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Four Types of Authors Who Shouldn’t Read Reviews

Four Types of Authors Who Shouldn’t Read Reviews

Should authors read reviews?

That was the question Jordan Dane posed at The Kill Zone blog last week. I also saw the same question addressed in an author Facebook group I’m a member of, and (indirectly) on Seth Godin’s blog.

Three times in three days. That must be significant …

I’m not yet a published author, so haven’t yet had to face this decision for myself. But I do have a lot of experience from the other side of the question: as a reviewer. I’ve reviewed around 900 books on Goodreads, and most of those reviews have also appeared on other sites: Amazon, my blog, and other retail sites.

My reviewing experience leads me to believe that not all authors should read reviews of their books. Here are some authors who shouldn’t read reviews of their books.

Authors Who Forget Reviews are For Readers

Reviewers don’t always agree (you can see that by reading the reviews to any great work of fiction). But one thing we do agree on is that reviews are for readers. Not for authors.

As reviewers see it, the purpose of an online book review is to share information which might persuade a like-minded reader to read the book … or not. And either is a valid conclusion. It takes several hours to read an average novel, and a good review takes a while to write, and to post. Especially if you cross-post across several sites, as I do.

Reviewers aren’t doing this to please authors. Reviewers do not exist to promote your book for free (although some do). If they are, it’s skirting close to Amazon’s definition of a “promotional review”, which is then at risk of being deleted.
No, reviewers review for themselves, and for like-minded readers. They do it for fun, for free.

Authors Who Focus on the Wrong Things

As Seth Godin points out, if there 100 glowing five-star reviews and one stinking one-star review (or even a well written three-star review), we focus on the negative. We ignore the positive, even when it’s overwhelming. It’s human nature.

Yes, some reviews are unfair. Some reviews are written by people with issues. Some people should be banned from the internet because they seem unable to communicate online in a mature and adult manner. In an ideal world, everyone would love everything we write and our reviews would be all fluffy unicorns and rainbows.

But life isn’t fair. Everyone has issues. And the world would be a better place if some people were prevented from ever sharing their opinions again (including most politicians, celebrities, and especially reality TV stars). No writer can appeal to everyone. Not even JK Rowling.

The critical reviewers probably aren’t your target reader. So we need to ignore the naysayers and focus on the positive reviews. If we can’t do that, we shouldn’t read reviews.

Authors Who Are Seeking Validation

If we’re reading book reviews to validate ourselves—as a person, or as a writer … just don’t. My worth as a human being is entirely separate from some random reader/reviewer’s opinion of my book (or my blog post). So is yours.

Just because someone doesn’t like your book doesn’t mean they don’t like you. And vice versa. Some of my closest writer friends write fantasy—a genre I have a lot of trouble enjoying. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them as people. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good writers. It just means I don’t enjoy the genre they write.

Authors Who Respond to Reviews

This is one of the first rules of being an author: don’t respond to reviews. Don’t respond to positive reviews—it can look needy and stalkerish (as if you’ve got nothing better to do than read and comment on reviews). And don’t respond to critical reviews—that never ends well for the author.

This should seem obvious. Yet just this week I was checking the Amazon reviews of a book I was considering buying and I saw the author had commented on the top-ranked review. The review basically said the self-help book contained no new information on productivity for writers, and that the author’s suggestion writers give up coffee and chocolate was unrealistic.

I thought this was a helpful review—there is no way I’m giving up coffee or chocolate on anything less than do-it-or-die orders from a doctor. So there is no point in me even considering a book with this recommendation. It’s not helpful.

The author didn’t agree. She copied and pasted a five-star review that said the book had helped the reviewer.

I’d already decided not to buy the book (see above points about coffee and chocolate), but now I’m hesitant to buy or review any of her books. I don’t want an honest review to come back and haunt me if she takes issue with my view should it differ from hers. (As it does. I don’t believe authors should respond to critical reviews. She obviously has no issue with the idea).

So Should Authors Read Reviews?

If you can read reviews of your book without becoming one of “those” authors, then yes. Otherwise, it might be best to ignore reviews, or get someone to vet them for you.

What do you think? Should authors read reviews of their books?

This post is part of the June 2017 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a monthly blog hop for authors who want to learn more about being authors. Posts are related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, and reviews of author-related products. The hop the brainchild of Raimey Gallant. To find this month’s posts:

 

Best of the Blogs 9 September 2017

Best of the Blogs: 10 June 2017

Six of the best blog posts this week in writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

Writing

Skills Writers Need

Frances Caballo from Social Media Just for Writers visits The Book Designer to share 5 Skills Every Writer Should Develop. I don’t think each point should get equal weighting: learning writing craft is far and away the most important skill. And I think I’d substitute building a website and email list for blogging (I agree non-fiction authors need to blog. I’m not convinced that fiction authors must blog. But they do need an email list).

What do you think?

Writing Effective Backstory

An excellent post with practical tips on how to drop in your backstory, from Kathryn Craft via Writer Unboxed. I especially like her idea about using continuity words—a new term to me, but one I’m going to remember (and apply).

The (Social) Rules

Literary agent Donald Maass visits Writer Unboxed to ask What Are the Rules? When I read the headline, I thought he was going to be talking about writing rules. Because, you know, he writes books like Writing the Breakout Novel.

But no. He’s talking about the unwritten social rules we all live by, and asking which of those we bring into the lives of our fictional characters. Take food as an example. For those stuck in poverty, the main concern is quantity—is there enough? For the middle classes, the concern is quality—did you like it? But for the wealthiest among us, the concern is presentation. Hmm …

Characters

Author Sonja Yoerg visits Writers Digest to share her tips on writing mentally ill characters. As she points out, up to one in five people have some form of mental illness. As authors, we have a responsibility for getting the details right and building a rounded character who suffers from a mental illness:

Mental illness can be debilitating and all-consuming, but it does not define a person. That job still rests with the writer.

Publishing

What Authors Earn

Written Word Media share the results of their latest survey into author earnings. The result which surprised me was how little people claim to spend on editing (often less than they spend on cover design). I get that cover design is important to attract a potential reader, but it takes a lot longer to edit a novel than it does to design a cover, and it’s the quality of the writing and editing that turns a casual buyer into a reader and fan.

Amazon Book Sales

Last week I commented on the kerfuffle around Amazon’s changes to the buy button. Kara Isaac visited Australasian Christian Writers this week to share her view in Buy New, Get Secondhand? If you’re buying a paper book from Amazon, make sure the book ships from and is sold by Amazon. If you buy from a reseller, it’s likely that the book is secondhand. This means the author doesn’t receive a royalty on the sale.

Or buy the ebook—the author probably earns a higher royalty on the ebook sale. Or ask your library to order a copy, or borrow the ebook from your library if you have that option. Remember, authors are paid for library copies and some are even paid more if the book is borrowed more.

Want more current news on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing? Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Best of the Blogs 21 October 2016

The best posts I’ve read in the week to 21 October 2016 … on writing, editing, marketing, and an update on the Amazon book review situation.

Writing

I’ve got two posts this week looking at different aspects of point of view. Both posts give lots of great advice on how to use deep POV to improve your “showing”.

First, Carol J Post visits Novel Rocket to give four tips to Elicit Greater Emotion Through Deep POV. Great post, although I have to say I don’t like Novel Rocket’s new web design. Scrolling down makes it look like those background pages are turning, and make it difficult to read the actual post (or am I the only person with this problem?).

And next is a great post from Janice Hardy at Romance University on how your use of narrative distance (aka use of Deep POV) affects your ability to show rather than tell. If you only read one post this week, this should be it.

Editing

Self-proclaimed Kindlepreneur Dave Chasson gives his advice on Selecting the Best Book Editor. He does an excellent job of briefly summarising the four main levels of book editing (in my experience, most novels need all four. Yes, this is four separate edits, although not all need to be from paid editors). I also agree with his “what to look for” list.

What I didn’t agree with was his idea of an editing test—not because I don’t want to take a test, but because I often find authors can’t accurately gauge the level of editing they need, and tests like this won’t tell them. His test is a 1,000-word article. Not a 90,000-word novel. It completely misses the many intricacies of fiction, which include:

  • Point of view
  • Plot and structure
  • Scene structure
  • Showing, not telling

If a fiction author picks their editor based on a test like this, I have no doubt they’ll come away with a polished manuscript that has all the essentials of grammar, punctuation and spelling right (although he’s still wrong on one point: CMOS 7.58 clearly says “either italicized or enclosed in quotation marks”, with “or” being the operative word.. Italicizing “and” enclosing in quotation marks is unnecessary emphasis).

But a polished manuscript could still be a rambling unstructured mess of headhopping and telling that doesn’t obey any of the current “rules” of fiction.

Instead, I prefer Dave’s other suggestion of getting sample edits from potential editors. Comparing different sample edits will confirm what level of work needs to be done, and help you decide who is the best editor for your book.

Yes, I offer a free sample edit of up to 1,000 words. A sample edit means we both know the level of work the novel needs, and how much I’m going to charge for that.

Marketing

Misty M Beller visits Seekerville to share her 9 Steps to Market a New Book Release. Oh, she makes it sound easy!

Book Reviewing

As you’ll remember from my post on 7 October, Amazon have recently revised their Reviewing Guidelines, and the changes have been causing consternation around authors on the interwebz (mostly from people who didn’t read the full Amazon article, which explained authors and publishers can still provide reviewers with Advance Reader Copies).

Anyway, Anne Allen has written a comprehensive post on the “new” rules. As you will see from the comments, I don’t agree with all her findings, but it’s still an excellent reference. And do read the comments!

Fun

And finally, a little fun. Aren’t you glad publishing is easier these days?

Best of the Blogs 7 October 2016

www.christianediting.co.nzThe best of the blog posts I’ve read this week on changes at Amazon, writing, editing, publishing and what comes next … and a fun post which basically describes my dream job. Well, apart from editing!

Changes at Amazon

But first, an announcement: Amazon have updated their rules around product reviews. They will no longer permit “incentivized” reviews, i.e. reviews where a free or discounted product was provided in exchange for a review. There are two and only two exceptions to this:

  • Advance Review Copies of books (including ebooks)
  • Products from the Amazon Vine programme

They have also expanded their Community Guidelines (including the new requirement that reviewers must have spent at least $50 on Amazon using a valid credit or debit card) and have refined their guidelines around what constitutes Promotional Content.

These changes are an attempt to close loopholes exploited by fivverr reviewers and coupon clubs. It shouldn’t mean any change for honest book reviewers, although I have seen some people saying reviewers they know have received warning letters from Amazon for breaching the guidelines.

Watch this space … and if you’ve got any questions, ask in the comments.

Now to the best of the blogs …

Writing

Setting is an important part of writing a novel, and this week Cara Lynn James visited Seekerville to give us some handy tips on the relationship between setting and character: How Setting Affects Character

Editing

Self-editing. How do you do it? In this post at Writers in the Storm, Fae Rowan shares her self-editing tips for getting a lot done quickly … and check out the comments for more handy tips: How I Edited 1200 Pages in 12 Weeks

Publishing

A lot of people get worried at the prospect of self-publishing, because there is so much to remember. If this is you, you’ll either love this post (because it’s a LIST of everything you have to do! No more forgetting things!) or you’ll hate this post (because it’s a list of EVERYTHING you have to do and it’s soooo loooong): A Checklist for Publishing Your Book from April Brown at Writers Helping Writers.

And After You’ve Published …

I know a lot of self-published authors are worried about ebook piracy (trade published authors might also worry about it, but they have agents and publishers they can delegate that to!). In this post at Molly Greene’s website, attorney Kathryn Goldman shares her tips on How To Beat Ebook Pirate Sites.

My Dream Job

Lexiographer. Yes, getting paid to read all day. Okay, so being an editor is close!

What’s the best post you’ve read this week? Leave us a link in the comments!

Marketing 101: Promotion

When most people talk about marketing, what they’re actually meaning is promotion, specifically, advertising. We were raised in a time when promotion was a combination of radio, television and print advertising, perhaps supplemented by letterbox fliers (better known as junk mail). That’s how we found out about and were encouraged to try new products.

Large trade publishers still use some of these mechanisms, but they’re not viable options for most small press or self-published authors. And they ignore the rise of the internet and social networking. Social media, ereaders and print-on-demand technology, has forever changed the nature of publishing, as has the way publishers promote their product.

Unfortunately, the rise of the internet and the low cost of use has introduced new annoyances for consumers.

Spam

(Yes, that’s Monty Python’s enduring contribution to contemporary culture. Click on the link and watch the video if you’ve never seen it.)

So, how do consumers find out about new products in this internet society? The traditional methods of television and print still work, but are being supplemented by online advertising and social networking: Liking a brand on Facebook or Pinterest. But consumers are being overwhelmed by information, so how do you, as a producer, ensure the consumer finds out about your product?

Discovery

Discovery is the new buzzword. How do customers discover a new product? How do readers discovery you as an author? The internet is both part of the problem (spam) and part of the solution.

There is ongoing debate regarding the effectiveness of internet marketing. Does it provide a return on investment? What role do influencers play? (Do we even need influencers? Aren’t brand advocates more important?)

Research shows that 92% of people rely on recommendations from people they know, compared to 36% who rely on advertisements on social networks.

So in order to persuade people to buy your product (read your book), personal relationships are key. People are more likely to act on a recommendation from someone they know, whether they know that person in real life or only online (I’m a member of one online forum where I’m sure people share more information than they ever would in real life).

And when it comes to promotion and spreading the word about your book, it’s easier to get help from people you know. But how do you meet people? Connect online. Build a platform. Come to the next Omega conference. Dates haven’t been set, but if you live in Australia and start saving $10 a week now, it will be affordable (us Kiwis have to save a bit more). Make it a priority, because it’s an investment in your writing and it will introduce you to a network of Christians who want to see you succeed.

Personal relationships are important. They might not be traditional face-to-face relationships (or even old-fashioned pen-pals), but they are still relationships. This network of people who feel they know you are the people who can help promote your book. But where are these people and how do you find them? These people are your platform, and that’s the subject of next week’s post.

Marketing 101: Place

Where do you sell your books?

Trade Published

If you are trade published, whether through a major or small publisher, the publisher will be responsible for distribution. They will ensure your book is listed with the main distributors so bookshops can order it on a low-risk sale-or-return basis. They will ensure Kindle and epub versions are available with the major online retailers (including Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble).

It is their job to negotiate with book sellers (whether independent bookshops, book chains or general merchandise stores) to stock your book. They will work with the big online retailers (Apple, Barnes & Noble) to promote your book. This is the huge benefit of a traditional publishing contract with a major publisher: they will have established relationships with the major chains, which means your book is more likely to be made available in stores or be given prime positioning online.

Note that vanity publishers will tell you they distribute through Ingram, so any bookstore in the US can order your book. That’s true. But just because they can doesn’t mean they will. It usually means a shop will order your book if a customer specifically requests it, but only then, because the vanity publishers don’t necessarily offer books on a sale-or-return basis (as the major publishers do. This is one reason retailers are happy to purchase books from those publishers: because there is no financial risk).

Self-published

If you are self-published, you will be responsible for all distribution, include deciding where you would like your book will be sold, negotiating with retailers, and setting up accounts with online retailers.

If you’ve used a print-on-demand service such as CreateSpace, Lightning Source or Lulu, your POD printer will send the book to whoever ordered it. If you chose the cheaper per unit method of offset printing, then you will have upwards of 1,000 books sitting in your garage (or lounge!), and you will be responsible for fulfilling all orders.

If you also have an ebook (as you should) version, you will also need to arrange conversion of your book into the required formats. The general advice for self-publishers is to publish directly to Amazon, and to use Smashwords to distribute to other retailers (such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Sony, Google and Diesel, although you may want to submit to Apple separately). Of these, Amazon is probably the most important.

Why Amazon?

There are several reasons why most self-publishers choose to publish through Amazon:

Royalties

Amazon royalties are as high as (or higher than) any other ebook distributor and they are paid on a regular basis (although you do have to earn a minimum of $100 in royalties to be paid).

Customer Interface

Amazon is easier to browse and easier to search as a customer, which means customers spend more time there and buy more. The other online retailers have an inferior interface, and Kobo is particularly bad, even if you are searching for a specific author. When I used to shop at Kobo (in the days before you could buy a Kindle in New Zealand), I’d still using Amazon for searching, then would search on title and author for the book at Kobo. Even then, I’d only find it around half the time—which represents a lot of lost sales.

Amazon Associates

Amazon has an affiliate marketing programme that pays for referrals on paid books, including ebooks. This encourages book bloggers and websites to include Amazon affiliate links in their posts, to drive web traffic (and sales) to Amazon.

Customer Recommendations

The Amazon site and recommendations are designed to show the customer the books they are most likely to buy, regardless of publisher or price. Other sites (such as Barnes & Noble) are designed to show the books they want to sell—which are usually higher priced traditionally published books.

For a self-published author, this means Amazon is the one site that will promote your books for you, if you can show (through sales) that your book is something a segment of people will want to buy. Other sites will promote the books the publishers pay them to promote, or the books chosen by their merchandising teams (which are almost certainly trade-published titles).

Next week: Price

Book Review: How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon

This is one of those times when I’d like Amazon to have half stars. This is better than 4 – “I liked it”, but I try to reserve 5 “I loved it” to books that are outstanding. I really liked this short guide—it’s a solid 4 ½ stars, but to be outstanding it would have needed to venture outside Amazon. I’d like to have written it myself, but never mind.

Theo Rogers has written a solid summary of Amazon reviewing—an introduction to what motivates people to review, the main methods authors can use in selecting appropriate Amazon reviewers, and advice on approaching reviewers. There is also valuable guidance on the ins and outs of Amazon to help ensure authors don’t get stuck in the minefields of Amazon.

None of this is new information. Any author could learn this by spending a few months lurking in the Amazon discussion forums. But that’s time that could be spent writing—so why not save yourself a few hundred hours and buy this instead? Read it and apply the principles (while Rogers doesn’t mention reader sites like Goodreads or other retail sites, my experience suggests most of the same principles hold true).

I would suggest one correction: Rogers comments on the number of reviews of self-published books that say the book was in desperate need of professional editing and proofreading. I’ve made similar comments myself, and in some cases the author has responded that the book was professionally edited.

If so, I’d prefer their books were competently edited, as it seems that how much an author pays for editing doesn’t necessarily translate into a quality product. In fairness to my editing colleagues, I’d also say that some self-published authors are merely uploaders with no understanding of what makes good writing, let alone good fiction, and no amount of editing will help. What these people need is a competent ghostwriter.

Anyway, back to the topic of Amazon reviewing. At best, reading How To Get Good Reviews on Amazon will help you gain a respectable number of honest reviews. At worst, you will learn how to avoid ruining your writing career before it’s even begun.