For an author who is trying to become established, word of mouth is incredibly important. Hence the reason why we wrote a whole series of articles about supporting your favorite up-and-coming authors. We won’t rehash all of that again, but we strongly encourage you to go back and review those posts. Essentially, without the promotional support of a major publishing house and/or literary agent, it’s very difficult for indie writers to find new readers. As a reader, sharing your thoughts on a book is crucial. That way, other readers can learn more about what to expect and have some confidence going into it that there are other people who enjoyed the book.
Enough on that though. The point of this post is to attempt to set some realistic expectations for new authors who are hoping to get reviews. First, getting readers to leave a review is more of a challenge than you might expect. Finding somebody to read your book is an accomplishment all unto itself. Asking them to do homework afterward can be tricky. And this is where things can get really complicated.
New authors must be ready for criticism. In this day and age, the internet is full of nothing but opinions. With any luck, those comments will be packaged in a productive way so the author can take something useful from the feedback, but that certainly isn’t a guarantee. It’s hard to hear negative input about something that so much thought, time, and effort goes into, but if an author can keep an open mind and take the feedback as a learning opportunity, criticism can frequently be more helpful than praise.
Next, let’s think about rating systems for a minute. Most commonly used for authors is Amazon and Goodreads, both of which are based on a five-star scale. Obviously, everyone covets those wonderful, perfect, five star reviews, but let’s be very serious here. How many new authors are able to put out a perfectly written book right off the bat? Seems unlikely, right? That’s not saying that new writers aren’t capable of writing great stories; only that it’s easy for things to be missed during editing when writers don’t have the resources of a traditional publishing company to assist.
Digging deeper into the rating system and applying numbers could give us all a slightly different outlook for when those less-than-perfect reviews come in. Say there’s a chance that somebody gives a four-star review. Mathematically speaking, four out of five would be the equivalent of an 80% score. 80% for a new author doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Even a three-star rating would be 60%. In a classroom setting, that would still be good enough for a passing grade. Beyond the percentage, three-out-of-five is the very definition of middle-of-the-road. For an author who is still working to get established, saying that their work is average quality still doesn’t seem that negative. Consider that it’s being compared to other books that have been read by the reviewer. That would likely include popular authors, meaning that their three-star rating puts the book on an average level with books that people would typically give five stars to. That indicates there’s room for improvement, but average still doesn’t seem like a negative position to be in for a new writer.
And that brings us to one and two star reviews. Now obviously, those are not good reviews, and there’s no way for us to spin it to pretend otherwise. Low ratings show that the writer still has some things to learn. Now personally, continuing to learn and improve your skills is progress, so there’s still something good that can come out of a bad review. At the same time, it’s important for authors to consider the review without automatically taking it personally. There are a lot of reasons a reader may leave a bad review, and those reasons aren’t always relevant to the story or author. Some people get frustrated with shipping issues, or they don’t realize that a book is part of a series and decide to take out their frustration with a poor review. Clearly, that is no reflection of the material itself, but the review is now out there with the ability to influence other readers.
At the end of the day, the bottom line is this: reviews are important. Positive reviews help entice new readers to check out your work and give them confidence that it’s a worthy read, but even negative reviews have a way to be helpful. Certain algorithms (we’re looking at you, Amazon) consider the overall number of reviews, not the quality of them, to suggest titles to people who order similar items.
To recap, getting reviews is difficult. As a reader, your time and thoughts are greatly appreciated. Please remember to rate the content, and not outside factors that don’t relate to the material. As a writer, don’t beat yourself up over reviews that aren’t perfect. Learn from them and hopefully next time they’ll be better. And lastly, even negative reviews can be helpful in terms of raising visibility. Reviews are important, but it’s just as important for them to be received with reasonable expectations.