Research, reviews, and erratum

“Don’t read your reviews” is advice I’ve never been able to follow. I love reading my reviews. Most of them are warming. Even when someone doesn’t like the book, they’ll often say why, which either helps me to improve, or lets me know this wasn’t the book for them (vulgar behaviour, one recent reviewer said, when my heroine succumbed to temptation in the person of her hero; on another story, someone marked the book down because there was no on-page sex — you can’t please all of the people all of the time).

I’m really struggling with the very sensible prohibition against opening a conversation with a reviewer whose review is simply unfair, and based on false ideas about which she proclaims with great authority. Hence, this post, which will allow me to vent without (I hope) making a prat of myself.

I’ve written before about what to do with a bad review. And I’ve written about why book reviews matter.

I haven’t written about what to do when a reviewer claims you’ve not done your research. Mostly, the errors in their reviews are pretty obvious, and I’ve winced, picked myself up off the floor, and moved on. Yes, the Roman Baths at Bath had been discovered by 1805. New baths were built on top of the Roman baths in the 12th century, and the original ruins were discovered in 1790, during excavations for the Great Pump Room. And, yes, craftspeople (both men and women) wore  overalls in the early 19th century, for a given meaning of the term (I’m told there were three garments with that name, but I’ve only found two).

It feels different, somehow, when someone makes a claim other people can’t easily check, and justifies a two-star rating on that basis, even though she acknowledged the strength of the writing and the main characters. Somehow, the compliments and rating combined give greater emphasis to her certainty that I had made up the system of advowsons and benefices that existed at the time of the story, and was not reformed until the second half of the nineteenth century.

Yes, reviewer, my rector villain did collect the tithes, and they were his to do with as he willed. No supervision, except that perhaps the person or organisation who had gifted the advowson might use the threat of its removal to change behaviour.  In my story, said landowner had been absent and careless for years, until death brought a new landowner.

I make mistakes, and I appreciate the kindness of the reader community when they send me a message to say ‘I think you meant volunteers, and not militia’. I try hard to avoid errors. I research everything that occurs to me, and take nothing for granted. It’s the stuff that is so much a part of our life that we can’t imagine being without it that trips us up when we look at the past.

So what can I do? I’m thinking about adding Author Notes at the end of a story, listing the pieces of research I’ve done and some of the sources I’ve used. What do you think? Will it help?

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Why book reviews matter

Book-review-imageWhen I published Candle’s Christmas Chair as a free Novella way back in the middle of December last year, I set myself a stretch target. 10,000 downloads by the beginning of April when Farewell to Kindness was published? Unlikely, I thought, but wouldn’t it be magical?

As readers of this blog know, my expectations have been blown out of the water by the actual figures. I was at 10,000 by halfway through January, and today’s download figures stand at just over 44,000. That’s a lot of books!

Now, Candle is a free book, and it’s impossible to know how many of those copies are languishing in a TBR dungeon on someone’s Kindle or iPad.  But let’s say that a quarter of the people who downloaded the novella have actually read it. Let’s say 13,000, just so my next piece of arithmetic is easy.

So how is it doing in the review stakes? Duplicates make it hard to get an exact figure, but between the various Amazon sites, Goodreads, and other book eretailers, Candle has around 130 to 140 reviews. (Hah! Now you know why I picked 13,000!)  It’s all very rough, of course, but I’m guesstimating that one reader in 100 has written a review.

How reviews help readers

Do you read reviews? Lots of people do. Finding out whether someone else liked or disliked a book (and, more importantly, why) can help you to choose between the huge array of books available. With over a million fiction ebooks on Amazon, some sort of filtering system is essential.

Here’s a comment from a reader I found when researching for this article:

As a reader, I tend to look at the range of ratings for a book, in the first instance. If they are wide-ranging, to me that says, ‘this could be a good book, but just doesn’t float everyone’s boat’. If they are all of a low-rating, then chances are the book might be missable! Difficult however, when there ARE only one or two reviews – it is good to see a number of reviews to get a feel for the book’s reception.  [Cathy Speight commenting on Book reviews: are they important)

How reviews help writers

Reviews offer writers a lot. Reviews (good, bad or indifferent) make a book easier to find by pushing it up through the rankings in google search and on the sites of eretailers. Good reviews encourage writers to keep writing. When someone in a review mentions something that shows they know what I was trying to do, the glow can last for days. For example, I loved the review that mentioned my favourite gift that Candle gave to Min, and said how romantic the reader found it. I thought it was romantic, too! I loved that bit. I’m so glad the reader did.

Bad reviews help writers too. I wrote about this in another blog, but suffice to say I can learn from valid criticisms, and simply accept that tastes differ and not everyone will like what I write. Bad reviews still count for search rankings, and a well written bad review that says why a reader didn’t like a book may even attract a reader who enjoys what the review writer didn’t.

How to write a review

So please, if you’ve read a book (not just mine, any book), write a review. Especially, write a review if you have strong feelings about the review. Here are some tips from Amazon on how:

  • Include the “why”: The best reviews include not only whether you liked or disliked a product, but also why. Feel free to talk about related products and how this item compares to them.
  • Be specific: Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. For video reviews, we recommend that you write a brief introduction.
  • Not too short, not too long: The ideal length is 75 to 500 words. Video reviews have a 10-minute limit, but we recommend 2 to 5 minutes to keep your audience engaged.
  • Be sincere: We welcome your honest opinion about the product–positive or negative. We do not remove reviews because they are critical. We believe all helpful information can inform our customers’ buying decisions.
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