What kind of person receives a compliment, then goes on the internet to brag about it? In most cases I would say such a person is behaving badly and needs a good dose of humility. But how else can authors, especially those without publicists, draw attention to favorable reviews, in hopes of persuading potential readers that their books have merit? There may be better ways, but I haven’t figured them out. So, at the risk of my character, this post is about the reviews my novel Jim Wrenn has been getting.
When I published the book in January, I worried that even though it seemed a good effort to me, readers might find it be bad. Perhaps embarrassingly bad. When I was interviewed by the local paper after the release, I said just that. “I don’t know if the book is any good. It might be embarrassingly bad.” I’m pretty sure that is not the best way to drum up interest in the book.
But to my great delight and relief, the reviews have been excellent! I couldn’t be happier with how powerfully the story is resonating with many of the people who have read it.
Jim Wrenn now has over 20 five star reviews on Amazon. Most are from people I don’t know. I’m very grateful for good reviews from friends, but the reviews from strangers are particularly satisfying, because I don’t have any reason to wonder about their sincerity.
Reviews on Amazon are very helpful to authors of course, so I very much appreciate them. But most readers don’t leave Amazon reviews. And some of the comments I’ve received in other ways have been greatly encouraging.
At one event a woman came up afterwards and told me that she had spent 40 years working in the spinning room at the mill. She said my book was the best description of it she’s ever seen. At another event, after telling me how much he loved the book, a farmer in his 80’s told me that it reminded him of his childhood. “I know where Maple Grove is,” he said, as if he’d figured out a secret. “I recognize the places you describe.” He then announced, somewhat triumphantly, that Maple Grove was actually the community he grew up in (he called it by name)–a place I know only vaguely. It felt good to know that this man recognized his home in the book–even though it wasn’t the same place I had in mind.
A woman I’ve know since I was a little boy sent me a note she’d received from her 80-something sister, also a former mill worker and tobacco farmer. “I really, really loved the book. So many good memories of my life growing up. Some so very real. Reading it has been one of the joys of my life….The man who wrote the book really has the facts right. Tell him thank you for me.” What red blooded author wouldn’t delight in receiving a note like that?
I’m very pleased that the book has also caused people to share their stories with me. After a talk I gave recently a man came up to me and said that his grandmother starting working at the mill when she was a child. At that time the rules required workers to be at least 12 years old (there was no such rule at the time of my story and many of the workers were under 12), so his grandmother smudged out the date in the family Bible, changing her date of birth to make it appear she was 12 so she could get the job. Later she tried to correct the date but left the entry so smudged that the family now isn’t sure when she was born. Another friend told me on Facebook that while her mother started working at the mill at age 12, her aunt started when she was 9 and had to stand on a box to reach the loom.
Probably the review that most stunned me was sent to me by a friend, who had given the book as a gift to one of his neighbors (who I didn’t know). The man liked the book so much that he bought copies for all his children, sending it to them with this note.
That’s the kind of review an author dreams about. To know that at least some people are getting what I was trying to say and do definitely makes it worthwhile.
Finally, I was blown away by a short review left on Amazon by a reasonably well-known author from California. I have no idea how he found about my book. It’s hard for me to imagine a better review: “A book that might save us. This is the novel I’ve been looking for. It is utterly gripping as it tells of lives that include great sorrow as well as joy. The values it promotes are the ones we need now, the ones that could save us.”
Now I’m sure there are people out there who don’t like the book. So far they’ve been kind enough not to say so.
So there. I have tooted my own horn. But be assured that if I had only a few good reviews amidst a bunch of bad ones, I wouldn’t have done it.
Please consider requesting the book from your local library.