Authors love reviews. Well, authors are like anyone else as they anticipate opinions, a mix of anxiety and eagerness. Reviews are changing, and sometimes the best ones are not written down.
Twenty years ago, reviews were hard to get, written by professional critics, and were only available as long as the paper or magazine was sitting around. Now reviews are written by anyone, can be seen worldwide, and are available effectively forever.
Twenty years ago, reviews were only available for traditionally published books. The gatekeepers of opinion and the literary canon were critics working for newspapers and magazines. They were inundated with more books than they could read. They could become numb to formulaic plots, tired themes, and overly sensitive to nuances of grammar and style. But, catch their attention, and even a bad review could lead to sales. A great review could lead to a career. Many writer’s dreams were based on such visions.
I’m a self-published author. I’ve never had such a review.
Now, reviews are posted by anyone willing to take the time to fill out a simple form. One star, two star, … , five star pick a star or a few; then write something that doesn’t have to correlate to the number of stars you picked. The reviewers words are published for all to see and read. Just Keep Pedaling got a mid star review from someone who obviously deeply read my longest book. He simply disagreed with my route selection. Books are ranked against others by the number of reviews or the average number of stars. Others can then vote on the reviews as to whether a review was helpful or not. The crowd decides. And an author is wise to not enter a debate about the validity of assessment within that thread.
My books sell on amazon and blurb. I’ve had the range of reviews from a one star review that was so unrealistic that it prompted a five star review in rebut; to a unequivocal five star review for this most recent book, Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland. It is hard to read the negative, even if it comes from someone who didn’t read the book and just wanted to lash out. It is a joy, with a bit of “Aw, Shucks” to read a review as positive as the one I mentioned in a recent post.
The most common review is probably the one that has always existed, word-of-mouth. Readers meet authors and tell them what they think. I’ve learned a lot about my writing style and a lot about what readers want by listening to their verbal and in-person reviews. Subtleties in their compliments and comments reveal which passages and themes pleased or confused them. “Yes. Thank you.”, is the correct response, and if they want to talk about it more, great.
I write for readers, and for myself, but primarily for readers. Language is communication and writing is one way I communicate. (I also communicate by public speaking. Call me to schedule a talk or a show.) Communication is my intent, but only the reader can tell me if I was successful. That’s why I was very pleased to receive a verbal review from someone who’d read an excerpt. To paraphrase; “You write about emotional awareness and sensitivity as if you’re speaking from a pub, not a pulpit.” She was glad I wasn’t preachy. (I thought about being a priest when I was a kid, but that’s another story.)
Professional reviews and online reviews are powerful, but the word-of-mouth review has always been the ultimate. When readers tell other readers to read the book, those are the reviews that spread the word, create a dialogue, and pay an author’s bills. That’s how viral and best-sellers happen.
As this is the gift-giving season, one gift we can all give authors are honest and positive reviews. Integrity is valuable. Truly sweet is better than saccharine.
Now, if it wasn’t so early, I think I’d celebrate that verbal review with a pint at a pub. Instead, a cup of tea will do.