It goes without saying that reviews are important. But hang on ... does that statement truly “go without saying”? Have the reading public any real idea what a difference a good review makes? I am not just talking about sales figures. And anyway, it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy that books with a lot of reviews will have better sales than those with only a few. What we know for sure is that the author with 150 reviews for a particular title, has probably already sold getting on for that number. And the author with only 10....? Well, you can do the math, as they say.
Of course it’s not as simple a calculation as it looks. Perhaps you need to analyse the type of book. Is a more escapist story read by people who are more likely to leave stars and reviews? And is the more challenging story read and enjoyed by those who are less likely to leave comments and enthuse?
Is one author very proficient at promoting herself, making friends, and optimising every social media channel? While the other is less comfortable with that side of things, and is probably allowing opportunities to gain visibility slip past her.
Does one author give away hundreds of review copies, while the other doesn’t even like asking for a review.
All this sounds like special pleading. To be brutally honest it probably is. An author who believes in what she’s written, has to rationalise why her book, over which (cliché alert) she has sweated blood and tears, hasn’t sold. Why isn't it in the Times Literary Supplement’s top ten, why hasn’t it been longlisted for that prize or received a gazillion 5 star reviews on Amazon? But when I started to write this piece I was not actually thinking about sales or celebrity, money, prizes or public plaudits, I was considering something subtly different.
The true difference a good review makes is to the author’s self-esteem, to the author’s well-being and sense of achievement. It gives her permission to say to herself: “I haven’t been wasting my time. I did create something of value.”
LIFE CLASS was about to be republished, I contacted Anne Williams. I had seen her name on social media and knew she was a prolific book blogger and reviewer. That is all I knew. But I stiffened my resolve and approached her, asking if she’d be interested in featuring me. Anne proved to be a charming and friendly correspondent, and I duly did an interview click here which came out in November. Although I didn’t ask her to, Anne offered to read and review LIFE CLASS. Needless to say, I was delighted.
When Anne's review arrived in my inbox (she allowed me a sight of it before it went live) I was overwhelmed. It actually made my knees go weak. But what I really want to share here is a snippet of our subsequent email conversation.
“I really, really, really loved it,” Anne assured me, as if suspecting I thought she was just being kind. She then went on to say, “I actually desperately wanted to say something about the part where...[deleted!] ...and the wonderfully real bedroom scene that follows, but I didn't want to risk giving away too much of the story - but that was such superb writing!”
The sense that a reader has really 'got' you, is precious. I will treasure “superb writing!” far above any number of five star reviews, for a long long time to come.
But please don't hold back if you feel moved to award LIFE CLASS the aforementioned accolade!