Recently, there was an article in Publisher’s Weekly, which featured a literary agent giving his opinion on book reviews. It was called, “Why Most Amazon Reader Reviews Are Worthless” and despite what the title implies, I agreed with some of his views. In it, he talked about how publishers used to con their way on to the NY Times bestseller’s list by purchasing books at the outlets they knew the NY Times used to gauge their list. He then compared it to today’s Amazon algorithm which favors quantity over quality and drives some desperate authors to purchase reviews. Anyway, he’s right the system is corrupt and always has been but reviews still matter when it comes to online marketing. Let me show you how…
Reviews Aren’t Important, They’re Vital!
Today’s consumer usually does their research before making a purchase and online reviews either motivate them to buy a product or walk away. Reviews in fact help them learn about your book from people other than you. According to a 2014 survey by Bright Local, consumers are 84% likely to trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation.
So how many reviews does it take to form a positive or negative opinion in the mind of the consumer? According to the survey, after ten reviews 88% of customers have already formed an opinion of a product. So good reviews are important, don’t let anybody tell you anything different. In fact, I’ve seen several authors incorporating Amazon reviews onto their websites via widgets. Another technique I noticed is authors building a sales page for their book and including reviews right after the blurb. Bestselling indie authors Bella Andre has her reviews right under her blurb as does J.F. Penn.
Faking It Until You Make It Or Social Proof?
It’s been said by some marketers that people are sheep and will follow a crowd and sadly it seems to be true in certain aspects. An old trick used by new restaurants desperate for buzz, was to hire people to stand in line or sit at tables to make the place appear busy. Even if an identical restaurant was across the street serving the same food, the one that appeared busy was always chosen by patrons.
The psychology behind social proof is the idea of social influence, people following the crowd in order to avoid ridicule or missing out. And it’s not limited to restaurants, in October of 2016, talk show host Wendy Williams, admitted to hiring screaming teenagers to stand outside of her studio and sit in the audience for pop star Justin Bieber’s television debut (at the 18:10 mark). She says, they did it to make him look like a big deal. This practice is called astroturfing and it’s used by politicians, corporations and yes, even artists.
This type of thing isn’t exclusive to show business, there are authors over the years who have used smoke and mirrors to inflate their image. For example, it’s been alleged that sci-fi author and founder of Scientology, L.Ron Hubbard’s followers purchased his books by the dozens to make him appear like a big deal after his death in 1986. By the way, this kind of stuff is considered black hat (unethical) marketing but that doesn’t stop a lot of desperate people who need that fifteen minutes of fame.
Back To The Point…
The reason why celebrities and artists do this is because it works. I don’t recommend you buy fake reviews and astroturf your Amazon page because with technology today, that can be easily detected. However I do recommend that you try to get at least ten good reviews in the beginning. I know of authors who passively solicit for reviews years after their book’s been published. Imagine if you pitch ten reviewers per week and only half of them respond, you’ll still have five new reviews per week. That adds up to 260 at the end of the year. Also, don’t stop at Amazon, try to get good reviews on Goodreads, as well as any other major outlet your book is sold.
I know we grew up thinking that books made it to the bestseller’s list based on merit and popularity but that’s not 100% true. The missing piece to this equation is hard work and smart marketing, you don’t have to be sleazy and trick people into thinking your books are popular. If you’re in this for the long haul and want a career in publishing, then time is on your side. I believe people who focus on their fifteen minutes of fame are selling themselves short. Most readers these days don’t care if a book was a NYT bestseller, that’s been proven, but what does matter is if you connect with readers through your work. The readers matter the most, not the lists or awards because without our readers all those things are meaningless. This is the biggest reason why genuine book reviews not only matter but are vital.