Monday, 16 October 2017

Book Blogs reviews? What use are they to readers and authors

In this series of blog posts about reviews, we've seen how our authors learn from reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, from personal emails and from feedback at real time book talks, not to mention internet Q&A sessions. This week, though, as the last of these posts, we are going to look at book blogs and what they do for both the reader and the author.

Many book blogs are set up by enthusiastic readers who simply enjoy reviewing the books they have read. There are a few more professional blogs, but it is probably true that most book blogs are written by book lovers who may, or may not, have a preference for a particular type of book.

One of our author's books reviewed on the popular
Terry Tyler Book Reviews Blog

So how do book blogs help readers?

If you find a particular blogger who leans towards the type of books you like, it's very useful to follow their blog, knowing they will write regular reviews on the genres of books you as a reader enjoy. Our author, Val Poore, claims to be a voracious reader and she likes to follow certain bloggers whose book tastes match her own.

"As a reader, I love crime fiction and murder mysteries," Val says. "It's not always easy to decide which new authors to try and if you don't know a name, you might not risk it. For this reason, I follow about four different book bloggers to see what they are reviewing and I quite often base my choices on the reviews they post. The great thing about blog posts is that the reviews tend to be longer than the average review on Amazon or Goodreads, so you get more of an in-depth account. I like that very much and it really helps me to decide who to take a chance on."

For writers, book blogs are a great way to promote their books for exactly the same reasons Val has mentioned above. She says:

"As an author too, I am thrilled when a book blogger reviews one of my books. I know for sure that it helps spread the word and the advantage of a blog post is that I can share it on many different platforms. I have also noticed sales spike when a popular book blogger has reviewed my books, which is always great news, but the most important aspect of a book blog review is that it garners interest and  - if the review is good - respect. There is something about recognition from a book blogger that makes readers sit up and take notice."

From Books With Wine and Chocolate, a review of
Val Poore's Watery Ways

Most of the time, book bloggers also post their reviews on the major online bookstore sites, but the blog post itself is a more personal platform, so readers and writers alike, take note: follow a good book blog and find some great reads! And writers? Submit your books to book bloggers for a review. If they accept them, it can only do you good!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Reviews that come from word of mouth: Janet Purcell and Valerie Pooreshare their experiences

In recent weeks, we've blogged about what our authors have learnt from their readers' reviews. There are, however, other forms of feedback than reviews received on Amazon and through website response. Readers' impressions can also come via word of mouth – literally. This week, Janet Purcell and Valerie Poore tell us what they have experienced from talking to their readers.

Janet Purcell

"The biggest surprise for me came when I was meeting with a book club. They were discussing my novel Rooster Street and one person said she found a ribbon running through the entire book of mother-daughter relationships. Other readers then agreed. I had not intended that and had not even realized it was so.  But I then realized this was the case in my two novels The Long Way Home and Singer Lane also.  

Now as I'm drafting novel  number 4, I'm very much aware that it's happening again. As in the first three books, this is not the main thrust of the story, but now I see it forms a web that supports everything else that is going on. As a writer, it's very helpful to me to have had this pointed out because, knowing it, I can be sure to keep it as a subtle support and not have it become so prominent it will distract from the major story line."

This type of discussion can be very useful to the author. Valerie Poore has also learned what readers have enjoyed through online real time discussions she has had during guest days in the spotlight on the Facebook group We Love Memoirs.

Valerie Poore

"I've learned that memoir readers love a series, and what they have enjoyed about my books is the ongoing story of my watery life. It also seems my readers have felt they were with me on my travels and during the early days of my barging experiences, and that they now associate me with this lifestyle. When I asked what it was that made them feel this, part of it was explained by my use of the present tense in my books even when writing about events that took place 15 years ago, so that was a useful tip for me. Many of them said it helped them feel as if they were standing next to me on my barge.

On the negative side, others said they didn't like too much detail about the mechanics of the boat and the locks through which we travelled as they were more interested in reading about the environs of the canals and impressions I gained of the people and places I encountered. This is all great feedback for me when I write my next boating travel memoir. 

I find that this type of interactive discussion with readers is very honest and I can ask questions myself too. In many ways, it is even more useful than a written review, which can only ever be one-sided."

Many thanks to both Janet and Val for these contributions. It's always good to know how readers help writers and vice versa. Next week, we will look at book blog reviews as the last in this series of posts on reviews and what they can do for authors and readers.

For those interested in Janet and Valerie's books, the links to their Amazon author pages are below.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Sharing their views on reviews: Sonja Anderson and Tonia Parronchi

Last week, Stephanie Parker McKean told us all what she had learnt from the reviews she has received on her books. Continuing with the same theme, Sonja Anderson and Tonia Parronchi have also shared with us some of the great and useful feedback they've received. Here are their comments!

Sonja Anderson
Sonja Anderson
"One of the things I appreciate the most about book reviewers is that sometimes they make a comparison to other books or authors that I would never dare to make myself! When the reviewer below compared my book, Sophie’s Quest, to classics like Wind in the Willows and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it completely made my day!
The reviewer said,
It contains elements of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Talking animals with anthropomorphic ways are central as in Wind in Willows and the Christian faith is central (though more obviously so) as in Lion Witch and Wardrobe. It’s hard to compete with CS Lewis and Kenneth Graham. Nonetheless I give it a good four stars for the writer does well.
A blogger also once compared my writing to that of the wonderful children's author, Kate DiCamillo! It makes me feel proud of my work, even if it will probably never be considered a classic in the same way as those illustrious authors’ books for children.
The sequel to Sophie's Quest

Importantly, these types of comparisons by reviewers can also really help readers figure out if the book is written in a style and about characters that they will likely care about. I’m so grateful when a reader takes the time to write such a thoughtful review." 
Sonja against the backdrop of Seattle harbour, her home

Such comparisons can also be very inspiring when writing sequels or new stories, so yes, very helpful and constructive for the author and the reader.

However, although it often seems as if Amazon and Goodreads reviews are the only ones worth having, there are other types of review that are just as valuable to the author, as Tonia Parronchi points out.
Tonia Parronchi:

"Reviews come to me in different ways, not only on Amazon but also as e-mails from my web site. These tend to be more personal, with a reader reaching out to the writer because something really resonated with them. 

One man e-mailed me after reading my memoir about sailing adventures, "A Whisper on the Mediterranean", to say he had bought my book because he was learning to sail and reading everything he could on the subject. He had thought my book would be more technical but in the end reading about our real life adventures inspired him even more to continue with his dream. Another man liked the recipes best and was getting his wife to try them out at home!

At times a reader's comments make me realise how I could have improved my work. For example, this review made me realise that a map would have been a great idea. I wish I'd thought of that!
"A very well written book about sailing the Med with the couple's one year old child aboard....The author does an excellent job of painting a picture of each island and town they visit. My only criticism would be that the book doesn't include a map showing the paths they took" 

Tonia and Guido on Whisper
It is of course always a relief when the reader is kind about a book. I am very lucky because most of my reviews have been positive but of course you cannot always please everyone. One reader gave me a 3 star rating for my novel "The Song of the Cypress". 
"The descriptions of Tuscany in this book are well-done, and part of the story-line is okay, but that's the only reason I gave this book three stars. The whole deal with the cypress tree and the old woman is just too new-age for me. In fact, it's just odd... I could hardly wait to finish it and just get the whole weird thing over with. Sorry, Ms. Parronchi. I really did want to like this book."

Fortunately it is the only 3 star review I have had, but it makes me smile a bit. The reader made herself read and finish the book and felt quite fed up about it. Maybe she could have just left it unfinished! However the majority of readers have had a different reaction and have felt a sense of place, feeling Tuscany come alive for them. 

Tonia's Tuscany

One review that I treasure was from an Italian reader. (I'll translate it for you)
" Compliments on your lovely, poetic book. I liked the descriptions of Tuscan life, the people and nature that I recognise because I live here too. I was pleased to read a book about Tuscany where the people and place are described with love and respect."
I loved the fact that my treatment of Italy was seen as being true, respectful and caring. It seems this is not always so. But if my words can inspire a reader to visit Italy, to explore my beautiful Tuscan valley or take a sailing holiday to the exquisite Italian islands, then I have done my job well.

That said, I am extremely grateful for every reader who takes the time to comment on what they have read. Thank you all!"

Many thanks to Sonja and Tonia for sharing their review experiences with us. Reviews of more than a few sentences, both critical and positive, can leave the author with some points to consider for their future writing and they can assist other readers in deciding whether a book will appeal to them! Next week, Janet Purcell and Val Poore will give their response to both verbal and written reviews of a different sort.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Oh, For the Love of Reviews!

A few weeks ago, we published a blog post about the value of reviews to both readers and authors. The post received a large number of views, so given the apparent interest, we decided to ask our own authors what they gain from reading reviews of their books. The response was so interesting, we are now presenting the first in a series of blog posts from our authors giving us their reactions to their readers' opinions

Our first post is from Stephanie Parker McKean:

Every author loves reviews, especially 5-star reviews, but if they are honest – all reviews are valuable. Of course, all authors wish that all their reviews would read like one posted for the first Texas Miz Mike mystery-romance Bridge to Nowhere. “This only allows you to give five stars, but I would give it 100 if I could!” You can imagine how good that made me feel!

Stephanie Parker McKean at
a real life 'Spanish tile', the Three Prongs
restaurant featured in her books

Sadly for the author (me, in this case), not all reviews are complimentary. While reviews for Bridge to Nowhere, and the second Miz Mike, Bridge Beyond Betrayal, have received four or five-stars – I got saddled with a one-star review on another book. Some of the criticism seemed senseless, but after reading it, I accepted part of it as constructive criticism and changed the Amazon blurb.


Another (positive) review that I found helpful was one for Bridge Beyond Betrayal, which stated that the reviewer was in love with imaginary Three Prongs, Texas, and its just as imaginary zany characters and wanted to read more about them. Since the Miz Mike series had moved from Texas to Scotland, that review inspired me to bring Miz Mike back home in Bridge to Texas.

Scenes from Bandera, Texas, the inspiration for Three Prongs
Here are a few extracts from some of the reviews I've received. I've picked them because they've helped me appreciate that for some people at least, I've achieved some of my writing goals.

One goal was to write humorous books with memorable characters as imperfect and complex as real people. “What a fun and funny mystery adventure. The cast of characters is unique, each rich and strong, and the story flows at a fast pace. I love a book that makes me smile.” Bridge to Nowhere

“How to describe Miz Mike? She is not young, not the perfect weight. She is capable of great bravery, but also often makes misjudgments. Her imperfections and warm heart make her seem believable. By the end of the book I really cared for her.” Bridge to Nowhere

It was also important to me to share my Christian faith without preaching. “Jesus is quite a personal friend to Miz Mike, and while I’m not a practicing Christian, this was not a problem. It fits Miz Mike’s character perfectly.” Bridge to Nowhere.

For those out there who have read and enjoyed a book but never written a review, please do. Reviews need not be long. Consider these two, both for Bridge to Nowhere. “I loved the character Miz Mike and can’t wait to see what she’s up to in Book Two.”
“Stephanie Parker McKean tells a good story while bringing along an inspirational message.”

When an author writes a series, he or she wants each book to be as compelling as the first. Boring, dragging, or disappointing is simply not an option. Therefore, I was delighted and humbled to find good reviews for the second Texas Miz Mike mystery, Bridge Beyond Betrayal.
“A protagonist who is flawed, emotional, funny, and human.”
“This author’s Miz Mike stories have a unique voice and are full of laugh-out-loud dialogue and wit.”
“The author does a wonderful job of lacing her mystery with healthy doses of humor and interesting, quirky characters. I found myself laughing out loud.”
“I liked it there were no swear words and no sexual scenes, things that ruin a book for me.”
“Grabbing a Miz Mike adventure is more than fun. It’s like sitting down with your best friend, who although off her rocker, you still love.”

Okay, all of these were complimentary and to be sure, I like that more than anything negative, but I do find the reviews help me to gauge whether I am going in the right direction with my books. So to readers, I would urge – please leave a review when you finish a book (especially if you have something constructive to say).

To authors, if you ever feel as if writing a book is not worth the physical and emotional slogging – go back and read your book’s good reviews and be encouraged and empowered.

And for authors who have received a bad review,  remember that sometimes this can be a positive indicator for a different reader. So as Miz Mike would say, “Keep on keeping on. Make that rodeo an eight-second ride.”

Thank you very much Stephanie.  An inspiring post for both readers and authors!

Click on the titles here for the links Stephanie Parker Mckean's Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond Betrayal