Those Elusive Reviews

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Like most writers who self publish on Amazon, Goodreads and Smashwords et al., I have difficulty in garnering reviews. It seems that readers just don’t like getting down to writing them. And, as a reader, I must confess I’m no different. Reading a book is, usually, an enjoyable, fulfilling experience, but writing a review of it, a proper one, is demanding, taxing, and can even be hard work; something to avoid, or at least put off.

I’ve just finished Elmore Leonard’s PrimeReviewz.com, a fine book and his last as he passed away last year. It’s a great last hurrah from a superb writer of crime thrillers. I read it in paperback which, for me, will always be a little better than on screen. And a master craftsman like Leonard on top of his game is pure pleasure. Nevertheless, as much as I loved it, to sit down and craft a fitting, worthy review would take effort. Fortunately, since I bought it in a Montreal bookstore, I do not have to make that effort.

Two years ago, an Irish friend bought my book, The Iran Deception online from Amazon. She liked it and said so in emails. I thanked her and reminded her how good it would be if she wrote a review for me. “I surely will, Tony,” she told me, but the review never came. I gently pushed her on it a couple of times and then gave it up.

Audrey has a family; a husband and three children. She works. She also endured a long period of unemployment. Like the rest of us, she struggles. So, reading for her is done in snatches between chores. Writing a review would be a monumental effort that just will not happen. Bless her.

Another fellow recently bought Down and Out in the Big Mango; my book of short stories about foreigner’s adventures in Thailand. He liked it and wrote me an email full of praise:

“Just a short note to tell you how much I enjoyed your “Down and Out in the Big Mango”. I have been reading it at lunchtimes when I have been teaching at a local college. It’s was a fine collection of some charming and well crafted stories. I must confess my clear favourite was the story of Ray. It was both engaging and poignant with well developed and believable characters you cared for. I felt quite emotional about them at times and didn’t want it to end. Do let me know when you next publish.”

I’ve nudged him twice now in emails to write a review for me, but as yet it has not materialized. Maybe he will surprise me with a glowing review; more likely he won’t, but I shan’t ask him again.

And then there are the reviewers; men and women who read and review books and advertise their skills as such. I was given a long list of such reviewers and emailed each one requesting reviews. Most didn’t reply. Those that did listed conditions (such as the genres they read, or don’t read) that one had to comply with them. I complied as best I could and was placed on waiting lists (“You’re fifteenth on my reading list,” one reviewer emailed me) but I never heard from him again. The problem with “professional” reviewers is they must, inevitably, develop a sense of self importance. Like literary agents, they become gurus; experts in their field and difficult to engage, especially for the beginning writer.

In the beginning, I was advised to engage friends at my “book launch” to read my stuff and write reviews. I duly placed my book on Amazon Select which made it a freebie for five days and then I emailed a host of friends, old workmates and drinking buddies and exhorted them to read my book, my first attempt at a self published novel; the response was poor. Most didn’t give any response at all; not even a reply to my email. One replied that he just couldn’t read a book on a computer screen. “Luddites” like him tell me that, though Amazon’s Kindle and other digital readers have been available and growing in popularity for years, there is still a definite resistance to using them.

Some writers go in for a team effort; a quid pro quo arrangement whereby they review each others books; and boost each others ratings and, consequently, sales. That’s fine as long as the reviews are genuine. But I suspect that if it were overdone, Amazon’s algorithm would frown and bring the curtain down.

On a whim, I turned to my wife. Su is Thai, but unlike most Thais who don’t read, she’s an avid reader, and she loves fiction. She’s university educated, has travelled and lived overseas, and her command of English is good. And as a government officer, her work entails considerable travel, and so she packs a Kindle on her PC. Naturally, on publication, she bought from Amazon a copy of Down and Out in the Big Mango. She read it, and enjoyed it immensely. And then she posted a 5 star review.

Down And Out In The Big Mango: An Excellent Short Story Compilation

Two things attracted me to this book; the gritty, gutsy title and that it was a collection of short stories. As my work entails much travel, I carry a Kindle on my laptop for my reading, and short stories are perfect for travel reading. And as the tales are set in and about Thailand, I was even more intrigued. I was not disappointed.

These nine stories about foreigner’s experiences in the Land of Smiles are superbly crafted, well written and unique. Each story is different, yet each held me from the first sentence. They are dramatic, tense, tender, gritty, and sexy, and packed with a delightful thread of villainy and a deft touch of humor; this author writes to please his readers.

The story I liked most was Ray as it moved me so much emotionally, and I could relate and sympathize with the people in it. Another favorite was the title story, Down and Out in the Big Mango. It’s a book I recommend highly.

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