Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We Need Lots and Lots of Reviews When We Publish

by Pat Stoltey

Many members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers are old hands at the "getting published and reviewed" game.

First timers--those who have just received the advance copies of their first traditionally published or self-published print edition or uploaded their first ebook--may not be aware how desperately they need reader feedback.

Trust me. You desperately need reader feedback.

Send ARCs or free ebooks to as many magazine and online reader review sites as you can. This often involves submitting a request for the review, preferably to a publication or blog that specializes in books of your genre. The more established and respected reviewers who read your book, the more likely you'll have a few of the glowing variety (as opposed to good, bad, or ugly).

Why don't all reviewers agree?

1. Reviewers are real people. Real people have a variety of preferences, preferred genres, and writing styles. Just because one reviewer doesn't like your book so much, doesn't mean that all reviewers will feel the same way.

2. Reviewers are real people. They have bad days and good days.

3. Reviewers are real people. It's not all that easy to read a book, keep track of the characters, sort out the plot, identify the book's good points and its not-so-good points, and then write a competent, clear report. We're grateful for the book lovers who are willing to perform this service for authors and readers, aren't we?

Aren't we?

Well, sometimes we are and sometimes we aren't.

There are reviewers who don't mind smacking an author around for perceived shortcomings in plot or characterization. One reviewer called my protagonist, Sylvia Thorn, stupid. One well-known speed reading reviewer said the plot of The Desert Hedge Murders was "over Hoover Dam" (which was an appropriate choice of words since the novel was set in northwestern Arizona and featured a spry bunch of ladies in their seventies and eighties, characters written very much tongue in cheek).

Good or bad, without reviewers we'd have a tough time getting the word out about our books.

One word of caution: Avoid paying cold hard cash for a review. Most readers and librarians are fully aware of the reviewer's reputation, accuracy, and practices. They'll make their buying decisions accordingly.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for the reminder of how important lots of reviews are. I think it's a delicate balance between getting your book out there for review and overdoing it, but there's no doubt that the more reviews you get the more you get noticed.

Giles Hash said...

I'd say, as a general rule, NEVER pay for a review. Just like you never pay an agent upfront costs, reading fees, etc. Reviewers should only get paid from advertising and subscription fees collected by the periodical they work for. If they're paid by the word, by the review, or if they're salaried, that's all fine. But if an author has to pay them, then there's a conflict of interest.

And reviewers who don't get paid (like myself) are typically just bloggers who do it because they want to. I don't review books I don't like because life is too short to "whine and complain" about someone else's published work. I review books I like, and I keep my opinions to myself with the books I don't. That is, until I get a chance to have a conversation about them :).

But I would NEVER accept money for a review. Even though I have entered a contest by writing a review... but that was just a perk/afterthought.

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to have several of my first-published stories reviewed. There were a few people reviewing small-press magazines at the time. It was a good ego-boost for a beginning writer, and may have helped get some of my stories nominated for awards. All in all--a good thing for me.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Margot, finding reviewers may be harder than blatant self-promotion, but it's a lot more effective. When an author over-promotes his own work, it gets tiresome.

Very good advice, Giles. The reviewers I love the most are bloggers (authors, librarians, readers) who just love books and want to spread the word when they read something great. I found thorough reviews too hard, mostly because I had to read analytically instead of for fun, but I do give mini-reports from time to time for the books I've really enjoyed.

Brock, it appears you reached the right people...and I suspect your writing is outstanding if you received award nominations. I'll bet there are a lot more bloggers out there reviewing small press magazines and e-zines these days.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know my publisher sent out hundreds of review copies before my first book came out.

Terry Odell said...

And if your book is targeted for a library, there are a few review sites (very few) that influence purchases. Sometimes it doesn't really matter if it's good or bad, only that it's there.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Patricia Stoltey said...

Alex -- Hundreds sent by the publisher is a lot better than hundreds sent by the author. Even if you receive enough extra review copies and use media mail, the cost of postage still adds up. Bless the reviewers who accept books as pdf or Word docs.

Terry -- I had plenty of online reviewers for both of my books, but the big four ignored me. Needless to say, my hardcover sales weren't great. Thank goodness for the Harlequin paperback edition...

Dean K Miller said...

Oh so looking forward to dealing with this function of the writing journey. Even if it's 50 bad reviews, that 50 people who've read the work, and they can't all be right, right? So someone else might read it just to see if they are wrong. :-}

Patricia Stoltey said...

Dean, I've done exactly that a couple of times when I thought a reviewer was being snarky. A sale is a sale, no matter what the motivation.

Marlena Cassidy said...

Ah, the reviews. I still need to work on that and on being not shy and soft-skinned. All authors should really make the rounds around the blogosphere and such to find well-written reviews from reputable people, just as you say.

And in defense of Sylvia Thorn, I liked her. I liked her a lot. She was fun to follow around.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks, Marlena, and Sylvia thanks you too. She's not stupid at all, just capable of making bad decisions (which makes her a bit like me, I think).

Edna Pontillo said...

Good article. Maybe a good follow up is how to write a review - a good one, as in well written, especially since our likes are so subjective. :-)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Edna, I'm no expert in writing reviews, but I'm a big fan of Lesa Holstine's blog, Lesa's Book Critiques. She writes reviews I pay attention to.