it’s something they do in their spare time. That is NOT to say that these people are not skilled and of a high reviewer standard, an awful lot are. But, they have real lives to, and real jobs, and real daily trials and tribulations. Surprisingly they weren’t all just sat by their laptops waiting to see ‘AJWilsonbooks has sent you an e-mail’ appear on their screens – bummer huh.

Here is an appropriate point for a little warning. As alluded to earlier there is a rank structure utilized by Amazon for their reviewers; it is not faultless and it can be manipulated by individuals in some very unpleasant way's just to accelerate their own progress up the Top Reviewer ladder. I don't understand what that achieves (other than a badge number lower than Mrs Jones next door) but it happens, I've seen it and it ain't pretty. BUT these are very small in number. I’ll introduce some of the ‘etiquette” of the Amazon Forums shortly but if you are at all unsure and you find yourself on one of those forums, say nothing for now, resist the temptation until you have a basic understanding - we’ll get there.

Back to the ‘reviewer’ topic:- Pick your reviewers very carefully but remember they have lives outside of your review. If you are lucky enough to get some to agree to review your book you need to understand that they are doing you a massive favour, and treat them accordingly. Another thing to remember is that these people do it for the love of books (mostly) and yours is probably one of a stack of 12 or so that they’ve committed to. So, if they don’t get back to you for a week or two, do NOT hound them. Even if they don’t get back to you for a month or two it is very ‘bad form’ to pursue a review. Think about it, you have no idea what is going on in their lives:-

“Hello, is George there,…. Not there huh? Well I’m really pissed, he promised me a bloody review and it’s been three weeks…. Oh, he’s dead huh, hmmm…well I sent him a copy of my book…. Erm, can YOU do reviews…?” Even if you were to get a review from Georges Mrs, I doubt it will be one you want printed!!

Believe me it is sooooooo frustrating, time drags but you really have to exercise patience. I have little doubt that at least one of the reviewers that agreed to review my book was just after a freebie and I’ll never see a review from them, it happens, keep it in perspective, it’s ONLY a book, move on.

When I did start getting reviews back I was absolutely gob smacked. I remember the day vividly (mainly because we were moving house AGAIN!) – I sat on the balcony with a cup of tea (Yorkshire teabags!) and flipped the laptop lid up. I went on the Amazon website and typed ‘Russian Redemption’ into the search bar – ping, there was my page (warm glow) and I noticed a little (1) next to ‘customer reviews’. I was so nervous when I clicked on it. And then I started reading. I hadn’t even noticed that there were five glowing yellow stars! The opening line read: “This is the most enjoyable novel I have read in quite a while” I have no idea how many times I read and re-read that line, probably at least 15 or 20 but it took so long to sink in ”.. the most enjoyable novel I have read in quite a while…” Wow – I was gobsmacked, in fact I don’t remember the last time my gob was so smacked. In that one sentence a complete stranger had erased every ounce of ‘self-doubt’ that I had harboured. The relief was tangible, it was so real it manifested itself in the form of a very full glass of Jack Daniels and ice! One of those moments that can never be taken away. That was a real fist pump moment, but there are more to come.

I currently have five reviews, just FIVE. All of that time invested in sourcing potential reviewers, all the time spent writing and sending hundreds of e-mail’s, all of the frustrations have so far resulted in a total of five reviews. It doesn’t seem many does it, and it’s not, but that gives you a realistic idea of what it’s like. In my defence, of those five I have 2 four stars and 3 five stars so I’m going to brag ‘quality over quantity’ just because I can. Joking! I invested a lot of effort making sure I identified the right reviewers for my book, I wanted the feedback and I wanted the truth and I got both. Even if they had been three star reviews I would have been chuffed, this is my first ever book! It was the feedback that meant the most to me, (but let’s no degrade the stars!) it made it a learning exercise and I am very grateful to those individuals that did take the time to help in my own education and development.

All of that said, a review is just a person’s OPINION,  and I have no doubt there are a couple of ‘cold kippers’ waiting around the corner once my book spreads into the wider global populous. I’m ok with that, I live in the real world. Like I said, no book is going to please everybody. There are some real horror stories of Authors launching hate campaigns against reviewers that (in the Authors opinion) were unfair in their review.  Seriously, big battles, physical violence, lifelong feuds and very underhanded tactics have been employed all because of someone’s difference of opinion. NOT COOL. As we discuss the finer points of the Amazon forums next time I will elaborate further but I reckon here is a good place to stop for now.

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