Indy writers very much like myself need (hugely) positive reviews since firstly, with no major publishing house behind us we receive so little exposure and secondly, (according to Amazon) the number we receive is indirectly connected with book sales. So the more 4 and 5 star reviews that our books get the more likely it is that a glance at our book's page on Amazon or an advertisement on Facebook or Twitter will result in either an actual sale or at least the download of a free sample.
Sounds easy eh? Well, not quite since reviews are a little bit like whales around Japan - quite hard to come by. Once the writer has begged and hounded his close friends and immediate family into reviewing their book they then have to look elsewhere. At this juncture in the literary desert the writer has two options: 1. Hope/pray that some of the people that have already downloaded the book via Amazon etc a) actually read it and b) review it positively enough (not always a guarantee) and 2) Send out free copies to the hordes of amateur reviewers that frequent the halls of the internet like bats in a cave. Of these two the latter is perhaps the easier and more straight forward, though it depends on your personal situation and the exposure that you have managed to generate for your book.
When I first started sending off Jack Strong and the Red Giant to this veritable army of reviewers I thought that I'd hit the jackpot and that pretty soon I would have 20+ 4.5/5 star reviews for my book, thus triggering a relative deluge in sales that would make me feel supremely confident both about myself as a writer and my project. How wrong I was. At the time of writing this blog I think that I have sent off in excess of 50 review requests to an array of reviewers, each one carefully chosen for their love of sci-fi/YA books. To date I have received only 2 reviews with a further 2 outstanding (and I'm not convinced that these will ever materialise), with the rest either not replying to my e mails or else stating that, upon reading my summary, that it didn't interest them and that therefore they would not be reading my book (hardly surprising since most amateur reviewers are inundated with requests, so if they don't fancy a book then it makes sense for them to turn it down).
But it doesn't matter, because the glass is half-full right? Well, sort of. Of the two reviews that I have already alluded to one was interstellar great, whilst the other one was down in the gutter, pig-feed bad. Let's start with the more positive of the two: Gadget Girl Reviews. The best thing about this review was that not only did she rave about my book, but she also bought into the characters and the storyline that I was telling and she quite literally begged to be allowed to review the sequel (I'm still waiting to edit it), so the fact that she gave it 5 stars was immaterial - she loved it and that was all that mattered to me and it gave me CONFIDENCE both as a writer and in the whole Jack Strong universe that I'm trying to create. Ultimately, this is the kind of review that all writers should be chasing: it's free, honest, and independent, and it's dripping with positivity.
Okay, now let's get to the bad. When I first sent off my free copy to the onlinebookclub.org I should have been wary. On their website it does state that if you pay them (there are several review and advertisement packages ranging from $15-$100) then it will "ensure" that a reviewer gets to it promptly and that it will be properly displayed upon their website once the review is finished. Since I opted for the free package I should have been alert to the danger, and sure enough within a few days my 1/4 review slid into my inbox, dampening the enthusiasm that - on account of rising sales - had been building all summer. Now I'm not going to sit here and rant and call them all sorts of bad names and trash their reputation etc. If I'd have paid $X would I have gotten a better review? Perhaps. Perhaps not (Though I can't see myself getting a bad review if I'd have paid $100). But at the end of the day it was their opinion (however uninformed: the reviewer didn't believe it possible that my main character, Jack Strong would know what the Earth looked like from space!) and no matter how much I may disagree with it I have to accept that and move on. Luckily for me, however, about a week later the aforementioned Gadget Girl review pinged and raved its way into my inbox, thus giving me a bit more confidence, a tad more momentum.
It goes without saying that the onlinebookclub review resulted in zero sales, but what about the gadget girl review? Though she tweeted and posted the review on Amazon and on her blog there was I'm sorry to say no immediate bounce in sales. So are we therefore to deduce that reviews are worthless (at least when it comes to actual sales)? Well, first of all I think it depends upon the reach of the reviewer in question and whether their opinion counts for something with the readers who follow them. If there are only twenty or so people following them (I am not aware of how many people follow Gadget Girl) then it is more likely in my opinion, that sales will be negligible at least in the short term. In the long term however, the weather forecast is a little more rosy, at least so long as the review has been posted on Amazon. This is because Amazon (well their all-seeing computers at any rate), recommend a variety of books based upon their buying habits, to people all around the world (My own book has been recommended to me on three occasions). It stands to reason that if someone follows the link to your book, then a few good or even great reviews may have an impact upon whether or not they eventually buy it. Now since I've been averaging about 2 downloads a week for the last couple of months or so I'm more than tempted to believe that reviews such as the one by Gadget Girl are having a lasting, durable impact upon my book's sales. It's not a great amount of course, but it is something to be proud of and draw confidence from, and hopefully, together with the influence of this blog (300+ reads so far and growing) this rate will either remain steady, or if I'm really lucky, start to increase.
Advice for writers
Though getting reviews can be an arduous and frustrating business, they are important, not least because a positive review from a stranger (and this is the review that as writers we need to crave and target the most) can have a lasting and considerable impact upon both our writing careers and upon future book sales (just don't expect the dam to burst). Ultimately, as indy writers we have to see ONE SALE as being a success. I will take ten sales over one hundred downloads any day. Why? Because if someone pays for a book then it is almost certain that at some point in the near future they will settle down to read it, but if it's free then it's not so certain. Over the last couple of months I have downloaded approximately five free e-books and I've read none of them, but the one book that I actually paid for (£0.77) I read within a couple of weeks. Whenever I'm unsure about something like this I find that thinking what I'd do as a reader helps guide me as a writer.
As for any negative reviews that you may happen to get (and whatever you do never respond to them as I've seen other authors unwisely do) you have to process them accordingly and not let them dampen your spirits for your project or even for writing in general. This is especially true, as was the case with my bad review, when the criticism is NOT CONSTRUCTIVE or even hostile. If it's like this then I'd just advise you to wash it from your mind like a bad stain on a pair of pants: you don't need negativity like that weighing you down. Besides, it maybe a cliché but at the end of the day it is all SUBJECTIVE: people have different literary tastes and what someone admires another detests and vice versa.
Whether the reviews are good, bad, or merely indifferent, the most important thing is to keep writing and reading and keep believing in yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. Anything less and you are not being true to yourself as a writer.
If you would like to read more of my work please check out my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space.