Secrets About Book Reviews & Your Book Sales

It’s been preached that indie authors need reviews to sell books.  It’s even been coined, the social proof for authors.  After all, we need to control our rankings and open a dialog with our readers like this author, who offers refunds and responds kindly to people who hate her work.

The day I released my YA novel, one author congratulated me then, told me I need way more reviews on my Amazon page.  I did what I could, I bugged people on Facebook and Twitter all the while, feeling like a beggar and wondering, do the NY big 5 have to go through this?

But instead of reviews, I would get emails, or direct messages where people would compliment me on my book.  That was nice but not what I wanted.  Lowering my standards, I asked them to review it anywhere they wanted whether it be; Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing, or Barnes & Noble and still, nothing!

I figured, well maybe people are BSing me and don’t really like my book, so I went back and looked at all the people who purchased my book and told me they liked it.  I carefully explained my predicament, and they made it up to me big time by giving my book a huge “like” or a 5 star rating, but still no reviews!

Book Reviews

The Real Reason Nobody is Leaving Reviews

  •       Some readers don’t write or spell well and don’t want to be embarrassed.  Damn you Grammar Nazis, damn you to hell!
  •       They’re lazy and just don’t care about YOUR reviews.
  •       They only leave reviews when something is wrong.
  •       They hate your book.  (Obviously!)

Reviews Losing Their Importance?

I’m probably putting my book in severe danger by saying this but here it goes, I’ve noticed that reviews really aren’t helping authors sell their books.  In fact, Penny Sansevieri book marketer and author changed her marketing services  which now focus less on reviews because according to her, “Reviews are great but do they drive traffic and sell books? We haven’t seen the return on investment in that regard.”

Yay!  I think.

Bad Means Good, WTH?

Back in the 80’s if someone said you were bad, that was a compliment and today, the same seems to hold true for book reviews.  According to one author in my Facebook writer’s group, bad reviews seem to drive his sales.  It sounds strange but think about, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has tons of negative reviews, most of them on the first few pages, ditto for Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling which roughly has 805 one star ratings.  However, both books sold millions worldwide.

Final Thoughts

So the good news is, we don’t have to stress over getting tons of reviews to show people our book’s worthiness though, that doesn’t exempt us from not trying to get at least a few.  It also tells us that paying for reviews from places like Publisher’s Weekly’s Select or Kirkus aren’t economically wise because even these authors didn’t see any difference in their sales.

The key to book marketing seems to be getting in front of a large audience of readers whether that be a blog, podcast or magazine because book reviews alone are not enough, at least, not anymore.

Now it’s time for you to sound off, I’m curious to know: do reviews equal more book sales for you?  And do negative reviews hold more sway than positive ones?


  1. Reviews help someone who has already decided to buy a widget to decide which widget to buy, they don’t create a demand for widgets.

    In genres where there is a high demand and similar products–historical romance, say–I can see reviews making the difference between a reader buying Book A or Book B. But if I am a science fiction fan, I don’t much care if “Pirates Rip My Bodice” has a hundred five star reviews.

    I have 22 reviews of “Catskinner’s Book” on Amazon, and the average is about 4.5, nothing below a 3, but it doesn’t help me in sales, because there isn’t much to compare with my novel. Either someone has a taste for the bizarre, or not.

    It’s like movies. Most people decide to go to a movie first, then look to see what movies are playing, then choose based on their genre preferences, and only look at reviews to break a tie if there are several films of approximately equal appeal.

  2. I honestly believe it depends on the type of review… there’s again, a difference between paid reviews (which no one respects these days) and reader reviews (which you were trying to get) I think what reader reviews do may not be so obvious.. yah, if you’re lucky, you’ll get some on your amazon page that increase your book sale ranking and therefore make your book more visible in the catalog… or you’ll have some lovely feedback to quote on the cover of your book…but the lesser seen side effect is word of mouth. I’m a reviewer.. and the more I like a book, the more likely I am to suggest it to a LOT of people. Not just other reviewers, but friends, family, even random people. I post articles about it, I throw links around… i’m a one person marketing team, and people listen because.. i’m a reviewer, and they assume I know what I’m talking about. You may just see a small review sitting on your page, but visible sales increase or not, word-of-mouth is spreading, and possibly trickling in the sales where you can’t see them. Reviews also act as decision changers… If people visit your sales page where a review is posted, like it or not, they’re going to skim the reviews to see what people are saying. If it’s mostly positive.. it may confirm their sale.

  3. Thank you for your post – it’s fascinating as always.

    Once again I can comment mostly on my personal experience with buying books and reading reviews. Just recently I avoided purchasing a very popular YA novel because of the negative reviews it had. But I can see why some people (maybe those with more money than sense?) decide to buy a book with a lot of bad reviews. They want to know just how bad it can get.

    I think Rowling’s ‘Casual Vacancy’ sold a lot because people still remember and love Harry Potter. We’re willing to give her a chance even if others have panned her latest book. Of course, we can’t make the same point for 50 shades. One of my friends bought it, then complained about it, saying that the sex was always the same and got really boring after the first hundred pages or so. Another friend replied, “Give it to me, I still have a pulse.” Perhaps the sexual reputation of the book just goes farther than the reputation regarding its quality.

  4. Reviews are important to me. Before I buy a promising-sounding book, even if someone has personally recommended it, I check the rating and the reviews. In fact, it’s a rule I have made for myself after numerous disappointments with books that didn’t deliver, or at least, didn’t deliver what I was looking for. Even when a book has a lot of four and five star reviews, I specifically look for the low ones. I don’t read them in depth because I’m not looking for spoilers. I just want to know if the book contains distracting bad grammar (I can handle a limited amount, but beyond a certain point, no) and if the story and characterization are any good. If the book got a low review, I want to know why that particular person didn’t like it. I can get a sense of the reviewer’s motives and preferences and sometimes precisely because a person gave a book a low review, and, based on their reasons, I’ll buy it because they obviously hate the kind of thing I like. Or they are criticizing from the wrong platform, such as the person who hates fantasy but bought the book because someone insisted they read it, and then found themselves underwhelmed because it was a genre they dislike and/or lack familiarity with. Or those people who expect books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey to be high literature and are appalled and indignant when it isn’t. (I wouldn’t go to Burger King and then get mad because there are no cloth napkins and truffle oil is not available as a side)

    So, yes, I think reviews are still relevant. The only time I relax my ‘Check the reviews’ rule is when the price point is so low that I don’t care if I don’t like the book that much, or if the author is someone who has consistently put out a good product. The word ‘consistently’ is important there because I have found that a lot of authors, even ones I consider to be excellent, have duds cluttering their body of work that should have received a more thorough vetting somewhere during the editing and decision-making process. From a marketing standpoint, I understand why they do it, though.

    Have you tried approaching conscientious and frequent reviewers directly to ask them if they would consider reading and reviewing your work? I’m not an author, so I don’t know if that’s considered kosher or not.

    I’ll admit I don’t often review the books I read, although I appreciate those people who take the time to do it. It takes a fair bit of time to craft a thoughtful book review, with lots of checking back for facts, which I find really difficult to do with my kindle. When I read a book on my kindle, the lack of page numbers makes it difficult for me to flip back to certain scenes I would like to read again before offering positive or negative feedback. I still have difficulty navigating my kindle, and when a book is not broken up into chapters with a table of contents page, it’s even harder. So rather than say something possibly inaccurate in my review, I don’t leave a review.

    This comment is probably getting too long, so I think I’d better stop. Thank you for your post.

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