A lot of people say that you shouldn’t read your own reviews but that’s always struck me as rather strange. Very few writers do it for the money so a kind word from a reviewer is often the most rewarding thing you get in exchange for your creative efforts. This, which turned up yesterday, is a lovely example:

Of course, not all reviews are kind. Some of the negative ones are hilarious. My favourite review of ‘The White Rajah’ (no longer visible on Amazon as it was of an earlier edition) complained that it had been ruined by “the sexual proclivities of the author” and went on to ask what evidence there was that James Brooke was gay. A helpful reply in the comments suggested, “His diaries.”

More serious negative reviews can give useful indications of what does or doesn’t work in your writing and may help improve future novels.

Sometimes, though, a negative review shows that a reader has not enjoyed your book for reasons that are not their fault or your own. These always seem quite sad. The latest two-star review for ‘The White Rajah’ is a good example.

Perhaps this reader had read my Burke books or had seen reviews of them and thought that ‘The White Rajah’ was a similar sort of action/adventure book. I like to think that there is a certain amount of action and adventure in it (there’s a small war, and battles with pirates and escapes through the jungle) but the core of the story is about the conflict between James Brooke’s idealism and the pragmatic (and often brutal) realities of colonial rule. It’s not a particularly easy read. (Please don’t let that put you off – lots of people tell me it is a seriously good book and well worth the effort.)

It’s always annoying when you read a book which turns out to be completely different from what you were looking for. It can be a particular problem when an author writes very different types of books. One solution is for the author to use different pen names for the different genres and I do wonder whether I should have done this. I write three very different kinds of book: the James Burke novels which are classic action/adventure set around the Napoleonic Wars; the John Williamson Papers, which is a trilogy looking at issues of colonialism and class conflict in the mid-19th century; and my Urban Fantasy stories which are about Black Magic and vampires and werewolves and which are huge fun but very, very different from my historical fiction. I hope you like all three, but I know a lot of people won’t.

Reviews are valuable for both readers and writers. Reviews should help readers decide what sort of book they are about to read so that they don’t, like the unfortunate reviewer above, get 50% of the way through a book before realising that it just isn’t the one they wanted. (Why he thought this was a seafaring book, I have no idea. It has a ship in it, but so do a lot of historical novels but we’re not all rewriting Patrick O’Brien.)

Reviews do also provide feedback to writers who can feel that they are sending their work out into the void, even when their sales figures prove that they are not. If you have enjoyed a book, a review can be an easy way to say ‘Thank you’ to the author and most really appreciate that.

Reviews are also – and I can’t stress this enough – the best way of generating book sales. The worst thing about taking back control of my books and publishing them myself was losing all the Amazon reviews that they had accumulated when they were published by other people. If any of you would care to write reviews now they are published by Big Red (that’s me), that would be much appreciated.

If you are quick (and are reading this on the Friday I wrote it) you can still pick up a FREE copy of ‘Tales of Empire‘, four short stories by four indie historical fiction authors. If you do, please consider leaving a short review once you’ve read it. Thank you.

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