The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

JACK THE HACK: Expat authors, let’s review the reviewer situation

JACK THE HACK _writingtipsAfter an expat experience in Bodrum, Turkey, that was literally something to write home about (as in a book!), Jack Scott traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back in the UK, than the one he was originally escaping from. In his monthly column for the Displaced Nation, he attempts to give back something to the poor souls out there who are still displaced and hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs or, in some cases, autobiographical novels. Jack the Hack has been there and done that and can lend a helping hand. Warning to non-Brits: Don’t be put off by his wry sense of humo(u)r!

—ML Awanohara

There’s no doubt that a sparkling set of reviews is one of the most potent ways to market a book (or anything else for that matter). Conversely, bad reviews (or no reviews at all) are poison.

So, how difficult is it to elicit those five gold stars everyone’s chasing?

Apart from emotionally blackmailing your nearest and dearest (something I assume you’ve already done), there are a number of little tricks you can try when it comes to beefing up your scrapbook.

Tricks of the trade

Here are three basics:
1) Whenever someone writes something positive about your masterpiece on social media or on your blog, do the right thing and thank them. While you’re at it, ask if they wouldn’t mind posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Some won’t but some will.

2) Search out book review sites online. Some review for free, some for a small fee—and all will expect a freebie. Many of these sites will post their review on the major bookselling sites as well as their own website.

3) Raise your game even further by approaching the Amazon top reviewers. Click on a reviewer, check out their interests and if they have listed their contact details, drop them a begging letter. This won’t guarantee you a good review (or one at all)—and be careful to select someone who is interested in your type of book. Someone into soft porn vampire romps is unlikely to rave about your expat escapades, however worthy and well written they are.

Damning with faint praise

There’s a downside to all this. Reviewing can be a rum business. Amateur hacks, often anonymous and sometimes with an axe to grind or with lofty literary pretensions, can damn with faint praise or go nuclear with their toxic pen.

Naturally, no book appeals to everyone. Literature, as with art, is in the eye of the beholder.

Even writers at the top of the heap get mixed critiques. Someone once wrote that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was “…the worst book I’ve ever read.” Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea—but the worst book ever?

Was the author, Louis de Bernières, much bothered? Not with a fat cheque for the film rights in his back pocket, he wasn’t.

Should a review like that count? Well, here’s the rub. Mass appeal retailers who positively encourage reviews as part of their business model are far too egalitarian. There’s very little discernment and no filter. Generally speaking, every comment carries equal weight. (A notable exception is something written by one of Amazon’s top reviewers, as mentioned earlier. These guys do have clout).

Hoisted by their own petard? If only…

Have you ever read a book review that’s so badly written, it’s barely readable? I know I have. Talk about irony. It’s like a playground brat screaming “I don’t like you so there!” just because he can.

For my part, if I don’t have anything good to say, I tend not to say it at all. It’s bad karma.

Like it or lump it, mixed reviews are an occupational hazard. People are entitled to express their view about something they’ve paid hard cash to read. Good, bad or indifferent, as long as it’s honest and not gratuitously offensive, it’s fair comment even when you think it’s unfair. Just hope the good drowns out the bad.

As for me, I’ve gotten off lightly. Reviews for my book have been very positive, but I’ve had the odd wobbly moment, too. Someone once joined Goodreads just to trash my book and make sure it dropped down a reading list by voting up every other title. Who was the literary troll? I will never know. Was I hurt? Sure was.

Rogue reviewers? It reminds me of why dogs lick themselves—because they can.

Which leads to—

WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 6:

The best you can do is rise above the din, turn the other cheek and keep you own counsel. It doesn’t do to spit back even when sorely provoked.

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

6 responses to “JACK THE HACK: Expat authors, let’s review the reviewer situation

  1. Aisha from expatlog September 5, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    More great advice delivered with characteristic avuncular reassurance – I’m fast developing a “what would Jack think/do?” default.

  2. Jack Scott September 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks Aisha. I aim to please🙂

    • ML Awanohara September 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm

      Aisha, funny you use the word “avuncular” – I do think Jack the Hack excels at being the uncle or auntie everyone needs when they’re doing something isolating like being a writer (and super-isolating if you’re a writer in a remote locale, far away from friends and family). Someone leaves a comment on your blog; answer it — that’s the right thing to do. Someone writes something positive about your book; thank them — that’s the right thing to do. Common sense, true; but surprisingly easy to lose sight of when you’re in your own little world… And the potential rewards for following that simple but important advice are infinite!

  3. Pingback: Now Let’s Review the Situation | perkingthepansies

  4. angelajardine September 23, 2013 at 6:42 am

    This is one of the bugbears of being a writer. I defend the principle of people having an opinion and being allowed to voice it but sometimes you do wonder about the mental capacity of some who leave reviews.
    I so agree with Jack … treat a bad review with dignified silence and forget it. if you get a good review – thank them, after all it’s only good manners … then offer to have their babies.🙂

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