Monday, June 3, 2013

Reviews - Love 'Em or Leave 'Em?

By Beth Groundwater

Do you read book reviews, either professional or amateur? Do you base your reading choices on them? As an author, I probably pay more attention to professional reviews than my friends do who are purely readers. There are some review publications and some particular professional mystery reviewers whose opinions I trust and who influence my reading selections a great deal. However, I also pay attention to what books my in-person reader friends recommend and what books my on-line Goodreads reader friends recommend. For a select few, almost every mystery book they rate 4 or 5 stars goes on my to-read list.

Also as an author, reviews are VERY important to me, because they are an important way for my books to stand out from the crowd of hundreds of thousands of books that are published every year.
With each new release, I wait with bated breath for that first professional review of the book, hoping that it's from one of the big four review publications (Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, or Publishers Weekly), or an equally respected source, and hoping that it's good. And I sweat a little. That's because, much like restaurant reviews, professional book reviews can make or break a new opening or new release. They can eat you for lunch ...

or they can enjoy reading your book so much they can't put it down, even late at night when they really need to go to sleep.

If that magical state happens and they write a good review, that can start the all-important word-of-mouth cycle that gets people reading the book, and if they like it, recommending it to a friend.

And if that friend likes reading it, too, he or she will recommend it to more friends and the fire spreads until soon whole crowds are reading your book. Or, at least that's the hope and dream of all authors I know!

Recently, I've been in this anxious state for my June 8th release, Fatal Descent, the third in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger/rafting guide Mandy Tanner. Instead of the usual setting for the first two books (the upper Arkansas River in Colorado), the murderous action in Fatal Descent takes place on the Colorado River in the remote Utah Canyonlands, specifically Cataract Canyon.The first breath of relief came in April with a review from Publishers Weekly (click on the link for the full text):

"The tension runs high in Groundwater’s absorbing third RM Outdoor Adventures mystery … Scenic descriptions and folklore add atmosphere to a suspenseful tale."

With that review, I could breathe a little sign of relief. The second loosening of tension came with news of a Fatal Descent review in Kirkus Reviews. But then the tension increased a little again when the review turned out to be more lukewarm than blazing hot like the Publishers Weekly one. Here's the pull-quote:

"A late-season rafting trip spells trouble for a river ranger doubling as an adventure tour guide."

Next in May came the first review, along with a 4-star rating, from an amateur reviewer on Fatal Descent's Goodreads page:

 "... Fast-paced, intense read where the personalities of the folks on the trip (and their interactions with one another) and the things Mandy learns about them make for a gripping puzzle. ... Highly recommend, as always!"

By that point, I was feeling pretty darn good. Then, two days ago, I felt like the girl who hits the baseball over the fence for a home run the first time when a very complimentary review of Fatal Descent came out in Library Journal. The book even merited its own sub-heading "River Tales," and who could complain about being compared to Nevada Barr!

"Groundwater’s third entry (after the Left Coast Crime Rocky Award finalist Wicked Eddies) is marked by an outdoorsy intensity and authentic sports chatter sure to resonate with Nevada Barr readers. Her methodical, gentle buildup mirrors the river’s course so that when the characters hit the rapids, life jackets are a must."

I had so much fun researching and writing Fatal Descent, and I hope that readers have as much fun reading it. You can order copies now from your local bookstore or favorite on-line retailer. If you enjoy reading it, I hope you'll tell your friends about it (and ask them to spread the word). If you hang out in Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, DorothyL or some other on-line reading community, I hope you share a review of the book. It's you readers who determine a book's (and ultimately an author's) success or failure!

Please share in the comments whether or not you are influenced by reviews, professional or amateur, and if so, where you read them.


Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't read reviews so much as I read the first chapter on Amazon first. Then I might check out a few reviews, but I go by what I feel reading that chapter. I feel excerpts and first chapters from books are more important than reviews for my personal reading.

Beth Groundwater said...

So, Velda, the reviewer you most trust is yourself! I think that's a perfectly fine way to go, and reading the first few pages of a book can really tell you a lot about the author's voice.

Marja said...

I've read too many reviews where a book was put in a bad light, only to find out I loved the book. So, no, I don't pay too much attention to reviews anymore. Well, I just got a not-too-great review on an old book of mine, and I guess I paid a little attention.

I read some of your earlier work and really enjoyed it, so I'd be inclined to read your newer books.
Marja McGraw

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for the compliment, Marja! Having read and enjoyed an author's previous work is a good indicator that you'll like their newest release. I have a set of authors whose series I follow, and their latest release always goes on my to-read list.

Joanne Guidoccio said...

I read professional reviews in major newspapers and magazines. On Amazon, I may glance at the top review, but usually base my decision on the first few pages of the book. I agree with Velda...excerpts are much more important than reviews.

Beth Groundwater said...

Good to hear from you, Joanne. That means we have two votes now for excerpts versus reviews. What does everyone else think?

Unknown said...

Congrats on the fine reviews and good luck with the release.

cncbooks said...

Well, since I'm a reviewer and not an author, I guess I have a different POV. I review for PW but that's only a drop in my reviewing bucket and I get a ton of requests from authors, hired publicists and publishers (self-pubs, small press and Big 5). I'm certainly not the only reviewer with no shortage of something to read so somebody must believe they're worth something, don't you think?

I could read at least twice as much as I do if I didn't take the time to write reviews and then see that they get posted in a variety of places besides my own blog. The comments here are not the only ones I've seen saying reviews are not of much use. So, am I wasting my time? If readers (and reader authors) don't care what reviews say about anybody's books, why do authors care what's said about their own?

I don't mean to sound argumentative but I can't help wondering if non-professional reviews have become nothing more than notches on an author's belt, just a numbers game. I know there are plenty that are worthless, particularly on Amazon, but what about the ones that are clearly written fairly and with care?

Then again, maybe I'm just being cranky ;-)

Lelia Taylor

cncbooks said...

Beth, I don't mean to be pointing fingers at anybody and certainly not at you since you have a kind view of reviewers ;-)


Kevin R. Tipple said...

This subject comes up frequently on many lists I am on with the same idea expressed that reviews no longer matter. Those of us who take reviewing seriously do get tired of being told what we do does not matter.

Of course, it is always amusing when the author who swears she/he does not care about reviews, does not read them, etc., suddenly requests a review.


Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Nancy, Lelia, and Kevin!

Lelia and Kevin,
I count you both as belonging to that group of mystery reviewers whose opinions I trust. I consider you both to be "professional" reviewers, as opposed to readers who toss off a 1 sentence opinion of a book on Amazon or Goodreads, even though you may not make a living as a reviewer.

And I still pay a great deal of attention to professional reviews, both as an author and a reader!