Got Plot? Got cover? Get reviews!

By Janet Lane

E-books need public shows of affection

You’ve written the perfect story, and you’ve led your book through a series of hoops – careful revisions, professional editing, a web site, a blog, and a beautiful new cover, complete with book descriptions for the on-line retailers.

Now it’s time to get really brave, and get reviews. Ah, reviews. We love ‘em when they’re good, and hate ‘em when they’re bad, but to effectively market your literary e-babies, they’re as vital as an enticing book description.

So in what rivers can you fish for reviews? I started collecting my reviews by asking my critique partners if they would help me out by reviewing my books when they were first released by Five Star Publishing. Later, my publisher cancelled its Expressions Medieval line, under which my novels were published. Overnight I became an orphan author, and suddenly these early reviews became critical to my new role as epublisher. Even if one publishes traditionally, nothing is certain, and those early reviews of your traditionally published book can (unless you substantially change your novel), carry over to your ebook.

Perhaps you’ve heard some horror stories about Amazon yanking reviews. It can happen. Some authors have visited their Kindle pages, only to learn that some or all of their great reviews are gone. Little can be substantiated, but stories abound that Amazon may pull reviews from published authors . In another incident, a review was pulled from an author’s page because Amazon discovered that there was a close relationship between the author and the reviewer. When pressed for an explanation, it was noted that the reviewer had placed an order with Amazon for products other than books, and the order delivered to the author’s address. This, it was explained, would affect the objectivity of the review.

Other denied review stories include writing a review without a verified purchase, or submitting more than one review from more than one reviewer on the same computer.

Amazon is not the bad guy here. All these stories are examples of Amazon’s attempts to retain the integrity of the book reviews. Simply put, they don’t want your mom – along with any other relatives she can recruit – clogging up their pages with biased reviews.

So here are my suggestions on how to get the dozens of reviews your book will need to get noticed:

1. Ask for reviews in your ebook, in the back matter.

2. Don’t ask for five-star reviews, or ask readers to give you a good review, even if they don’t like the book.

3. Don’t pester your critique partners! If they haven’t responded to your request that they review your book, it could mean they don’t like your book enough to publicly lie about it. Or they might not have the time. Or maybe YOU didn’t respond to THEIR request for a review. Or, even if you have written a strong review for their book, they still might not reciprocate. Don’t strain a great friendship with this issue.

4. Look into review services. I used Choosy Bookworms, and their review process is excellent. I’ve heard horror stories about some review services, so be sure to post a question about a potential review service on RMFW’s yahoogroups site to learn more before you commit.

5. Once you have solicited a review, be civilized. If a review doesn’t materialize and get posted, accept it. (See #3). If the review is negative, wait three days before reacting in ANY way, especially in writing. And if it’s negative, still send a note of thanks to the reviewer, and milk the review for all it can be worth. Are there valid points made among the criticisms? If it’s scathing and deliberately hurtful, lick your wounds and turn to your critique partners for support, so you heal more swiftly. After all, even negative reviews stir interest in a book. And remember, even Stephen King gets negative reviews.

Why all the fuss for reviews? They can become a strong marketing tool. With a hefty collection of reviews, your book has a good chance of being accepted on the bargain-book offerings of such valuable outlets as Book Bub, E-Reader News Today and Book Sends.

Good luck! May you never receive a 1- or 2-star review, and may you enjoy great book sales!

Coming to Terms with Book Reviews

Sexy Games by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is the cover for the Italian translation of my erotic romance, Going Under. I love it so hard.

A girl never forgets her first translation. :-)

A little known fact about me (I think) is that I spent many years studying martial arts - primarily Chinese internal styles. I still practice some of the arts on my own, but no longer study with a school. It was a valuable experience on many levels and most recently fun to play with as I created a martial system for my warrior heroine, Ursula, in my upcoming release (May 26), The Talon of the Hawk. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe KennedyWith Ursula on my mind - particularly as I'm starting the fourth book in that series - I've mulling over the metaphor of knife-throwing.

Yes, I learned how to throw knives as part of the training I did, including a shuriken, which I confess I keep on my desk and have a tendency to toy with on annoying conference calls. One thing my teacher said about knife-throwing is that it's important to learn to enjoy the moments you DON'T stick the knife in the target as much as the moments you DO.

Counter-intuitive, yes?

Now, my teacher got any number of things warped and wrong (don't get me started), but I think he had something there. A lesson I've yet to fully internalize. See, it's very easy to get focused on success. Learning to throw knives can be an exercise in frustration - all those times the knives miss the target, barely stick and fall away or, the worst, bang loudly and ignominiously flat before bouncing off. When you manage to get it right and *really* stick the point deep in the wood, it's... satisfying. Even thrilling.

But my teacher's point is along the lines of the journey being the valuable lesson, not the destination. Viewed that way, it's irrelevant whether the knife sticks, because it's the process of throwing that's important.

I think about this - especially lately - when one of my books gets a less than five-star review. And yes, I confess I'm one of THOSE people who see anything less than five-stars as not-quite-good enough. It's the grade that's not an A. It's the room for improvement. It's the knife that kinda sticks but then falls away.

A five-star review, in contrast, feels as thrilling as the perfect throw with the point buried solidly deep. Every time.

And yet... I *know* I shouldn't feel this way. In my heart I know that the reviews and ratings are just part of the destination, that it's the writing, the journey that truly matters. Most of the time this works for me - diverting myself back into the work, focusing on the writing and what it means to me, where it takes me. In fact, that this is on my mind at all right now is likely a product of having been between books for too long. I need to get Book 4 of The Twelve Kingdoms started. In a big way.

At any rate, I suppose this is my particular room for improvement. One of the many ways I need to grow and learn. I understand in my head that not everyone will LOVE my books, but I have a ways to travel to embrace the miss in my heart as much as the hit.

Time to throw some more knives.

Critical Questions with Sandra Dallas

Sandra DallasIt's no great secret that next to advances and royalty checks, book reviews are an author's best friend. But getting reviews are hard to come by, and no guarantee of success. Just ask Sandra Dallas, current columnist and book critic for fifty years with the Denver Post, and who is also a successful author.

"I don't know how many books are published a year. Isn't the figure around 400,000?" she said in a recent interview. "It's a huge volume. You may run two to four reviews a week. What then are the chances of getting a book reviewed? It's very discouraging for authors."

And from the reviewer's perspective life isn't any easier. "Reviewing is a sideline," said Sandra. "The Post stopped paying last year, and they never paid much anyway. It's not keeping bread on the table. National reviewers are paid more, but local papers don't."


On the bright side, Sandra said that the Post has a new editor for it's book section; one reason Denver authors should consider themselves lucky. Many papers have done away with this section entirely. And the new editor has hinted at more articles about authors.

Also, with more blogs on the Internet focusing on book reviews there may be opportunities for writing reviews of your own to build a great reputation and add another plank to your author platform.

If you do want to write reviews for public consumption, here are some thoughts Sandra shared about the process:


"When I started out, I was told by Stanton Peckham (the Post's book editor at the time), 'If a book isn't very good, don't review it,'" said Sandra. "'Why give space to a book that isn't very good, when there are so many good books out there?' You review only the books you think are worthwhile. And keep your reader in mind. Your loyalty is not to the author. Your loyalty is to the reader."

Sandra spoke about new critics and their biggest challenges. "You can tell a novice reviewer by a couple of things. Number one, they love to point out errors. They will take a date that's a year off and make a big deal out of it. And then they love to be clever and to be critical. And they love to write negative reviews. You see a lot of this in blogs. I think usually they're trying to be clever at the author's expense."

She said that one time a book review blogger just creamed one of Sandra's books, and then closed by saying that she would review War and Peace in next week's blog. There was a chuckle to go with this thought.


First, you should love reading. Really love it. As Sandra's sister says, "Hell for us (readers) is being someplace without a book."

Then, when Sandra does a review, she says she usually keeps a paper or the book's press release in the book and jots down notes and page numbers as she goes. This is because she rarely keeps a book she's been given to review, so she doesn't like to mark them up before giving them away. Occasionally, with an ARC, she'll underline texts she wants to use.

"I look for interesting things—for catchy phrases—for summations of the book," said Sandra. "But your job is not to please the author or to promote the book. Your job is to tell readers about the book." She noted with another light laugh that some authors who practically beg to have their book reviewed will often focus in on the one negative she might point out at the end of a review and give her a hard time for that, forgetting that having a generally positive review is rare and valuable.


Sandra didn't start life as a book critic or author. From journalism school at the University of Denver, she joined the staff of Business Week Magazine, a true thought leader in its heyday, and still a strong voice in business as a member of the Bloomberg Press conglomerate of business news sources. She became the first woman bureau chief and covered the Rocky Mountain Region on a wide variety of subjects, "not just business, but about issues that business people needed to know."

Then, about 25 years ago, she turned to fiction. "It was kind of a fluke," she said. "I had never intended to write fiction. I didn't even read fiction. And I just sort of fell into it, and I love writing it. You know that old line about someone asking you 'do you like writing?" And the answer is 'no, but I like having written.' Well, I actually like sitting down and the writing process of seeing what happens with fiction. I really enjoy it."

Today, Sandra Dallas has thirteen novels and ten non-fiction books published.


This fall she has two new books coming out. The first is targeted toward children readers between ages ten and twelve. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky comes out in September, and A Quilt For Christmas, and adult novel will appear shortly after.

"My last novel was called Fallen Woman, which was about the murder of a prostitute in Denver in 1885," said Sandra. "I originally called it Holiday Street, because that was Market Street's original name, and this was the red light district. So my agent said, 'You have to change the title because your readers are going to think this is a Christmas book.' And then she said, 'Why don't you write a Christmas book? Why don't you write a Christmas quilt book?' And so that was the origin of this book.

So now it's your turn. Do you have favorite book critics you like to read? How do you think their review process works? Are  you a reviewer? Please add to the conversation and let us know how you judge a book.