Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: reviews

Ratings and Reviews

Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels

This past month I was fortunate to have sold plenty of copies of A Time and a Place. About 1400 copies, all told. And copies of Other Times and Places, too. People have been reading my work, and forming opinions about it. This is great, and I’m pretty happy about it. It has resulted in reviews and ratings on several platforms, primarily Amazon, Kobo, and Goodreads. And not just Amazon Canada, but in the US, Australia, and Great Britain as well, and some of the ratings from those locations have shown up on Amazon India too.

Although I wish I was impervious to reviews and ratings, I’m not. Maybe one day I will be (I kind of doubt it). Whenever I notice a new review or rating has been added, I get butterflies. My curiosity gets the better of me, and I scroll down to see how one tiny portion of the universe has reacted to my work. Sometimes the response is positive; sometimes less so. You have to take it all with a grain of salt. You have to develop a thick skin. But that can be easier said than done.

The work I’ve publicly released into the world, that I consider worthy of an ISBN, that I dare to charge money for, is the best I was capable of producing at the time I created it. I gave it all a great deal of thought and in most cases injected massive amounts of time and effort into it. If someone indicates that they’ve liked it, I’m gratified and feel a tiny bit vindicated. If someone indicates that they really dislike or hate it, I get a bit deflated, at least temporarily. If someone reveals that they’re ambivalent to my work, or they kind of like it but consider it flawed in some way, I’m disappointed but okay with it.

I’ve received a couple of one star ratings on Goodreads. They haven’t been accompanied by reviews, so I consider them meaningless. I’ve heard Goodreads described as “crazy town” by other writers, so some of what shows up there you just have to ignore.

Now that I know how much work goes into writing and publishing a book, I’m a bit bemused by the whole concept of ratings and reviews. Sometimes I think you shouldn’t be allowed to simply rate someone else’s work without an accompanying review. You should have to defend your rating. Shouldn’t you?

A writer spends (in some cases) years of their life working on their opus only to have someone read it in a matter of days (perhaps not even closely) and then dash off a rating in few seconds (or a flippant review in minutes). It doesn’t seem quite fair. Fortunately, this doesn’t bother me too much. I have long since abandoned the idea that life is fair (it’s a recurring theme in my work, after all).

For ratings and reviews to be fair they would have to be produced with integrity. Ideally the reader would read the work reasonably closely and reflect upon it before producing an opinion that they then back up with a cogent, considered argument. Although I much prefer to receive four and five star reviews, I don’t mind receiving a three star review if it’s accompanied by a solid rationale explaining why my book only merited three stars. I might even agree with it.

Myself, I can’t rate any book less than four stars anymore (although I have done so in the past). I just can’t bring myself to do it because I relate too strongly to the authors of those books. I know they’ve worked hard on their book, and they’re trying to sell it, and anything less than four stars isn’t going to help sell the book. I hasten to add (for those of you who have given my work three stars) that this is just me. I’m not complaining about your rating or asking you to change it (something I would never do). Different ratings mean different things to different people. Megan Lindholm (writing as Robin Hobb) posted the following on her Goodreads account:

“I am shocked to find that some people think a 2 star ‘I liked it’ rating is a bad rating. What? I liked it. I LIKED it! That means I read the whole thing, to the last page, in spite of my life raining comets on me. It’s a good book that survives the reading process with me. If a book is so-so, it ends up under the bed somewhere, or maybe under a stinky judo bag in the back of the van. So a 2 star from me means yes, I liked the book, and I’d loan it to a friend and it went everywhere in my jacket pocket or purse until I finished it.”

Megan lindholm

So that’s what a two star rating means to her. It’s not what it means to me! Myself, I’m appalled that she would even consider rating the work of a fellow writer two stars. Three stars I could see: the existence of three star ratings accompanied by a well-reasoned review helps lend integrity to the rest of the reviews. But two stars? That’s just insulting. And I say that as a fan of Megan Lindholm’s work. The Wizard of the Pigeons is one of my favourite books. I rated it four stars (instead of five) because of the ham-fisted execution of the final three pages, which, in my opinion, almost completely undermines the quality of what comes before. Perhaps I should revise my rating to two stars.

I know that ratings and reviews are ultimately meaningless. All that really matters is that we do the best we can when we produce our work. We mustn’t derive our self-esteem from external sources. True value (and self-worth) comes from within.

And I shall do my best to remember that.

A Time and a Place Stats

People often ask me how the writing’s going. I interpret the question pretty broadly. As in, how’s the new writing going? Fairly well, thanks.

And: how’s my first novel doing?

There’s no short answer to that question. At least, no short accurate answer.

A Time and a Place has been available just over two years now. I usually tell people that I’m not quite in Stephen King territory yet but it’s going reasonably well, and that my excellent publisher tells me that the book has paid for itself, which I hope leaves the impression that it’s achieved some measure of success.

Whether the book truly can be considered successful depends on who you’re asking, I think. I suspect that any big-time publisher might condemn the book as a complete and utter failure. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code sold eighty million copies. Compared to that, A Time and a Place has not exactly taken the world by storm.  

The aforementioned big-time publisher might—I say might—concede that the critical reception for A Time and a Place (professional and otherwise) has been reasonably favourable, but they would probably also feel compelled to point out the rather small sample size.

Some novelists, I suspect, might suggest that merely completing and publishing a novel constitutes success because doing so is goddamned hard. While I accept that, most novelists would also admit that that’s not enough. Almost all of us (if we’re being honest with ourselves) would admit that we define real success as massive book sales and wide critical acclaim. On those scores, A Time and a Place can not exactly be considered an unmitigated success.

Still, to be fair (especially to those who helped me with the book), it’s probably performing perfectly fine considering it’s a first novel by an unknown author published by an independent press. I assume all responsibility for any lack of greater success. And I am well aware that the freakish success of an author like Dan Brown is pretty much a complete fluke.

But I’ll let you be the judge. Here are the facts. Let’s start with sales.

As of my most recent Royalty statement, for the first quarter of this year, covering up to March 31st 2019, A Time and a Place has sold a total of 454 books.

Of those, my publisher sold 333 print editions, 98 e-books, 1 e-library edition, and 22 audio books.

Of the 333 physical copies my publisher sold, I sold 134 of those myself after purchasing them from my publisher (at a discount). I gave away 13 books as gifts, another 2 were kinda gifts (I thought the people would pay but they never did), and 1 copy was stolen after a reading at a library (she picked it up off the table when I was across the room. I didn’t confront her. I dunno, maybe she thought it was free).  I have another 18 copies sitting in my basement to have available for readings and book fairs and so on.

I earn 50% of net on any e-books sold, 10% on print (possibly more if I sell them myself, depending how much I charge), 50% on e-library copies, and 50% on audio books. A Time and a Place has earned me a total of $5989.68 since July 2017 when it first came out. Factor in the cost of purchasing books at a discount from the publisher to resell, all the marketing and promotion I do to supplement what my publisher does, along with treating myself to attending one writer’s convention per year, and I’m not exactly getting rich. Actually, technically I’m in the red, if I’m honest about how much I’ve spent on writing related activities since I began all this.  

So yeah, I don’t think I could call A Time and a Place a huge success financially so far.

It’s fared better on the critical front. Reviews have been mostly positive.

On Goodreads, it has been rated 42 times, accompanied by 23 reviews. It currently averages 4.35 out of 5, consisting of twenty-four 5 star reviews, thirteen 4 star reviews, four 3 star reviews,  one 2 star review and one 1 star review. It’s been added to 100 bookshelves, including 45 To-Read shelves.

23 of those 45 ratings have been accompanied by reviews. The reviews range from positive: “Mahoney writes with a practised wit,” “I loved this mesmerising audiobook with its non stop action and adventure,” and “A brilliant, often hilarious, thoughtful and amazing read,” to not so positive: “The second half of the book got a bit muddled for me.” “I think that the author was a bit too ambitious,” and “one of the least likeable protagonists I’ve read in some time.” 

On Amazon.ca it has been reviewed four times. All of those have been 5 star reviews.

On Amazon.com it has been reviewed twelve times (one 3 star review, two 4 star reviews, and nine 5 star reviews).

On Amazon.co.uk, it has been reviewed two times (both 5 star reviews)

Barnes and Noble has two reviews, one 3 star and one 5 star.

On Library Thing it has garnered six reviews (two 5 star, two 4 star, one 3 star and one 2 star, averaging 3.57 stars).

There are a few other reviews out there as well, mostly positive, a couple less so, on blogs and Audible. Some are replicated on Goodreads.

Out of the approximately eighty people who have rated the book, I personally know, am related to, or have met (at least once) around twenty. The rest are complete strangers to me. Personally knowing or having met those who have rated the book has been no guarantee of a positive review; three acquaintances have given A Time and a Place three star reviews.  

A Time and a Place has also been reviewed professionally by Publishers Weekly, who gave it a largely positive review when it first came out employing such words as “skillfully,” “entertaining,” and “great” to describe the writing, but the reviewer also discouraged me from getting too fat a head by suggesting that “occasional segments… distract or feel a little overdone.”

The book is currently being carried in seventeen libraries around the world according to WorldCat, in libraries ranging from Austin, Texas to Madison, Wisconsin to Rangiora, New Zealand, and at least three Canadian libraries that I know of, possibly more (despite having only sold one e-library edition; most libraries appear to have purchased print editions).

Does any of this matter? Of course! Otherwise I wouldn’t have written about it.  🙂  Also, I just thought some folks, especially fellow writers just starting out, might find it interesting.

Does it REALLY matter?

Of course not.

But it sure is a great way to procrastinate.

One final thought. Here’s a great Ted Talk from Albert-László Barabási on how to increase your chances of success in any field, writing included.

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