When I first decided to go the indie route with my book, one of the things that I spent the most time wondering about was reviews. Like most people I had – before reality bit hard – dreamed of glowing reviews in the books pages of the big newspapers. In my mind’s eye I had stacked up piles of my own paperback edition on the front tables at Waterstones, each emblazoned with glittering quotes from professional critics and household-name authors.
Of course, I always knew that this was a far-fetched fantasy, but once I had happily plumped for self-publishing I did find myself wondering whether I would ever enjoy the experience of having people I’ve never met passing objective comment on my work. I was well aware of the tales of corruption and sock-puppetry in the world of Amazon reviews. I was aware too of the business of paid review services for indie authors. I certainly had no interest in the former route, but for a while I wondered whether maybe the latter concept was a viable option. Above all, when I looked at other indie titles with their great runs of reader reviews on Amazon I wondered how they had ever gotten off the ground. I’ve kept very quiet about the book amongst my family and friends since publishing it – not because I’m embarrassed about it, but because I felt like I should let it gain at least whatever modest momentum it can attain in its own right before letting them give their inevitably biased opinions.
But at the same time I felt that without doing something proactive then the book would just sit there forever, with the words “be the first to review this item” taunting me and tempting me to the dark side every time I went online. I’d done a free giveaway in the first week of publication, and achieved a very modest – seriously, very modest – tally of downloads. I’d seen comments on forums about the typically minuscule ratio of free downloads to reviews, so I was holding out little hope and beginning to ponder my next move.
But then something wonderful happened.
A reader review appeared on Amazon on 14 January, just two weeks after the book was published. It was short and sweet. It called Freedom Like a Shopping Cart “A very satisfying picture of life on the cusp of adulthood” and said that “Alex Johnston captures perfectly the mood of a generation”. I was, needless to say, over the moon, and actually, one of the best things about the review was that it gave the book four, not five, stars. I had no idea who the reviewer was, but that he or she hadn’t given me the full galaxy made it seem all the more objective and authentic.
That one review would have kept me happy for a good while – but then just six days later another one appeared. This one gave me the full five stars, which was lovely, especially as the earlier review seemed to have established a tone of credibility. Like the first review this once gave enough solid detail of the book to make sure that anyone coming across it would have little reason to be suspicious. But more importantly for me, it praised my writing in incredibly generous terms. I was, suffice to say, left with a very warm glow.
Of course, two unsolicited reader reviews on Amazon might seem an incredibly modest achievement compared to those old fantasies of page-long puffs in the Times Literary Supplement. But actually, I couldn’t be happier. Somewhere out there two people I have never met, who owe me nothing, have read my book. They have read it, and they have enjoyed it on objective terms. That, in the end, is all the reward any writer could ever ask for.