Friday, May 21, 2010

Every Author Wants A Great Review

By John Ramsey Miller

Over my career I have been extremely lucky because I have mostly had positive reviews for my works. The only negative reviews I've had were on Amazon left by skunks, idiots, or enemies. What sane person pans one of my books? At least one hopes bad reviews are a result of a conspiracy. Those Amazon reviews you can mostly ignore, especially when you discover the reviewer is a fan of one of your competitors (whom you may have been compared to somewhere), or someone who always reviews your books and gives less than positive reviews, a failed author who hates everything because it's inferior to their own misunderstood opus. I th
ink that if a reader doesn't like your first book, why would they keep reading consecutive novels by you and adding negative reviews for each? Perhaps it could be someone you fired or someone whose manuscript you didn't send to your publishing house with a note demanding it be published forthwith and a massive advance paid. Some of these authors will assume you are jealous of their talents and trying to suppress their greatness. Whatever it may be, the reviews on that place shouldn't depress or impress.

Of my seven novels, none got a starred review in Publisher's Weekly. It's a big deal, as we all know well. A very big deal considering the number of books published and the few slots available. Most reviewers find something to not like as much as they like
the rest. Gilstrap, whom you might have figured is a close friend of mine, (although I have never seen him in a Speedo) would never have put this review in his blog, but I can put it in mine because he deserves to have it shared by those who value him and understand what a struggle his career has been and how hard and diligently he has labored at this game we play. Nobody writes or thinks harder than John Gilstrap, and nobody deserves a dollop of praise more.

May I present:

Hostage Zero
John Gilstrap, Pinnacle, $6.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-7860-2088-1
The addictively readable second thriller featuring freelance hostage rescue operative Jonathan "Digger" Grave (after 2009's No Mercy) marries a breakneck pace to a complex, multilayered plot. When two teenage boys are inexplicably kidnapped from a Virginia residential school for children of incarcerate
d parents, Grave and his crew set out to locate the victims and apprehend the abductors. Then one of the boys is drugged and left to die in a field, saved only by the fateful intervention of a passing homeless man, and Grave's investigation begins to turn up leads that point to government and organized crime connections. A roller-coaster ride of adrenaline-inducing plot twists leads to a riveting and highly satisfying conclusion. Exceptional characterization and an intricate, flawlessly crafted story line make this an absolute must read for thriller fans. (July)

We've all had good reviews with a bomb somewhere in the body of the review. I had one review where the woman, who was not a fan of fiction and said so, said the opening chapter of my book was like walking into a mens locker room and kicking over a bucket filled to the brim with adjectives. I've had one of my books praised as one hell of a read, then described as "Gun" fiction. I thought that was a pretty good plug. Last night I went to a birthday party for a friend and I gave him a box of 9mm tracer ammo I'd had in the closet gathering dust for a few years.

Reviews have been discussed here before and will again. Nothing lights up your day like a review in a place like PUBLISHERS WEEKLY or KIRKUS because those reviewers know books and everybody in the industry and most book buyers read those reviews and often base buys on what they say. We don't know how many sales are generated by reviews because there's no real way to measure that. Oprah could (and probably can still) sell millions of copies by mentioning a book. I believe reviews do affect sales, but probably not as much as we think they do. The best sales tool is word of mouth, or BUZZ, which when it comes, usually vanishes just as quickly. Think cigarette smoke in a wind, more than oil spewing from a pipe a mile underwater which nobody can figure out a way to plug. We are depending on the same scientists to save the world and they can't plug a ten inch pipe.

I also wanted to share a picture of John and I taken at Magna Cum Murder.

So, how many of you have received less-than-stellar reviews? What was the most distressing or comical lines, if you can remember them? And do you think reviews really affect sales? Have you ever kissed John's head? Do you know the taste of Turtle Wax?


  1. My worst review began with the line, "I don't know why I bought this book, but I did." It wasn't a terrible review, but the person writing it didn't care for the kind of stuff I write. With reviews, I don't think it matters so much whether the reviewer liked the book or not. The simple fact that the book is mentioned at all raises it in the public awareness. If it is mentioned enough, people may buy it just to see whether they agree with the reviewers or not. Even some of the worst books can see their sales increase because there are so many bad reviews out there.

  2. That’s a great review of John’s new one. He well deserves the praise. Thanks for posting it.

    I think reviews can affect sales, at least to some extent. If you regularly read a reviewer’s column, have purchased and enjoyed their recommendations, and trust their opinion, it can be a driving influence.

    I’ve been fortunate to have received a couple of those coveted PW/Library Journal stared reviews and I greatly appreciate them. I think the most important lesson about reviews is to not take any of them too seriously, good or bad, especially the Amazon stuff. The best review I ever got was not from a professional reviewer but from an individual. I met a woman who had just finished reading THE LAST SECRET. She told me it changed her life. Can’t top that.

  3. Thank you, Miller, for posting that review. That was a nice thing to do. As for the picture, well, it says a lot about the good times had at Magna. Notice how bright is is outside (this is late October, folks!), and realize that you were already hammered enough to kiss my Simonized pate.

    I've only had one other starred review in PW--for NATHAN'S RUN. Curiously, that book also garnered the two worst reviews I've ever received. My favorite of the worst read, "The glue boogers in the binding are more captivating than Gilstrap's torpid prose."

    My least favorite of bad reviews actually reviewed my author photo, saying that I looked like "a gnome squatting in the bushes." As true as it might be, it was a cheap shot.

    Right now, for the time being, I'm choosing to believe that a starred review can rocket a book to outrageous success.

    John Gilstrap

  4. Kudos to Mr. Gilstrap! Wonderful review, and well deserved.

    As for kissing his head, where's my bucket list?

  5. Congrats, John G., on the great review! I received a nice Kirkus review for my first book, and I lived on that high for several days! But like Joe, my favorite reviews are from readers. One lady wrote and said she only reads about a book a year. Someone gave her a copy of my book, she read it and wrote that it "spoke" to her. That high lasted about a month!

  6. I used to get a lot of fan mail from inmates serving time at various prisons around the country. I found several of them surprisingly moving. They expressed gratitude for helping pass the time more easily.

    They've pretty much dried up, though, over the past 7 or 8 years. Has anyone else epxerienced this?

    John Gilstrap

  7. I used top get inmate fan letters all the time and some armed forces emails from soldiers overseas who'd had a book handed to them by another soldier. I have sent about 200 books over the years to prisons and to soldiers and sailors who said they were having a hard time getting the books where they were. I don't have any copies of any of my books here because I tend to hand them off as fast as I get them. I have stopped stocking them in my office.

  8. Congrats to John G on such a great review! I've been spared too many negative reviews and kissing JG's head:)

  9. My favorite Amazon review is a recent one of my 1st novel which was published in 2004. It began, "I haven't read this book, and won't...."

    Um, so why is it being reviewed?

    Everyday I renew my vow to stop reading reviews of my work, good or bad. But I'm a weak, weak man. Sigh...

  10. On the bright side, here is one of the first reviews I ever got.

    A superb and inspired storyteller, March 23, 2004
    By Larry Gandle (Tampa, Florida) - See all my reviews

    This review is from: The Greater Good: A Thriller (Hardcover)
    There is a certain knack in writing a thriller. Primarily it has to do with the pacing of the story combined with sympathetic characters. The best writers know just how to stretch out the suspense to keep the pages flying and the reader's eyes glued to the page whatever the hour. In many ways, this talent is an innate gift. A gift that was generously bestowed on Casey Moreton as is evidenced in this- his very first novel.

    The Vice President of the United States makes a videotape confession just prior to resigning. However, before he could make the announcement of his resignation, a sniper's bullet ends his life. The videotape, however, is already in the mail. Shadowy government agents are on the trail of the tape and wreak death and destruction in their wake. The assassin, St. John, wants out of the killing life as he has fallen in love with Megan. He wants nothing more than the five million dollars he is owed and to live a normal life. In the meantime, Joel Benjamin is about to kill himself in an airport until he sees the face of his long lost daughter, Megan. He tries to unsuccessfully to follow her. His life's mission now becomes finding her. Of course, all of these characters' paths must continuously interweave in a death's dance to the very end.

    THE GREATER GOOD is a truly remarkable debut thriller. Casey Moreton is a superb and inspired storyteller and with so many mediocre books being published, this is a relatively rare feat. The characters are cleverly conceived and skillfully portrayed. Alternating point of view heightens suspense and adds additional fuel to the already brisk pacing. With a compelling story and a highly satisfying conclusion, this is one of the most entertaining books of the year.

  11. "I haven't read this book, and won't...."

    Sounds like someone needs to get out more often. Great Amazon review, Casey. See you at ThrillerFest.

  12. Awesome review, John (G). Congrats. And JRM- how is it possible that you're the only one among us who hasn't see Gilstrap in a Speedo?

  13. All publicity is good publicity. Just ask Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan.