Why Reviews Aren’t Everything

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The Silent Majority: Or, A Story About Reviews

So I wrote this book a while back (you may have heard of it. It’s called Aurian and Jin). Since its publication in November last year, I’ve sold, given away, lent out, etc. about two thousand copies of it.

That’s not a big number, compared to the number of people in the world–or the number of bacteria colonizing the screen of your phone, even. But it’s pretty sizeable. It’s consideration worthy. Two thousand people out there (more, if they lent it out) have at least heard of my book, probably read it, probably had an opinion on it one way or the other. I regularly hear things like this, day-to-day: ‘my cousin loved your book! She’s like your biggest fan now.’ ‘Grandpa’s been recommending your book to his coworkers. They have some suggestions’. ‘I left a copy of your novel in the bathroom at the strip club, and now the girls can’t stop talking about it.’ (Okay. Maybe not so much that last one. Though, now that I think about it, gratis copies to strippers might not be a bad policy.).

My point is–even if my friends and coworkers and family are just being nice to me, a lot of people have read this book, and said something good about it. And yet, when I look at my Amazon listing, I’ve only got sixteen reviews.

Now, I could get all chappy-assed about it. I could recommend (read: demand) that people write a review when they finish the book. But here’s the thing about that, kids:

The vast majority of people, even people who really loved your novel, aren’t going to leave a review at all.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

I mean, think about it for a few seconds. Before you got all involved with indie authorship, when was the last time you left a review for something on Amazon? If you’re like me at all, the answer to that is, well, never. Even books you really liked, products you really used. It never occurred to me to do it. I would see the reviews up there, read a few of them maybe, buy or not buy (usually regardless of reviews). In fact, I was more likely to consider writing a review if I was dissatisfied with something–because, in my mind, a review existed to let other buyers know what sort of experience I’d had. I couldn’t tell you at this point whether or not I realized the maker of the product might actually see that review, and it certainly never occurred to me to take their feelings into account when I wrote it. The internet, after all, is a very big place–bigger, in some ways, than the physical world–and I’m a very small person in the scheme of things.

People see your book. They don’t see the praise-hungry author hunched over a keyboard behind it, dreaming of row after row of five solid stars. They don’t see your desire for validation, your need for emotional support, the bragging rights (or causes for shame!) inherent in your Amazon rankings. They don’t know what it’s like, being an indie author with no publishing support system or nice fat advance to live on. Most of them don’t know about your Twitter or your blog or where you’ll be next signing books, and they don’t care. If your editing’s decent, they might not even know you’re indie. They might not even remember your name.

Your book was something to read at the beach, something to read at the dentist’s office, something gotten for free, something lent out by a friend. It wasn’t graven in gold and presented by a burning bush on a mountaintop. In the 100,000 or so words of your story, if you’ve got any sort of pride and decency, your hunger for approval and tacit support wasn’t mentioned once. The support of your readers comes to you in the form of money, which gets you things like cheeseburgers and another month of power, and is about as tacit as support gets, unless you’re the government.

Much as small pub might feel like a validation game sometimes–especially when you aren’t making the millions you anticipated–you made a product and now you’re selling it. Praise isn’t the endgame–it’s more like a happy side effect. You want to make people happy, and you probably have. The written proof of respect your ego so desperately craves is optional stuff.

And, hard as it is to swallow, dealing with that is your business, not the reader’s. You sold your damn book, and that’s what you’ve got to worry about. Somewhere out there, a buyer you don’t know is either happy or sad about it. How happy or sad they are, and whether or not they choose to inform you through the Great Equalizer of Amazon, is their deal. Not yours.

So let’s get Nixonic about this. There is a silent majority of readers–silent, at least, on the interwebs–who probably loved what you have to say. You’ll never hear from them, unless your guys happens to know a guy who knows a guy. But they’re out there.

I’m NOT encouraging you to badger people harder about leaving reviews. That’s not what this post is about, and, frankly, I’ve always found it a little off-putting when people do that to me. Too much of your voice, especially your desperate, pleading voice, detracts from the story you have to tell.

What I’m trying to say–even though you don’t know for sure what these people think, be grateful for them. After all, they bought your book.

And there’s all sorts of life going on in this world that isn’t reflected through the internet or Amazon reviews. You might be famous somewhere in Guatemala right now, where a teacher just loaned a thrift store copy of your book to a kid and made his day. You might never know–but you still, indirectly, made that kid’s day.

So step back, smile, and thank your readers. Not just your reviewers.

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8 thoughts on “Why Reviews Aren’t Everything

  1. I don’t leave reviews unless I’m bribed or smiled at. What I would hope for is that the person who buys my book, if they like it, tells someone else about it. The old word of mouth carry on.

    Someone bought my book yesterday. If they’re reading this I hope you live to be ten thousand years old. Thank you thank you thank you. . . .

    1. Y’know, it’s the funniest thing…I think word of mouth is still just about the only way to advertise, even in this day and age. I mean, who the hell believes someone talking about themselves on twitter? I suspect, privately, that there might be more money to be found in telling people how to self-publish than there is in actually self publishing.

      I’m sure whoever bought your book is enjoying it very much. Though that person may seriously disagree with Dee–Baudolino was one of Umberto Eco’s best and clearest books. 🙂

      1. Self-publishing is like a herd of dinosaurs surrounded by those swift little raptors, except these raptors have laptops, Calibre and a very repetitive social media platform.

        I would be over the moon in a bathchair if I knew that reader was enjoying the book. And even more impressed for getting to the end of Baudolino.

  2. Reviews, alas, figure into Amazon’s sales rankings. They’ll move your book up even in the absence of sales. There also seems to be some bias about which genres attract the most reviewers. Lindsay Buroker gave away a thousand copies of her new SF romance under her brand new unknown pen name and netted 37 reviews almost instantly. I’ve given away 1500 free copies of Touching Madness over the past two months. It’s a cross-genre mix of contemporary fantasy and a pinch of SF. I’ve gotten zero reviews and a handful of sales of the second book in the series.

    All my reader and author friends have confessed that the free books they’ve downloaded always fall to the bottom of their reading list. I’ll admit I’m the same way. I’ve had a free book on my reader for two years. Books I paid real money for always get read before it. Bad me.

    1. Reviews do move your ranking up a little–and you’re right, some genres seem to attract more reviewers (and readers in general. I feel the sudden inexplicable need to write a romance novel. :P)

      I’ve gotten a few reviews from free giveaways but not many–mostly what I get from them is a small sales spike (always, always appreciated). But free giveaways are a major impulse purchase thing, and when you do ’em you just kind of have to accept that. It does, however, get your book on someone’s Kindle–and who knows, maybe that someone will be out of money and need a read someday. 😛

    2. I’d rather choose not to have a lukewarm review for giveaway book than have one. For all you know, some readers of “free books” only decide between “I like it” and “I don’t like it” and move on. After all they have lots of books to choose from.

  3. I’ve actually been leaving book reviews for years, but usually only for books that I absolutely loved! Although now that I’ve written a book and understand how much it means to get a review I find myself leaving them more often. If it’s a book I didn’t like I prefer to leave no review than a bad review.

    1. Ha, that’s what I do too. I’m probably a little too nice when it comes to review-giving, but I’ve been on the other side of that monitor now, and I’m a sort touch, so yeah. If I can’t say something nice I try not to say anything at all.

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