One of the things essential to an author are book reviews. Reviews are essential at each step of the journey, from the editorial process all the way through to marketing. Why are they so important? How do they help authors? Read on to find out.
You’ve probably heard this a lot from other authors but I’m going to say it again: book reviews are essential to authors especially Indie Authors!
At the editorial stage (where you’ve written your book and you’re editing it, or have a professional editor editing it, reviews let you know if:
- there are gaping plot holes
- you’ve forgotten you’ve changed a character’s name half way through
- if there are two characters who continually get confused with each other
- there are scenes that are unsatisfactory for your reader
- you’ve forgotten to wrap a loose end up
- and more
Being the author you live with the story in your head for so long it’s really easy to miss basic things like this for the simple reason you know what’s supposed to be happening.
Anyone read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and then subsequently see the movie? It wasn’t until the third time I watched the film I realised, if you haven’t read the book first, the scene where Neville gives Harry gillyweed doesn’t make sense. Because I knew what happened in the book, my mind glossed over the details and filled in the blanks. It’s the same for your book. That’s why, hard as it is, you need to let other people see it before you release it to the public. Depending on what you pay/ask your editor for they might not tell you these things. If you’ve paid strictly for line editing (making sure grammar, punctuation etc is right) they probably won’t tell you what else is wrong with your story.
The most common answer to this is BETA readers. Beta readers ideally read the story for you and give you feedback from a reader’s point of view. Sometimes you can find BETA readers by farming your work out to friends and family who like to read, although their feedback can be skewed because they don’t want to hurt your feelings (no matter how much you ask them to be brutally honest). Some editors offer BETA reading services (like I do) where you pay someone who should know your genre inside out to give you professional advice. They can be expensive but in this scenario the BETA reader should know what their talking about, know how your book would sit in the existing body of works for the genre, and be able to tell you if it will meet reader expectations.
Not meeting reader expectations can cost you dearly. For example, if you write Romance and you don’t give your characters a HEA (Happily Ever After) you’ll have trouble finding yourself a fanbase. Romance readers want a happily ever after, and if you do not provide, they will not buy.
I have few friends who are avid readers, and I found asking my friends got a little bit of feedback back, but often times they didn’t actually read the free copies I sent them, or they didn’t read them within the given time frame (I usually give about 3 weeks because I know not everyone reads as fast as I do, and you know, life happens) and so the feedback wasn’t useful when publishing to a schedule (and really you need to be publishing to a schedule).
To try and get around this I decided to create an ARC group on Facebook. It was very nerve wracking because part of the plan was to let random strangers read my books for free 0_0!
Sidenote: all author’s especially new author’s are (I’ve found) terrified that if they give people copies of their book prior to publishing, someone will steal it and publish it themselves, and while this is technically possible it’s pretty much unheard of. Russell Nohelty assured me this is a very beginner author fear and it’s just not going to happen. So, if you just read that and felt your heart clench at the idea of giving your unpublished book to a random stranger you are not alone.
I decided to trust Russell, because he’s much more successful than I am, and an industry leader. I created the ARC group and invited the people already BETA reading for me to it. I also sent out a call to action to my newsletter subscribers (because people who are already interested in your book love being offered free stuff) figuring if some of them are reading my books they might jump at the chance to read future books for free. The ARC group is now growing and some of my upcoming books have already been downloaded.
If you’re following along thinking What’s an ARC group? ARC is author speak for Advanced Reader Copy. What it means for the reader is they get a free (ARC) copy of a book in exchange for honest feedback. This is before it has been released for purchase. I believe ARC copies are also called Trade copies. Trade copies are generally sent out to retailers from traditional publishing houses to entice shop owners to stock the title. Technically speaking ARC and BETA are different stages of the cycle, but I had to merge them for my purposes. Traditional publishing will have different groups for BETA and ARC reading, if my understanding of Trad publishing is accurate.
So far the group’s only a few weeks old so I’m monitoring it to see how it goes. Even though I’m trusting Russell, in order to feel a bit more protected I’ve added additional safety measures to my books. All of my free books are now routed through BookFunnel (more about that in a future article). This means they can only be downloaded as non-editable PDF, MOBI, or EPUB files. It also means you can read them on Kindle or Kobo. A lot of my BETA readers complained about being expected to read it at a computer when they’d prefer to read off their tablet in a familiar format. It also makes the ARC look more professional. It also saves me work in the long run because I can make the changes I need to make after feedback and it’s already in the right format for being uploaded to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). There are also group rules for the group that you have to agree to before you can be added to the group. Agreeing to leaving feedback directly to me, and a review on Amazon or Goodreads after the book has gone live, is one of those conditions.
Why is leaving a review at the retailer or Goodreads a condition? Because reviews after the book has been published are just as important as during the developmental stage. Buyers are more likely to buy a book with reviews as well as ratings. Also, buyers don’t trust only good reviews (they have a tendency to believe the author has had their friends review it for them and are therefore mistrustful the reviews are genuine), which is why I always ask for honest reviews. I don’t really care if you hate my book but please just leave an honest review. Of course I hope you love my books, but no book is going to please everyone. Another reason reviews are important are Amazon algorithms are set so the more reviews you have the more Amazon shows your product. You know that bar at the bottom of the page that says “other people bought this as well”? You need reviews for them to add your book to that section. Reviews also impact on Amazon including your title in their newsletters and more.
If you are a newbie Indie Author I highly recommend creating an ARC group. There are lots of Indie Books out there that could use more development/editing and BETA/ARC readers are important for that kind of feedback. I used Facebook to facilitate my group but there are many ways you could organise your group.
If you’re reading this and thinking “I want to read her books for free” here is a link to my ARC group where you can currently get The Lady of Zion and The Horn of Gabriel for free. This is a limited time offer though, titles available will change as I publish more books.