Tuesday, 29 May 2012

What makes for a good review?

We all know not all reviews are born equal. Even subconsciously we discard those we find implausible. When a review is overly gushing, or vitriolic it loses credibility.

Some potential buyers will look at all the reviews, some the 'voted most helpful', some more again will read a cross section of positive and negative reviews.

In my mind, the longer reviews tends to be better thought out. The attention to details demonstrates a knowledge that the 'Great book, would recommend' style reviews do not.

Likewise if the review is well written and free from typographical errors, I give it more weight. I like to see eloquent reviews (and the many reviewers reading know that writing a review is as much an art form as writing a book). My most recent review was pretty scathing in one respect (that I sacrifice peripheral character depth for the sake of a fast plot) and I can't really disagree. When you kill as many characters as I do, it's expedient not to give them a ten chapter back-story. Equally, as the first in a series I can't reveal all of the character arc yet. While this was a negative for this reviewer, it might well be a positive for another - Dead on Demand is very fast paced. You won't find much excess verbiage as the story is, as described by the same reviewer, 'slick and well thought through'.

I also appreciate the fact it's fair and constructive - I don't pretend to be a perfect writer, and it would be incredibly arrogant to do so. Clearly I want to learn what my readers want for the next book so that I can deliver. For me that probably means not getting out the second one at breakneck pace - I have already proved it can be done, so there's nothing further to be gained in doing it again. What I am going to do is work with Sean on a couple of non-fiction projects, maybe a short story and then aim to release the next one before Christmas (which is ample time to complete it, but not so quick it's rushed). With two of us writing that's a whole year to complete it, and I want to start plotting the third in the series as well, given the swell in market demand that will come just after Christmas.

Back to the reviews, Amazon specifically gives us some useful ways to identify the more useful ones by adding badges such as:

·         'Verified Purchase' which shows us that reviewer bought the product on that Amazon site (UK purchases do not show as verified in the US and vice versa - they are separate systems, which is one minor flaw).

·         Vine - This member is in Amazon's review program. Amazon gives them stuff for free to review. These are generally experienced reviewers - though admittedly a few rush reviews to get more free stuff (you'll spot this odd exception a mile away though).

·         Top 1/50/100/500/1000 - These guys review alot of stuff, and get helpful votes very often. Their reviews often carry a lot of weight

·         Hall of Fame - previously in the top 10 in a year. Same as the top list, but not necessarily churning out enough reviews to stay top 10 anymore.

·         'Real Name' - This user isn't hiding behind a pseudonym. Clearly there are valid reasons not to use your real name online, but when you do it does lend credence to what you say.

·         'The' - denotes a celebrity. E.g. The Jeff Bezos.

·         'Amazon Official' - they exist, but I haven't yet seen any book reviews by them.

·         2008 Holiday Team - For those users who took part in the American holiday review event 4 years ago. Not many of these about either.

·         Community Forum - Went to Amazon's CF in Seattle in 04.

·         Help Forum Pro/ Kindle Forum Pro - a few of these actively reviewing books, and they often have very high standards.

As well as these helpful identifiers we also have some more shadowy groups:

Authors - Some don't declare their interest when reviewing. It doesn't look good if you slate another author's book nor does it look good if it appears you are engaging in reciprocal reviews.

Sock puppets - Fake accounts created by Authors writing reviews of their own stuff - It's not subtle, rarely verified, and never lists a negative. Some even use their own initials. Verified is difficult for them as you need a registered kindle device to buy - so they don't bother.

Friends and family - Probably the least helpful reviews, but hard to avoid. Even if you ask people not to review, they still will.

Short and sweet - Reviews from users that don't go into detail. Useless for the comments on the most part, but shown to be genuine as they may have a badge, or a range of reviews under their belt. The value in these is in the rating. Most books will eventually have a good spread of ratings. A decent book is likely to finish in the 4.0-4.5 range. Unsolicited reviews err on the positive generally, but free runs or hitting the top lists almost always brings in a rash of 1* reviews. Some of those may not be genuine of course, but people do download anything if it's for free - even if it isn't their usual genre.

The thing to remember when getting a review is that it isn't really aimed at the author. Customer reviews are designed to help the customer find the right book for them - and one man's junk is another man's treasure. Outliers are bound to occur either way, and that shiny run of decent reviews we often start with will take a few knocks along the way.  Trolls will appear, but this should be taken as a sign of being popular enough to be found by them. Almost all reviews help sales (see our earlier post on this) so don't stress over it - you won't be universally popular, nor does everyone like the same stuff.

So, thank you to all those that have reviewed any of my works, or will do so. Yes, even you Mr One Star troll. Fact is, more reviews are social proof that the book is being read, and fair reviews (i.e. those that state why they like or dislike something) can help me find my target audience as if someone reads 'Author uses lots of forensic details' then that prospective buyer can decide 'Do I want a book with a high degree of forensic detail, or would I rather stick to a book that errs more on the traditional police work side of things?' Clearly this lets readers and authors with matching styles/ preferences find each other. So if there's something that you don't like - mention it. You might save someone similarly minded from the same irritation, or you might flag up a feature someone else likes. Either way better communication = happier readers which is always going to be best long term, even if a negative review destroys short term sales.

1 comment:

  1. Hey guys

    I nominated you for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award!