I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing about the conversation about reviews. As an author they’re helpful, as a reader they’re helper, but I know some folk think reviews aren’t important. I was actually inspired by an author friend M. Hollis, who recently wrote a twitter thread about how helpful reviews are to marginalized writers, who have the hardest time getting their books in front of the people who might most enjoy them(check out M. Hollis’ screenshots or click on them to see her TL).
So I’ll start off by saying this post won’t be fancy. It’s not filled with statistics or interesting data that took months to curate. It’s just two author’s opinions on why reviews matter, not just to the author, but to lovers of books as well.
For some clarity, I’m a former book blogger. I try to blog. I wish I had more time to blog. But my sister and I have been trying to make writing work for us in a different way in 2017 than in our previous years published, and sometimes we sacrifice the things we love, because we love writing more. But my blogger background knows, we absolutely hate being begged, asked, held at knife point to review books on a retailer site, even if we sometimes liked the book.
Maybe it’s because Amazon ain’t shit? Maybe it’s because we don’t know how important they are to the reader who might potentially pick it up. I know I didn’t know in my past! I must’ve posted 100 reviews on my book blog that never made it to a retailer site. Since becoming an author, I realize how important they are, and not just what authors might call a “good review”, but critical ones can help, too.
Reviews in general help an author or a reader for a number of reasons, but I’m planning on doing two posts about this, one on the creative side, and one on the business side of why a book review on a retailer side can really steer readers, and even authors in the right direction of where to go next.
But this post I wanted to focus on the emotional side on how reviews on retailer sites help. If you enjoy it, consider looking out for the part two, on how it’s helpful on the business side.
Without further ado, some of the awesome reasons why reviews help both readers and authors.
Direction and Content
Readers really have a lot of say in the indie community, or at least they do in my eyes. Much like the standalone vs series argument, if a reader likes a particular couple’s story, or a major supporting character in a story, reviews tend to voice that.
For example, we released Same Page in December of 2015. Even though we’d planned Next Chapter, we never really thought about continuing the series with different characters, even though their work environment was very colorful.
So many people have liked one of our major supporting characters Ruby Jiang-Cruz, that we thought it wouldn’t be right not to give her own story. So many people were asking “Where’s Ruby’s story?” and to be honest, that shaped the future of the series with our rebrand of it.
I think the most brilliant thing about being an independently published author, is that we have complete control over our content. Especially when that content isn’t working.
The rebranding of the Bookish Friends To Lovers series came from a lot of reviews telling us they felt Next Chapter ended on a cliffhanger. Since it’s New Adult, it wasn’t meant to be one, as rules for NA are very different than Contemporary Romance. They can end in Happily For Now’s more often, but we felt if we were going to change something as big as the ending, we wanted to add additional content to both SP and NC, as well as change the covers, and the series title.
Reviews have voiced so many things we were pretty lax about, that if they didn’t exist, we would’ve left the series the way it was.
We’re going to rebrand one more time, to address more commentary in the reviews, but without them, I don’t think we would’ve made such a great effort to make them more appealing to readers.
Standalones Vs Series
One of the hardest decisions as an author is whether to focus on a stand-alone or a series. Both have pros and cons, and most of our book ideas we’re emotionally invested in for different reasons, so if we created a WIP, you can guarantee one story is not more important or holds less value than another for us.
But we made the mistake of starting nearly every single book we’ve released in the last 18 months all series’. The only stand-alone book we have is Wander This World, and we had as much fun penning that as we did the series’. But the con to Wander This World is that it’s our least profitable book—or rather, since there’s no sell-through potential, it earns the least.
But we can tell you it is the one book that gives us the least stress. Series’ are hard. A lot of people don’t know that even though we’d planned to make Same Page and Next Chapter, as well as F*THS and Friends That Still… books that related to one another, we came out with the first books without the second book right after the first release, because we were trying to see if there was even a market for their controversial material.
We really couldn’t or wouldn’t have moved forward if we hadn’t gotten reviews telling us whether it was a smart enough move to. I’ll explain more about this in a different post, when it comes to the financial reason why reviews are important =)
But once the response for both books were frequent enough to move forward, we decided to pen their sequels too, We were new writers, so we didn’t want to focus on continuing a story people hated.
Now that they’re both out, the pressure to build off these first books is quite demanding, especially when you want to focus on new material, and new characters to fall in love with, that face different challenges. F*THS and Same Page were SO fun to write, but because people liked Tim/Naima and Asher/Teddy(even though most don’t connect with her as much as Ash) the pressure to continue their story is a lot of weight.
Stand-alones however, allow you to write one story. Snap your fingers and you’re done. There are pressures to make sequels to stand-alones, but with books you intend to be a series, reviews really push an author to keep moving forward with that series, even when they don’t really want to.
My sister and I are a team, but we have our own ideas. Most of our ideas are come from the individual, and then the other sister helps flesh out the ideas that don’t make as much sense to them. Point blank: Sometimes I want to work on my shit, and sometimes she wants to work on her shit XD We’re constantly bumping heads, so if we don’t have something to push us, we won’t help each other until the last minute.
Writers are human. Writers are readers. Writers are just like everyone else. Especially independent authors. We don’t have publicists or agents(not true for some since many indies are now being repped) to sift through when you want to drop a line to one of your favorite authors but they feel so far away because everything goes through their “teams” first.
We’re right here. Available by email, available by Facebook or just one tweet away. Authors love hearing from readers. We’re readers just as much as we are writers, and it really makes our day to know someone reading our book enjoyed it as much as we did at the time writing it. This is especially true when a writer isn’t at all motivated at the time, which happens a lot when you have the pressure of deadlines and real life issues plaguing you.
But the comments, reviews and emails that always stick with me are the ones that mention how much people loved things we had planned to cut or downplay, like intersectional identity or culture. Those are things that are really important to my sister and I and we always fear people think we’re being too extra with it. But when people tell us that they adore the fact that we make culture a huge part of characters’ lives, it really warms our heart being raised in a different culture ourselves (My sister and I are Cuban American, Huepa!)
Reviews are especially important on retailer sites like Amazon for us because we don’t read Goodreads reviews, AT ALL. We’re firm believers in GR being where readers connect. As readers ourselves, we like the freedom of just being able talk to other readers since we both have reader accounts and everything is stress-free and unbiased. Vowing to keep it that way. But to sum it all up, leaving reviews is just another small way of you showing appreciation to the content an author is putting out there. It only takes a few seconds but leaves a huge impact! Especially for us because we’re so appreciative when y’all do!
But those are just some of the creative reasons why reviews help on retailer sites. Even just a few words help the reader looking to pick up their next read, and the author not sure on where to go with their next WIP!
Don’t forget to check out Why Book Reviews Matter! Part Two-The Financial Side!
This post was brought to you by Guinevere! Part II will be brought to you by Libertad!