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Book Reviews!


This is unquestionably a subject that affects us all, and can have a profound effect, not

only on our self-esteem, but the quality of our work as well.


Presuming that most or all of you reading this are self-published, it is worth noting that the platform we use, for instance, Amazon, has a permanence to it. Reviews are forever (unless, of course, you can get them removed for specific reasons) as are your published books. If you are starting the self-publishing journey, it is worth thinking about this before you do.


As I say this, I would remind you once again that Lee and I are not supporting you as ‘best-selling authors’ or ‘world authorities’ on writing, we have just been through the process of self-publishing and certainly, I have made several mistakes, and would like people to benefit from that as well as my successes.


To start, the best authors get bad reviews. From Alice in Wonderland to the Bible and from the Brontës to Charles Dickens. So, much of what I will relate today will be about what do we do about it. Well, it won’t surprise you when I say you should not give up just because of a bad review. But I almost did. Your first book can be very difficult, so here is another piece of advice. If you’re going to write, don’t set your stall out with just one book. Everything seems to change after two. When I first published, book 1, I attracted genuine five star comments, one or two 4 star comments and then out of the blue I got:

‘Bloody rubbish, don’t bother!’


Because of my age, I’m not embarrassed to tell you about what I thought. I have a slightly OCD approach to most things, and I really had trouble struggling with whether my book was any good. A small investment in a beta group in America with mixed responses had preceded all this, but yet again, just one person told me I was wasting my time. Psychologically, what is interesting about the human condition is that I ruminated about those bad comments endlessly without accessing all the good ones again. Not everyone is like this. Lee seems to have a thicker skin and that’s what you must aim for. I’m almost there now and believe it or not, one of the best things to do after a while is to ignore reviews. Star ratings are important to me, but I tend not to read reviews anymore. You will find a lot of writers say the same thing.


So never give up. If you have dozens of one star or two star reviews, then of course you must consider what you have published. Otherwise, save the positive ones, especially those that appear as if they really understand what you were trying to say, and reference them regularly.


Now, for the harsh reality of the 21st century! There are people out there just waiting to bring you down (and everything else, for that matter.) Whether you run a café or you paint pictures, somebody will tell you are no good at it. I suppose this in itself is a worrying aspect of society.


It took me a while to understand that sometimes that seemingly bad review is somebody taking the trouble to have a good look at what you have created. I would not paste my best reviews here because it is of no use to you. Here is one which I looked away from it first until I realised that what he was saying was quite useful.


'This is a quirky book - horrible histories (Tudors) meets assassin's creed (as in conceit for person to go back in time) meets Ratatouille (albeit a mouse not a rat!). However it thankfully doesn't take itself seriously and some of the writing is very funny

The going back in time element to this is not very deeply explored - it could almost not be there - and like assassin's creed no-one really cares and just wants to play in the historical setting(s).

The locations and characters are well drawn, this could have been a car crash but the writing holds it all together.

For such a strange concept you'd have expected a more divisive set of reviews, the fact that they are mainly positive tells you something.'


I knew what Assassins Creed was but knew little about it, so I should thank him because I then used it in my advertising. He is also correct in that the work is very unusual, a little eccentric in fact, so it is wonderful that so many people love it and tell me so.


Consider your genre and your audience demographic. I used KDP select once, and it is the only time I had a trend of poor reviews. Why? I was trying to sell a book that was specifically Tudor historical fiction and which was (hopefully) quite humorous. People who didn’t like the genre or didn’t even understand it just wanted to attack it. I haven’t made that mistake since. I found my audience and even though I would like to expand it, I would do it carefully now.


Then I spent a day thinking, ‘why would people hate my book?’ Guess what? There are many reasons. There isn’t much sex and violence, although there are some romances. The stories reflect my values. There’s a lot of stuff about forgiveness and putting other people first. One of my main characters is autistic, and another has cerebral palsy and one of my heroes is a Portuguese ex-slave Black boy. And because I’m writing about the mid-16th century, I cannot avoid talking about God and religion. For some people, there’s a lot to hate in those last few sentences and for me to accept it meant that I had to be a lot smarter at reaching people who would read and enjoy it.


How on earth do you get people to read an entire book? I just do not know. My background is largely academic, and I know already that there are people within the ASPA community who are the same and will know that when we teach students of all ages to write reviews, we ask them to give a broad and balanced appraisal of a piece of work once they have studied and read it. This has nothing in common with what happens on Amazon, and I’ve told them so. Many authors protest annually (because they gave you the opportunity to do so) about this, but they still do not seem to listen. Why someone who says, ‘I gave up after two pages' is allowed to review a book, I just cannot fathom. When I last wrote to Amazon I told them that there is not distinction at their end from selling plastic spoons to selling 'Moby Dick.'


However, you can challenge Amazon and some of your reviews. Here are the rules about reviews and if any are broken, then you must do something about it. I have a few of those, although I just don’t seem to have got around to it, but I will do.



I will comment on only one of those but will not elaborate: watch out for competitors!


If you are quite new to self-publishing and if anyone by any means tempts you to buy reviews (and that means any exchange - like giving a book or anything else in return for a review) please avoid it. Amazon will close your account if they are suspicious that you are doing this.

They are also unlikely to publish a review from someone who may be related to you or who lives nearby.


What do you do if you get a bad review?

Don’t respond. It isn’t worth it. Some of you already know that Lee and I offer some paid services on another platform. In one video there, I show some examples of where writers have got into tussles with reviewers. Some have got into quite disgraceful arguments with reviewers. The one I’m thinking of in particular embarrasses the writer and it would have definitely affected her sales. Stick to Amazon rules (and the law of your country) and if they are broken, do something about it.


Already, I believe we have a cohort of sympathetic character on ASPA and we are very happy about it. Please adopt a role whereby you are encouraging others and hopefully they should do the same in return. We get enough criticism outside of the community.


I hope you have found this useful. I would really welcome any of your comments regarding your experience of reviews below simply because it helps us all deal with them better.

Thank you.

Rob.

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4 Comments


Great read Rob, and completely agree with everything you've said. Before I self-published I sent a lot of manuscripts to publishers who went from not replying, to constructive criticism to out and out just saying No, which was initially soul destroying. Once I got in my head that they best reviewers were actually reviews that gave constructive advice to improve my writing and that I could use this to my benefit going forward my mindset changed. Then when Amazon Reviews started appearing I thought I could use them the same way, rather than them being a "thumb up" or indeed a "thumb down" I took it as advice rather than a review as such. Like you said, it's all subjective…

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Rob Jones
Rob Jones
Mar 14
Replying to

Great advice Jez 📕👍🏻

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There are some negative reviews that -can- be instructive. It may take a while for this to surface, but it is possible. Discovering this means as writers we learn which negative reviews give us positive indicators, as apposed to those that say more about the reviewer than the book they are commenting on. Negative reviews hurt, but if your go searching you may find that nugget of information that will help in your future writing.

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Good advice! Fragile egos abound, but that's not really the crux of the matter; the crux is that we all want to be affirmed for a job well done, sometimes even when it isn't truly well done. However you slice it, The Bible IS a good book. In fact, it's THE Good Book. But there will always be someone out there for whom The Bible isn't their cup of tea. As a society we are SO much more prone to scream and holler about something we hate than gently compliment something we love. We'll rail before we revere. Don't take it personally. What I've learned is that someone's endorsement of you or your product - or lack thereo…

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