I never got the importance of literary reviews until I was published. As a lifelong reader, I’ve always been the type of person to have a book in my hands, or tucked away in my tote (now a days, it’s both a book and my Kindle). But it never occurred to me to write a review or even write to an author. Boy, has that changed. Being on both sides of the fence, as a published author and a voracious reader, I now take the time to write reviews and write to authors.
Why do reviews mean so much?
For one thing, they provide the type of marketing that no one can buy. That’s called word-of-mouth. As a reader, I’m much more likely to buy a book that a friend has recommended. I’m also more likely to purchase that same book if I go to a site like Amazon, or Goodreads and see lots of favorable reviews. Sometimes the reviews don’t have to be so favorable either. A book that has drawn in lots of readers and inspired them to take the time to write a review is usually a book that is worth checking out.
A few years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller, The Tipping Point. It completely changed the way I viewed marketing. As someone with zip business or PR background, the book totally fascinated me. In his book, Gladwell talks about what makes “things” take off. It’s a fascinating book and one well worth reading. There’s a pretty decent summary of the book right here. But if I could summarize what I got out of the book, it would be this one simple sentence: sometimes little things make big differences. In the world of publishing, those big differences can start by a little good buzz that in turn, promotes more buzz, and so on. And we all know where that can lead to.
Reviews are also an important form of feedback. Now, I know lots of authors who will say they never read their reviews. And I totally get it. A bad review can paralyze the creative genie inside your soul for days. I don’t happen to be one of those authors (well, I can be creatively paralyzed, but I don’t let that stop me from reading the reviews). I read every single review I can get my hands on. Partially, because I just can’t help myself. I was the kind of kid who snooped around my mother’s hiding places to find my Christmas presents in November.
But I also read reviews because I think they make me a better writer. The great reviews that give you 5 stars and gush about how much the reviewer loved the book are an ego boost (and who doesn’t love that?), but equally important are the reviews that touch on something the reviewer found lacking, because believe me, I have no illusions that my books are perfect. As a matter of fact, NO book is perfect. Every published book is a story that could still be improved (the author just ran out time).
What about those awful, 1 or 2 star reviews that crush your soul? Those are important to read as well. At least for me. It teaches me that:
a) not everyone is going to “get” me or love my sense of humor
b) That no book is going to be universally loved
c) that sometimes there are legitimate criticisms that I need to open my eyes to, and
d) it keeps my skin tough.
And believe me, publishing is not for the weak or thin-skinned. Rejection is a way of life for every author, published or not. We have to develop a strong sense of self based on our own criteria, not someone else’s.
And lastly, those reader letters? I love them. They make my day. If you’re a reader and you love a book, take the time to write the author and tell them. Lately, I’ve been receiving some very nice fan mail about my first two books (my Bunco Babes books which were contemporary romances) asking when I was writing another story. Based on that fan mail, I’ve decided to epub the third book which was never published. So see? Little things can make big differences!