Why a scathing review can be more helpful than a positive rating

Dom1CoverSmallI recently ran a promotion for Dark Glass on Kobo, and I’ve been very happy with the results‌—‌a few hundred downloads in over twenty countries. It’s exciting and strange to think that someone in Singapore has downloaded my book. They might even read it.

But things don’t stop with the download of the free book. Hopefully, I’ll see some sell-through, when readers of that first book choose to buy the rest in the series. Maybe a couple of people will join my mailing list.

And the other advantage of doing a promotion on a free book is the chance of getting more reviews.

Reviews are hard to come by, especially for someone near the start of their writer journey, but they are incredibly useful. Reviews give a certain amount of social proof to the book, they help guide other potential readers, and they opens up the opportunity to run more book promotions (certain sites will only accept books with a minimum number of reviews, or a certain minimum rating average.)

experience-3239623_1280Of course, not every reader leaves a review. Many people who download a free book will never even read it. Some will start it and never finish it. And many who reach the end will move straight on to another book. It takes effort to write even a couple of lines.

Many book sites allow readers to leave ratings, though‌—‌usually between one and five stars. This, clearly takes less effort and time than writing a review, and so it is no surprise that on sites such as Goodreads and Kobo, there are often more ratings than reviews for individual titles.

Before running this promotion, I had a single five-star rating on Kobo. But a few days into the promo, I noticed a couple more ratings go up.

One was a three-star rating, the other two-star.

I could have become upset by these lower ratings, but I prefer to look at the positive. These two readers had still read the book and had taken the time to leave a rating, and for that I’m very grateful. And I know that not everyone will enjoy what I write, just as I don’t enjoy some very popular books, and other books that I love also have their fair share of low ratings. Everyone has their own taste, their own things they like to see in a book (and things they don’t want to see).

But there was one thing that I found frustrating‌—‌these were ratings without reviews.

See, I want to improve in my writing. While I want to write books that I enjoy, I also want others to enjoy them. A low rating tells me that someone found problems with the book, but without any comments I don’t know what they had issue with. I don’t know what I need to work on. Did they find the pace too slow? Were the characters hard to engage with? Were there issues with the writing itself? Were they turned off by the violence and the occasional swearing? Or did my product description lead them to expect a different kind of story?

Some of these things might be down to taste‌—‌and that might simply mean that Dark Glass was not a book for them. But I’d like to know. I’ve had high ratings, and very positive feedback via e-mail (someone recently commented on the ‘brilliant story’ in Dark Glass, which made me feel pretty good!), but I’m clearly not satisfying everyone.

feedback-2849603_1280I know there are problems with Dark Glass‌—‌it was the first book I brought out, and since then I’ve improved as a writer. At some point I’d like to revisit Dark Glass‌—‌as it is the first book in the series, and probably the first book people will read, I want it to be as good as I can make it. But without feedback, I can only improve so much. Without being informed of the issues readers have and the problems they find, I can only change the errors I see.

I doubt many people who have downloaded Dark Glass have read it yet (I know I’ve got free books from a couple of years ago that I haven’t got round to reading yet). Many copies will probably never get opened. But out of those that are opened, I’m looking forward to more reviews and ratings. High ratings and positive reviews will obviously be great, but I hope readers are honest, and those who didn’t enjoy the book as much as they expected let me know why. Then I can take readers’ comments on board, and use this feedback to improve my writing and storytelling.

And this is a process that I know I will repeat with every book. I’ll never write a perfect book, and there will always be those who don’t enjoy my writing, but I can still strive to improve.

 

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