Why reader reviews matter

Ok so, reviews. Reader reviews are massively important for writers like me because they are the only way anyone will know my book is any good.

It’s the writers with the big publishers and agents whose books get reviewed by newspapers and magazines. At my end of the food chain, published by a small press, these types of reviews are thin on the ground. Which is why it matters even more to me that readers have given their feedback.

Boeken_Kringloop_Woerden_03It’s strange how print media reviews of books have died off in the last few years. The number of papers and magazines which put serious effort into book reviews has tanked. Here’s an example. Back in the day, when I was a reporter on local newspapers they used to carry a fair few book reviews, especially if the author was local – in fact it was a big deal to make sure books with a local link got a review and a reasonable amount was made of it. I know this because, often, I used to write the reviews.

When my publisher sent a copy of my book, Song of the Sea God, to my home town paper they ignored it for a month or so and then gave it away as a reader prize. Presumably someone in the features department found it at the bottom of the in-tray and thought ‘blimey – we’d better do something with this!’ short of actually reading it of course. (To be fair, before all this they did interview me about the book and do a decent story – I’m not having a go, just talking about the demise of book reviews).

Where have they gone? Perhaps it’s a symptom of the post-literate society, people would rather browse the web than read books, and that filters into newspapers just the same as everywhere else.

Of course the posh, broadsheet national newspapers still do reviews – but how many of us get in there? Only the chosen few.

So most of us have reader reviews. They are part of the digital revolution – and a fantastic part of it in my grateful opinion. All of a sudden, with the advent of the interweb, we all get to say what we think about books we have read – the reader has a voice! Not just the reviewer from the Sunday Broadsheet who went to the same private school as the author whose books he reviews and their agent and their publisher – but the actual reader. That’s you and me.

Receiving these reviews has been one of the best parts of seeing Song of the Sea God published. I had steeled myself before it came out for the possibility of bad reviews. I was determined to take them on the chin, realise people were criticising the book not me, and not take it to heart.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried – the reviews have thankfully been very positive.

800px-Skrifmaskin,_Smith_Premier-maskin,_Nordisk_familjebokThe main place people do them is on Amazon, both in the UK here and USA here. It’s become such a colossus in the book selling word that many people bought their copy from them – and the traffic through these pages means that they are a great place to let prospective readers know what you think of a book. But I also get reviews on Goodreads here, and on people’s own blogs and websites.

I value them all hugely for the simple reason that I know people can trust them. It’s the easiest thing in the world for the author of a book to tell everyone how wonderful it is – or indeed for their publisher to do so on their behalf. Personally I don’t bother telling everyone how fantastic my work is – what would that be worth after all? Nothing really.

It’s much more important if readers, who have no connection to me and have shelled out their own good money to buy my book, take the time and trouble to give it a vote of confidence. That’s a vote you can trust.

So that’s one key way that they do matter very much indeed – they shape the fate of a book like mine – they give it the support and back-up it needs to survive and thrive.

But they matter in another way too in that they salve the fragile ego of the author. The truth is, when you write a book, you can’t be entirely sure if it’s any good or not. You might tell yourself it’s a towering work of genius but it’s not what you think that counts – it’s what the reader thinks.

Getting positive reviews is about more than continued success of the book – it’s about letting the author know that their work has been acknowledged and appreciated.

So a massive thank you to all who have reviewed Song of the Sea God so far and please – if you have read it and are thinking of posting a review – do so. They are always important, always needed and always very gratefully received.

Here are a few of the things people have been saying about Song of the Sea God in their reviews:

“This is the most remarkable book I have read in a very very long time. Its not surprising that this book took Chris two years to write. Its a complete Feast of Words!”

“This would make a great movie incidentally in this modern era of the dark comic twist.”

“This is writing at its best. I was immediately taken with the narrator ‘Bes’, a mute dwarf, and wondered how Chris Hill was going to be able to maintain this particular dialogue throughout the rest of the story. He achieves this exquisitely.”

“This book is one of the best I have read in years. Could not put it down as the subject matter is so unusual.”

“I became engrossed in the novel from page one and remained that way until the very end. Honestly, I didn’t want it to end.”


Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

18 thoughts on “Why reader reviews matter”

  1. Reviews give the writer back their confidence in their own work, as well as encouraging others to give new books a try. Your book has justifiably had some great reviews, Chris. I so hope it continues to reach more and more readers!

    1. Thanks Val – confidence is a bi thing for writers isn’t it? Very few writers I’ve talked to are bursting with self-belief, even the best get a lot of knock backs so maybe that’s why.

  2. I always felt that newspapers don’t do book reviews as much anymore largely due to the sheer quantity of books being released. They used to simply review books because they were normally published by a known entity that promised, to a degree, quality.

    But now, of course, getting a book out there is far easier, and trying to pick out books to review out of the terrifying amount available can’t be easy.

    But as a book lover, it would be great to see book reviews return strong. Still, there’s a lot of small blogs and websites out there devoted to covering as many books as they can, some sticking to specific genre. I’ve built up a small list of those that I like to visit.

    Glad you’re getting good reviews! I’ll have to check your book out.

    1. I think you are right that the quantity of books plays a part. Though many of the self published ones are ebooks only and so would not be sent as review copies to papers and magazines. It’s a curious shift in the culture – more books are being produced, and I would say more are being reviewed too – just not by the traditional media.

  3. Absolutely agree with this!Although reader reviews are there to help other readers decide whether to buy your book, it is heartening to read one where the writer has clearly not only enjoyed it, but in my case ”got” the humour. The best reviews for me are the ones that come unexpectedly from people I’ve never heard of …. although I love it when friends take the time to read and review.It’s the ”I bought this because it was recommended by a friend…and….’ that delight me! Long may we both enjoy them!

  4. Agreed – as long as we’re talking about honest reviews written by people who have actually read the book. Unfortunately, there are lots of questionable practices on Amazon, particularly by commercial fiction authors obsessed with improving the mysterious Amazon logarithm. Thus, you get ‘like’ parties – or sycophantic one-line review exchanges between friends. I’m not sure all this improves sales but lots of authors get sucked into it. Only serious and well written reviews are likely to influence anyone considering buying the book – thus quality over quantity.

    1. Yes – I think it’s a public system so it is open to abuse – though I know from contacts on Facebook that Amazon have been clamping down and removing reviews they consider suspect. For me it’s a very worthwhile system overall though some spoil it. I can say I only find out about my reviews when I go on there and check – found a new one on Goodreads today for example.

    2. I used to review lots on Amazon but stopped doing so precisely because of this practice. Undermines the integrity etc (and helpfulness). So now I review on my own blog. But I do miss the strong reviewing culture that used to pervade the print media. So hard these days to work out what’s worth reading and what I might enjoy or find stimulating. So I find myself more and more sticking to the same authors and/or small publishers, because I trust them to deliver. As the publishing world bloats with more and more books, so the reader’s world shrinks to the trusted and familiar.

      1. Yes – there can be such a thing as too much choice I guess and self-publishing has certainly opened out the field. I do think Amazon seems to gave clamped down quite hard on the dodgy reviews though which has to be a good thing in terms of credibility.

  5. Oh the joy when a positive random review appears on Amazon! Reviews help other readers. I’ve had many reviews by personal letter and email which I appreciate, but wish could be seen on Amazon. I try to review all books I read via that medium as it supports other writers in what can sometimes seem a lonely pursuit in getting your book noticed.

    Glad to see a snippet of my review above of your excellent book Chris and your blogs give us the opportunity of interacting with other writers too.

  6. Great piece Chris. I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve been considering sending to local newspapers, but it feels a little like wasting a book if nothing comes of it. I much prefer reader reviews that surprise me, or face-to-face feedback from readers at public events (those are very precious). I hope ‘Song of the Sea God’ continues to be a success!

    1. Thanks Elaine. With my second book this year (The Pick-Up Artist) I didn’t ask the publisher to send out review copies unless I knew the publication would actually review it (which is rare) instead we just sent out press releases as local press are more likely to do a story than a review anyway. Let’s face it, the story has the same effect of letting people know your book exists and doesn’t cost anything to send. It did the trick as you can see here: http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Gloucester-author-Chris-Hill-talks-latest-book/story-26359514-detail/story.html

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