Blogs, Author Platforms, and Connecting (pt 12)

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One of the easiest ways to get your name out and about is to review what you read.  It does not matter if you’re an author, blogger, writer (someone who has no desire to publish for profit, but wishes to share their written work), or any other creative type.  If you enjoy reading, writing, or movies, and you are struggling to develop name recognition, I’ll stand by my opinion:  reviewing is an easy way to get your name out there.

As authors, reviewing also has a second important part to play – it helps develop your platform.

Don’t go squawking to the rafters yet.  I’m not going to get into HOW to write reviews.  Rather, I’ll be discussing why you should write reviews, and how you should handle reviews you receive.  Well, OK, I do have a few pointers on the first issue, but they are very generic, and brief.

How to write a review

  • Be fair and honest.  Sugar coating the bad, or tearing down the good does no one any favors.  Both are detrimental to your platform through reducing your credibility, and neither help the author you are reviewing for.
  • If you don’t like something – note why you don’t like it.  Don’t make it a personal attack on the author, just state the facts.  Others may disagree with you, or you may disagree with some of the other reviews – especially if there are already several that have been posted.  If you keep it professional, you increase your credibility which will enhance your platform.
  • If you like something – note why you like it.  Same thing as with the above point – stick to the facts and don’t make it personal.

Reviews are one of the topics I have seen most often in my news feed.  Either authors begging for reviews, or flaming/trolling the bad ones.  Neither approach helps the author build a credible platform.  In fact, it can hurt a platform more than being rude, or almost any other social gaff.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t politely ask for reviews – if you don’t ask, sometimes people don’t remember to leave one.

There are a myriad of posts and books on how to ask for reviews.  I can point you at a couple if you wish, but I’ll not be getting into that subject.  I would just be trying to reinvent the wheel – boring for you, and miserable for me.  So, let’s skip to the next part of the review process, shall we?

Why you should write reviews

As I said up front – it’s an easy way to get your name out in a way that can help enhance your overall platform.  Here’s why:

  • If you’re writing honest reviews, then people will come to trust you; especially if they agree with your point of view.
  • It’s an easy source of content for your blog, Facebook page, or twitter feed.  Even if it’s a simple “I loved it, and recommend for…” type post, you have another piece you can reuse in the future.
  • It shows people a little more of who you are – both as a person, but also as a writer.  If you are trying to write a sci-fi comedy, but all you review are light romancees – your following may not trust that you can write the sci-fi side of the story well.  However, if you review comedies, romances, and science fiction your following will develop the trust in your ability to write a good blend of sci-fi romance and comedy.  Even if you wind up not using one of the genres you read in some stories, the fact that you regularly review in that genre shows you have an idea of what that genre should have.
  • Reviews mean you’ve read the books/articles, or watch the movies.  (At least, honest reviews do.)  This will be reflected in the way you write.  It is possible to write in a genre you do not read; it’s just more difficult.  Some genres, like dark fantasy, you may not need to read if you read works in related genres, such as horror/thrillers and high fantasy for our example.  Posting reviews for your work can do wonders to enhance the level of trust potential readers will put into your work.
  • Reviews are public.  One of the biggest reasons to build your platform is for name and/or brand recognition.  Every time you post a review to Goodreads, Amazon, your blog, or any review site, your name is published right along side.  Every time someone reads the reviews (especially if yours winds up one of the top reviews that’s most frequently displayed) that means your name is seen by those folks.  Talk about a massive amount of free name/brand advertising!  Even if you name winds up down the list a bit, there’s still quite a few people who read reviews before they make a decision, so you still get more potential exposure than if you hadn’t written the review in the first place.
  • It shows a level of professionalism that is respected.  It also shows respect for your fellow authors.  If you’re in the small press or independently published market, you know how much those reviews mean.  For many, a single review can make or break their chance to get featured with some of the biggest name advertisers.  For the rest – those reviews (good and bad) are a Godsend.  It means someone actually is reading our work.  This can be a make it or break it point for someone teetering on the edge of giving up, or forging on.  Some authors give up anyway, because of a critical review or because they have no hope of digging out of the abyss that is the lot of a new author.  However, honest authors will weather the internal storm, learn from the reviews, and keep going.

Handling Reviews That Come

First, foremost, and most important: NOT EVERY BOOK IS GOING TO PLEASE EVERY READER!  Get that through your head now.  Even my own work, which has extremely strong ratings and rave reviews will find it’s detractors some day.  (Is that going to sting?  Oh, by will it ever when the day comes.)  So, how should you handle the reviews you receive?

  • Many would advise you to not read reviews at all.  I happen to disagree with that.  I say read them all – the good and the no-so-good.  This gives you a marker to use as you continue on your writer’s journey to see the improvements you have made.  The good ones can inspire you to even higher levels of achievement, and the not-so-good ones can help you locate areas that you really need to work on.
  • Read the good reviews, but don’t let them go to your head (too much.)  Let them lift you, and provide inspiration to keep going.  Pick them apart if you can for specific details – do they focus on how wonderful your world building is?  Do they focus on how well you created your characters?  Is there a theme about how well done your dialog is?  Use that – those are your strengths, and your readers will respond to them.
  • Read the bad reviews – yes, they’re going to hurt like someone rubbing salt into an open wound.  Take a few days for the sting to wear off, and go back and read them again.  Look for themes in the reviews, not at the ratings or the fact that someone didn’t like your book.  Those themes are areas that you may want to go back and evaluate.  If the reviews hammer you on your editing, and you know you paid an editor to go over your manuscript before it published – bring up the issues with your editor.  If you self-edited, then seek help in doing another editing pass.  Do the reviews have a theme about unbelievable, unlikable, implausible characters or situations that are supposed to be explained?  If so – go back over the book again.  Remember – you live with your book all the time, and so you know what is going on.  Your readers don’t – they are not as intimately involved with your work.
  • Read the reviews in between – you’re looking for the same things:  themes about what readers did or did not like, things that readers felt did or did not work.
  • Once you have read the reviews, and gotten through the initial knee-jerk reaction, you may wish to leave a question or comment for a reviewer to clarify a point.  This is NOT an attack, or a response to the review itself, it is only to clarify a specific point.  An example of this:  for my first book, “Out of the Darkness” one of my reviewers commented about wishing there had been more explanation for the syntax of the main character.  I do have a link to an end note that explains the pattern, plus I tried to ensure there was enough surrounding dialogue to decipher the syntax at first so readers could grasp the pattern.  For that review, I left a comment regarding if the reader had seen the marking, or if I should make it bigger.  That is all you, as the author, so ever do for a review.
  • Never, never, NEVER respond to a review on the review site.  (The only exception is the one right above this point.)  It does not matter if the review is a raving positive review, or an abysmal undeserved negative review.  Do not respond!  However, on your social media platforms – share, share, share those positive reviews.  Anything three star or better should be shared.   Before you start squawking, bear with me about the three-star cut off.Most sites use a five-star system.  Three is an average, and while it’s not outstanding, many of the most critical reviews are going to fall into this range.  Sharing the critical reviews can help strengthen your platform – it shows potential readers that you are comfortable what you published is the best you can make it, it also shows that you will not descend on reviewers like all the furies in the lowest pits if they are honest.  I know most paid advertisers require a certain number of five-star reviews, however many of those rave reviews wind up being vapors of delight without any real substance to them.  (If you get someone who can write a content laden review who also gives you a five-star rating jump for joy.  Those are hard to come by.)  That’s why I say share the three-star reviews and above.  However, BRAG about the number of five-star reviews you’ve received once you crawl over about ten or so.  That will generate interest and buzz about your work.
  • Never, never, NEVER attack a reviewer who left a lousy review.  If the review is obviously irrelevant to your book, follow the review site’s policies to get it taken down.  (An example:  “This book was a pile of crap.  The boy never had to try to win the girl, and is totally unbelievable.” for a horror story that has no romantic element.  Feel free to contest that one through the review site’s review removal process.)  If the review is a personal attack – and I mean they name you specifically to call you all kinds of names – use the review site’s process to have the review modified or removed.  (I mention modified, because it may be possible to remove the personal attack without removing the entire review if there is a large enough section in the review about the book.  Most, however would choose to remove the entire review.)Sure, you can mention that you’d gotten a lousy review on your social media.  However, keep it professional, and do NOT mention names, or which book it is on.  Do your best to keep the reviewer anonymous.  This is a little harder to do if you only have a few books out, but it is still possible if you are creative.  Do NOT call out the reviewer, or ask any of your friends to down vote their review.  It will sink in time on its own.  In the mean time, readers who see it will quite often ignore it once they realize it is a personal attack on the author, or is irrelevant to the book.  When you ignore it as well, this shows potential readers, and your followers that you are a professional, and once again builds faith and trust that they can leave honest reviews.  This helps out not only your own platforms, but other authors as well.

I seem to have wandered into long-winded territory again, and so I’m going to sign off for now.  Next week, I’ll discuss street teams and how they can benefit an author platform.  In the mean time, if you have any questions or comments regarding reviews and how they can influence an author’s presence, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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