I need to say this loud and clear: Book reviews matter.
They not only drive sales, they can pull great authors out of obscurity and effectively launch their careers. Not every author has a big bucks promotional machine behind them, in fact, most do not. That’s why so many mediocre books become bestsellers: It’s the marketing blitz that is driving sales, not the quality of the book itself.
Unfortunately, the only way to counter some of the crap that is out there is through book reviews. On a basic level, reviews alert other readers to good reads and emerging authors. Word-of-mouth can be an effective driver in book sales. Good reviews encourage others to take a peek at books. In addition, the number of reviews received determines whether booksellers choose to feature a new book or author in its promotions. Multiple reviews on Goodreads.com can transform a languishing book into a trending one, while Amazon.com requires that books receive at least 50 reviews to be included in its promotions.
To readers, that may seem to be a small number. To many authors, it is almost unattainable. Here’s the thing: Even when readers profess love for a book, they are not always moved to leave a review. For example, I get emails from people telling me they like my short stories. I always thank them and ask them to leave a review. About one in 20 actually does.
After a frustrating year of encouraging people to leave reviews, I have finally concluded that the problem lies in overall communication preferences. As an author, it makes sense for me to express my appreciation for good books in writing. After all, that’s what I do. I write. But to others, written expression is not a normal pursuit. People prefer a quick and easy method of communicating—a one-word text, an emoji, a short response to an email, a five-second verbal exchange.
That makes the process of leaving a written review a technical annoyance. First, a reader must seek out a bookseller that sells the tome in question, then they must wade through multiple steps to actually leave a review. Sometimes, there are restrictions on the number of words or actual words used. Some require that the reader craft a headline or meta tags before leaving a review. Others, such as Amazon.com, require that a customer purchase $50 in merchandise before a review can be posted. And after all that effort is expended, some booksellers put readers through a verification process, which can be not only annoying, but also insulting.
That means a reader has to do more than like a book, they have to absolutely love it! Why else would they put forth so much effort? Your mother or Aunt Minnie or your best friend may be driven by familial love to wade through the steps required to leave a review, but let’s face it, that’s not a motivation most readers share.
What’s the answer? Some authors pay for reviews, a practice I find questionable. Others, like me, try to educate readers about the value of reviews to authors and other readers. However, until publishers and booksellers simplify the review process or find a better way to encourage readers to wade through the bureaucratic B.S. they have implemented, the good old marketing machine will win and crap books will continue to appear on the New York Times Bestseller List.
We have become used to “the big easy” and avoid most things that require an expenditure of more time and energy. (That’s one of the reasons products like microwaveable dinners are so popular.) So unless someone creates a device that can be affixed to each book, allowing the reader to instantly record and transmit a review, many great books and wonderful authors will effectively remain on the shelf.
The quality of the writing will matter not at all. And that’s just sad.