I’ve just spotted that this little paperback of my short story Lighting Up Time has been reduced to about half price (£1.52) by Amazon’s UK store just now, so I thought I’d flag that up for you before they put the price back up to its usual £2.99. (Usual price applies in other Amazon stores.)
Set just before Christmas at the winter solstice, 21st December, it’s a timely read for these dark, wet, windy winter nights, telling the story of a young woman trying to come to terms with her fear of the dark as she babysits her nephew and niece in a remote country house.
With equal touches of spookiness and humour, it’s a touching, feel-good quick read that’s just right for this time of year.
The small format paperback is the size of a postcard, which makes it a great stocking-filler or Secret Santa gift, and just the right size to slip inside a Christmas card. It’s also available as an ebook for just 99p/99c.
What Readers Say:
“Lovely story that perfectly captures that big sister/little sister thing, and Aunt Sophie is a lovely gentle presence throughout – I especially like the way you use scent (perfume, flowers) to evoke her.” – Lucienne Boyce, historical novelist
“You had me scared of the dark with you!” Melanie Spiller
“Lovely story and a great, feel-good ending .” – Christina Courtenay, romantic novelist
“Debbie Young packs so much into her short and poignant stories.” – Tom Evans
I don’t know how long Amazon will be running this special offer, so if you fancy it, best snap it up while you can!
There are worse ways for a writer to start the week than discovering that overnight one of your books has been awarded the coveted orange “bestseller” flag on the Amazon store serving your home turf (UK in my case).
I admit I’m chuffed, even though I know the flag will disappear as soon as another book knocks it off the top spot. And that’s just as it should be. If every Amazon bestseller flag remained in place for ever, the system would lose its value – and authors would become complacent and vain.
What This Means
To be clear, the bestseller flag doesn’t mean it’s top of the whole Amazon UK ebook chart, but top of a particular category. In this case, Best Murder in Showis currently #1 in the “cozy culinary mystery” list. Over the weekend, it also hit #2 in the “cozy crafts and hobbies mystery” class.
Both of these are sub-genres of the larger “cozy mystery” chart. All four Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries usually float about somewhere in the top 100 of that list in the UK Amazon store.
If the Category Fits…
With the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series featuring plenty of food and drink (a large part of the book is set in a tea room or the pub, with Hector’s hooch a popular feature) and hobbies (amateur dramatics, writing, dressmaking, gardening, etc), it’s a good fit for these two sub-genres.
That’s a relief, as Amazon’s classifications can be a bit hit and miss, confusing readers and frustrating writers. A recent bestseller in “non-fiction dog-care” was a detective novel in which the heroine’s sidekick is canine. I hope she is an exemplary dog-owner.
What’s Next for Sophie Sayers?
But for now I must set aside such distractions and press on with this week’s writing priority: preparing for my proofreader the manuscript of Sophie’s fifth adventure, Springtime for Murder.
More news of Springtime for Murderwill follow shortly, when I unveil its new cover and set it up for pre-order in the run up to its October launch.
You can buy Best Murder in Show in paperback or ebook online here
or order the paperback from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.
(Rewards that reinforce my delight in reviewing other authors’ books)
As regular readers of my blog may know, I love reviewing books and do so in a professional capacity for a couple of magazines in two completely different genres – a British parenting magazine called Today’s Child and an international literary journal called Vine Leaves.
For Today’s Child, I pick books that will sit well in a feature with a different theme each month (the next one will be children’s diaries). For Vine Leaves, I’m sent a list of books to choose from, all of them written by contributors to Vine Leaves. I’m also able to pick a book a quarter from the Historical Novel Society’s list, as I review for their website too.
Of course these aren’t the only books I read. I get through at least one a week, often more, and I review these books for pleasure, usually on Amazon, sometimes on Goodreads (a site that’s hailed as social media for readers, but to be honest I find it a frustratingly clunky site so don’t go on there that much – and as it’s now owned by Amazon, it may only be a matter of time before my Amazon reviews are accessible from Goodreads anyway). When I have time, I also review books on my own website here.
Rising up the Ranks of Amazon Reviewers
The more books you review, the higher your ranking on Amazon’s list of reviewers. Exactly how it calculates reviewers’ ranking is a mystery, but it is certainly influenced by a mix of the frequency of your reviews, the quality, how often readers click the “helpful” or “unhelpful” button underneath each published review. It is not clear whether it also favours you if you bought the book you’re reviewing on Amazon.
About a year ago, I realised that I was swiftly moving up the list, and I’m now edging towards the top 1,000 (#1,307 today, though I’ve been higher), which earns the reviewer a special label alongside their reviews. That badge is about as meaningful as a child being given a sticker at school for good work or behaviour, but aren’t we all big kids at heart? I’m looking forward to the day I get mine! You can find more about the rules of being an Amazon reviewer on its website.
Complimentary Products for Top Reviewers
Anyone who reaches a certain level in this ladder is likely to start receiving offers out of the blue from sellers keen to have you review their product. At least, that’s if you’ve made your email address public on your profile, which I did a few months ago.
The smart seller goes through the list of top reviewers to search a match for their product – those who have written great reviews for similar products – and emails you a polite request, offering a free product in return for an honest review. You’re obliged to declare in your review that you’ve received the product this way. Since I made my email address public a few months ago, I’ve received some unexpected but appreciated products: a new card game, a bathroom scales, an in-car charger for multiple phones, and more. My latest Amazon package was a compelling autobiography by the American artist Marcia Gloster, 31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction. I was hand-picked by her New York agent. for the quality of my previous reviews. Gosh!
There’s no obligation to accept anything you’re offered this way, but it’s a bit of fun to receive the gifts you like. I can understand why some people become obsessed with reviewing and make it the focal point of their life. One of them has even written a book about it. And yes, of course, I reviewed it!
The More Important Rewards of Reviewing
But public recognition and free gifts are not the rewards I meant to focus on when I set out to write this article. What makes my heart sing after I’ve filed a new review is to receive a message from the author saying that I totally “got” their book. To know that I’ve read and understood and connected with their purpose feels like a creative spark has passed between us. Reviewing doesn’t get better than that.
Without wanting to sound like I’m showing off (ok, so I AM showing off), here are two quotes from authors whose work I’ve recently reviewed:
And that brings me to another bonus of reviewing: the discovery of new books and authors that I’d otherwise never have come across. My introduction to both Charles and Joanna came from Vine Leaves, which does an amazing job in drawing attention to great authors who deserve to be better known. (Vine Leaves is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to support their work – if you’d like to do so, you can contribute here.)The same can be said of the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Review programme, for which I review books written by self-published authors. The HNS scheme is now blessed with a new Award, thanks to the pioneering campaign by my lovely friend Helen Hollick, herself a bestselling historical novelist with a heart as big as a house.
Speaking of hearts, there’s one last reward of reviewing that I’d like to mention: that as an author myself, I know how heartwarming it is to receive an enthusiastic review for my own work, and the arrival of not one but two glowing reviews for my latest book, the collection of very short stories (aka flash fiction) has made my week already – and it’s still only Tuesday.
So if you’re a keen reader who hasn’t considered reviewing the books you read yet, do please consider it. They don’t have to be long or smart or original – the minimum length required by Amazon is just 20 words. And if you do, I’m sure you’ll find, as I do, that it’s not only the author who will reap rewards.
If you’re wondering about the origin of the jigsaw puzzle photo at the top of this piece, click on the link to read the post in which it first appeared on my blog:
(A new post about book reviews and my reading habits)
The decision I made some time ago to read and review books outside my comfort zone has brought many rewards.
None of these has been financial, which is worth mentioning given the subject matter of the book I’ll be talking about further down this post. No, I’m talking about rewards in terms of the discovery of many terrific new books that would otherwise have been off my radar.
Another good decision was to include my email address on my Amazon profile. Since I’ve reached the heady heights of top reviewer status (well, top 1,500, anyway – currently #1,453 in the UK), I’ve received a steady stream of emails from authors asking me to review their books.
With a teetering to-read pile constantly tumbling down by my bed, and the black hole that is my Kindle hiding dozens of downloads, I’ve always got more books than I have time to read, but whenever I receive a courteous, friendly request to review a book that sounds interesting, I do my best to squeeze it in, unless it sounds like a book I’d actively dislike.
How I Choose Which Books to Review
I often use Amazon’s handy “Look Inside” feature to check out the first few pages before saying yes – if the first few pages don’t appeal, it’s unlikely the rest of the book will. That’s a far more reliable guide to a book’s readibility than checking out the other reviews.
I’ve also learned a new trick here: if there is a suspiciously high number of five star reviews, I’ll click on each reviewer to see how many other reviews they’ve left. If there are none, I can be pretty confident that they doing an author friend a favour, and I take their verdict with a pinch of salt.
So, top tip to authors who ask friends to bung up a 5* review for them: while they’re at it, get them to review loads of other books with various star ratings to add credibility to their review of your book. ( I jest.)
And that kind of activity brings me neatly (ok, with a bit of a shove, then) to the latest book that I’ve discovered via this route: Fatal Forgery by Susan Grossey. Susan sent me a very pleasant email asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing it, after she’d discovered me via my recent article in ALCS News. She included a link to an early review in the Law Gazette. It was glowing, but given the context, I was happy to believe that it was legal, decent, honest and truthful!
Fatal Forgery is a historical novel set in the Regency period, following the adventures of a police constable investigating a case of fraud.
Fraud isn’t a subject that usually excites me, although it clearly does engage Susan, in a way that is completely above board (although when I followed her on Twitter, it did suggest as “similar to @SusanGrossey” a certain @CriminalGenius!)
Susan writes about money laundering for a living, in publications that surely must be contenders for the satirical TV programme Have I Got News For You‘s guest magazine of the week, with titles such as Money Laundering Bulletin. (“This week’s top tip: how to get your fivers whiter than white” etc. I’ll leave to you invent equally childish quips of your own.)
Forgery, in Regency times, was potentially punishable by death – a fact that 21st century bankers would do well to remember. That would keep them on the straight and narrow. When the promised book turned up in the post, the beautiful, appropriate cover and atmospheric interior design had me quickly turning the pages, and I was hooked. I’ve reviewed the book on my blog, as well as on Amazon UK/US and Goodreads. (I know how to make an author happy!) There’s a link at the foot of this post.
An Amazon-induced email also introduced me to Carol M Cram, another debut historical novelist, whose story of medieval Italian artists, The Towers of Tuscany, kept me entertained on my journey to and from the Cambridge Literary Festival recently. Would a writer working in Canada really be able to conjure up the colourful Mediterranean of times gone by, I wondered? Yes, and in spades, is the answer. Follow the link at the foot of this post to read my review – as always, the reviews on my blog are slightly different to those I post on Amazon and Goodreads.
But now it’s all change again, as my current read has taken me to 1970s Ghana, thanks to In A Foreign Country by Hilary Shepherd – another author who contacted me after reading my ALCS News article. Who needs to go on holiday when you can travel so far – and in time as well – via the pages of a good book, without even getting out of bed? I’ll review this as soon as I’ve read it.
All the same, I’m looking forward to travelling in real life to Ithaca this August, when I’ll be helping other authors at the Homeric Writers’ Retreat. I’m inspired before I’ve even got on the plane: “A dozen authors come together for a peaceful workshop on a tiny, idyllic Greek island.The authors’ ink and the local wine are flowing steadily until….”
You never know, that could become the blurb for my own debut novel – watch this space!
In the last 48 hours, I’ve stepped way outside my reading comfort zone.
As a frequent book reviewer, I’m often asked to consider books that I’d never choose in a bookshop or library – unlike the Ladybird book pictured here, which I snapped up in a secondhand bookshop the other day for the sake of its bizarre cover, and because I adore vintage Ladybird books.
Sometimes the publications I review for send me copies of books they particularly want me to consider, other times authors or publicists approach me on spec, after finding my name on Amazon’s list of top reviewers.
Admittedly they have to trawl for quite a long way to reach me, as I’m currently ranked around the 1,400 mark. If they’ve got that far, I so admire their staying power that I’m likely to agree to their request for a review, provided they ask me nicely. There’s nothing that hacks off a book reviewer as much as an author’s assumption that sending you a free book entitles them to a review. Except authors who do that and then reel off a long list of sites on which they expect you to post your review, including some that you’ve never even visited.
Why I Review Books
I love book reviewing. For one thing, it prevents me from slipping into a cosy habit of rereading old favourites and their clones. It’s too easy to treat book buying like clothes shopping, being drawn like a magnet to those you already know and love. (And I really don’t need to buy any more knee length boots, denim jackets or cordoruoy leggings.)
I therefore made it my policy long ago to keep an open mind about review requests, turning down only anything featuring violence or unnecessary tragedy.
Two New Reading Experiences in One Day
So it happened today that I found myself reviewing both a YA (young adult) steampunk thriller (sent to me by the debut author) and a collection of Polish poetry in translation (received from Vine Leaves Literary Journal, for which I’m a staff reviewer).
Now, I have a lot of books in my house, including a floor-to-ceiling to-read bookcase in my bedroom. But until this week I didn’t possess a single steampunk thriller or Polish poem. In fact I only recently worked out what steampunk is. (If you don’t know either, check out the Urban Dictionary’s definition here). Although I enjoy poetry, and still treasure some of the poetry books I had from school and university, I’m not sure I’ve ever knowingly read a Polish poem.
But what a joy these books have been to read, filling my imagination with new adventures and images, and changing the way I look at the world, just a little, as every good book should. It was also satisfying to write their reviews. Formulating a book review always helps me mentally digest what I’ve read. By doing so, I extract far more pleasure than if I’d just closed each book on finishing and moved on to the next one in my to-read pile without any further thought.
How To Make An Author Happy
I also gain pleasure from knowing that the book’s authors will appreciate my response. As an author myself, I know the warm glow that comes from spotting a new review of one of your books.
Strangely, in the time it’s taken me to read and review those two books, two more new reviews have come in for one of my own books (Sell Your Books!, now with 42 reviews on Amazon UK, average rating 4.6*)) – not from the authors of the books I reviewed, but from two completely different readers. Is there some kind of book reviewer’s karma at work? To any writer who also reads books (as all writers should), that’s got to be a comforting thought.
Whatever you’re reading just now, if you enjoy the book, take a moment to thank the author by leaving a quick review on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other site that you prefer. I guarantee you’ll make the author’s day.
If you liked this post, you might like these others about books and reading: