Which of these books are you going to read? The one on the left with zero recommendations or the one on the right that nine out of 10 people rated at 4 or 5 stars?
I try to check daily, sometimes hourly, to see if anyone has reviewed one of my books at Amazon.com. But obviously I am not checking with enough frequency. For eight days I’ve had a 4-star review posted at the Amazon.co.uk site and I didn’t even know it!
In fairness, Jean and I were out of town last week for a couple of days celebrating how happy she’s been these last 19 years being married to me. Then we were gone to a soccer tournament all weekend. We came home and – surprise! – we actually had to work at our paying jobs. Then yesterday I was gone all afternoon visiting my friend Howard Sills.
It’s been a busy week, so if I was slow to check reader reviews I might be forgiven. The review was left on El Teneria.
It’s a 4-star review and the reviewer says he finished El Teneria and bought the follow-up novel, Blood Tubs, and I’m grateful whenever anyone enjoys one of my books enough to buy the next one. In fact, that’s as good a review as I could possibly ask for.
The review is titled “Flashmanesque” and the reviewer states that El Teneria is “very much a take on GM Fraser’s Flashman novels. It is not as good as they are.”
This is true. I’ve written here before that I hate the thought of Flashman fans reading Jackson Speed novels and comparing the two. Jackson Speed is not Harry Flashman and I’m certainly not George MacDonald Fraser.
I do think the Speed books are entertaining, and the history is solid. I’ve heard from a couple of Flashman fans who have really enjoyed the Jackson Speed Memoirs, and I’ll be honest, if a Flashman fan says that Jackson Speed comes in second to Flashman, I’m not disappointed by that. Even I say that Speed comes in second to Flashman!
I’ve only had one person tell me that he thought the Jackson Speed Memoirs are better than Flashman, and I’m very dubious that he says this out of a sense of loyalty to our longstanding and close personal friendship.
This sort of leads me into another something I have been trying to write on my blog but wasn’t sure the right way to say it without appearing self-serving.
I spend a lot of time reading blogs from other indie writers. Some of them are legitimately out there trying to make a living on their books, or supplement their living with their book sales.
I’m just screwing around, enjoying myself and having fun writing stories that entertain me. I love it when my stories entertain others, and I love it when readers leave a comment on my blog or send me an email or post a reader review (particularly a positive one, though I have this odd masochistic side that feels validated whenever I get a poor review).
But on behalf of those writers out there who are seriously trying to make a buck, if you find a book you really enjoy, please give a thought to leaving a 4- or 5-star reader review at Amazon. It doesn’t have to read like an English Lit grad student’s thesis paper, nor does it have to be particularly long or detailed.
You can offer potential readers who are looking through reader reviews a summation of the plot. You can briefly mention some things you liked about the novel or the author’s writing style. You can just simply say that you enjoyed the book. Just write whatever feels appropriate to you.
My favorite thing to see in a reader review is when a reader says they will read the sequels – if it’s a series – or other books by the author. That’s gold for an indie writer, because it tells people who are considering whether or not to buy a book that the book was good enough to get a reader to come back for more.
You see, the conventional wisdom that I read over and over from writers who offer marketing tips is that the thing that helps drive book sales is more reader reviews. The more reader reviews they have (especially positive reviews), the more likely other people will be willing to give an unknown writer a chance.
Personally, I think there are other things readers could do that would better help indie writers. If you’ve read a book by a writer and you’ve enjoyed the book, tell people. Post it on Facebook or tweet it on Twitter or tell people face-to-face that you enjoyed a book. How do you think Fifty Shades of Gray did so well? I haven’t read it, but I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with the writing. Instead, it had to do with women telling other women, “I just read this book and you should read it, too.”
I actually heard someone make a recommendation to a couple of other women about Fifty Shades of Gray.
I can tweet links to my books thousands of times, but none of those tweets will have the same impact as someone who has read my books saying to someone else, “You know, these books aren’t half bad.”
As far as negative reviews go, I’ll say this: Obviously if you read a book and you don’t like it for one reason or another, you certainly can leave a negative review.
But I would ask that you don’t leave a 1-star review if you bought a Kindle book and something corrupted the download and you didn’t get the book. That’s a problem to take up with Amazon customer service (and they will get you the book) and not something over which the author has any control. A 1-star review for a failed download punishes the author unnecessarily.
I realize that for people who are writing books – especially the people who are depending on their income from books to pay bills – we eat, breathe and sleep this stuff. Reader reviews or sharing a book you’ve enjoyed on social media, these are things that we are desperate for and think about all the time.
But for the average reader, who doesn’t give any thought to the challenges in trying to market a book and only wants to know when the next one in the series will be released, these aren’t necessarily things that you’re thinking about.
So, if you find a writer you enjoy and you want to encourage them and help them, I would ask that you give some thought to promoting their work. It doesn’t have to be a lot. A two or three sentence review, a post or two on social media, maybe a word to a friend – and then you can feel really good about yourself, because you’ve probably just really helped an indie writer and maybe turned some folks on to a great new book.