Getting reader reviews has become its own industry. Articles, books, and podcasts tell you how to do it yourself. Review services tell you they can do it even better. There are places where authors can swap reviews. Places where anyone can pick up a free copy, just like a regular reviewer, in exchange for writing a review. And rumor has it that some traditional publishers encourage their authors to get at least 50 reviews. Clearly, a lot of people think reader reviews matter.
As a publisher, I look at them a certain way. Will the author be pleased? Did the reader “get” it? Does the review intrigue people enough to buy the book? (Is it really true if someone mentions “too much sex, violence and adult language” readers are going to be even more curious?) Or will it drive readers away? Are there enough reviews to qualify for listing on certain sites if we decide to offer the book for free?
As a reader, I hardly look at them. Except for non-fiction guides. Then I do want to know if other people found them useful or will I be wasting my time and money. But when it comes to fiction, I’m more likely to look after I’ve read the book.
Even with all the advice, how to generate reviews remains a mystery for many. What I find even more mysterious is that some books reach a certain number of reviews and stay there. Whether it’s 2 or 20 or 200, there seems to be a plateau. One of our best-selling books has been ranked in the top 100 for nearly two years, sales continue to be good every month - sometimes it's even in the top 20 - but the number of reviews has stayed the same. Why don’t all those new readers write something?
Like so much else about publishing, I have more questions than answers. It’s true that readers of certain genres are more likely to share their thoughts. And fans of certain authors are more eager to comment. Which might explain why Stephen King’s books regularly garner more than 10,000 comments, while some versions of War and Peace have less than 100.
In an excellent post by Anne R. Allen - Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should NEVER Buy Amazon Reader Reviews, she notes that getting genuine reviews if your target audience is older readers “can be an exercise in tooth-pulling,” even if those readers send the author an email or post on Facebook about how much they love the book. Making their thoughts public on Amazon just isn’t part of their reading habit.
This has been the experience for many authors we know.
Using that worst of all journalistic practices - the friend survey - here’s what I’ve found.
In no particular order people say they don’t leave reviews because:
Amazon recently started offering more options for readers who do want to comment. In addition to the star rating, Amazon has added extra categories so readers can describe the quality of the writing, the amount of sex and violence in the book, the mood of the book, and the plot.
You can read more about it at Self-Publishing Review.
It’s anyone’s guess whether this will boost the number of reviews for those books that have settled nicely into their own plateau.
© VICTOR PELAEZ TORRES
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