Beta Readers, Book Reviews, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing

Why Book Reviews Are Important: The Stats

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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.

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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.

In Closing

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.

Beta Readers, Indie Publishing

Where to Find Beta Readers

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When I published my first book, I made the horrible mistake of not getting any beta readers.  Instead I focused on editing and reviews which nearly drove me mad.  I honestly think a beta reader would have put me at ease a little bit, but you know, hindsight is always 20/20.

Depending on your goals, beta readers can be fans of a particular genre, or even a fellow author.  The ultimate goal is to get feedback you can use to strengthen your work.  “It’s cool” or “I liked it” won’t cut it for most authors.  The typical beta reader goes over a story to check for consistency in style, glaring grammar mistakes and even plot holes.  In short, they critique books before they’re published.

Should you Edit First, then Find a Beat Reader?

Many authors edit before giving a beta reader their book but there are those who use beta readers as an editing filter so they don’t have to pay so much on editing later on.  I don’t like that kind of thinking, I mean, who’s going to like a manuscript that’s not complete?

Don’t Troll for Beta Readers

Keep in mind, a beta reader is not a reviewer and authors shouldn’t confuse the two. In fact, I found this blog post called, “When I Bought Your Book I Didn’t Sign Up to be Your Beta Reader.” It’s an interesting take on authors responding to reviews and even changing books according to those reviews.  Beta readers can help you avoid this publish and republish nonsense.

*Rant* And while we’re at it, I don’t think authors should hit up reviewers on Amazon.  Those people are often just regular ol’ readers who might get a little freaked out by a complete stranger asking them for a favor.   But you didn’t ask me all that, so I’ll digress…

What to Look for in a Beta Reader

Some authors are looking for a writing partner while others are looking for a mentor, and some just want to see what the average Joe Shmoe thinks.  Again, it all comes down to your goals.  Whoever you choose, make sure to do your research.  Make sure that person has actually done some beta reading in the past.  This way you won’t waste time on those who are just looking for a freebie and avoid the flakes who never critique anything.

Different Types of Arrangements

  •  Writers who offer an exchange, they’ll read yours if you read theirs.  These are most popular with indie authors.
  •  Paid beta readers who offer their time and opinion for a price.  The quality varies depending on the service as well as the beta reader.
  •  Regular readers who will offer an honest opinion on your work though they are rarely skilled at offering an in-depth critique.
  •  Writing groups usually made up of aspiring or rookie authors often critique manuscripts but beware, not all groups are created equal.  Some consist of writers from various genres and may not have any clue about what your target reader likes.

Be Mentally Prepared to Hear Their Opinion

Some authors have described their experiences with beta readers as either pointless or nightmarish.  Remember as an author, it is your responsibility to allow readers to hate your work without retribution.  They are not stupid or tasteless because they don’t like your book.

Where to Find Beta Readers

  1. Absolute Write has a forum called: Beta Readers, Mentors and Writing Buddies
  2. LinkedIn has a group called: Beta Readers: A Subgroup of Let’s Talk About Writing
  3. On Goodreads there is a group called: Beta Reader Group
  4. World Literary Café has a beta reader forum but you must be a member.
  5. On Tumblr there is a blog called Find Your Beta Reader
  6. Even Facebook has several groups for Beta Readers

If you’re not interested in cultivating relationships, then you may have to pay someone. There’s a new site called, Book Brouhaha and the Social Potato where you pay someone to go over your work.

*Update* Previously, I listed a paid site called: “GetBetaReaders.com” but they’re no longer open for business. 😦