May 2021: How to Help an Author Eat

Janet Dawson:

Reviews. I’ve had my share. Genuinely great reviews that make me think the reader got it. Those reviews make this writing avocation worthwhile. Then there are the negative reviews. Not a good idea to respond to negative reviews, except in my mind. And from time to time, there are the reviews that make me shake my head.

Several examples. The person who reviewed Kindred Crimes for a local paper and got upset at Jeri Howard’s language. Hey, she’s a medium-boiled private eye. Even my mother doesn’t take me to task for cuss words on the page. Her response: real people talk like that.

And the reader on a list for mystery fiction fans, who liked Don’t Turn Your Back on the Ocean, but felt that I provided way too much detail about commercial fishing operations in Monterey. My reaction (in my mind only, pinkie swear!): If I told you about fishing, it’s because you need to know it later in the book.

Then there was the Publishers Weekly review for one of the Jeri Howard books—I don’t remember which one—that took me to task because Jeri didn’t figure out the solution to the crime until the end of the book. That was a head-shaker because if Jeri had unmasked the killer in the middle of the book, the novel would have been over a lot sooner.

Reviews. Yep, love them and hate them. Take the negative with the positive, goes with the territory.

Still, reviews are important, especially these days when so many people are buying books online. Especially in this era of ebooks. Reviews are like a trail of breadcrumbs leading readers to our books. Reviews lead to book sales.

I write because I love it. I like to tell stories. And I want to get those stories out there so people will read them. Sometimes I wonder if people will find my novels with the great deluge of books being published these days. Reviews and ratings help.

Readers make decisions based on how many reviews there are and how many of those are five stars. That’s why, at the end of The Sacrificial Daughter, I ask readers for a favor—if you enjoyed the book, please considering giving it a review. Even a simple rating is greatly appreciated.

How do we get those reviews? In some cases, it doesn’t occur to readers to leave a review or even a rating. That’s okay, with a rating you don’t have to write anything, just tick off the stars.

I’m a reader as well as a writer. For that reason, I leave reviews on Amazon and BookBub. And I mention books I like on Facebook and recommend them in this newsletter.

D. Z. Church:

Reviews: The Reader’s Responsibility

Booth IslandI would like to suggest that as readers, we have a certain responsibility to leave reviews. Reviews help other readers discover new authors; ones not touted by major publishers but by independent publishers as well. Getting a good book noticed as an independent is almost entirely on the shoulders of the reader. It isn’t hard to leave a review. We don’t have to say anything, just assign a star from 1-5 on Amazon or on the other sites. Of course, to do so on Amazon, you have to have purchased the book in any of the formats available.

Besides helping the book get noticed and sell, reviews help authors in three ways; 1) eat, 2) improve so that your next reading experience is better, and 3) so that an author you enjoy can continue to get published.

Unless a book has ten reviews on Amazon, it is at a disadvantage. So, for authors, ten reviews is a decent but frustrating goal. As publishers and authors, we ask that you take the time to give a book a star rating, if not an actual review.

A Common Scale

The challenge with reviews is that there is no consistent, holistic scale applied. Simply put, your five-star review may not be equivalent to mine. For instance, if you love the read, feel happy when you’re done; that may be a five for you. Others may consider it a three. Nothing is more frustrating for the author than to get a great review and a three-star score, when the review written by another reader would result in five stars. Worse, some readers seem to believe that they have the sensibilities of a New York Times book critic. Here is a hint: we don’t. What we do have is an absolute sense of what we have read and enjoyed.

I spent a good deal of my business career teaching people how to evaluate student creative writing on a holistic scale. Reviewers were trained to apply a set scale consistently. A simple holistic score is easy to apply and considers the overall book, not the one annoying swear word or bit in the book, but your overall reading experience.

As an example:
5 Stars Enjoyed it a lot, could be convinced to love it. A lively entry into the genre.
4 Stars Enjoyed it, had elements that I love and others that seemed too familiar, but a solid entry in the genre.
3 Stars Ahhh, okay, average for the genre.
2 Star Below average for the genre, just left me wanting
1 Star Argh, got lost in a black hole
Another example:
5 Stars Loved it
4 Stars Enjoyed it
3 Stars Okay, not great
2 Star Readable but . . .
1 Star Argh! If I only had a red pencil

The Point

My point is that a shared scale promoted by Amazon and applied validly by all readers would allow readers to fairly compare books, find those we want to read, and not get led down a garden path by sycophants or readers with an elevated opinion of their ability to review. Not having a common review scale supports the continuation of mega-authors with big advertising budgets and faithful fans, not because the books are better, but out of habit and accessibility. Which leaves writers who write far better books in the weeds because Amazon relies almost entirely on reviews to determine who gets the best placement for advertisements, who is featured, what books are listed for readers seeking four-star and above books.

When I finish reading a book, I remind myself to leave a review. Until we have a common scale, I will apply my internal system fairly, knowing that it may help the author succeed and possibly eat.

Recommendations or How You Can Help an Author Eat

If you would be interested in reading one of D.Z. Church’s books or Janet Dawson’s books and leaving a review, please let us know by sending an email to us at .

You can choose any of D.Z. Church’s books. You can find more details at her website. If you’d like to read one of Janet Dawson’s books, you may choose the latest, The Sacrificial Daughter, or any of the first nine books in the Jeri Howard series. Here’s a link to Janet’s website.

Tell us which book and we will send you a redemption link for that book. The redemption counts as a book purchase, which allows you to leave an honest review and you get a free book out of the deal.

Plus, our newest books, Booth Island (a psychological thriller) and Pay Back (Cooper Quartet book 3, dealing with the Fall of Saigon), and The Sacrificial Daughter, first in the new series featuring Kay Dexter, will be available for 99¢ May 7-14. If you choose to buy one, please leave a review. If you send a copy of your reviews to us with your choice of any one of D.Z. Church’s other books or Janet’s Jeri Howard series, we will send a redemption link back to you. Which means you could leave a review for that book, too. Pretty slick, eh?

Observations from Janet: Two weeks after my second vaccine shot, I got on a plane for the first time since March 2020. I flew to Colorado to visit my mother, whom I hadn’t seen since December 2019. We’d had several video calls, but that’s no substitute for hugging my elderly mom in person. And hug we did! Visiting Mom always keeps me busy, though, working my way through her to-do list.

When I first looked at my condo nearly 30 years ago, I said, look at all that closet space. I’ll never fill that up.

Hah! The closets are full. I’m in declutter mode. I pulled everything out of the office closet, asking myself, why did I keep that? In some cases, I forgot it was in there. In others, it was because I thought I might need it someday. The classic packrat response. Sigh.

As a writer, I keep lots of paper, not just blank but anything that might be a story idea or something needed for research. You can find out more about that when you read my regular blog at Ladies of Mystery, the first Monday of the month. The title for the May 3 blog: Confessions of a Paper Magnet.

Observations from D.Z.: Hope is in the air. We soon will all be able to get out and see each other again! I can’t wait. And with that freedom, the words have started to flow again. After struggling to write for months, the first book in my new series is nearly writing itself. I am also looking forward to seeing my California nephew before he takes off for New York City and Columbia University after spending a year-and-a-half at home studying online or not studying at all. He has missed so much by not being on campus. I know he is fairly chomping at the bit to get on with his life. Who isn’t, eh?