Many writers have gone through the confusing experience of getting good and bad reviews. How can one person hate a book that another person loves? And the sad thing is that there is NOTHING you can do about it in terms of being a better writer that will prevent you from getting a bad review. You may argue that this is part of the process of book publishing. Even a good book will get a few bad reviews along with many good ones. I agree, but what happens if the first review your book ever gets is a bad one? I believe there is an asymmetry to book reviews and reader behavior. A single 5 star review on a book is Ho Hum, every other book has one. But a single one or two star review on a book is a red flag that may discourage readers from even considering looking at your book. How is a beginning writer to face this Russian roulette?
The answer is to do what is called a soft-launch. Publish your book but promote it only to the target audience made up of people who are familiar with your work (what some people would call “friends”). These people will give your book good reviews relatively fast. Once you’ve build up a cushion of good reviews then reach out to strangers.
My book, The Sun Zebra, so far (9-8-12) has 49 reviews accumulated over roughly 10 months and an average ranking of 4.71 stars out of 5. This is what I did.
I published my book on November 11 of 2011 and went on to request reviews mostly from people familiar with my work (what I call first tier reviewers). During the next 4 months or so my book gathered 24 reviews achieving an average ranking of 4.88 stars out of 5.
During this time I also received valuable input about problems with my book that I fixed going through a few editions (five in total). Finally, having built a solid cushion of good reviews and having improved my book (which also involved a new cover), I took my second step and contacted dedicated book reviewers and did a free promotion. In other words, I put my book out to be reviewed mostly by total strangers. During the next 6 months my book gathered 25 reviews. These reviews alone would have given my book an average ranking of 4.56 stars out of 5.
Notice that the difference in my book’s rank between the first 24 reviews when I was reviewed mostly by people familiar with my work (4.88) and the next 25 reviews when I was reviewed mostly by strangers (4.56) is not that large: both friends and strangers liked my book.
Regardless of my promotional strategy, you can rest assured that when I put a book out I try to make it as good as possible. So when I ask my most perfectly defined and easily accessible target audience (people who are familiar with my work) to review my book first, I am not being dishonest. Rather, I am dealing with the realities of publishing. Books need good reviews and they need them fast to be able to be promoted effectively.
Finally, to answer the question posed in the title of this and the earlier post, reviews by friends are not necessarily dishonest. But reviews by friends, like anything else, can be abused, and individuals or groups of individuals without scruples will do it. In the end it is up to the reader to decide whether a particular author is honest and whether his/her book is worth their time and money.
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