Reviews: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

book_nerd1Remember when you first started writing your book and your overriding thought was, ‘I just hope somebody reads it!’?  All authors, whether self-published or traditionally published, are increasingly responsible for the promotion and marketing of their books (when I say increasingly, can the self-published authors at the back stop sniggering!).  Time was when marketing departments did the dirty work for their authors and readers often found their next read by word of mouth.  But things have changed drastically in the digital age and we’ve been making up the rules as we go along.  These days, the almighty review has become the holy grail for authors, fueled by Amazon’s marketplace mentality.  While I do encourage readers to leave a review (you can read my post about it here), it seems to me this whole review thing is getting a little out of control and needs a bit of rethink.

As I said, Amazon is essentially a marketplace, where you can find anything for sale from a hair dryer to a wonder woman outfit (I won’t tell you how I know that).  Amazon uses an algorithm to categorise it’s products in order of ranking, which takes into account the price, keywords, sales and of course reviews.  We’ve all seen those tweets stating that 50 reviews or more can kickstart some magical booster on Amazon, propelling your book into some undefined stratosphere.  While I do believe that reviews help, I am starting to see that it is your sales in any given 24 hours which really defines where you are ranked on the list.  However, in order to get sales, it helps to have a healthy amount of reviews.  The words chicken and egg come to mind.

When you launch a new book, you can’t have it sitting there all naked, wearing nothing but a ‘Be the first to review this item’ sticker.  Readers need to see that other readers have invested in your book and as a consequence, in you, the writer.  As customers, we think to ourselves, ‘Is it any good?  Who else bought it?  What did they think?’  Even if we turn around and ignore everything the reviewer has said, we still like to see a bit of activity in the review section.  The chances of a reader buying a book off Amazon with no reviews are almost non-existent.  But how do you get reviews without readers?  How do you get readers without reviews?  You could bribe your friends and family, but that’s a little bit soul destroying and ultimately transparent.  So, as an author who desperately needs reviews in order to increase visibility and sales, what can you do?  If only there were a group of people out there who loved reading and reviewing so much, they started writing a blog about it and posting about the books they’ve enjoyed reading.  Kind of like book-clubs, but a million times better!  Well guess what, these people already exist.  Cue the book bloggers!

There has been a lot of talk about book bloggers on social media recently, so I won’t rehash the entire discussion (check out #bloggersarerealreaders), but the main gist was that people were extremely misinformed about what book bloggers actually do.  Some people seemed to be under the impression that bloggers get paid for their reviews.  Well that made me laugh.  Have they met authors?  WE’RE BROKE!  Where would we get the money to pay for reviews?!  And apart from that, do they really think that authors who slave over a manuscript for a year or more, making it the best it can be, would tarnish their artistic integrity with a paid-for review?  Yes, there are people out there who produce books purely as a business venture and yes there are some shady spots where you can buy reviews, but they are not book bloggers.  Book bloggers read, review and promote books of their own free will.  They are real readers who have found the perfect platform for their love of books, which means they get to interact with authors and other readers.  And then they put great time and care into crafting an honest review.  And then they share it on social media.  And then other book bloggers share that.  For free.  For the love of books.  Really!  The whole reason authors tend to gush about bloggers is because they go out of their way to help you promote your book and ask for nothing in return.

However, on top of the misconceptions people have about book bloggers, it would appear that bloggers are also getting hassle from authors too.  This is where I think the obsession with reviews has pushed some people into unacceptable behaviour.  I recently read a post by Cat, a book blogger over at Happy Meerkat Reviews, which addressed the dark side of reviewing.  I was genuinely shocked to hear that she had been bullied and harrassed by authors (she particularly cited indie authors).  Even in the comments section, she had to plead with people to keep a civil tongue in their heads, such was her bad experience.  I think all sides need a bit of a crash course in what book bloggers do and what to expect (or not to expect) when requesting a review of your book.  It’s a bit like asking someone to dance; basic rules of common courtesy apply.

  1. First off, if you are asking someone to read and review your book for free, the least you can do is supply them with a copy of your book.  I mean, that’s just basic, right?  But that doesn’t mean a book blogger is suddenly under  your spell and working as a member of your promotional crack team!  Anyone who thinks a free book somehow guarantees a review at all, never mind a positive one, obviously hasn’t done a giveaway before 😉
  2. Book bloggers decide what they will and will not read.  Period!  Just like normal human beings, they have their own tastes in books and while the majority are pretty open to most genres, they often provide a helpful list on their REVIEW POLICY page of what they do and do not accept.  You should probably read that page.
  3. They do not guarantee a positive review.  However, some reviewers will go so far as to not publish the review if it is negative and may (potentially) harm your book launch.
  4. They may not reply to your request, for any number of reasons.  That’s the point where you move on and politely ask someone else if they would like to dance/review your book, instead of harassing someone who isn’t interested.  On several occasions I have had book bloggers agree to read my book, but then I never hear from them again.  People change their minds.  That’s life.  You move on.
  5. You know what’s really nice when somebody asks you for a favour?  If they use your actual name!  I can’t believe the amount of book bloggers who receive requests addressed to Miss/Mrs/Madame.  Come on people, if you want someone to show your book some love, show them a little respect first and at least find out who they are, the kind of books they like to read and just maybe don’t bully them.  M’kay?

So there you have it.  It’s a simple contract – you offer a free copy of your book to a reviewer and  all they ask in return is to have the freedom to give your book an honest review.   But hey, book bloggers aren’t the only reviewers out there, are they?   Well, I did a little research of my own regarding reviews and asked the members of an online bookclub if they ever leave reviews on Amazon.  As you would expect, the majority of replies were were an overwhelming no.  Some said that it never occurred to them and it wasn’t something they had ever considered doing.  Some said they would feel self-conscious writing a review.  Some said that they had considered writing reviews, but on reading book blogger reviews (which tend to include plot summaries and in-depth analysis) they felt intimidated and as though their review wouldn’t be as good.  They felt there was no point in contributing a short review of a few lines, when compared with the lengthier book blogger reviews.  I felt really disappointed by that, because while we’ve come to rely on book blogger reviews in order to gain exposure, other readers can be put off by them and don’t feel ‘qualified’ to air their own opinions.

There was also a feeling that book bloggers are somehow part of the author’s promotional team and that it’s all a bit of a marketing scam (especially if the reviews are positive).  I think they feel this applies equally to self-published and traditionally published authors.  Publishing houses have always sent ARC’s (advance reader copies) to reviewers and with services like Netgalley, this is now open to all and sundry.  This is standard practice and does not mean that the publishers are ‘buying’ reviews, but some people do see it that way.  I think we really need to address these misconceptions and make people aware that, far from being an industry, writers and bloggers are just individuals with a mutual interest in promoting books.

But then I got the answer to my question that changed everything.  One woman said that writing a review felt like having to do a book report at school and she said it would ruin her reading experience.  I was so glad to hear that, because it reminded me of a very important point: readers do not owe us a review.  They have already paid us the ultimate compliment of reading our book – which is the very outcome we wished to achieve at the start.  It’s when we are expected to turn into authorpreneurs and take sole responsibility for promoting our books that we feel under pressure to ask for more.  We’re desperate for reviews, because that’s what we have been told matters most.  And maybe it does matter, but at what cost?  As writers, we just want people to enjoy our words.  I want people to get swept away in one of my stories and fall a little bit in love with the characters I’ve created.  All of this algorithm, ranking and visibility stuff just sucks the joy out of the relationship between the writer and the reader.  I think we need to take a Buddhist approach to reviews (disclaimer: I know next to nothing about Buddhism!) and just let go.  Yes, by all means send your book out for review and and stick that bit in your back matter about how leaving a review would be lovely, but then just let go of the outcome.  And get back to writing your next book!

A Bookish Selection Box

book-tree

Books, like people, are a random lot.  In any given year, you can meets lots of perfectly nice books, but there are a certain few that just crawl into your heart and make a little home for themselves.  Being the thoughtful person that I am, I’ve rather helpfully compiled a shortlist (because ain’t nobody got time for long ones!) of the books that really struck a chord with me this year.  Four 5 star reviews and one 4.5 star review of five very different books (try saying that after a few Baileys hot chocolates!).  We’ve got a girl who lives in the woods, a woman who speaks to squirrels (pattern?!), the family reunion from hell, an amateur detective with a fear of turning left and finally, a talking canvas.  It’s an eclectic mix, I’ll grant  you, but one thing they all share is fantastic writing by extremely talented story tellers.  Enjoy!

Our Endless Numbered Days  Our Endless Numbered Days

This book came as such a surprise. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover and added it to my list without really reading the blurb. I’m so glad I didn’t – it’s a refreshing change to come to an original story like this without any preconceptions.
I instantly fell in love with Punzel (Peggy) and instantly worried about her mother and father’s parenting skills. The cover reminded me of a fairytale (a girl lost in the woods) and this is a fairytale in its traditional sense, warning of the evil lurking in the shadows and the courage of the human spirit to overcome these demons. While it is a dark tale, it is told through the bright and optimistic eyes of a young girl, making the best of things. I think it’s this wonderfully innocent perspective that makes the story so compelling.
Fuller’s touch is subtle, yet infinitely more striking for it. She’s such a talented writer and it was a joy to lose myself in her prose. This is one of those books that stays with you for a long time after and you feel compelled to talk to other people about it. That, in my eyes, makes for the perfect story and that is why I’m giving this book 5 stars. Highly recommended.

The Portable Veblen The Portable Veblen

I flippin’ loved this book!! And it’s inspired a kind of protectiveness in me that means, if you don’t like this book, we can’t be friends. As promised in the blurb, it is a big-hearted, laugh out loud story that begins with the simple premise of boy-meets-girl, which only belies the complex journey that lies ahead.
Veblen is named after Thorstein Veblen, the American economist and socialist, who (according to wiki) was a witty critic of capitalism. Veblen’s life is completely inspired by his teachings of ‘conspicious consumption’ explored in his book ‘The Theory of The Leisure Classes’. I had never heard of Thorstein and discovering him is one of the highlights of this book. Whether or not you have an interest in economics, McKenzie explores the issues of status and consumerism expertly through the lens of family, relationships and the ego’s quest to conform and conquer.
The characters are so well fleshed out and true to their own natures that I would hardly question their existence. Both Paul and Veblen’s dysfunctional families provide the perfect backdrop to a story of self-discovery and self-determination.
Packed with philosophical observations and moving introspection, it’s no surprise that this novel was short-listed for the Baileys Prize. Witty, intelligent, with a good dollop of quirkiness thrown in, this is a truly original novel that thoroughly deserves five stars.

 

The Green Road The Green Road

Wow. You often hear people say ‘I could listen to her sing the phonebook’. Well I could read Anne Enright’s fictionalised version of it! This novel reads effortlessly (which obviously means a ridiculous amount of work has gone into it) and I didn’t want it to end. The Madigans are like a sitcom that could just continue on and on, with their daily squabbles and trivial decisions. Which, of course end up being monumental ones. Yet they are so real to me, I feel that I could drive down to Clare and pop into them for a cup of tea. Well, maybe not to Rosaleen, I wasn’t too fond of her. But that was the point. She was the cloying Irish mother that could not let her children go; could not let them be happy. And this novel is about each of their respective efforts to escape. It’s another one of those novels where nothing happens and yet everything happens. Whole lives happen, in their dull, predictable yet entirely complex and intriguing way.
Enright’s style is searingly honest – which I suppose is what every great writer strives for… truth. And it is up to us, the reader, to find the beauty in that truth. In characters that are so helplessly flawed and hopefully trying to be better versions of themselves, trying to live better versions of their lives. Brilliant.

 

Mystery Man Mystery Man

Why have I left it so long since reading Colin Bateman? I suppose, you have to give other authors a chance, but coming back to this book only reaffirmed what I already knew – nobody does it better! His unique brand of irreverent humour coupled with his ability to create the most unlikely heroes in the most bizarre circumstances is second to none.
Our man, who shall not be named, is interested in two things: selling crime fiction in his bookshop ‘No Alibis’ and Alison, the shop assistant who works across the road. But when the detective agency next door closes down and people start bringing their problems into his shop, our man uses everything he has learned from his back catalogue of crime novels to crack their cases.
‘Bookselling is like prostitution, you sell your wares, you close your eyes, and you never fall in love with the clients. You also keep your fingers crossed that they won’t ask for anything perverted.’
Despite his hyponchondria and a myriad of phobias including a fear of turning left, our hero proves himself to be quite the detective. With little help from his assistant Jeff, who spends most of his time working for ‘that shower of whingers at Amnesty International’, our man solves several hard-hitting crimes, including The Case Of Mrs Geary’s Leather Trousers.
‘I am actually colour-blind. Every time I go through traffic lights it’s like playing Russian roulette.’
But it is Alison who really brings our hero to life. I love how Bateman writes his female characters; courageous, witty and smart. Their budding romance, which again seems so unlikely that you can’t help rooting for it, gives this story its heart and reveals our man at his most vulnerable. Needless to say, the story takes lots of entertaining twists and turns, involving murder, mayhem and Nazis. And a book launch!
‘He was the type of man women said they hated, they absolutely hated, they absolutely and categorically hated, and then they went to bed with him. I was the type of man women said they hated, and then they went home.’
Only someone who has mastered his craft can make it look so easy. What I love about Bateman’s books is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, but they are seriously good books. Highly recommended for anyone who likes their humour on the darker side.

The Improbability of Love The Improbability Of Love

Wow, this novel has everything but the kitchen sink! (Actually, no, there is a kitchen sink in there too). What begins as a simple story about a woman nursing a broken heart, turns into a comedy caper that takes us on a journey through the world of art, food and rather improbably, love.
I engaged with Anna from the start and as for the painting, The Improbability Of Love, I have never been more drawn to such a self-important, French canvas in my life! Such a clever idea to feature snippets from the paintings point of view and gave the storytelling a whimsical quality (and you know I love whimsy!)
Hannah Rothschild is simply the queen of character development and while it did at times feel as though the world and it’s wife were featured in this story, it didn’t detract from its brilliance. I can only guess at the amount of research that was gobbled up in the making of this novel, which is such a gift for the reader, as not only are we being entertained, we’re being informed.
As a self-taught artist who lives a billion light years away from the auction rooms of Europe, it was fascinating to eavesdrop on the goings on behind the big price tags and even bigger egos. This novel questions the true value of art and one of the characters even admits that he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. What makes a painting so desirable? In the end, it comes down to our own human nature; the desire to acquire valuable items in the erroneous belief that we will somehow be worth more ourselves.
It’s a fantastically thought out novel, whose timeless theme of loving beauty for beauty’s sake is both heartwarming and reassuring. I’ve taken away half a star for two reasons: The pacing in the middle of the novel was a bit slow and I found myself trying to rush through these tangents to get back to the main story. Also the ending left me feeling a little cheated, but I’ll forgive her that 😉

 

What’s that?  You’d like to know where you can get your hands on MY books?  How thoughtful of you!

new heirloom1+1 Amazon (Paperback)Kindle

 

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - Copy Amazon (Paperback) ~Kindle ~Nook ~ iTunes ~ Kobo 

Going Retro

IMG_0608  Now Available In Paperback!

Well, to say that I’ve been anticipating this day for a long time is an understatement.  Finally, I am thrilled to announce that my novel, The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris is now available to purchase in paperback on Amazon.  It is the one year anniversary of publishing my eBook and the response has been fantastic so far.

However, so many of you have requested a paperback version that it makes me realise – people still like to have the option of reading a physical book.  Digital publishing is such an exciting revolution, but for a lot of people, there’s just nothing like a real book.  And I have to say, I count myself among you.  I guess it’s a bit like vinyl – you can really appreciate the artwork and there’s just something about the feel of the pages between your fingertips that (for me anyway) eBooks cannot replace.  So fill your boots people!  And spread the word – The Mysterious Bakery is going retro 🙂  Now you can tweet all your photos to @evgaughan of my book being read in exotic locations à la Amélie and the travelling gnome!

Oh, and if you’re looking for a recommendation, why not check out my latest 5 star review on Amazon UK by Bodicia.

After finding herself feeding mints to an unhappy child like some sort of maiden aunt, Edith Lane decides enough is enough and something drastic must be done. She answers an advert in the paper for an English speaking manager for a bakery in Paris and when, to her surprise, she gets accepted immediately she whips out a French phrasebook and books a flight. Quiet and unassuming Edith finds herself not in Paris but in a beautiful town about an hours drive away and in a very small room which would be more suited to a mouse. Deciding adventure doesn’t necessarily mean immediate gratuitous pleasure she stays anyway and quickly settles in with the locals. But who is curling the croissants at 4am and why can’t she go down to the basement?

I loved Edith and this book is an absolute cracker with a cast of wonderful characters who ooze ‘Frenchness’. It’s about a woman who, having spent several years looking after other people, broke free of the doldrums and sets out to see what she can do to get some adventure out of life. There is a love interest but it is fraught with moral implications. There are moments in the book which had me in stitches particularly when Edith is in a club and comes face to face with the hole in the floor which serves as the loo – the joys of French plumbing. This is a book which encourages independence and standing up for what is right and a story of a strong community who is appreciative of the past and proud of who they are.

Evie Gaughan’s writing style is on point and so engaging. Right from page one I was hooked – there’s humour, a cracking story and likable characters. Take advantage of the ‘Look Inside’ on Amazon and have a read for yourself.

Online Book Club Review

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - Copy  Check out the latest review for The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris by The Online Book Club. Then get your copy for just £1 on Amazon!

At 35, Edith Lane feels like life is passing her by. Having recently lost her mother and working a dead-end waitressing job, she feels like her life is going nowhere. In the throes of a midlife crisis, Edith responds to an advertisement for the job of a manager at a little bakery in Compiègne, France.

Believing she will be starting a new life in Paris, Edith packs up her belongings and leaves her home of Ireland for the first time to board a plane to France. However, her dream is quickly shattered when she arrives in Paris to discover Compiègne is actually one hour north and not in the City of Love at all.

Edith gets off to a rocky start with her boss, Madame Moreau, who’s cold demeanor makes Edith regret her decision to leave Ireland and her father behind. Despite the cold welcoming, she befriends a local French hairstylist, Nicole, and her husband Johnny, and meets an attractive man whom she quickly falls for.

Just as Edith is feeling like she’s settling in and making a life for herself, she learns her new boss may have some secrets that threaten to take that away and an even bigger secret that Edith struggles to believe. Will Edith be able to overcome her fears and help her seemingly distant boss or will she run back to the safety of Ireland, leaving the mysterious bakery behind?

I liked this book a lot, although it did have a slow beginning. I struggled at first to get into the book and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish. I also initially didn’t really like Edith; I thought she whined too much and made everything into a bigger deal than necessary, however, as the story went on I really grew to love her and all the other characters as well.

The character development for Madame Moreau is the most impressive because once the reader learns about her history everything begins to make sense and the reader can really understand why she seems to hold everyone at arm’s length.

What I loved most about the book was the description of this tiny town in France. I could almost see the old, antique houses, cobblestone alleyways and the cozy cafés serving fresh cheese, baguettes, and wine. It was these descriptions that really began to draw me into the story.

Once I got into it and, along with Edith, began to uncover the history of Compiègne and of Madame Moreau I found there was much more to this story than I thought. It is about love, dedication, family, and friendship and despite the bumps along the way gave the happy ending I was hoping for.

Overall, I’d rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. The reason I give it that rating is because I did find the beginning a bit slow and some parts a little unbelievable, but I still think it was a sweet story that ultimately made me smile at the end. This book would be ideal for someone who likes a bit of mystery alongside romance, but also travel as well.

That’s a wrap!

It’s the final day of my two week blog tour and I want to take the opportunity to say thanks to all of the tour hosts who spread the word and wrote some fantastically insightful and positive reviews for The Cross Of Santiago.  It’s been so exciting to read the reviews and discover different readers’ interpretations of the story.  It’s been described as a coming of age, romance, adventure, historical and humourful (that’s not a word, is it…) book that crosses many genres.  So if you want to immerse yourself in a world full of mystery, love and self-discovery, then you can still pick up a copy for $2.99 from Kindle and Smashwords.
I also want to send a big thank you to all the readers who have downloaded the book already – your support is much appreciated 🙂  To wrap up my blog tour, you can check out Crossroads review of my book here.  And in a fitting round off to the year of The Cross Of Santiago’s launch, I revisited the place where I found the backdrop to my book cover – a beautiful stone archway in Ashford, Cong with a really cool king’s head on top.

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