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On Reviews

I have several friends whose first books are coming out in 2017 and a few with recent launches, too. More and more the success of a book appears to be reliant on Amazon reviews - and, like it or not, many new authors spend a fair bit of their time obsessing over them. I certainly did.

Note that. Did. I think, as time goes on, a bit more balance comes into the whole process.

Anyhow, for the sake of this blog I went and looked at my review stats. Over my four novels I have 269 reviews (some of which will be duplicates as a few people are kind enough to post their review in more than one place) with an average 4.52 ranking. Which is very nice. (Thanks to anyone who took the time.)

My highest ranked book is Sunset Over Abendau (which is my fav, so yay! Good author taste), then Abendau's Legacy (but it is a very new book so has fewer ratings.)

My most popular book looks like Inish Carraig, which doesn't surprise me. It has a lower overall average at 4.54 but an awful lot more reviews - and only 1 is less than 3 stars. Abendau's Heir is the most challenging book with the biggest range of reviews from 'I loved it' to 'Not for me' and I think that's to be expected, given the challenging subject matter.

But, whilst stats and numbers are very interesting,  they're not what motivated me to write about reviews. No, I wanted to share what it was like to get reviews, and the stages I went through moving from obsessive to something more sanguine.

(Note, this is based on my experience only. I'd say I'm mid-level - a reasonable amount of reviews, but not outstanding. But I'm not a review-chaser, by and large (but if anyone has read something, why not leave a review? ;)) Some authors do better at getting review numbers up. Although there is the risk that being too aggressive about asking for them might bring in some reviews - but it will lose you others.

Others, especially established authors, have excellent networks that mean they get a load of early reviews and Amazon takes note. This is harder, I think, for debut authors.) 



These will be, by and large, good ones.  They come from early, bought-in readers, they will often be from an ARC copy (and no matter what we say about being honest - a free book is harder to be critical about, I find. Also, I don't accept ARCs unless I very much like the look of a book anyway.) These reviews will also come from family and friends - few of whom will leave an awful review.

This is why readers aren't swayed - and nor is Amazon - by 5 stars over your first six reviews. They know who is leaving them.

The first reviews come quickly. Most authors will have their advance readers primed to leave them on the day of release, or over the first week or two.

I found this part both exhilarating and terrifying. People were reading my book! (terror, and it hasn't got any better with each new release. But, delight! My world was real now.) People were reviewing - and they might not like it! Or they might not like all of it! Now, I do read my reviews. But it's hard. For those of a more artistic temperament a filter between you and the raw reviews can be good - that's very much up to the individual author.


Authors tend to be supportive of each other. But! Be warned.  Amazon will move on reciprocal reviews and pull them down. Daringly, I still leave some. But, more and more, I avoid it because it will bring the other author's book into question and could cost them more than just my review.

If I do review, I always read the book first. If I don't leave a review, please don't badger me. It may be that I haven't got to it - your book is probably on my kindle somewhere. At the moment, I'm beta reading two full novels, reading an ARC for someone else and occasionally get asked to read to provide cover blurbs. These will all take priority because I've committed to them. Considering I also like to read for pleasure, that's a lot of reading. I know it's frustrating ('but I reviewed yours!') but really, really, don't leave a review just in the hope of getting one back. You'll be disappointed. (And in a few months time when you're trying to keep up with everyone who helped you out, you'll be equally swamped and not able to keep up.)


This tends to happen a few weeks or months down the line when the first rush is over, and people who don't know you pick up the books. I find this is when rating-slippage starts to happen. These reviews are the genuine ones. These are the ones that will say they couldn't get into it, or they couldn't put it down (often for the same book) and it will all be true. These reviewers don't know you - they aren't trying to save your feelings. They don't care if you never talk to them again. This is where it gets tough. During this stage you may also receive your first


Some people just love to leave bad reviews. If you get a 1 or 2 star have a look at that person's average review and, if they have a review average of 2 or less, that's just what they do. Arguably, they could just be hard to please (but, really, if you hated every book you picked up, wouldn't you at some point stop reading them or choose a new genre?) but, also arguably, they do it for a bit of what passes as fun.

Move on. Mutter to trusted writer friends in non-public places, get some virtual cake and ignore the review.

In fact, on that, and before I go to the next milestone: NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, ENGAGE WITH A POOR REVIEW. EVER. It never comes out well for the author. Take it on the chin and move along.


It will happen. I currently have six. The first one stung a bit, for sure. But, as Joe Abercrombie (IIRC) said - if you're not getting them not enough people are reading you. Not everyone will like your book. Some people will actively hate it. That's okay. It's a big world - there are readers for just about every writer.

Some authors I know share their low-starred reviews and that can be very funny. Another - Stephen Palmer - puts them on a naughty step. Either way, don't let them destroy you.


For me, these are the most nerve-wrecking of all. These reviewers are experienced, they read a lot, their role is to provide criticality. Up to now, I've done okay but... a bad one will happen. It has to. When it does, I guess it goes back to sucking it up, taking it on the chin and eating cake.

That's all I had to say on reviews. We've all been there. It's not one of the fun aspects of being a writer (especially if you've written an absolute stinker) but it's part of the role. Do what you can to mitigate things, make sure you've produced something professional and try not to leave yourself an easy target. After that, it's all down to the readers.

My Goodreads profile is here, if anyone wants to check that I'm not telling porkies and am really on 2 stars for everything. The stats above incorporated both these, and