Writers and Prose; Are Reviews REALLY that important?

I was inspired to write this post after reading this online. Thanks to Diane Nelson for sharing it. I’ll give you a couple minutes to read so you’ll know what got my panties in a bunch.

http://www.karencioffiwritingandmarketing.com/2014/04/why-book-reviews-are-important-on-amazon.html#.U49TaPldVL8

First of all, there’s a part of me that assumes this post was written to cause some sort of controversy, at least that’s the way I saw it. Out of the eight points, only the last is really valid. The others, to me, didn’t carry any water and judging by the lone comment by a reader, didn’t wash with them either. I’m not going to debunk any of the reasons in the article (although it’s tempting), it’s enough to say they’re weak and a few are stated without any fact to back it up.

In the old paradigm of publishing, reviews were sought after by publishers to help boost the sales of their up and coming books. Back then, the only place you could find new releases were in bookstores, and they had a limited shelf life once they were ‘out in the wild’. Any Trad author will tell you that you have two weeks to make your book a hit (or show a good number of sales) or it disappears from the prominent shelf placement, relegated to the back corners of the store where some never see the light of day again. The more reviews (preferably good) a book received, the longer it stayed in the prime spot, but digital books have no shelf life. They are forever in the same place; very easy to access and always available to the public no matter how many reviews or stars they receive.

Which brings me to the title; are reviews really that important? I think they’re old fashioned. Don’t get me wrong, they can be a good way to help readers understand or learn more about a book (bad grammar, plot, etc) but to be of the mindset that you NEED them to help promote your book, leads authors down roads they shouldn’t travel.

With the onset of troll reviewers, sock puppet and paid reviews, not to mention Amazon’s policy of removing reviews written by authors, it’s become harder now to believe those five-star reviews left for books. People have become cynical and most people I talked to, don’t even look at them when they purchase a book. An author and their book(s) become popular NOT by the amount of reviews, but by word of mouth, and the best way to achieve that, is to make sure you have a product that is equal to anything that is put out by any of the Big Publishers.

Authors need to stop worrying about things they can’t control. There is no shelf-life in the digital age. Now go write that next book.

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About Darke Conteur
Darke Conteur is a writer at the mercy of her Muse. The author of stories in several genres, she prefers to create within the realms Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy. A pagan at heart, her personal goal it to find her balance within nature; exploring the dark through her stories and the light through her beliefs. When not writing or working with crystals, she enjoys knitting, gardening, cooking and very loud music.

12 Responses to Writers and Prose; Are Reviews REALLY that important?

  1. Nya Rawlyns says:

    Not that I’m disagreeing, Darke, but the fact is, if you wish to take advantage of promotional opportunities and remain competitive in the rankings, i.e. have a shot at discoverability, you need reviews. Most of the major book promotion sites require a minimum of 8-14 reviews, several require that many with 4-5* ratingsβ€”that’s above and beyond the author willing to fork over hard-earned cash to buy into the promotional venue. Yes, that pertains, even if the promo is for a free book or at the 99c price point.
    While it’s true that an ebook is in some ways a forever book, that doesn’t mean it will be a book anyone ever finds or reads. Unlimited shelf life has little meaning if no one ever dusts the shelf off and discovers your title underneath a mountain of dust bunnies.
    Word of mouth only happens when readers find that book, and they find that book… It’s a circular argument, but that doesn’t invalidate the outcomes.
    Being on the shelf does not guarantee a place at the checkout line.

    • And therein lies the problem with reviews. How many times do we hear authors complain about these promotional sites? You can’t get promotion unless you have an almost unobtainable rank, so the author either has to go out and plead for reviews or (worse) pay for them. It’s a silent competition that pits author against author, and that breeds animosity. If the author doesn’t get reviews, they start to see it as a reflection on themselves or their choice or their skills.

      At least with ebooks, they are there. They’re not taken down by Amazon or any of the other sellers because they have little to no reviews. The author is not ‘dropped’ by BN because they couldn’t produce a novel that immediately received reviews. To judge ourselves, our writing on the basis of what other people think of it, will take the joy out of something we love to do. When we start allowing reviews and how to garner them, fill more of our waking time than writing, we might as well pack it in and call it a day.

      I don’t know. It feels like a futile endeavour, I just wish people would stop worrying about them so much.

      Thanks for stopping by. πŸ™‚

  2. C. says:

    Funny that you posted this, because I’m in the midst of looking for reviews this moment. I think, for me, part of the benefit of them is to get the word out about your book on other blogs/websites, not *just* amazon. We have 2-7 reviews on our books without/with *very* minimal solicitation, and that number doesn’t really dictate anything for sales. Of course, we haven’t gone beyond that (maybe 20-30 reviews will make a serious difference in sales?). Fact is that I haven’t started seriously approaching bloggers until now so it’s too early to tell. I do like the idea of being able to search the title of our book and see it up on lots of non-sale pages. πŸ™‚

    • My first book has twenty-five reviews, but it’s been up for almost three years. I know my sales aren’t driven by the reviews, but by my sporadic marketing. πŸ˜› People say ‘free’ is over, but that’s a tool I use (among others), and it’s those free downloads that drove my sales for my other books. Especially on BN.

      • C. says:

        We’ve had a different experience when it comes to ‘free.’ It really hasn’t done much for our short stories but we’ve never given away free permanently on any novel- just the KDPSelect 5 day things. That doesn’t always prove 100% reliable (we were there for the 2012 beginning of KDP, gave away HUNDREDS in 5 days, saw a giant boost in sales the days afterwards… totally different beast now…

        But, I digress. Now that we’re getting sequels out I’ve been reconsidering the value of free on the first book. $.99 doesn’t seem much of an enticement for people, either.

      • I’ve not heard very good things about KDP Select and I think in order to see any significant downloads using free, it should be for longer than a few days. I put my first book for free in February of 2013, and for that month I had over 500 downloads just from the US site. March was better with almost 2k for the month, and I’ve averaged about twenty per day since. ‘Free’ is a tool, not a strategy though. I use it as a going away present for those who visit my blog. πŸ˜€

  3. Reblogged this on Twisted Core Pressed and commented:
    Post by: Author Darke Conteur

  4. I agree with you, Darke. I gave up looking for reviews some time ago. To me, it is what it is. Here’s my book(s). Some people love them, some hate them. But nobody has ever said they’re poorly written, or badly edited. I don’t think reviews drive them. They sell steadily, if not spectacularly and I can’t be bothered trying to scramble up the slippery marketing pole. I have another book to write.

    • Hey! Thanks for stopping by!

      Same here, but I’m lucky. Husband makes enough to pay the bills so I can stay at home and write. I’d LOVE to make enough per month to keep him home, or at least to help out with the bills so he doesn’t work too hard. Every now and then he sends me a text telling me to hurry up and let him retire early. πŸ˜€

  5. Nathaniel Dean James says:

    Having read the article, I really don’t see why you would consider it provocative. It’s a pretty tame summary of why it’s a good idea to have reviews. And not reviews in general, but on Amazon specifically. Every one of the points made is valid, if not equally so.

    You say word of mouth is what ultimately pushes a book. So what are reviews if not word of mouth? True, some are fraudulent, but not all. It’s not hard to weed out the blatant false reviews from the sincere ones. A good review, a detailed and honest review, is a recommendation to others. It may well be true that many people ignore the reviews entirely, but a lot of people do read them.

    The point about 10+ reviews qualifying a book for listing as “also bought” has significant potential to increase its visibility and is not something a new author can realistically pass up .

    The important thing here is that we are talking about Amazon, not the market in general. Amazon is a different breed of animal altogether, and it has its own way of doing things. If Amazon places importance on reviews, so should anyone who wants to sell books there. And Amazon DOES place a great deal of emphasis on reviews. Fairness and such things, noble ideas that they are, don’t necessarily come into it. Amazon is a private corporation – a schoolyard bully and a total pain in the ass – and so can do more or less what it wants within the limits of the law.

    I’m not saying reviews are an end-all, but they are definitely part of the job. This is especially true in the beginning. Once a book or author had achieved critical mass, so to speak, reviews take care of themselves and become less important.

    Of course none of it really matters if the book in question has no inherent potential in the first place. New authors are notoriously skilled at believing their novel is as good as anything out there, and often a lot better. With over half a million eBooks on Amazon alone, it’s not hard to imagine how many of them can realistically be called good books. Yet a large percentage of authors will rant and rave about the system, the market, the vultures, the nepotism, the “industry” and anything else until they are blue in the face without once even considering that maybe their book just isn’t up to scratch.

    Discuss!

    • Hello! Thanks for stopping by.
      I can understand why you would be against criticism for reviews, as your blog is largely a review blog, but that doesn’t change the facts or my opinion. Amazon’s algorithm for sales is not based on reviews. Never has been, and for her to claim they are, without any proof, is incorrect. As a matter of fact, I’m wondering just what their based on, as I received an email this morning saying that my books have jumped in rank, and yet the reviews for three of them have not increased in several months.
      I agree, a review is a word of mouth, but it’s also an opinion, and each person has their own specific taste, many authors and readers I’ve spoken to prefer to judge whether or not they’ll buy a book based on the sample they read, or if a book is suggested to them by someone who shares the same taste in books. Reviews do not influence the ‘also bought’ list. I would assume, as it’s called ‘also bought’ that it would reflect books that were also bought in that category, or by a certain person.
      Reviews are the product of what really drives book sales – marketing. People don’t go to see movies based on reviews of it, same with music and art. If this were true, then some of those Hollywood blockbusters would not have the sequels (The Hangover 2 and 3 – *rolls eyes*), but we’re talking books and people are a little more particular about what they read, then what they watch. Go figure. If Amazon place emphasis on reviews, then books that have over three-hundred reviews would stay at the top of their category. No one would see the new books until they broke through the ‘glass ceiling’. Just check out the Top 100 Free books and you will see what I mean. This list should be in numerical order based on the number of reviews, and yet as I look at it this morning, #20 has 196 reviews while #4 has 4. How can a book with only four reviews be in the #4 spot? Sales. Sales brought on by the author out marketing his/her book.
      There is no ‘critical mass’. Nothing takes care of itself. Marketing and self-promotion is part of our job, and it never stops. As for your last comments, of course we have to think that. Why would we put out a book that we didn’t think was as good or better? It’s not arrogance or even delusions of grandeur, it is the idea that we can share our stories with other people and maybe entertain them for a while. You, as an author should know this. Yes, some new authors must learn the hard way, but any creative endeavour is a learning curve. My only hope is these authors will come to appreciate and hone their skills and put out another novel that is better than their first. πŸ™‚

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