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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Importance of Reviews

          "Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy..."
                    ~ FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT
          Thus spoke the United States president on the day following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  My generation grew up despising Japan and all things Japanese, from cheap toys to professional wrestlers.   Today, 75 years later, Japan is one of our closest friends and staunchest allies on a very turbulent world stage.  I admire, and in many ways love, the Japanese people and culture, but as a sailor in the United States Navy, I have sailed up the channel at Pearl Harbor, manning the rail and rendering a salute to the broken wreck of the USS Arizona, and it is impossible for me to refrain from honoring those unsuspecting brothers in arms who were ambushed and slaughtered on that on this pivotal date in history.  Some of the most ambiguous feelings I entertain well up on this particular date, and I wonder sometimes whether 75 years from now, we will be this friendly with the Muslim World.  I won't be here to see it, but I hope for it, nonetheless. 
          The subject of this week's post is book reviews, and I considered tying the ambiguity of my feelings about Pearl Harbor into some half-assed pun about reviews, but that's too cheap a ploy even for me, so I'll just pitch in.  Reviews are an author's life blood.  Not sales.  Not interviews.  Not the equipment and paraphernalia of our Craft.  Reviews, pure and simple.  These other things, to be sure, are necessary items, but reviews are what keep us going.
          Allow me to elaborate.  Many, nay, most of my friends are independent authors, or "indies."  In the not-so-distant past, an indie was someone who had written a book, and felt so strongly about seeing it in print that he paid a vanity press hundreds or thousands of dollars to have a crate of his books delivered to his home which he then had to try to market by whatever means he could find.  Being an indie a decade or so ago meant a huge outlay of cash in order to put your book before the public, which in turn meant that we actually had two gatekeepers:  The publishing industry itself, and an author's personal wealth.
          Today anyone can write anything, click a mouse, and their book is for sale on amazon.com, and any number of other places.  The upside is that no one has to go through a gatekeeper to become a published author.  The downside is that no one has to go through a gatekeeper to become a published author.  The point of this doublespeak?  Somewhere in the neighborhood of five thousand books a day are published, and most of them are of very poor quality.  A casual sampling of Amazon's "look inside" feature, or a survey of books.google.com will demonstrate that quite clearly, but the quality of the work isn't the subject of this particular outing.  No, it's the value of reviews to an author.
          Many of those friends I mentioned above are trying to establish careers in the field of fiction writing.  I myself am an amateur, a hobbyist author.  I have a solid retirement package in place, and will never be dependent on a single book sale to make this month's rent, none of which means that I don't enjoy seeing sales figures on my publisher's report.  But what I enjoy more than anything is having people read my work, and tell me that they enjoy it.  To date, I'm fairly certain I have given away more copies of my books than I have sold.  But professional or amateur, needy or not, an author wants above all else to know that his work is being read, and if not 100% appreciated, at least discussed, and this is where the review comes in.
          Just as most authors in the internet age aren't professionals, neither are most reviewers.  In fact, the vast majority of reviews are written by casual readers of the books in question.  Look at the reviews of your favorite book on amazon.com.  What do you see?  Page after page after page of ordinary Joes and Janes from upstate New York, rural Texas, and the far Pacific shores that read a book, enjoyed it or not, and took the time to share their opinion.  Again, because of the publishing model that is in place here in the internet age, it is necessary for an author to garner reviews from his everyday readers in order to have any impact on the market.
           If this sounds like I'm soliciting book reviews from my readers, I am, but that's a fraction of it.  I am soliciting reviews for all my indie friends, and the indies I've never met and never will.  Let me explain the facts of life to our non-writing fans.  Writing a book is a long endeavor.  From concept to planning, to research to the actual writing, followed by proofreading, editing, creating or commissioning a cover, to finished product can take a year for an ordinary, everyday novel.  Considerably longer for a major project, something historical, or a trilogy, for example.  This is a year of recreational time taken from friends, family, and other interests, and most writers suffer the crushing burden of a day job as well.  If someone has invested this level of work in writing a book that has entertained you, uplifted you, moved you in some tangible way, it is a natural human response, I would think, to want to say thank you for putting forth the effort to produce this.  And the best way to do this in the modern literary market is to write a review of the book.
          The most common, and most effective place to share these reviews is on Amazon.com for one simple reason.  We are all, as indies, facing a numbers game.  We want to share our work, and we market everywhere we can think of, from Facebook to our personal blogs.  Most of us cannot afford to hire a PR firm to do a national media campaign, so we go it alone.  But there is a critical mass of reviews that Amazon looks at to determine the point at which they begin to promote your book in those bar ads we've all seen that take the form of "If you enjoyed this book, you might like this other one (yours!)."  I've heard various figures floated around, and don't know the exact one myself, but based on what I've heard from other sources, it seems like an author starts getting some push at around thirty reviews.  And make no mistake, Amazon does everything in their power to stack the deck against the independent author.  If you write a review of my book, and Amazon discovers that we are friends on Facebook or a blog, they will delete it.  If a book is in both physical and Ebook formats, they separate the reviews, in other words, if you have ten reviews of your paperback and twenty of your Kindle, you don't have thirty reviews, you have twenty.  So if you've enjoyed a book that I've written, or any other independent author you've encountered, encourage them to write more.  Enable them to write more.  Write a review!
          Readers, I think, hear the word "review," and they think of those four-column epics in the New York Times written by celebrity critics, filled with snarky innuendos and double entendres, but you don't need to go to these lengths to support an indie author.  Just a quick couple of sentences saying, "I liked this book because the characters were believable," or you liked the descriptions, or the plot was complex and full of surprises counts in Amazon's numbers game.  You don't have to search for the place to leave a review; Amazon will Email you asking what you thought of the book.  And even if you didn't buy the book on Amazon, find it there, and leave the review there.  No matter what you think of Amazon, they are the big he-bull in the publishing industry, and more people will see the book and its reviews there than on all other sites combined.  We aren't asking much.  We spent a year on average to bring you that story that you read in a week.  If it brought you any enjoyment at all, take a minute and tell the world about it.  We all thrive on the appreciation of our work.  Some of us are trying to have careers based on that work, so any little thing you can do is appreciated.  A couple of sentences might make the difference as to whether you ever get another book by a favorite author, so give it some thought.  Call it an investment.  It can pay big dividends.

*          *          *

          On the writing front this week, goodness, the activity!  I am being driven like a rented mule by the desire to see Nexus underway.  Under that particular prod, I took Sunday and completed the update of Beyond the Rails II, and submitted it to the publisher.  The "corrected" copy is now what is for sale on the Amazon website, with typos, spelling issues, and punctuation gaffes weeded out and fixed.  As I mentioned last week in regard to the first book, if you already own this, you don't need to buy another, as nothing of substance has been changed.
          The next project on the horizon is Stingaree, which has already had some work done on it.  You can read the first chapter by clicking on the Sample Tab at the top of the left sidebar.  It will be torture to work on this while I'm aching to get Nexus into final form, but it will be good, as I can use the year, more or less, that it will take to bring Stingaree to completion to flesh out the world of Nexus so that all, or at least most of, the envisioned interactions have already been established and the consequences worked out so that I'm not making it up on the fly.  I'm not that kind of writer, and I very much want Nexus to be perfect.
          For each of the past two days, I have been able to complete the third edit of three chapters of Beyond the Rails III.  If I can keep that pace up through the end, I estimate that I'll be ready to download CreateSpace's template and start formatting by next Wednesday.  Within a couple of days of that, the book should be available on Amazon!  If you've been following the blog, you know that Beyond the Rails III is a novel, and one thing that that project, along with my work on Stingaree, has taught me is that I have a good deal more facility with the short story-novelette form than I do the full-size novel; accordingly, The Nexus Chronicles (my working title) will return to a format of several 12- 15,000-word stories in a book.
          And that is all I'm prepared to share for now.  Keep following along, as I have plans to reveal little by little what will be going on between those particular covers.  Until next time, then, play nice, look out for one another, and above all else, get out there and live life like you mean it!

~ Blimprider

2 comments:

  1. Hi Jack!
    It's good to read that you're back on full steam with your stories. I see I few titles there you were unsure you'd finished last time I've read abotu them ;-)

    And of course you're quite right abotu reviews. They are vital to any writer. But in this time of 'internet', reviews - as so many other aspects - tend to be very superficial. I, for one, much prefer the recommandation of a friend and trust the review of a blogger I follow, than any review on the comment section of stores. But hey, this is just me ;-)

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    1. Jazz, welcome back! Yes, I'm back on track, as it were, and I haven't been pulled along by a project like this since, well, I can't remember. I may have to put The Nexus Chronicles ahead of Stingaree simply to get that monkey off my back. I hope to have Beyond the Rails III off to the publisher by the 18th. I'll then take a break for Christmas-New Year's (if you call building a world "taking a break"), and jump into it again as the calendar turns to January.

      Of course, the word of one trusted friend will drive me to read a book faster than any number of reviews, but in Amazon's numbers game, if you have 30 three-word reviews (I liked it - or I didn't like it, for that matter), Amazon starts pushing your book in those panels you see when you go on there that say, "Here's a similar book that you might enjoy." Independent authors don't have a publisher's PR division to support us; a push on Amazon can be a simple matter of life and death to someone going it alone. Reviews, please!

      So good to hear from you again! Everyone be advised, Sara, who blogs under the handle "JazzFeathers," is a captivating author, and a blogger renowned for her thorough and detailed presentations. Be sure to click on "The Old Shelter" in the right sidebar, and enjoy a most informative visit!

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