Review Madness! by E. Michael Helms

My latest Mac McClellan Mystery (#4) was launched January 15 by Camel Press (as most of you followers of MMO already know). With this book, I dared to do things a little differently than I’ve done with the previous books in the series. Namely, I purposely didn’t seek out as many pre-pub reviews as I’ve done for the previous three books. Results? I’m so glad you asked! 

Although Deadly Spirits is (in my honest, humble opinion) the most complex and interesting mystery thus far in the series, it has garnered the LEAST  reviews (so far) of all previous books thus far in its brief release history. I probably sent under 50% ARCs to reviewers than I’ve done in the past. The results speak for themselves.

The few reviews I’ve received from reviewers (fellow writers & review blogs) have been very encouraging. To whit:

Deadly Spirits is a haunting mystery with an ingenious plot, vivid setting and memorable characters, chief among them the incomparable Mac McClellan, who is easily one of my favorite PIs out there. This latest installment will satisfy fans of the series while sending newcomers scrambling to catch up. If you like Robert Crais and Harlan Coben, you’ll surely dig Deadly Spirits. I know I did. Highly recommended.”

–Max Everhart, author of the Eli Sharpe Mystery series; SHAMUS Award finalist, Split to Splinters

“I loved everything about Deadly Spirits by E Michael Helms. He has included a lot of extras besides the mystery… a critter to fall in love with, a dash of the psychotic and a pinch of the paranormal…a recipe for success. I love Mac and this is my favorite adventure … so far. Michael has brought him a long way, making him more complex in his simplicity. I can hardly wait for more!”

–Sherry @

All the above to say this: is busting your butt (all authors out there in publishing land, excepting those few “big name” authors), and taking so much very valuable time away from your writing, worth the results? However meager or worthwhile they might be?

proud bastards
Military memoir

My answer, truthfully, is no. It pains me to say it. I’ve worked my proverbial ass off promoting my books. My first book was published over 26 years ago by a “big” publisher, and remains in print today. I still receive royalty checks twice a year; and they are much more than I ever dreamed about when I first sold the manuscript through my first agent. (Note: I’ve never done anything to promote the book, beyond local book fairs, signings, etc.) Yes, the monetary amount has diminished in the past couple of years, but it’s been a GREAT run!

of blood brothers
Historical fiction

However, to bring things into perspective: I spent a decade researching and writing a historical saga about a real family/events during the Civil War/Reconstruction era. I consider it the best work I’ve ever written. However, it was a total flop when published. I’ve since received all rights back for the work, and my agent is shopping it around. Perhaps it’s the dumbing down of our school system that’s the culprit. Or, maybe my self-vaunted work sucks–who knows for sure?

Which brings me back to my original premise (which I probably failed to bring to the forefront of this missive): is it worth all the time, effort, and expense for authors to present their work to the (very limited) public? Are thirty reviews at Amazon worth more than ten or fifteen? Does it really matter one way or another? Inquiring minds want to know.

What are YOUR thoughts about it, as a reader, writer, or both? I would truly relish hearing YOUR viewpoint!

e-michael-helms-headshotMichael Helms is the author of several novels, and one non-fiction work, The Proud Bastard, a memoir of the author’s service in Vietnam as a combat Marine. He currently writes the Mac McClellan Mystery series, published by Camel Press. Visit him at his website:

or at his Amazon author page:









15 thoughts on “Review Madness! by E. Michael Helms

  1. You’ve raised such an important question, Michael. I honestly don’t have the answer, either. I think authors do have to do some things to promote their work. But that said, I don’t know that there’s a ‘silver bullet’ for how to do it. That makes promotion frustrating, since, as you say, it takes time away from writing. And, for authors who have ‘day jobs,’ that adds an extra pressure. I do think social media has made promo easier. But I don’t have the ‘magic recipe.’ I wish I did…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks, Margot. I receive the BookBub email daily, and I’m often astounded how some of their featured books have several hundred reviews at Amazon, including a majority of 5-Star reviews. Most of those also have a high percentage of 1-Star reviews. I’ve always been curious how these books receive that astounding number of reviews. I don’t have that many friends after all my years on this earth! It beats me. It gets so frustrating at times. Oh well, it is what it is. Thanks for your comments and continued support! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am quite aware of and have read all your books because they are so well and evenly written and because the PROUD BASTARDS and BLOOD AND BROTHERS 1 and 2 are way over the top as far as quality goes and way over the top in terms of history and structure and just plain quality.that I have learned as much from reading them as i ever did in any class. The mystery works are just as even and beautifully written but they are in a different genre. I am also fascinated with the quality and originality of the newest Dinger PI writings. I am sure it is frustrating to be able to write in different genres and be tied up in mediocre reviews ( really , no insult to anyone) from people who do not understand or care about writing. As to who these reviews come from when they are not from friends who read a writer’s work, I have to conclude they are from friends and people who mean well but do not understand writing. DEADLY SPIRITS is a very fine piece of work. I also see the same writing from other very exceptional writers giving them a 1 star and “it’s boring” when the piece of work is so very fine. I have concluded that we are becoming deadened to good writing and unable after being educated to understand what is good and what is not. I hate to come to these conclusions but after having done a lot of tutoring and discovering that not only my college students but also the few children i worked with do not have the same love of learning and reading in general that others have had we will have to continue to write and do it for the love of it and for the times we are paid. I value this writer’s workshop and all I have and will learn. I do thank everyone who is involved here and value their writing. I imagine it is, with writing, that we kind of pull up our chairs and write and bleed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m truly humbled by your high esteem for my writing, MJ, and I appreciate it. I find it difficult to accept compliments well, which seems contradictory to this post. In this day and age of “instant gratification” and very short attention spans, reading books must seem mundane at best to a lot of “millennials” (is that the word?). Still, we writers bust our fannies doing what we do. I’ve given away scores of books to friends and relatives over the years. I’ve had to buy those books (at my author’s discount), but I could count the number of reviews resulting from those gifted books on one hand and still have a finger or two left over. It’s simply frustrating. We all know that writing isn’t easy, but no one is holding a gun to our head and forcing us to write. I sometimes wish I could give it up and walk away. Hmm, sounds like I could use a vacation. . . . 🙂


  4. As a reader and an author, I know reviews matter. I will always rate a book I’ve read on Goodreads and Amazon. I don’t review unless it’s a 3-star or more. I try to review honestly, which isn’t always easy if you’re reading a book written by a friend, but I do encourage honest reviews of my books. It’s crazy. I’ve sat with book clubs and said, “please take the time to post a review, whatever it is, they all matter,” and they’ll look me in the eye and say “we’d love to!” and then maybe 1 of 10 does it. I don’t know how some books get hundreds of reviews. I think maybe because my books are with small presses, they don’t get the same attention as those with larger presses…but the last book, SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC, has been in the Top 200 Amazon Mystery, Thriller & Crime, since it came out, and the first 30 days it was in the Top 10, and the next 4 months, in the Top 50-100. So…people are reading it! I wish I had the answer. I don’t. But I’ll be interested read other comments on the topic. As always, Michael, a thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks, Judy. I just took a glance at SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC at Amazon (which, by the way, I bought when it came out in August but haven’t had time to get to it yet–but I will!). You’ve collected a bunch of very nice reviews–congratulations! I don’t think the number of reviews is always related to the size of the publisher. Many of the books I’ve seen with hundreds of reviews are self-published, and the writing is not always that great (IMHO). That’s NOT a knock on self-pubbing! No sour grapes intended, but it seems “fishy” that some books can receive the number of reviews they do, while others collect a handful or two. Yep, if folks would only take the time to write two or three sentence reviews for books that take months or even years to write, it sure would be nice. 🙂


  6. I think reviews are important if they are honest. I have recently discovered there are promotions sites that you can pay who will flog your book to thousands of people who will review. Haven’t participated so I don’t know the quality of the reviews if they truly do a review if they post 1,000 copies of the same review (gee, that would be a tip-off) if they take your money and run, or what the point would be. There is supposed to be some kind of magic Amazon algorithm. Is there really one or is it a myth? Can’t say.

    This is a hard business no matter how you look at it. Judy, like Mike, I am still working on getting to Skeletons, and yes, you have some wonderful reviews – congratulations – I’ve been following you on a number of social media platforms, you’ve managed to hit just the right notes – well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for the input, Kait. What’s an algorithm? Sounds like some kind of math to me, which I don’t mind admitting I hated in school. Heck, I don’t even know how to check for sales at Amazon. Anybody out there know?
    Ahem, speaking of reviews, I’ve just discovered I failed to post my review for a certain someone’s second book in the Hayden Kent Mystery series. I shall turn-to on that ASAP!


  8. A difficult question, Mike. One that, I’m afraid, only has answers most small press writers don’t want to hear. My answer: no, it is not worth a small press author’s time to obsess over reviews, to spend a lot of time chasing down people to read and review his or her work. Doing those things–obsessing, chasing, etc–take valuable time away from writing, which is the only thing in this so-called business that’s “worth it.” That said, I have met a few authors who began their careers with small presses, built up a modest following, and then signed with agents and larger publishers. . .and make no mistake, big publishers are the best bet for making anything close to an income as a writer.

    To sum up, I’ll go back to something I wrote on MMO some time ago. Writing is all about personal values and priorities. What’s most important to you, the writer? Is it reviews? Money? Seeing your work in print? Obviously, for most of us, the answer isn’t so simple, but for me, at least for now, it is that simple: I’m happiest while I’m writing. Not when I finished something. Not when it gets published. Not when it gets reviewed. Not when I make money. When I’m writing, I’m still in control, but after that, I’ve learned to let it go. . .and, perhaps most importantly, to write something new and forget about what I’ve just finished. Can’t say mine is a recipe for monetary success. What I can say is, I’m happier now that I’ve pretty much completely stopped promoting my silly books.

    Just my three cents (added a penny for the length, which I apologize for).


    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good point, Max. My writing “career” developed bass-ackwards: I started out with a big New York publisher for my first book, and now I’m with a couple of small presses. One mid-size press treated me well until they dropped me. 🙂 No doubt about what a big publisher CAN do for you (still getting royalties for that first book after 26 years). I’ve had a lifelong struggle with obsession. I fight it as best I can, but it sometimes gets the best of me. I really need to learn to let go. “Que sera, sera–whatever will be, will be.” MUCH easier said than done! I know I’d be happier, more content. Just spend my time writing and let the pieces fall where they may. Very good advice, my friend. I’m going to work on it.
    And, the day after writing this post I noticed that my reviews on Amazon for DEADLY SPIRITS have doubled. Not that I’m counting–I’ve given that up! 🙂


  10. Hi, Michael. I have a couple of thoughts, but of course no definite answers. One to consider is that there are places out there you can hire to write reviews. Amazon will take your book down, they say, if they find out you did that, but I suspect that several (many) of the writers who get hundreds of reviews as soon as a new book comes out, pay for them. And their books are not taken down because, well, Amazon is making a lot of money off these people, too. Is that too cynical?
    The second point is that a lot of the writers who get the most reviews and sales put out a lot of “product” every year. I mean at least two books, and many do more than that, plus they blog and blog and blog and Tweet. I suspect they also hire VAs (virtual assistants) to do a lot of the Tweeting and other time-consuming business stuff.
    As they say, it takes money to make money. I’ve given up contacting reviewers and asking. Takes way too much time. I used NetGalley for three books, but gave that up, as well because each book got fewer reviews than the last through them.
    My goal this year is to get lots more out. And I bought Dragon voice recognition software to see if I can deliver more words in less time. But having major surgery in December and then a complete computer crash in January has certainly slowed me down. And that’s the other problem—life often gets in the way. I think that’s a bigger problem for those of us who do not have traditional publishers. Well, this almost became a blog post of its own. Carry on. Good luck with everything. It’s always possible that one book will take off and bring the rest along with it. I think that’s all we can hope for, so try to write just a bit faster and see what happens!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jan. There is a lot of truth in your remarks. I’ve decided to take the road MMO founder and my good friend, Max Everhart, has suggested. I’m going to concentrate on writing, and focus less on reviews. Not to say I’ve given up on getting/contacting reviewers; I’ve simply decided that writing is more important than gaining reviews for whatever I’ve previously written. I would NEVER pay someone/business a penny to produce mega-reviews for my work. That would make me–please excuse my language here–a big WHORE! I would never pay someone, anyone, to write favorible review for my work. Anyhoo, thanks for your comments, and here’s wishing you much success in your endeavors! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Michael,
    I understand completely. I’ve been struggling lately, as an Indie author who must do all the work alone: research, creation, drafting, editing, revising, formatting, marketing. And I hate marketing. I do love creating, researching, and writing though. It feeds me. So that’s what I’ve decided to focus on too:)

    I have to trust that if I write my very best books from my very best soul, someone will love them as much as I do. I want to laugh and cry and surprise myself with the big reveal! Too much time can be whittled away comparing our success to that of others. And time is precious. Authors are artists. Sometimes, I think, we forget that. Blessings ~Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

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