Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Are Reviews Still Important?


I came across a thought-provoking post through Google+. Author, Anne Allen, said we shouldn't stress about reviews because word-of-mouth is all that matters. Most readers don't pay attention to reviews. We, as authors, put too much importance on them. She's talking about reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Not book blogs.

"There was a time when one review—the kind written in the New York Times Book Review or The New Yorker—could make or break a book.
But these days, book discovery happens in hundreds of ways, online and off, and studies show reviews aren't high on the list.
I think many readers have figured out they're better off not reading them at all.
As author Barbara Morgenroth said on The Passive Voice earlier this week,
"The flavor has been chewed out of the review gum. Reviews are like freebies/free days–they don’t work like they used to. Abuse will kill off almost everything."
I fear she's right. In a study reported by Smashwords' Mark Coker two years ago, only 7% of readers reported they browsed and read online reviews before they bought a book. And I think the number has only diminished with the abuse." (Do Authors Obsess Too Much About Book Reviews?)
Allen makes some good points in the post. Paying for reviews is pointless. It does nothing for sales. On the other hand, I read reviews before I buy almost anything, especially books. I don't pay attention to star ratings. I care about why the reader did or didn't like the book.

For instance, several four star reviews for this book called the main character Barbie. I don't like female protagonists like that. I lost interested in that book.

I was looking at a jacket on Amazon. The reviews consistently said the jacket ran small. I ordered it in a size larger. It fits perfectly.

Some people, including me, while in the bookstore, look up a title on Goodreads and read the reviews before buying it.

If I come across anything on Amazon that doesn't have a review, I think twice about buying it. People love taking to the internet to rant or rave about something. If no one reviewed a product, I see it as they felt nothing for it. If I love or hate a book, I'll write about it on Goodreads or here. If the book does nothing for me, I don't finish it. I don't talk about it.

I do agree with Allen's point that word-of-mouth sells books. The problem is, how do we generate word-of-mouth.

I've been studying book marketing and promotion for years. As I've mentioned before, I'm getting my Masters in Publishing at NYU where I've taken a Social Media Marketing class and a Brand Development class. I've applied what I learned to my own marketing and promotion and nothing's working. I believe part of the reason is the books either have no reviews or the bad ones outweigh the good ones.

When I did a Goodreads giveaway for The Sciell, 400+ people added the book to their shelves. The reviews started coming in. They were consistently 3 stars. People started taking my book off their shelves.

It's true you have trolls on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes and Noble who abuse the system. Reviews of this one book on B&N.com weren't people talking about the story. It was just a general discussion about the series. People will give books 1 star reviews on Amazon if it arrived damaged or late or they had problems downloading it.

However, reviews show word-of-mouth. I don't think we've reached a point where readers don't care about reviews on those sites. The retailer, Kobo, no longer has reviews on its site. If Amazon changes the review section, people will be pissed.

Allen offers an alternative. I like the "tell a friend" option. If you love a book, tell someone about it. She also suggests:
"Before a book comes out, or after a "soft launch," offer it to selected fans and a few reviewers you've established a friendship with. Always write a warm, personal email, not a mass mailing, ever. (Asking for a review is like querying an agent. A mass-mailing gets an automatic "no.")"
I do not agree with this. I'm about to release my 7th book next week. I've been promoting my books and brand for years now. It's a daily thing. Yet, I don't have fan for my books (at least none that I can reach out to). My sales have been flat for months. I'm still trying to reach the right audience. I don't have review friends.

People sing the praise of email marketing. I've subscribed to some authors' newsletters. I enjoy their free content and ignore emails about their books. I do not discover books through an email from an author, unless it's like some big name author.

This post turned out longer than I expected.

What do you think? What are your thoughts on reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Barnes and Noble?