This will blow your socks off, so you better hold on to them. Ready?
DISCLAIMER: What follows is a total off-the-wall idea so please don't view it as some kind of an ultimate truth because it isn't. Nothing I say is. Quite the contrary. Everything I say is a big fat lie. I hope you have learned this lesson by now.
Still with me? Excellent. Let's hop on this ruckus wagon.
READERS TEND TO GIVE 5-STAR REVIEWS TO WRITERS THEY KNOW.
Or they think they do.
You don't need to start shouting at me yet. Chill. Let me explain my hypothesis.
I've been watching my book reviews with an unhealthy fascination. Okay, maybe not very unhealthy, but definitely obsessive. You know, every morning, "Oh, let me check my book reviews!" and "Yes, got another 5-star one!" and "Wow, got another 4-star one!" and "Shit, got a 2-star one, but it's the only one, so fuck yeah, I'm doing something right!"
The 5-star reviews always blow me away. I mean, what? I would never give my books 5 stars. Not there yet. Getting better, yes, but nowhere fucking near 5-star quality. Here, now you call me a slovenly sterlet and a pile of worm-eaten burdock and whatever other despicable names you can think of. Because those of you who do give my books 5 stars are very pissed at me right now for not taking the compliment.
I take it, I take it, okay??
Just let me finish my thought here.
The reason you, yes, YOU, give me 5 stars, is not really because my writing is great. If you took a random writing sample from any of my books and took a random sample from, say, one of Stephen King's books, you'd see a huge, and I mean, HUGE, difference. One day maybe I'll get there. That is my goal, to write as well as Stephen King, I mean, to write like me, of course, but on that goodness level.
The real reason you give me 5 stars is because you know me, or you think you know me enough, and you want me to succeed. You want to encourage me with your reviews. You want to show me that you believe in me. You want to cheer me on.
We all want to do that. We love our friends and we want the best for them. We clap at their performances when nobody else is clapping. We whistle at their games and scream "YOU CAN DO IT!" at the top of our lungs when everyone else is awfully quiet. We high-five and pat on the shoulder and grin like lunatics and say sweet words and cheer, cheer, cheer.
Yes, my stories play a part in reviews too. Somehow I have managed to pull such strange and bizarre shit from the dark corners of my brain that people love it.
I know by now you're wondering how I've arrived at this theory.
Well, I'm a reader too, and recently I tried to read a collection of short stories, which is not what I usually do. I usually read novels. A short story doesn't smell enough of lavender or mignonette for me to picture myself in the field of a writer's thoughts. I must run through it for days to really get it. I struggled. Shifting from mind to mind every 10 pages was close to torture. I've seen names of writers I've never heard before. And guess what.
I tended to read stories by those of whom I have heard.
I tended to pay more attention and forgive to those whom I thought I knew a little, which is an illusion we all have, because of course we don't know those people, neither do you fully know me despite my being so open online, it's borderline ridiculous.
I tended to look up author's bios (YES!) to see if I wanted to continue reading their stories.
I tended to want to know who those people were before I could decide if I wanted to give them my time and the benefit of the doubt and read anyway, although the writing style sometimes didn't agree with me.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
Indie writers, I'm talking to YOU here, mostly.
Do you see it?
And do you see now how you can answer to all those noobs who're asking you whether or not they need to have social media presence?
YOU DO KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT, RIGHT?
Yes. That. That thing exactly.
The people who give my books 5-star reviews are people with whom I have connected online or in person and have developed unicorn-awesomeness-inducing relationships.
Recently one of my books was selected for a giveaway, and... *gasp* ...the person who got it and who didn't know me gave it a 2-star review. Yes! You know why? Because, number one, the book wasn't that person's favorite candy flavor, but most importantly that person didn't know me so had no reason to forgive me my shortcomings!
End of hypothesis.
Like I have warned you, this is really just a manifestation of my insuperable insufferable impulse to understand how book reviews work. You might say, "Eat wormwood!" Or you might even be more fragrant and say, "Eat shit, Ksenia!"
And you'll be right. This is just a hunch, but I have a feeling it's a very good one.
If you do decide to believe this lie, my suggestion is this.
- DO NOT sign up for any of those online services you see that offer you honest book reviews bullshit or whatever. You can get a few very low ones simply because people who will be reviewing your stuff don't give a shit.
- DO NOT solicit book reviews from people you don't know, meaning, stop sending out request to top Amazon reviewers, bloggers, and such. Same reason as above.
- DO NOT pick your nose in public. Wait, you already know this one.
- DO NOT get disappointed when you get a low book review. It's all it is, really. A book review. It doesn't take away from your writing.
To further prove this lie to you, think about this. When a book gains traction, as in, so many people have read it, something tips and everyone starts talking about it, people begin reading it simply because everyone else is reading it. Notice how many people get disappointed? I bet you came across plenty of opinions online where people said, "What's the deal with this X book? Why is everyone so excited? I'm not getting it." Bam, this person is very likely to give a 3-star review, or even 2. Or 1.
Know how I know? I was one of those people. I gave a couple popular books 3-star reviews in the past, because I didn't get them. I understand this dynamic much better now.
What's your takeaway from this rambling?
Focus on writing and growing your very own, very small pool of readers. Stop clamoring for big numbers. Stop trying to market your book left and right, getting on gazillion sparkly Internet places and shoving your book into everyone's face. Focus on people who care about you. Even if it's only 1 friend. Yes, just 1 friend. It takes time for people to notice you. Let it grow and keep cranking out books. Soon you'll have 10 friends, and 100, and then 1,000. Those friends will become fans, and 1,000 true fans is all you need to make a living as a self-published author (I blogged about it here).
Well then, do I get 5 cookies now or what? I'm waiting.