Friday, April 25, 2014

The Value of Book Reviews

Many writers claim they never read reviews of their books. They are sufficiently confident in their own abilities and their editors' insights not to seek validation in the comments of readers and reviewers. Of course, by doing this, they also avoid contact with the dreaded Internet book trolls. I've been lucky, so far, never to have attracted the attention of one of those beasts. I can certainly understand refusing to allow baseless negativity to affect one's creativity and drive. However, I do think there's a lot authors can learn from their readers.

Reader response was especially important to me for UNWRITTEN RULES. I was changing genres from Western historical romance to contemporary romantic suspense. I also decided to try self-publishing for the first time. I asked a multi-published friend who writes in the genre to edit the manuscript for me. She was tough and pushed me to make substantial improvements prior to publication, but editing is not her primary occupation. I was basically relying on our combined writing experience to "get it right". Reader reviews have been the best way to judge if I succeeded.

My first three books garnered only a handful of reviews, mostly from people I know. This time I wanted more. Based on the advice of other self-publishers, I added a polite, personal request for a review to the Kindle version right after the end of the story. That did the trick. After my KDP Free Days, the reviews began pouring in. To date, UNWRITTEN RULES has garnered 67 reviews on Amazon, many times the number I've received for any other title.

So what have I learned from these reviews?

  1. Many men have read and liked this book. This was a shock to me. As far as I know, I've never had a male reader before. Now I have to consider the possibility that my work has become more mainstream and choose whether to pursue that.
  2. Readers overwhelmingly enjoyed the "mystery" aspect of the plot. I had never attempted suspense in any form before. I'm not even sure why it worked in this book. I'll have to study what I did and try to replicate it.
  3. Readers would enjoy reading more about these characters. I had held off on putting the time into writing a series until I saw whether UNWRITTEN RULES was a success. Now I've decided to pursue the Phoenix, Ltd. series, although with a different hero and heroine for each story.
  4. Graphic love scenes are neither necessary or expected in this "crossover" genre. Not one reviewer mentioned wanting more or less sex. I'm actually relieved by this. At some publishers, romance editors pressure writers to make their writing hotter. I'm glad so many ordinary readers were satisfied with the heat level I'm comfortable with.
Without the feedback from reviews, I would have wondered and worried about all these aspects of UNWRITTEN RULES. Reader comments have allowed me to make adjustments and move forward with confidence. 

Fellow writers: do you read your reviews? What do you get from them? Readers: do you ever write reviews? Do other's reviews help you choose books?


  1. Very smart move putting that request for reviews in your book. I'm thrilled the vast majority have been so positive. Go you! Get busy and write the next one. Oh, to answer your question, I do read my reviews. I agree that they can be helpful in determining both what we do right and what we can do better!

    1. Being able to put the review request right after THE END is one of the benefits of self-publishing, and it really worked.

  2. I think you hit just the right note, Alison: A polite request for no-strings-attached reviews. Thanks for sharing your experience!