Do reviews matter?

As someone who has been asked to provide reviews of others’ books (and has sometimes failed to provide them – mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa), and also as someone who writes books and welcomes reviews, this is a subject about which I have opinions.

When I published my first book, Beneath Gray Skies, I was convinced, as are all new authors, that I had written a masterpiece, and that the hundreds of positive four- and five-star reviews it would garner would send it to the top of the best-seller lists.

By the way, this old promotional video uses an old URL – this site is now the place to be!
Beneath-Gray-Skies-GenericOf course, that didn’t happen, did it? Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a bad book. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, Beneath Gray Skies is at least a competently written adventure story, with the virtues of being well researched, and with a cast of interesting characters, mingling real and fictional personalities.

Given the right breaks, it might even become a medium-seller, but with the Amazon system, it’s unlikely to be promoted heavily, unless it attracts some more favourable reviews.

It’s a political book, dealing with subjects that obviously annoy some people – like those who believe in slavery (which they euphemise as “states’ rights”), resulting in my favourite review ever (from someone who confesses she didn’t even read the book!):

Got no further than preface 2 wherein I KNEW this to be fictional attempt at history revision. If author was any more of a flaming liberal with a political agenda, conservatives could hold a raffle to burn him in effigy and sell enough tickets to pay off the national debt!

Love it! Love it to death!

But there are more serious reviews which like the book, while acknowledging its flaws:

A compelling rewrite of history. Suppose Lincoln had not lived to emancipate the slaves; imagine slavery continuing in a seceded American South for which generations of Jefferson Davis’s led a nation with no industry but a geographically gas-rich nation without a market. Then add the Nazis, anxiously looking for a fire-retardant fuel for their currently hydrogen-powered airships. A great story. The character of Christopher Pole was interesting, but not terribly authentic as he was very well-spoken and, although I didn’t find it unbelievable that a slave might–with encouragement–have developed skills far exceeding those of his peers, he didn’t speak as one who had been kept in slavery. David was more believable, as he maintained a certain naivety that his upbringing would have manifested. As for the Jewish bride to a former slave–I cannot conceive of any changes in the Northern States that would have allowed, let alone encouraged the union, especially in the 1920s.

Despite these issues, the story is extremely interesting and had plot issues that far outweighed these character problems. It’s a really good read and a very interesting premise. I was completely willing to take the leaps of faith to find out where the author took his story and was not disappointed.

This is the sort of review which really helps writers, and I welcome this kind of constructive criticism.

An appeal

But more than anything else, I’m making an appeal. If you have read any of my books, and you enjoyed them more than you disliked them, please leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords, whatever. It not only stokes my ego, but it also helps sales – and that’s also nice.

Thank you.