Like all indie authors, I receive feedback from readers in the form of book reviews. Many authors say that the reviews that mean the most are the critical ones. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about the reviews that say things like: “I was disappointed. This writer sucks.” I wish I were making that up, but most of the writers I know have had their fair share of reviews like that. Those kinds of reviews are senseless, and they hurt, no matter how used to such mistreatment of your efforts as a writer you may become. There simply is no way to protect yourself. Your writing is truly a part of who you are. It is inseperable from your psyche.
What I’m getting at is that reviews are a vehicle for personal growth. When a writer reads a review, it is immediately evident whether or not the reviewer has made a genuine effort to give constructive feedback. We live in a time in which technology is so advanced that if a reviewer makes a clear and compelling case in the form of criticism, the writer can make a change and have that change appear in his/her book within 24 hours. The key of course, is good feedback.
Here is an example review I recently received on a short story of mine called, “Boudicca: Her Story“. The story reached number 4 on the Amazon Best-Seller List for short stories. Anyway, the book review was written by a reviewer who calls himself/herself “Happy”. “Happy” is from Missouri. Anyway, here is the review:
(Quote) “I could have gotten this information on WikiLeaks. I like history and historical fiction. This book was a disappointment. Don’t waste your money.” (end of quote)
Source: Boudicca: Her Story by T. Jerome Baker
Yes, that is everything. It is not an excerpt, not an extract from a larger piece of writing. That’s the full book review, complete. That’s everything. As you can imagine, the review does not give me the slightest bit of information related to what changes I could possibly consider making to the book in order to improve its quality. I can do nothing to improve the reading experience of future readers. Nothing is possible with such a review.
On the other hand, writers also receive good reviews too. To be honest, as time goes by you gain unique insights into what your readers like, expect, or want to read. Over time, readers identify authors whose writing style they enjoy. It is not rare for authors to have dozens, even hundreds of positive reviews. To put this another way, nobody buys a Volkswagen when they want a Mercedes. Yes, from time to time readers will give a new author an opportunity. But such a chance is rarely a shot in the dark. The reader has a good idea that they will likely be pleased with what the writer has to offer.
I want to pivot here and turn to a review that has made my day. It is a positive review. The reviewer makes genuine comments which show a great deal of thought and insight went into the writing of the review. If you will compare the two reviews, the negative review above, and the positive review below, there can be little doubt about which review has the greater value…
Ok, so I approached this book with about as much respect as your average teenager would your grandma’s set of false teeth. What is the point, I wondered, of writing a book about writing book reviews? As if there weren’t enough tutorials online, or hints and pointers on every site. Don’t be personal, control your emotions, stay objective, focus on the good parts of a book, mention what segment of the market would enjoy it, yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m a reviewer, too, I published hundreds of book reviews. I know all that.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the level of intelligence and intuition with which this book is written, nor did I expect the absolute honesty with which the content is presented – all done so smoothly, and with such effortless tact, that you’ll be halfway through the book before you even realize you got there. You get explanations, links, comparisons, pointers – everything you need to get you walking down the right track – offered in an easy-follow, entertaining voice full of wisdom.
I expect every reader will take away only those words they agree with, but if you consider yourself a serious reviewer, or maybe are just starting out with a mind to make book reviewing a possible career, or even if all you are looking for is a technique to help you formulate and present your opinions, you need to read this book. It will give you the tools for writing not just a review, but a useful evaluation that will help the prospective reader, and the author alike.
Very impressive work, well deserving of 5 stars. I simply couldn’t pass the chance to write this review.
** Thank you very much Ella, for your generosity, your wisdom, and your time. Best regards, Thomas Jerome Baker