J to tha M: On Reviews

How Important Are They, Really?

buying book reviews

© Gryphonphoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

M: I was thinking about reviews

You know, how important are they versus how important we think they are.

J: Obviously, we like to know what people think

and if we don’t have a lot of reviews, we feel that either people aren’t buying or don’t care enough to review

M: But reviews have gone the way of so many things, it seems. All about the numbers

how many

how many 5 star

and I think they’re losing their effectiveness or purpose

the whole pay for reviews thing, or ask all your friends and relatives to give you five stars

promise something in return for reviews – money, prizes, whatever

that kind of defeats the purpose

so how do you get more reviews without diluting or invalidating them?

J: well, if you’re not promising cool stuff in return for the reviews, you gotta hope you’ve got something great that people want to talk about

M: yep

J: It’s really just a matter of abuse

taking a good system and exploiting it, twisting it to fit your needs

it’s kind of amazing that people go so far as to promise cool stuff in exchange for reviews. I don’t know if I could make myself do it. I mean, part of me doesn’t begrudge them the reviews. It’s hard enough as it is

but then I look at my small number of reviews and think “what could I do?”

and the answer is: write something better or promise cash and prizes

M: Some people probably really did feel the book deserved a high star rating and review, but how many felt pressured or thought it was expected, they either didn’t read the book at all or just wanted the reward or left an inflated review?

versus how many just needed the simple reminder or encouragement

J: well, you know my stance on offering prizes as opposed to flat out paying for reviews

offering a prize doesn’t guarantee a good review or even a review at all

while paying someone to write a bunch of different five-star reviews to post on amazon or goodreads is completely false

so I don’t exactly consider them the same level

even if, yes, people are more likely to review falsely or in an exaggerated manner to get a chance at the prize

it’s still not the same as having a bunch pre-prepared by a ghostwriter

M: I agree they’re not the same level, but anytime you offer something in exchange for a review, that’s where things start getting skeevy for me.

I know offering an incentive doesn’t guarantee a good review, but I think it influences one. Consciously or not

but my feeling is, to get thousands of reviews, people have to love your book. LOVE IT. talk about it all the time to everyone. And offering a contest or asking your friends for reviews isn’t going to get you to that level. Writing a book that appeals to a large number of people will.

J: as an author, the numbers would be great, but I’d just KNOW that they weren’t the real deal. How could I believe anything anyone said about my book?

it’s such a fluffy ego boost.

M: All these shenanigans have really undermined readers’ confidence and belief in reviews

J: the general consensus about anything anymore is “whatever it takes” and “laugh all the way to the bank”

M: there is that

I think there’s a lot of concentration on “how do I get more reviews for my book” and not “how do I get more readers.”

and while there is certainly a relationship, there is a difference

J: I think a lot of people look for shortcuts, whatever they may be

M: Absolutely.

J: I wonder sometimes if I’m just not cut out for the business side of it

and think if I’m going to keep writing, I need to just write, edit, publish

leave the rest out so I don’t get discouraged or angry

M: it’s a balancing act, for sure. Do what you can, what keeps you going, but know if you put something aside, you might have to change your goals

J: I’m starting to wonder if it’s possible to meet your goals without breaking some rules

M: It depends on your goals, doesn’t it?

J: It really does

What do you think about responding to reviews, even if it’s just to say thank you?

I’m kind of against it, even though I know the Internet changes rules all over the place

I think if people want a response, they should send a private message

do you think that’s ungrateful?

M: I don’t think it’s ungrateful.

The internet has changed so much. Some people want a separation between the author and the work, some don’t.

I’ve heard arguments on both sides, and I still don’t know

J: I’ve seen some people say in the same breath that it’s creepy the author can see their review but they don’t know why the author didn’t acknowledge it.

M: I like to be able to comment or review or whatever without that perceived pressure

but I also love hearing from people, whether they’re readers or writers, so…

I don’t know

J: well, I do make a point of answering personal messages

we put our contact info out there

I think if people want a response, they should contact me privately

M: oh, yes, absolutely. I always answer messages or notes

Even the “like” thing I’m kind of debating – I mean, what are the rules for that? Should we like every review, good and bad, because the person did take the time to read and comment, even if, as the author, we might not “like” the content

which brings up the subject of bad reviews. Not everyone is going to like what you write, and you have to accept that

J: and if you haven’t paid them to say they like it, you can better trust them, too

M: not everyone who leaves a bad review is an idiot, jealous ex-lover/writer/reader/birdwatcher who doesn’t know anything about anything ever and should just keep their opinions to themselves and not say anything if they can’t say anything nice.

Some, maybe, but really. Not all.

J: Word. I’m going to go do some birdwatching, I think.


The E-Reader Revolution

And Why I’ll NEVER Own One

Guest Post by Eva Pugzlyte

ereader revolution

© Mahroch | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images


Moses was already marketing the stone prototype (second-generation since he broke the first one) of this gadget around Mount Sinai before it was cool. Hipster. Apparently he was hooked on it for forty days and forty nights (gadget dependency was seemingly not a hot topic back then) before he finally got off the mountain and showed it to his followers (and that before Twitter!). Since the Stone Tablets the e-reader has gained a few more electrodes (hence the ‘e’) and millions more who swear by it like the Israelites did by the ten commandments.  Now there’s the Kindle, the Bookeen, the Nook, the Pocketbook, the Kobo and the Sony. Basic, Mini, Touch, Sense, Glo, Pro. The Essence. The iLiad (which ironically was discontinued)  and the eClicto (which ironically hasn’t been discontinued). Then there are the tablets you can use as e-readers and e-readers that you can hook up to Wi-Fi and use as tablets that can be used as cameras, which can be used as coffee makers which can probably navigate satellites.


And I’m – I’m equally unimpressed, because in the end all I want to do is read a book.

Ah! Let me finish. An actual book, which is “a set of written, printed and/or  illustrated sheets made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side.” That kind of book.

“But e-readers can store thousands of books in one device, which is perfect for a book worm like you,” you might argue?

Valid point, if not for the fact that I like to physically be surrounded by my books in that creepy porcelain-doll collection sort of way. I love to see their colourful spines snugly stashed on various shelves. I love the double rows. I love the random piles that tend to sprout all over my flat like mushrooms after rain. It makes my home feel inhabited not by just me but also by the characters in those books and the great minds that birthed them. Granted there’s also a few that are the equivalent of that one aunt or uncle who channels North-Korea at family functions (with or without booze), but you love them anyway. Because it’s family.

In addition few things beat walking into a bookstore or a library and knowing that you’re literally surrounded by millions of words. Thousands of e-books on a Kindle will never kindle the feeling of walking in to a place like this: http://www.miragebookmark.ch/images/inside-shakespeare-and-co.jpg and ordering an e-book will never be as satisfying as feeling the weight of the novel you purchased in your hands, nor will you feel the little thrill of being the first to properly open a book,  the cover still rigid from never being used, the pages crisp as you brush your hand over them to set them in that first fold (of hopefully many) until it is pliant and perhaps a bit weathered under your fingertips. Same way an e-reader will never hold the charm of an antique book or even simply a second hand one, perhaps holding a personal inscription or a few incriminating dog-ears, fondly pressed in the pages. It will not give you that slightly mouldy smell of old paper.

You’re probably rolling your eyes at the illusive book smell, but here’s a little fun fact: An international team of chemists has devoted a study to this unique odour of old books and concluded that the smell was “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness”. Call me when anyone starts waxing poetic on the scent of an e-reader like that.

Which brings me to the next point. Books are mostly made from organic elements. The paper, the ink, the glue, the fabric, etc. All these compounds react to temperature and humidity, exposure to the environment and even each other as time goes by and release what in the study of degradomics (the science of book-sniffing if you will) is called volatile organic compounds which cause a unique smell. So you see, books are a living organism. They age like we do. The yellowed pages, the different scents they absorb and the weathered edges are the wrinkles etched in our skins.

The story remains, but if you eliminate its physical existence, its body if you will, you are left with a fragrant perfume in an airtight bottle. And then there is the sharing of books which I find somehow intimate, both receiving a book belonging to someone else or lending one out to someone. A friend of mine who spent 6 months travelling the world told me about the practice of backpackers exchanging books as they travelled (both the books and the backpackers). Imagine a manuscript travelling around Vietnam and suddenly crossing paths with you only to leave your side on the sandy beaches of Bali after a short but meaningful love affair only to thrust you in to a new adventure, both on page as in reality.

Imagine making that same trip with an e-reader. It surely is much more convenient. An e-reader offers thousands of manuscripts in one light-weight gadget. It eliminates spilled coffees, crumbs between the pages, reservations at the library or late returns, it eliminates frantic searching for that one quote you read somewhere between page 53 and 734 or the quest spanning four bookstores in one day to find a certain title, it offers font-enlargement, and makes bookmarks obsolete. It saves space in your suitcase and in your cramped flat.

It’s convenient, but then the best things in life often aren’t.

I rest my case. If you need me, I’ll be curled up on the couch with the yellowed pages of The Great Gatsby copy I picked up at a second hand bookstore for €2 last week. It smells vaguely of coffee and has a dog-ear on page 24.

I agree with the previous owner. It’s a good page.

About the Author

Thinker. Dreamer. Independent. Observer. Night owl. Frank. Stubborn. Easygoing on the surface, but shy underneath. Prone to sarcastic remarks. Ticklish. Lover of arts. Foodie. Would never exchange the feel of paper under her fingertips for an e-reader. Often talks in references. Could eat her weight in licorice. Secretly suspects her house is trying to kill her and shall deny every accusation of klutzery on her behalf. Is known to on occasion name inanimate objects and oftentimes can’t decide whether she loves something because it’s beautiful, or whether it’s beautiful because she loves it.

J to tha M: What We’re Reading

Series, Serials, and Cliffhangers

series, serial novels, and cliffhangers

Dudley Do-Right, created by Alex Anderson

J: so, I’m currently about 50% through the fourth book in Elizabeth Hunter’s series

Elemental Mysteries

and our stalking paid off

she has agreed to a guest post

M: You read three books in a week? Woo-hoo! They must be good

J: um, yes

they’re really addictive

I know I need to read up on The Painting of Porcupine City so our interview with Ben Monopoli doesn’t spoil it for me

so that’s next. I promise

M: That’s one of the things that makes series so fun. If you like them, you can pick up the next.

fun for both the reader and writer to stay in an intriguing world

J: yeah, but I’m not a fan of the cliffhanger thing. There are a few reasons for a cliffhanger, and none are good

the first is that you’re too wordy to fit everything in one book, so you split at a vital point

the second is that you aren’t sure if you created a compelling enough story to keep readers coming back for more

so you have to trick them

M: Some cliffhangers are good, to build suspense, keep the reader wanting to turn the page. I love a good cliffhanger when used like that.

What I’ve found annoying is those books that are written to end on a huge “cliffhanger” for the sole purpose of getting you to buy the next. You get 130 pages for 2.99 and the story just ends in the middle of the scene, so you have to pay another 2.99 for the next 130 pages if you want to read the rest of the story.

And then you find out there are like four “books” in the series like that

to me, those aren’t really cliffhangers. Those are just ending in the middle of a scene.

J: there is that, too

M: There are the serial novels, which is a much better alternative

I mentioned a couple I’m reading a week or so ago

Where you pay one price and get installments automatically delivered to your Kindle

J: I could get behind something like that. Would be like a TV show

M: but you know in advance the (reasonable) full price and when you’ll get the next episode

J: yeah, instead of getting to the end and finding out you have to fork over more money

M: exactly. You can make a fully informed choice from the beginning

J: i love a good series, though. I love an epic story that requires more than one book to tell

M: I wonder if the new interest in the serialized novels is a reflection of the proven popularity of fanfiction. They do follow a similar format

J: I thought that, too

are they all dramatic and soap opera-y?

do you hear “dun dun dun!” in your head when you finish an installment?

M: some are, just like any book

J: She turned to see who was at the door and gasped.

tune in next time!

M: it’s like the ending of a chapter, though. They’re ended that way to keep you turning the page

whether it’s a serial or a traditional book

J: well, I can get behind it because you know what you’re getting when you go in

M:  In that format, a cliffhanger is, I don’t know, more accepted. Expected.

When one just ends only to sucker you into buying the next…I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that, but mostly no likey

J: accepted because you know the rest is coming

I really no likey

and usually enough to abandon ship

M: Yeah. I read one like that recently. Thank goodness the first one was free – which is a whole ‘nother subject, I think. And the story was fairly good, but then, it just ended in the middle of an action scene, and the next book was 2 or 3.99. And the next, and the next.

J: >.<

M: And even though I did like the story and would have liked to read more and see what happened – oh, hell no.

J: I feel you

M: I was annoyed

as both a reader and a writer

J: and I bet a lot of people agree with us

except, of course, the authors who exploit their readers in this way

M: and then there are those novellas – which are really popular right now – that just…end

J: oh, I’m a fan of the novella. bite-size fun

M: I like them, too. I mean, I understand the shortened nature of them and how difficult it can be to get in enough character and story development, but it’s just frustrating, to enjoy a story and characters so much, for the author to have done such a good job with the rest of the story, and then…

wah, wah, wah wahhhhhhh

J: but if you have to end without an ending, you probably should have made it a full novel

M: or, you know, come up with a better ending

J: oh, yeah

or that

what I think is a fun idea are the novellas centered on side characters in a series

M: Oh, I like those, too. It’s like a special surprise bonus to revisit a world you loved and characters you want to know more about. I think it’s cool that ebooks seemed to have opened that up as an option. made it more viable.

Oh, hang on. I need to see who’s at the door



Tune in next week!

On Writing: The Silver Lining

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, Swimming with Sharks, and Other Gems

Guest post by Niki  Venis

Zombie apocalypseI have a plethora of hobbies. I might even be considered a collector of them, if there’s any such thing at all. I love makeup, and creating new and artistic looks with it. I write (a lot), but I’m not a professional writer. I blog…incidentally, mostly about writing. I take photographs of things and people, for which I have a business license declaring me legal, but I’m not even a professional photographer (though, that one’s debatable depending on how you define “professional”). In fact, the only thing I can claim to be is a mother, and that’s only because I have irrefutable DNA evidence to prove that. So, when my dear friend, Jen, asked me to guest post on this blog, I spent a great many hours internally debating whether or not to even accept. What could I possibly write about that people would want to read? Furthermore, being a professional Nothing, what could I write about that people would actually take seriously? I can tell you the basic guidelines of editing a story by way of the APA, CMOS, or MLA standards, and that rarely will you find two publishing houses in agreement with the way one should properly space around ellipses, but all that would boil down to is a long-winded non-explanation followed by an exasperated sigh and conclusion of “do what you want, because it won’t be right, no matter what.” I could preach to you the usefulness of what I like to call the Tom Sawyer Technique: a basic guideline of reverse psychology and toddler manipulation that all parents need to know before their young ones turn two, but I’m sort of sadistic and rather love watching new parents, who think all those books they’ve read have prepared them for what’s to come, fail in a mushroom cloud of frustration and chaos. I can prattle on for hours on end about ISO settings and F-stops and the rule of thirds, but this isn’t a blog about photography.

So, what does that leave me to write about, then?

Well, the answer came to me rather abruptly yesterday while perusing my Facebook timeline. A friend of mine posted in her status, “If you were my Where the Wild Things Are book, where would you be hiding? To which I promptly replied, “I’d sail off through night and day, and in and out of weeks, and almost over a year.” If you know the book, which I trust you all do, you’ll recognize that line without missing a beat. This brought me to the realization that the one thing I can do, the one thing I feel confident in boasting my skills of, is reading.

I’m a reader. I don’t get paid for it, so I can’t be considered a professional, but I’ve logged many hours between the pages of books in my 28 years (and 48 months) on this planet. My literary roots reach deep, anchoring me in a way nothing else can in this world. From children’s books to classic novels, comic books to derivative fiction, I’ve even pre-read a few published and soon-to-be-published books, spanning countless genres and styles. I’m proud of the diversity of my bookshelves (both tactile and electronic).
It truly breaks my heart knowing that some of the gorgeous, life-altering and eye-opening stories I’ve read will never be shared with the world, never be available to check out at libraries or purchase from the endless rows of wisdom in basement bookstores, or the cherry-polished shelves of Barnes & Noble. Like anything that takes talent, in addition to proper connections to rise up in this world (acting, directing, singing, etc.), writing is a craft often overlooked by the general public as they reach past the freebies (or cheapies) on their way to something with a more appealing or attention grabbing cover.

By now, every person who’s reading this post is familiar with the explosion of popularity in a certain erotic trilogy. This frustrates me to no end for a number of reasons I neither have the time nor energy to get into right now, so we’ll keep it simple, shall we? From a reader’s standpoint, and someone who comes from a long line of tree-hugging hippies, I can say beyond the shadow of doubt, that those books are a travesty. Not only are they a misguided interpretation of the BDSM community, an embarrassment to hard-working, serious writers around the world, and a shameful spotlight of negativity shed on derivative fiction readers and writers in fandoms everywhere, but how many trees had to die for this cock-pushing, BDSM-shaming, woman demeaning piece of steaming…”fiction” to print and sell over 65 million copies? I can practically hear a whole rainforest crying out in protest, begging to be torn down and reincarnated as toilet plunger handles or mousetraps instead.

And now, it’s been announced that the writer (a little fast and loose with that title here, aren’t we, guys?) will soon be releasing a journal of writing tips—

Sorry. Hold, please. I just screen-sprayed chewed up Cheerio’s all over my iPhone.

As one Tweeter mentioned upon hearing this news, “A book about writing by the author of that trilogy is like a cookbook by Ronald McDonald.” Personally, I think this assessment is rather generous. At least Ronald did a bit of research before kicking the doors wide open on the fast food industry. I’m horrified for the people of the BDSM community. Having friends who are part of it has brought me a much better understanding of people who chose to live this lifestyle; an understanding that will never be gained between the pages of such a poorly written and ill researched sack of garble like this one. I’m sure by this point, the writer has seen so much critique on her (non-existent) “technique” that such opinions roll off her like beads of sweat on the forehead of a whore at the Pope’s Inauguration.

I’m always one to look for the silver lining in otherwise dreary situations. And lookie here! I’ve found quite a few different shades of it in these clouds. When the zombie apocalypse hits, we’ll have no shortage of things to shield ourselves, clothe our children, or wipe our asses with.

One can’t be taught if they simply aren’t willing to learn, as proven in this situation. For the rest of us, the writers or would-be/soon-to-be/struggling-to-be authors working hard to produce a legitimately good piece of literature, something they can be genuinely proud of for years to come, the task isn’t as simple as “Oh my,” (smut), impetuous assholeism in a supposedly lovable character, find-replace names, (repeat). It’s hard work, and, as we can learn from tiny fish in a big pond, swimming in schools is not only safer, but makes you more noticeable.

All right, so I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet, and maybe analogies aren’t my strong suit. What I’m trying to say is don’t let the success of others, no matter how undeserving they may be, tamp down your willingness to do your very best, try your very hardest, and rise up to be the most wonderful you that you can be. Because in the end, the only person you need to compare yourself to is the one you used to be.

Make friends with other authors, and never underestimate the power in numbers. I’d love to propose a sort of “reviewing club” for lesser-known or self published writers, in which the members would take turns passing around their own books in an effort to drive up reviews and draw more attention. If you read it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sure to love it, so the more honest, the better. There are just so many little gems I’ve had the pleasure of seeing with my own eyes that are constantly being overshadowed by far less deserving novels with the financial means to shed a brighter spotlight. Authors reviewing each other’s work, one-for-one, many tiny fish swimming together with the same common goal: be big, get noticed, and…don’t let your drive to succeed be eaten by mindless, talentless sharks.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right, even if it isn’t easy.


Niki Venis lives in Utah, but is neither Mormon nor Amish (however ardently Jen’s husband wishes she were.) She’s the kickass mom to some kickass boys and loves to tweet their random, scarily intelligent conversations. You can follow her on Twitter @Empty_Spaces or check out her blog.