What if there was a way for you to help more readers discover your book to determine whether your book will help them, whether that’s being entertained by your book or exposing the reader to new experiences or ideas? Or maybe it’s showing them how to do something new or otherwise enrich their lives?
Well, there is just such a way. The reader review isn’t necessarily an easy or a quick fix, but it is tested, tried and true. Here are five surprising truths about reader reviews, from a conversation on The Empowered Author podcast with Roseanne Cheng.
Roseanne is a former high-school teacher and publishing marketing director, who is now cofounder of a company named The Evergreen Author. She is the author of a book by the same name, The Evergreen Author: Master The Art of Book Marketing.
On the podcast, Roseanne and Boni do a deep dive on understanding reviewers and what to do with reviews. Roseanne also reveals some unexpected opinions about reviews!
Truth #1: Reviews Are Not The Most Important Thing For An Author
It might come as a surprise to hear this, but reviews are not the “be all, end all” of your author career. As Roseanne points out, you have very little control over reader reviews — how many readers leave reviews, and what kind of review they leave. Besides human nature, the platform itself can impact reviews, such as Amazon, which places some limits on who can leave a review.
Authors tend to place a lot of importance on reader reviews. Of course, authors should certainly seek opportunities to get more reviews on their books. They should also be prepared for negative reviews. There are many measures of success for an author and their book. Only one of which is the reader review. An excellent marketing tool but not the only sign of a book’s worth.
In short, Roseanne says, don’t sweat reviews. It’s small stuff.
Truth #2: Amazon Is a Search Engine
If we think of Amazon as a search engine, then reviews are a tool that helps books become discoverable on a platform with millions and millions of books. Readers on Amazon are usually looking for specific content, and the likelihood that they will just stumble upon a book they weren’t looking for in the first place is tiny. In any genre, there are hundreds of competing titles and many of them have well-designed covers and professionally written book descriptions. How do readers decide which book to choose, all things being equal?
They go to the reviews. (Stephanie Feger also talks about this in her guest post.) When we understand how consumers use Amazon as a search engine, we can reverse-engineer the review process, as Roseanne says. For example, are the right keywords being used in the book description so that it comes up in a search related to the book’s topic?
Truth #3: Negative Book Reviews Can Be Helpful
As an author, getting a three, two, or one star review can be upsetting or mortifying. But they have a purpose. We can ignore the reviews left by readers that clearly didn’t read the book.
But reviews that mention specifically why the reader gave it the number of stars they did are good for both the author and potential readers. For the author, it can be a sign that the book description didn’t set the reader’s expectations correctly.
With non-fiction books, negative reviews can help readers decide whether the book will address their specific problem or question. And for fiction books, negative reviews can alert readers to potentially problematic language or plot devices. It all boils down to attracting your ideal reader.
Truth #4: Sometimes It’s Okay to Engage
Most authors have heard the advice to never engage with a negative review. Ever. But Roseanne says sometimes engaging on a negative review can be very helpful. There’s a catch here, though—engaging on a negative review requires emotional distance and the ability to interact in a way that won’t be harmful to mental health.
That said, before engaging on a negative review, have a goal in mind and ask, “Is this the best use of my time?” If a reader took the time to write a thoughtful review to explain their low rating, it is perfectly acceptable to thank the reviewer if you found their review helpful or use it as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions or misunderstandings. As an author, these kinds of reviews present the opportunity to view it as constructive feedback, especially if you feel readers are consistently missing the point of your message.
Truth #5: Not All Reviews Are Created Equal
How much weight a review carries depends on the platform where the review was left. On Amazon, reviewers will be everyday readers who don’t necessarily read with a critical lens. They purchased the book for a specific purpose, like pleasure, or learning, or self-improvement. Their reviews will reflect the expectations they had going into the book.
On a site like NetGalley, which is mostly aimed at book buyers, librarians, and editorial reviewers, the reviews will take on a more critical lens and a three or four-star review there carries more weight than a five star review on Amazon. Reviewers on NetGalley are leaving reviews for other people like them, not for regular readers.