Progress Report: Those Slow Review Blues

Blood-Diva-Banner-AUTHORS-FBThe Bewitching Books Tour for Blood Diva starts Sept 8th and I can’t hardly wait. I’m working on guest blogs and interviews. Meantime, I’m waiting for reviews, which aren’t rolling in at the rate I’d hoped.

What’s the big deal? What is this obsession authors have with reviews? Why are they so important? Ultimately, reviews are just other people’s opinions, right?

Wrong. Lots of positive notices can help move books through the mysterious algorithms of the Amazon, or so it is said. Most of the more successful paid advertising schemes like BookBub demand you have them before they will consider taking your money to take you on and help you sell more books.

Besides, we live in the era of the consumer-reviewer. Going on vacation? I guarantee if you mention to the inn keeper of that quaint B&B how much you enjoyed your stay, you will be asked to repeat that on Trip-Advisor. In the past few years, I’ve had everyone from the dishwasher repair guy, to a physical therapist, to the veterinarian ask me to please take my compliments to Yelp.

As part of my strategic marketing plan, I had signed up for NetGalley through a publishing coop. NetGalley makes electronic advanced review copies available to “professional” readers — bloggers, librarians (including the Goodreads kind), frequent reviewers, etc. So far they’ve given out over 40 copies. It has yielded me one review on Goodreads. ONE.  And that was a negative one.

Negative reviews aren’t necessarily bad for sales Besides, the manuscript had been seen by enough beta-readers for me to be certain there’d be positive reviews as well. I just had to wait.

A review appeared on Amazon – four stars. Breathing room. And there’s a positive rating on Goodreads which brings up the “average,”  but I have to admit that so far, the NetGalley experiment has not worked out as I’d hoped.

The most glowing review I’ve gotten has been at the site Bookmuse UK. I’m thrilled about it, but they haven’t crossed it over to Amazon or Goodreads where more readers might stumble across it. I solicited Bookmuse myself. They didn’t get the book through NetGalley. I’ve gone to other sites as well, but so far without much luck. It’s gotten almost as hard to land an unsolicited review as to sell an unsolicited manuscript. While the more successful blogs are NOT offering paid reviews, they are making clear that they are more likely to review people using one of the blog tour services they work with. Many are now offering paid advertising or “sponsorships” in lieu of reviews and may only be reviewing authors they’ve worked with before. With all these sponsorship offers, you could go broke trying to sell your book.

Readers talk about wanting to read “objective” reviews. By objective they mean not written by friends or family of the author, or not written by people with a financial stake in the success of the book. The thing is no review is objective. Reviewers, even if they use some kind of rubric, are reacting based on their likes and dislikes, biases, and tastes.

From my experience with my other books, I’m convinced that positive reviews lead to more positive reviews and negative ones lead to more negative ones. This is anecdotal, and I’m talking specifically about reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads where most reviewers are not “professionals” and are likely to read the previously posted reviews before posting their own. What I observed was that the first reviews posted were positive, with several making similar points. The word “stunning” was used by more than one person. However, once there was a negative review, more negative reviews started to creep in, agreeing with the same points raised by the previous negative review.  I don’t know if someone has studied this as a phenomenon, but I believe it is one. Consciously or unconsciously, reading reviews influences our perceptions and opinions of books we have read. A glowing review won’t make you “love” a book you hated, but it might make you more enthusiastic about one you merely liked. A scathing review won’t make you hate a book you loved, but if you were indifferent or possibly offended by something, it might make you more likely to post your own thoughts. In other words, a positive or negative review can set a tone, or provoke a response. 

I’ve also noticed that generally (not just with my books), on Amazon and Goodreads (but more so on Amazon) people are more likely to write positive reviews rather than negative ones. My theory is that except for diehard reviewers, most readers will give up on a book they didn’t like and won’t bother writing a review for it. Readers are more likely to write a review of a book they loved than one about which they were indifferent. But I also think that when writers open themselves up by pushing books hard or offering “freebies,” they are more likely to get additional negative reviews. I’ve seen plenty of reviews on Amazon (not necessarily of my books) that begin with “I downloaded this for free and it wasn’t worth the price.” When I’ve offered my own wares free in the hopes of getting more reviews, I still got more positive ones than negative ones, but I got more negatives ones than I’d had previously, and there was a different tone to the negative reviews. They seemed to be from readers who were genuinely perplexed, who didn’t normally read “books like this.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen positive reviews that also use statements like “I don’t normally read this kind of book, but….” I just think that writers who use freebies, programs like NetGalley, and publicized super-discount sales, need to be aware that one result might be that the book is more likely to be read by people who aren’t the target audience and might not “get” it — types most likely to be offended by even mild profanity, or thrown by regionalisms, etc.

It’s also been my experience with freebies, and now with NetGalley, that no matter what you try, you’ll probably get fewer reviews or have them trickle in more slowly than you’d like.

If the writer’s aim is to get positive reviews, it probably makes more sense to publicize the book in a way that’s aimed toward those readers most likely to like the book. That’s a little tricky for something as genre-fluid as Blood Diva. The Bookmuse reviewer classified it as “literary fiction” but the negative reviewer clearly thought it was smutty trash.

By definition it’s urban fantasy — that is it takes place in a city and their are vampires. There is romance, but it’s not a romance. There is a paranormal element and sexytimes between humans and vampires, so it may be paranormal-erotica. However, I’ve also been told by some beta and other early readers that the erotica is “light.”

Recently, a friend who’d gotten hold of it and was expecting more decadence said, “It’s actually well-written. Whom did you write it for?”

“Did you like it?” I asked.

“Very much.”

“Then it was written for you.”

So full circle, I’m really hoping the blog tour will help as it offers exposures to group of voracious readers who mostly like hot, paranormal fiction. (But beyond that I’m hoping for an even wider readership.)

Meantime, if you are a reader who happened to stumble over to this blog, and you are interested in reading the book and posting a review to Amazon when you are done, I’d be happy to send you a free e-copy, but there are conditions. I’m looking for folks with a track record of posted reviews on Amazon who have read a sample of Blood Diva and enjoyed it enough to know this won’t be a painful slog, and they won’t find the sexytimes terribly offensive. (If you are interested in a free copy, write me.)

blooddiva_pass2 (1)Also,here is an update on the paperback: There will be one. We are still working on it. Getting the “bleed” just right on the print cover has proved more difficult than we thought. We want it to perfect for you. There will be giveaways and such, so stay tuned.


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