Shane Keene is a one of those cool people the Internet wafts your way every once in awhile. I’ve been lucky enough to meet more than my fair share of people like Shane–Dale Elster, David W. Spell, Rich Duncan to name a few. People that are huge genre readers, smart, and avid supporters of writers like me. To say that’s appreciated is, perhaps, an understatement. Shane’s started a new review site, Shotgun Logic, and you should definitely go there and subscribe and see what Shane is reading and what he recommends. Oh, and Shane’s a fine Irishman, too. Just thought I’d point that out.
I wrote a little ditty for Shane’s site, and I wanted to give him the opportunity to say a few things here, to my six readers, and he took me up on the offer. Let me just say that what Shane has chosen to write about is a subject near and dear to my heart, as it is–and should be–to the withered little heart of anyone who writes as a career.
Reader Feedback in the Digital Age
Last week John came over to my blog and wrote a very insightful and expertly written article about short form horror fiction. I’m happy to say that John’s piece was very helpful for my blog and very useful to all three of my followers. Within a day it became the most visited post on my blog to date and gained me some new followers, both to my blog and to my Twitter accounts and Facebook page. So I’d like to take an opportunity to say thanks for that to John and to encourage you, his readers to go check out his excellent article.
In addition to so graciously supporting my blog, John also invited me to use his space to blabber at you for a bit, and pretty much gave me carte blanche as far as subject matter is concerned. It’s a gutsy and questionable decision on John’s part, but I’ll be good and color within the lines for a change. Instead of using this opportunity to take over the world, I’d like to talk about a subject that is dear to me and the reason I started my review blog in the first place: the importance of reader feedback in the modern world.
Competition is fierce and abundant in the digital everything age. Self-publishing is easier than it’s ever been and every wanna-be author in the world has the internet at their fingertips. Because of this it has become increasingly difficult for readers to find new and quality reading material, and even more difficult for authors to get their work noticed. But the reader and author both can take steps to greatly improve the ease of the process.
I talk to a lot of people about reading on a daily basis, and I mention reader feedback in those conversations quite often. The most common responses I get to this are, “Nobody will care what I think”, or, “No-one reads those reviews anyway”, and one other, “I’m not a good enough writer to write a review.” I can tell you from experience and from conversations I’ve had that none of those statements is even remotely close to the truth. As an example, here’s my process for choosing a book: A) Look at the number of star ratings a book has—on Amazon or Goodreads— and the average number of stars per rating, B) Read the book synopsis, and C) If I’m still unsure, page down and read what other readers have to say about the work. When I do this, I’m looking for what they think, not how well they can write. If I’m still unsure at that point—a rare occurrence—I’ll go look at what the more mainstream review outlets have to say.
The process I just described is pretty common among readers so, just from that example it’s easy to see how important feedback can be. And feedback can take a multitude of forms, the most effective being reviews on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. In addition, providing a brief link to those reviews on your Facebook and Twitter accounts–if you have them–to let your friends and followers know what you thought. In doing so you’re doing your friends a service by informing them of good books they might enjoy, and you’re doing the author/publisher a huge service by drawing attention to their work.
And something important to consider about what I just said, or rather, didn’t say: you don’t have to leave a positive review for something you didn’t like. Just leave an honest review that tells why you did or didn’t like a particular book. It doesn’t have to be long or deeply involved. Just slap a few lines up if that’s all you want to do. It only takes a few minutes and it will help immensely in keeping your favorite authors, editors, and publishers in business so they can keep producing the books you love.
As far as authors go, while there is very little they can do—beyond writing good stories—to increase the amount of feedback they receive for their work, there are a few things that can have an impact. Since beginning my blog, my experiences with the authors I interact with have been largely positive. Most of them are really good people. But there have been a few exceptions. In one case I had an author tell me that he could care less if I reviewed his book. It seems obvious to me that that is a bad idea. Even though I am a fan of that writer, I am unlikely to read his work again, much less review it. Another thing I’ve observed more often than I’d expect. A lot of writers take an ‘I don’t read reviews of my work’ approach. While I understand the impulse, there are a number of reasons why this is a bad way to go. First, it serves to shelter the author from potentially useful critical feedback that might help them improve their writing and increase readership. In addition, they run the risk of alienating loyal readers and reviewers, thereby reducing the number of reviews and ratings they get going forward and decreasing the percentage of new fans who depend on star ratings and reader feedback to make purchasing decisions.
Well. This has gotten much longer than I’d planned, so I’m going to take a breath and leave you with this: Authors, be kind to your reviewers and take care of them. Sure, some of them are assholes, but the majority of them mean well and they’re the ones who’ll make or break you. And readers, take care of those authors you love. It’s your feedback that keeps them in business and encourages them to keep writing the books you can’t live without. So if you love it, talk about it on social media and take a minute to leave a quick rating/review of it.