If you are a writer, you will nod your head understandingly when I say that his or her newly-published book is to an author what a new baby is to a mother who has just given birth. It is the love of your life, the apple of your eye, the last thing you think about before you close your eyes each night and the first thing you think about in the morning before you even hit the toilet. When you hold the very first copy of the first edition in your hands, you cannot stop stroking it reverently and gazing at it lovingly for days at a time.
People generally know better than to diss a new mother’s baby. That is why all babies, across the board, are beautiful and gorgeous and stinking cute. To suggest otherwise is a sure way to get yourself ostracized from regular society. (Although these days the norms of what’s acceptable in regular society seem to have shifted dramatically, so who knows anymore?)
Books, on the other hand, are not treated as favorably as new babies. From the moment you put a book out there for the rest of the world to see, you invite critique. In fact, you welcome it. For your book to go anywhere, you need critics who will assess it. Have you ever bought anything on Amazon? Then you’ll know that no one will buy your product if it doesn’t have at least a few reviews.
If you’re not a total pariah, getting a few favorable reviews out of the gate shouldn’t be too hard. That’s what friends are for, plus your mother and perhaps your aunt Elspeth.
If you’re lucky (and if, let’s face it, you’ve done your homework and secured yourself a good editor who has saved you from the gravest mistakes), a few months down the road when your book has started selling to a wider circle of people, you might reach another happy milestone: How exciting to get your first review from a complete stranger! It’s like when your baby first claps her hands or calls you “dada.” Even better, you might even receive fan mail. What a joyful moment!
But inevitably, the wider you cast the net, the likelier becomes what every author abhors: That dreaded first 1-star Amazon review. Ouch! Somebody hated my book enough to take the time to tell the world, in more or less detail, how truly horrible it is and what an utter hardship it was to read it from beginning to end.
The reason that first bad review is so devastating is that up to that point you’ve been eagerly anticipating and dissecting every new review that came trickling in. It’s like a physical blow when you see such hurtful words invade your previously happy world of new-book bliss. You want to crawl into a hole and never come out again.
But fast-forward into the future, and the world looks entirely different. Book reviews are like the proverbial watched kettle that will never boil. They don’t seem to come in fast enough. Days, weeks, sometimes entire months go by without a single new one. Especially if the last one was a not-so-favorable one, this is painful, because that bad one sits right there at the top for everyone else to see!
What to do?
Here is what I did, inadvertently. I had been busy and hadn’t paid attention to my books for many months. I had other things going on in my life. But this month my book sales have been so good (for no reason I can discern) that I felt compelled to check out my Amazon book page. Lo and behold, there were 87 reviews, and I realized I hadn’t read a single one since a year ago, when I had maybe 40 reviews. It was great fun reading so many new 5-star reviews and learn why these people loved my book. Here are just a few examples:
“I love travel memoirs. I love being able to visit places vicariously. But, I especially love it when the author makes the trip funny, inspiring, and can write in a way the reader feels every ache, every joy, feel the atmosphere, and remember this trip as if it was their own. Well done!”
This reader paid close attention, given the title of the review (“A Garden Trowel takes on new meaning.” My Garden Trowel chapter is one of my favorites, and it’s nice to see that a reader picked up on the term.)
And this next one makes me feel especially good, since making things appear “less scary” has been the motivation for most of my writing:
“Fun to read and informative. Makes me look forward to my climb but with reservations as well. Funny at times and insightful. Excellent book for upcoming climbers and those looking for adventure. Second book that I have read on climbing Kilo. This one makes the trip just as hard but not nearly as scary.”
I can highly recommend the exercise of letting your book go dormant for some time – while you pursue other things, one of which could be writing book #2. You will feel that much better when you return to find a barrage of lovely new reviews you had no idea existed.
And now, be a nice person. Go to www.amazon.com and write a review for the last book you finished. I don’t care which book it is. I don’t even care if you particularly loved it. Reviews are great for authors, even the not-so-great ones.
Do it for all of us.