How Do You Know If Something Is Actually Good?

Shortly after my book was published and released in paperback and eBook, I paid for two reviews from companies that assess books from independent authors. The first was BlueInk, a company I had met at an independent authors conference in 2017. The second was called Foreword/Clarion, which had a package deal with BlueInk. “Buy both, save money,” they said.

In the military, we’re taught that “two is one and one is none.” It was a cheeky phrase to describe the need to always have a backup to whatever it is that you need (radios, for instance). I applied the same principle to reviews, thinking that one review, either positive or negative, could be an outlier, but if I had two reviews, I could get a better sense of the “professional” assessment of my book.

BlueInk’s review was good and praised the book’s “sensory storytelling,” among other lauding. When I received the review from Foreword/Clarion, I was again excited, as my book was described as “honest…forthright…heartfelt…captivating.”

The day after the review was published, I received an email from someone at the New York Review of Books, asking if I’d like to advertise with them in the Independent Press Listing. I had never heard of it, and I had received plenty of emails from scammers who wanted me to pay them to promote my book to their “massive” followings.

The email from the advertising assistant described my book as a “great fit” and one that “deserve[d], in our estimation, mainstream attention.”

So, I inquired as to how this person discovered my book and why mine was different than the thousands of other books out there. And this is what I received in response:

The Foreword review of your book hinted at an intriguing story of redemption. That you apparently admit physical and emotional defeats throughout assures me that this memoir isn’t boastful, but contemplative, which is what New York Review of Books subscribers search for in our listing. I was also encouraged by the particular adjectives Kristine Morris [the Foreword/Clarion reviewer] used: “captivating”; “honest and forthright.” As you may know, Foreword is rather critical, so to earn this kind of praise is an achievement in itself. This is a very personal, somewhat distressing, personal story, but I can tell that, as more people read it, they will feel encouraged in the pursuit of their goals.

There was one thing in the response that struck me.

“Foreword is rather critical.”

So I went back to the Foreword/Clarion website…and, yes…the advertising assistant was right. These reviewers had no qualms about trashing a book if they thought it was garbage. I looked at more than 100 book reviews. Many had two stars, a solid amount had three stars, and a few had four stars. I saw one with five stars. My book was given four stars. Maybe I really had something here… Maybe I actually did write a good book…

The review from Foreword/Clarion was very good, and the difference was that it wasn’t from a friend or family. While I appreciated the support from those close to me, all were biased in wanting to support me and wanting to see my work be successful. But Kristine Morris didn’t know me. I had no contact with her. And she thought Get After It was really good.

That was how I decided that, just maybe, my book was actually good. An outside perspective from an unknown person. The complete third-party, unbiased viewpoint.

Based on the conversation with the advertising agent, I decided to bite the bullet and pay to advertise my book twice in the New York Review of Books Independent Publishing List, a periodical that went to more than 135,000 subscribers. In early December, I received an advance copy of it and was proud of my decision. Now that the December issue is out, we’ll see if my honest and forthright book will continue to spread the motivation for someone to get after whatever their “it” is.

Get After It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers.

3 thoughts on “How Do You Know If Something Is Actually Good?

    1. As an author with only one published book, I tell other new authors the same advice I told myself: You have to want to write a book and not plan for any financial gain. In the end, I’ve spent close to $7,000 on the publishing costs, marketing, a book launch party, etc. I’ve brought in about $700 in revenue. Was it worth it? Yes, because my stories are out with the world, and I’m very proud of that. If I was purely in it for financial gain, clearly it would be a poor investment.


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