On Book Reviews…

by Sadie Mills on June 27, 2013

I released Virtually Perfect back at the end of March.  It seems a long time ago now.  I remember hitting ‘save and publish’ with a quaking finger (publishing your first novel is a scary business), then sat back for what seemed an eternity waiting for the reviews to come in.

The first came from friends whom I’d told about my publishing escapades.  As a first time publisher, you have no fan base.  Who is going to want to buy your books when you’re a complete unknown?  You’ve spent six months holed up, slugging away, writing, rewriting, reading, rewriting, over and over again.  You think you’ve got it now; you think you’ve honed it down.  It’s been edited and you’ve found a great cover designer.  You believe in it – it’s your baby and you want it to do well in the world.  Your friends nod and tell you it’s pretty.

Actually having them read it though, especially when you’re a fiction writer, particularly so when your genre is romance (there are some pretty steamy scenes in that book), is terrifying.  I’d compare it to getting up on stage and taking off all your clothes, but it’s not just your body you’re laying bare: it’s your soul.  You can’t take it back.  It’ll be on their Kindles/bookshelf forever (unless they decide to delete it or take it down to the charity shop).  I know that book caused a few raised eyebrows in my social circle.  I dread to imagine what Freud would have thought.

The feedback from the handful of friends I selected was overwhelmingly positive.  Now, in retrospect, of course it was – they’re my friends after all!  So I ran a promotion and put it up free on Kindle to download for a couple of days to see what Joe Public thought.

Now, I’d love to sit here and tell you it received unanimous 5* reviews and became a bestseller overnight.  It didn’t.  It did receive over 13,000 downloads internationally though and hit #12 in Amazon free books overall.

It’s had mixed reviews, mostly positive, some rather less so.  I think the worst comment I’ve had yet was ‘The only good thing about this book was it was free.’  Now that was the first negative review I’d had and as a first time self-publisher, and I don’t mind telling you, it floored me.

But then the good ones flurried in, bolstering me.  Characterisation is particularly important to me.  I strive to make my characters real.  5* reviews where it’s obvious the reader has read and enjoyed the story and characters really are gold dust when the insecurities start seeping in.  However, having said that, abrasive remarks serve a purpose too.  It doesn’t take many before your skin starts thickening up.  I’m not talking about criticism here, just people being plain rude.  I’m pretty nonchalant now.  Swearing in an Amazon review?  Really?

My gut instinct is to defend my characters.  Eve’s had a bit of stick, but hey at least those readers cared enough to take the time to log in and vent – what’s worse than indifference?  Ben, conversely, has yet to have a word said against him, which is interesting.  I think I did put him way up there on a pedestal as I wrote the story.  Maybe I just painted him in a better light?

When you don’t get the 5* that we’re all striving for, the initial reaction of a newbie author is righteous indignation.  But if you can leave your ego at the login page and take that criticism on board (where it’s constructive) you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Of course, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and if you tried to please everyone, you’d drive yourself around the bend.  One reviewer didn’t like my love scenes; another said they were the best part – some of it is very subjective.  But where you have the same comment made by multiple reviewers, you have to be a big enough person to take that on board, make changes and republish, particularly when you’re starting out.  I don’t know it all, it’s a learning curve.  Sometimes the less than complimentary remarks are the most valuable of them all.

I’ve read some horrific stories where indie authors have taken umbrage at reviews, arguing with them and berating the reviewer.  As I’ve said, your book is your baby and your instinct is to protect it, but the sad fact is, once you hit ‘save and publish’, it isn’t yours anymore.  You’ve given it away to the world.  You may have spent months of agony and anguish writing it.  A reviewer may read it in just a few hours.  But that’s a few hours of their life they’ll never get back.  If their feel it was misspent, their entitled to say so.  Their opinion is valid.

Some indie authors, even newbies, don’t read their reviews.  They put one book out then trundle straight on to the next one.  That to me is a bit of a shame, but I can understand the logic.  If a book sells well then reader satisfaction is self-evident.  Checking reviews, Twitter comments, FB remarks etc. is a vacuum into which precious time can disappear pretty quickly.  But I enjoy the interaction aspect with readers.  Writing in itself can get very lonely.  It’s nice to come up for air every once in a while and get some feedback.

The most rewarding aspect of writing for me is building up a following.  Knowing that people enjoy my work; that they actually ‘get’ me, and that they’ve bought my books time and again.  It’s flattering, of course.  It’s also incredibly motivating.  If I’m asked when the sequel will be released, that to me is the biggest compliment of them all.

As a writer, I see these people as my employers.  Everyone wants to know they’ve done a good job, and I strive to do a better one every time.  I don’t want my readers left feeling disappointed or short-changed – if they do, they’ve every right to complain.

So for all of my readers who’ve taken the time to leave a review for me on Amazon, contacted me via Twitter, Goodreads, FB or this blog, thank you.  It really does mean a lot.   I’ve been writing for over a decade, but only recently took the leap into getting my work published.  I imagine it will always be a learning curve – even the most established author doesn’t know it all.  But having repeat readers who support you (some of whom have been incredibly kind) is all important to me, particularly at this stage.  Thank you.  I don’t think I could do it without you and it would be futile to try.  After all, without readers, what would be the point?  That would make me just a crazy lady keeping a diary about the exploits of all her imaginary friends.

 

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Melanie July 1, 2013 at 10:29 am

I just have to say I loved Virtually Perfect and I can’t wait for the sequel.

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Sadie Mills July 1, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Thanks so much, Melanie – that’s so kind of you to say. I am just wrapping up the final part of my Freefall Trilogy before I start work on the sequel to Virtually Perfect. I already have the plot outlined. I always felt I had to come back to Ben and Eve, they were such strong characters. I’m so glad you agree! I have high drama in mind, a little more action and adventure and a trip to Italy…

I can’t set a firm date for release as yet, but if you subscribe to my blog or check in from time to time, I will keep you updated. It will definitely be this year.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and for the kind words.

All the best,
Sadie.

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