Reader Reviews and What to Make of Them

Every self-published and trad-published author wants and needs reviews. Every author also dreads them. Some don’t read them, while others learn from them. I bet some say they never read them, but they do, and some read them and say they are not affected by them when they are. Today, I wanted to write a few words about how I deal with reviews and give my opinion on the subject of reader reviews and what to make of them.

Books are Like Hotels

Reviews of anything help buyers decide whether to buy the product or not. I’m not just talking about novels here, but anything. Yesterday, I was looking for a hotel to stay in on a forthcoming trip, and went to one of the popular booking sites to see what was available. In a way that a reader will first be attracted to a cover, I was first attracted to the location of the hotel. Next, as a reader will then read the blurb/description, I read the hotel’s details to see if it had the right kind of room, WiFi, a bar, restaurant etc. Is this the right hotel for me? It’s the same as asking, is this the right kind of story for me?  Then, as most potential readers do, I looked at the price, and finally, out of interest, I looked at the reviews.

Reviews, therefore, come pretty low on my list of things to check before committing to a purchase, and that applies to books as much as it does to hotels or any product. The thing is, I only read the first couple of reviews, or I choose to read only the five-star ones. I also look at the chart of how many five, four, three etc., stars a product has, because if the balance is tipped towards one end of the scale, I get a pretty good impression of the overall suitability of the product according to the majority of previous customers. I get a benchmark. That process can take two minutes, or it can take ten. Either way, other people’s views are low on my list of things to check, but that’s just me, and reviews remain an important factor in a buyer’s decision-making process.

Why are Reviews Important to Authors?

So, if I am saying that reviews are a low priority, why do I then say they are so important for authors? There are several reasons:

  • The more reviews a book has, the more the book has been read, and that suggests to the potential buyer that the product is worth buying. People have bothered to buy it, so it must be popular, right?
  • Reviews give the author the chance to hear feedback from their readers.
  • Reviews can be used as quotes for publicity. They can provide impartial publicity from a third party.

Not everyone leaves a review, but many readers give a star rating. The higher the rating, the better the book. In theory. There are firms out there who hire people to leave good rates and stars even on books that are dreadful, and the aim of these firms is simply to make money. That, to my mind, is crass and damaging, but it happens.

How to Handle a Bad Review

There is a difference between a bad review and a review of a bad book. When authors say, ‘I had a bad review,’ they usually mean someone slagged off their great work. When I say, I had a bad review,’ I mean the review was badly written. We should say, ‘I received a low-star rating,’ or, ‘A reviewer didn’t like my book,’ but, because it’s what most of us mean, I’ll take a ‘bad review’ as meaning someone gave a negative opinion of my work. An opinion, after all, is all a review is.

You may know that I have written a very successful series of novels, The Clearwater Mysteries. (Successful for me, at any rate, because the series now pays my rent.) That series started with my first attempt at an historical, mystery-romance mashup, ‘Deviant Desire.’ I wrote it, published it and waited for my first review.

It was dreadful. A one-star rave about how awful the book was, and on first reading, I was saddened. Then I read it again, and realised that it wasn’t a bad review, it was an appallingly written, vindictive review that not only gave away some spoilers (thus ruining the read for many others), but was also inaccurate. I concluded that the review had been written either by someone with a general hatred of self-published novels, or by someone who wished they’d written thought of writing the book first. A disgruntled would-be author bitter because they couldn’t do any better. Whoever wrote it, and for whatever reasons, the book remains my most popular publication, and the stream of five and four-star ratings, and the wealth of positive reviews, more than outweighs one person’s negative opinion.

Reviews are Nothing More Than one Person’s Opinion

And that’s the point. Reviews are nothing more than one person’s opinion. Take them to heart, learn from them, agree or disagree with them, or consign them to history and forget about them, they are always only what one person thought of your work. That goes for whether it’s a badly written spiteful attack, or a glowing accolade of effusive adjectives and love. It’s what someone else thinks, and there’s nothing you can do about that because everyone is entitled to an opinion, and an opinion, according to the dictionary is simply: a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

I’ll just repeat part of that to make you feel better: not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

Reviews are Your Connection to Your Readers

Good or bad, positive or negative, reviews are your connection to your Readers. This morning, I read a post on a Facebook group where the receiver of a negative review reacted with an excellent attitude. She understood that her writing wouldn’t connect with everyone, and that everyone has the right to an opinion. It was the word connect that resonated with me and made me think. Having thought, I came up with this advice.

No matter whether a reader writes good things about your work or bad, they wrote something. Your work connected with them. It made them react, and isn’t that what us writers are meant to do? Aren’t we here to cause a reaction in others? Beit joy, sadness, thought, anger, pride, outrage, hatred, or laughter… Beit anything, it is a reaction. By writing a review, the reader has proved that the story moved them enough to pause in their day, not to move straight onto their next Kindle purchase, or go back to the housework, but to stop, think, and put virtual pen to paper.

So, the next time you receive a negative review, be happy that your work moved someone enough to make them pen a reaction. No matter what that reaction is, you did your job. As an author, you made someone care. Bravo! Now get back to work.

MM Fiction Café

MM Fiction Café

The New Site for Readers and Writers of MM Romance and Fiction

Everyone loves to get something for nothing, and the most valuable thing an author can be given is free positive publicity. Today, I wanted to tell you a little about how I, as an author, like to prove that sharing is caring, and more than anywhere, I find this in the world of indie writers and their readers.

One of the things I’m keen to do is promote the work of author friends. You can see that on past posts, like the one about book covers. I also share some new releases and author news on my Facebook page. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

Other people, on the other hand, do a lot more. Today, I want to feature a newly revamped site that’s 100% free for readers and writers. It has just come back online, it’s called MM Fiction Café, and it has been set up by my FB friend, Josh Dale. As I look at Josh’s FB friends list, I see we have several in common: Jay Northcote, Ann Attwood, Amy Spector and Elle Keaton among them. These are other authors (Ann is an editor and proofreader), and all people I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for the free-sharing and caring ethos that surrounds most indie authors, especially in the world of MM romance and gay fiction.

MM Fiction Café

The café has been relaunched for 2021, and, as I write, Josh is in the process of uploading and finalising, snagging and perfecting, but I thought, as this is launch week, I would give my readers a heads-up and let you in on the new-look site before everyone else gets there. Below are three other places where you can join the community of readers and writers for free, but before that, I asked Josh for more details about the MM Fiction Café, and here is what he sent.

What is MM Fiction Cafe?

MM Fiction Café has been relaunched for 2021 with a new look website. The concept was originally started three years ago as a place for Josh to post his book reviews. During that time, it has promoted over 800 books from 400 authors and reviewed 300 books.

The site is clear and easy to navigate, it already contains the core content, but they are working on many new and exciting features.

Current features include
  • Authors Directory

Which allows readers to find information about the author, such as their Bio, published book list, as well as the links for buying and social weblinks all in one place.

  • Book Directory

Want to find a book’s information without all the promo info?  It is easy to search and filter the books by genre, tropes or novel size to find exactly what you are looking for.

  • Reviews Directory
  • Blog Directory

Where you can read all the Promo posts.

Road Map for New Features
  • Favourites / To Be Read Lists. (coming soon)

Soon visitors will be able to log in and save their favourite authors, books, reviews and blog posts to their own favourite / TBR lists.

  • Series Directory (coming soon)

A section to find your favourite series and all the books within the series.

  • Comments / Readers Reviews (working on)

Visitors who log in will be able to comment on our posts and leave positive/constructive reviews on books.

  • Coming Soon / Release Date Diary (working on)

Want to know when your favourite author’s next book is due to be released.  We will have a diary where authors can list their work in progress / next release. And they will be able to update their progress.

  • Author interface

Ability for authors to add their own details to the author directory and for them to add books to the book directory/series directory.

This will be an invaluable new resource for the MM fiction Community, a great place for us all to catalogue our books, and for our readers to easily keep up to date with our works.

Josh and his team invite you to visit the website, and if you have a suggestion for a new feature or would like them to consider a change to the website, please feel free to contact them using the general enquiries link at the bottom of the Request / Enquiries page.

Links

Website: https://mmfictioncafe.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mmmidnightcafe
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MMfictioncafe
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/MMFictionCafe/mm-fiction-cafe/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/MMFictionCafe/

Other free-to-join MM Romance and Fiction Websites

And back to me. There are many sites out there where authors can promote their work and where readers can see what’s new in the world of MM Fiction, but not all of them are free, and some are more popular, and therefore more useful, than others. I’ve chosen three where my work appears. I take an active role in two, Queer Romance Ink and All Author (which covers all genres, not just MM romance), but I let Good Reads take care of itself.

Queer Romance Ink (QRI)

QRI is ‘an inclusive library of romance titles across the queer rainbow.’ It’s 100% free for readers and a place where you can browse by all manner of means: title, author, genre, niche, tropes and so on. Authors pay to be listed as the site has overheads, and I don’t mind that at all. I have been found there by many loyal readers, and through its partner company, Other World Links, I have indulged in blog tours of new releases, and other publicity events. I did my first blog tour with them when ‘Twisted Tracks’ first came about. That’s part two of The Clearwater Mysteries, and I thought I’d give it a go as I’d never done a blog tour before. For me, it involved writing interviews and other short articles for over 25 blogs where bloggers discuss new gay fiction. It was a fun thing to be involved with and, I am sure, led to the Clearwater series’s ongoing success. ‘Deviant Desire’ hadn’t had such an official launch. Although it had started selling reasonably well, as soon as that blog tour came out, it shot right up the rankings as many readers decided to start with book one (Deviant Desire) before heading to part two, the book that was being toured.

All Author

All Author is a site that runs on similar lines but is not queer fiction specific. It’s one of, if not the top site for authors seeking publicity and readers seeking new ideas for what to read next. Again, I pay a small amount to list my work there, but what I get in return is phenomenal. For a start, it’s a huge database for readers and writers and thus, connections. They allow my PA, the wonderful Jenine, to make up gifs and banners and other publicity material. They also feature books on their front pages and run automated Twitter posts for me. I don’t Tweet, so that’s a boon, and again, the results of using them outweigh the minimal cost I pay each year to be listed.

Remember, MM Fiction Café has been set up to 100% free, another reason to support it, and a better example of how authors in the world of gay fiction are prepared to help each other for no financial gain.

Good Reads

Tbh, I’ve never been sure about Good Reads, and I hardly use it as I spend more time writing than I do reading. However, I do use it because I have author friends there that I like to promote and it’s free.

When I published my second book of memoirs about moving to and living on a Greek island (under the name, James Collins), I asked a personal friend to write a short testimonial. This she did, and very nice it was too. Anne is Anne Zouroudi, the famed Bloomsbury author of The Greek Detective Series. She’s always been Anne, of course, but now, her books have taken off, and a TV series is being discussed. Sometimes, it’s who you know, perhaps, but the point is, Anne follows and supports me via Good Reads, and so do many others. And, better still, it’s free for readers and writers to post and publicise there, find books, write and read reviews, and join in with the online community of book lovers.

Meanwhile, at the Café

To finish, I’ll refer you back to Josh and the MM Fiction Café. Go and take a look, but remember, the relaunch was only this week, it’s still bedding in, and it will take a little time for more books to be added. Bookmark the site and pop back to it to see what’s new, specifically in the world of MM Romance.

As indie authors, it’s fantastic to have a site like this where we’re welcome to list and share for free. I’m totally in favour of authors supporting each other by sharing info on newsletters, sharing blog posts, making special appearances on each other’s sites, and promoting each other without asking for something in return, and that’s exactly what Josh is doing. After all, caring is sharing, particularly at the MM Fiction Café.

[If any authors of gay lit, MM romance or historical fiction want to put a guest blog post on my site, just get in touch.]

My links

Jackson at QRI
All Author
Good Reads profile