On the Importance of Reviews for Authors

You’ve probably seen writers asking their readers to leave reviews of their work at places like Amazon or Goodreads; if you read any self-published stuff, you’ve undoubtedly seen the call-to-action that is almost always at the end of any ebook: “Please take the time to leave a review of this book wherever you bought it.” It might seem annoying, all of this begging for extra attention from the reader, particularly if you’re not one to do reviews. It might even seem crass to ask at all.

But the brutal truth is that reviews are an absolutely necessary part of the business. Writing is a business, and as such, authors have to treat it as one. Reviews are especially important to new writers, who don’t have selling-power connected to their name yet, and thus can easily find themselves languishing in obscurity not because they’ve written a bad book but because few people take a chance on them because their book has few to zero reviews at the vendor. I know that I, for example, am much more likely to turn away from a book if it has zero or only one or two reviews, even if it’s free (and I’m particularly suspicious if all of the reviews are 5 star ones). A book that never gets read never gets reviewed, and so in turn continues to not get read; a vicious circle.

But this circle is even more never-ending. One of the best ways to reach a larger audience that just doesn’t yet know a specific book exists is for author to get a promotional ad with places like Bookbub. Some of you may be familiar with BB, but for those who aren’t, it’s a daily advertising burst, telling its tens of thousands of subscribers about books that are deeply discounted or free. Bookbub gets an author’s book in front of that many people each day, and while I’ve seen some authors who say their ad only got them to the break-even point of sales, I’ve never heard of anyone taking a substantial financial loss on an ad (the ads have to be paid for, and they aren’t cheap by any means). In fact most folks I’ve seen report profits on their ads, which means literally thousands of downloads in a single day. That’s a newer author’s dream-come-true (and even for some of us less-newer authors who are quite obscure). But here’s the deal: while BB will look at practically any book for consideration, they have limited space in their daily emails, and so the number of reviews a title has plays a really big part in whether or not they will seriously consider a given book. A title with only a dozen reviews stands practically no chance when it’s going up against a title with hundreds of reviews, or even fifty. BB’s audience is looking for good books, and BB relies on reviews and average rating at retailers to determine what will appeal to their audience. And competition is fierce (only 20% of submissions get accepted for promotion.). So those who could really benefit from a BB ad aren’t able to get it because of the lack of reviews, because of the lack of exposure. The circle continues.

So authors aren’t just asking you to leave reviews for ego reasons; there’s solid business reasons for asking for those reviews. As much as we’d all like to think that books are all about the art, they are also about the business; they cost not just time to produce, but money as well; cover artists and editors must be paid. And so does the author, regardless of whether they’re traditionally published or they are publishing themselves. Bills must be paid in order for the stories to be produced. The two things reader can do to help authors continue producing quality work is to first buy their work, and then also leave honest feedback (either positive or negative) at the point-of-sale. Even a negative review has its place and usefulness; personally, the first thing I look at on any product I haven’t already committed to buying is to look at the lowest ratings, to determine if there’s an actual problem (like poor editing or quality issues). Sometimes the low ranking are written by idiots who blame a completely unrelated issue on the product itself (“the seller sent me a copy with the cover bent, so one star!”), but sometimes low ratings have actually convinced me to buy a book, because the things that reader was ranting about are thinks I really like.

Help out the literary ecosystem by leaving reviews of the books you read. It can be as simple as a one or two sentence review stating why you liked or didn’t like a book, or it can be a long, detailed gush or rant. Just let folks know what you think. And always be honest. Authors and your fellow readers will thank you for it!

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