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Tag: book reviews

Why I’m reviewing books on TikTok from now on

As I’ve been ramping up publicity and marketing for Community Klepto in advance of its release into the world in less than three months (eep!), every industry expert has been saying that I need to be on TikTok. There is a whole #BookTok subculture there that someone like me who is (barely) under 40 can tap into, especially since the protagonist in my book is 25.

I’ve resisted TikTok the same way I resisted Instagram because I felt like I was too old for it and I didn’t get it, plus I didn’t need yet another time-waster that keeps me from writing new stuff, reading other books, or building my audience… it’s also why I’m the last person on the planet to do Wordle. But I begrudgingly signed up and started seeing what was out there on BookTok and where I might fit in.

The answer for me is a new way for me to review books. I used to always write book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon after every book I finished, and after a while it became tedious and unenjoyable for me, so I stopped, only taking time to review those books that would truly benefit from the review. I feel like static text reviews, while important for a book’s visibility and growth, don’t vary much from person to person. You’ll have a few people that really liked it, a few that really hated it, and a bunch of people in the middle. And over time, every book normalizes to an average rating of 3 and change no matter how many reviews it has.

Being a good literary citizen means sharing love for books I read, especially ones by authors who don’t have a large following. But as I always say – books are, and should be – subjective. Even a super glowing review of a book rarely factors into a purchase decision for me. I know what I like, and if something appeals to me, a review is probably going to do much to sway me. Similarly, if someone I know really cares about my individual opinion about a book, they’ll ask me, and I’d much rather talk about it in person anyway. So, enter TikTok.

In our house, we have a large record collection that my husband spent the first part of the year logging and inventorying, so I’m taking advantage of that and pairing every book I read with a record in my vinyl collection, and then pairing (or is it tripling?) that with a booze drink that represents the book. So for each book I review on TikTok, it will have a companion album and a companion drink. (Did I mention I like booze?) I’m still new at it, so I’ve got a lot to learn about TikTok and building a following there, but I get to do something different and really play up the comedic timing in video that doesn’t play the same in text. And I probably spend more time sitting in front of my keyboard trying to think about what to write up in a review anyway. Might as well fix my hair and show off my rainbow bookshelf in the process.

I’ve just posted my first TikTok as @kellyhitchcockpairings, and I’ll keep doing it as long as I keep enjoying it, and I can find pockets of uninterrupted time in my own house.

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According to Amazon, I should dump all my friends

Something odd happened to me earlier this month. One of the developers I work with is creating a video game and wanted to know if I would be a good fit to help him with his game’s character dialogue. To assess this, I sent him a sample excerpt of my latest work in progress. He enjoyed it, and took it upon himself to buy a copy of Portrait of Woman in Ink, completely unsolicited. After finishing the book, he expressed his undying love (okay, moderate enjoyment) for it and asked me to sign on for his video game project. In return for this (apart from monetary compensation ‘n sitch) I asked if he’d be so kind as to post a review of my book that reflected his honest opinion of it.

Sometime after submitting his review, he got a form rejection email from Amazon saying that his review could not be posted. He appealed to the Amazon gods, asking why they chose to keep his review from the public, to which Amazon said, and I quote:

“We cannot post your Customer Review for “Portrait of Woman in Ink – A Tattoo Storybook” to the Amazon website because your account activity indicates that you know the author.

Customer Reviews are meant to give customers unbiased product feedback from fellow shoppers. Because our goal is to provide Customer Reviews that help customers make informed purchase decisions, any reviews that could be viewed as advertising, promotional, or misleading will not be posted.”

My book has a whole seven reviews from its nearly two years in the Amazon marketplace (I know, I know, I need to market more/better), and MOST of them are from people I know. In fact, most of them are from people I know far far better than a guy I’ve worked with for the past 6 months. This rejection leads me to form the following questions:

1) How does Amazon know who I know in personal life based on Amazon account activity? I never did any business with said person over Amazon, and like I said, I’ve only exchanged reciprocal me@mine.com emails with this person a small handful of times.

2) Does this mean that Amazon can infer that anyone I email from my personal email account is someone whose book review cannot be trusted? I email a lot of strangers, especially in my volunteer work with Velma Magazine. If they”re not snooping on my email, does this mean that any time I gift a book blogger a copy of my book in exchange for a feature on his or her blog as a Kindle gift (which is the preferred method nowadays), Amazon is going to reject that review based on the fact that “account activity indicates that you know the author”?

3) If someone who happens to know me in real life legitimately purchases my book and reads it, what difference does it make? Whether they enjoy it or hate it, the fact that they know me should have little to no bearing on their honest review of my work.

4) Why would a review by a individual with a personal connection to me in real life automatically be branded as “advertising, promotional, or misleading”? I have a hard time believing this person’s review contained any content that could be construed as such.

5) Why you gotta spy on me, Amazon? I publish on your platform and order lots of your retail goods and not-so-goods so as to take advantage of the two-day shipping I pay you for with my Amazon Prime membership. People have badmouthed you and I have always defended your awesomeness. WTF Amazon?

So for those of you know me as a close friend, Twitter follower, or anyone I’ve emailed ever, I regret to inform you that if you want to read my next book and give an honest review of it, I will have to sever all personal ties with you and go back to communicating through a middleman like the resistance did on New Caprica, since Amazon is going all Cylon ruler on me.

Anyone else want to weigh in on this? Am I overreacting or is Amazon being all big for its britches?

P.S. The Cylon above is an image from Amazon. So take that.

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What’s in a Review?

I knew the day would come when I got my first bad review for The Redheaded Stepchild. That day happened to come today, which was also my first day back in the office after vacation, and the day that Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos. Blech!

Because I knew this day would come, I’ve done some reading up on how best to deal with negative reviews and how to cope with them. We writers are a sensitive bunch, and it’s hard to not take these kinds of things personally. Luckily for me, my bad review was pretty mild as far as bad reviews go. The guy (or girl, but I’m pretty convinced it was a dude) who wrote the review could have ripped on the writing, on me personally, or on the character’s personal lives, but he/she didn’t. Really, the book just wasn’t the person’s cup of tea.

To be honest, it was actually much less soul-sucking than the “Dear Author, After carefully reviewing your work we find it does not meet our needs at this time. Good luck.” letters I could line a litter box (if I had a cat) with several times over. I know my book’s not going to be for everybody. I’m in good company – all the top selling authors have a few God-awful reviews under their belts. So what am I going to do about it? Not a damn thing. Except listen to Radiohead, eat a whole pint of Blue Bell Orange Dream, look at some pictures of cute baby animals, and move on.

And hey, my bad review sold me two books today. Could be worse right? They say it’s even good to have a few not-so-great reviews. People like balance, and a book with all fantastic reviews is a little misleading. Makes it look like all the author’s friends ganged up and told everyone how much awesome sauce was smeared over the book, not that they’re biased or anything. So, now I can say I don’t know all my Amazon reviewers and they’re not all what you’d consider “mom reviews”. Though my mom didn’t like the book, so that doesn’t apply in my case.

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The Art of Reviewing as Learned from Charles Dickens

This past week, I received my first reviews for The Redheaded Stepchild since I finished publishing it. (You can read the reviews here.) As part of my advertising strategy to be as non-invasive and un-icky as possible, I am using reviews heavily. What does that mean? Everything I read, I review. On Goodreads, or on the site of purchase (Amazon or Goodreads for me, usually). I try to keep my reviews as positive as possible, and when giving criticism, being as matter-of-fact as possible, offering something that could actually be helpful to the author.

I also make it a point to go through the other reviews posted and Like, Mark Helpful, or whatever the site has available. I find it gratifying for two reasons:

  1. Some of these reviews are just plain hilarious. I just finished Oliver Twist and one of the Goodreads reviews was “Please, sir, may I have less?” Yeah, it’s pretty gorram wordy book. Thank you, pay-by-the word olde English publishers.
  2. It makes me feel like I am in good company. If the great Charles Dickens, a household name known by everyone who’s ever read a book, ever, can get a bjillion negative reviews, I can get my first bad one and not feel like a total failure.

Luckily, my reviews thus far have been very positive, but they were both from friends, so they kinda have to be nice to me. When strangers who aren’t so keen on my writing style start buying it by the bushel (positive thinking, people… positive thinking), I’m sure I’ll get a scathing review or two. And that’s okay. I don’t expect everyone on the planet to dig my writing style, just as there are plenty of people out there who didn’t, and still don’t, like Charles Dickens’ writing style, the wordy bastard. Not to compare myself to Charles Dickens, but hey…

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