Reader reviews on Amazon not only help spread the word to prospective readers, but they attract those readers’ attention in the first place. These reviews also impact how Amazon displays a book in a reader’s search results. Needless to say, more people review the books of widely known writers than the books of so-called “midlist” and small-press authors. As many emerging writers have said, the authors who don’t need the reviews or the interviews are the ones who get them.
Some authors try to make placing a reader review sound easy, suggesting that all you have to say is “I liked it.” I don’t agree with that. “I liked it” isn’t a review. If a prospective reader reads such a review, they learn nothing about the book and might even think the reviewer knows the author and potentially didn’t even read the novel.
Suffice it to say, honest reviews with a few details explaining why a reader liked or didn’t like a book are better than reviews with nothing more than “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.” For readers who review multiple books, it’s disconcerting that they’ll take the time to review a well-known author’s book that has, say–3,000 reviews already–but don’t spend the time to review an emerging author’s books. I seldom review major books on Amazon because I don’t think there’s much I can possibly add to the conversation that already involves a thousand or more reviews. I’m more likely to review these books on my blog.
In social media, it’s quite common to hear that dozens of people liked an author’s latest book. These opinions are treasured and very nice to hear. A lot of those people wish the author well, and yet, most of them don’t go out to Amazon and leave a review. They probably have no idea how vital their reviews are to the book’s success. Amazon’s book-display algorithms count reviews; so do various blogs and newsletters where books can be advertised. (It’s hard to get your book into one of those book newsletters if it has few reviews.)
Basically, it comes down to this insofar as midlist and small-press authors are concerned: if readers don’t help support the book, it isn’t going to sell. Yet, authors really can’t say this to readers on Facebook or Twitter because it’s unseemly and probably turns readers off who really don’t know anything about leaving an Amazon, Goodreads, or B&N review. Plus, it’s generally considered bad form to beg for reviews. Authors are rather stuck. When a reader tells them on Facebook that their latest novel was the best book they ever read, it’s a bit crass to say, “have you posted that viewpoint on Amazon yet?”
Readers certainly have no obligation to post reviews. Most readers don’t. They read a book and move on to the next book. So, I think it’s an imposition for an author to “lean on” readers in the social media by asking them directly for an online review even though many of the books will fail without those reviews. Authors often feel stuck. They need the reviews but it’s bad form to ask for them or to keep posting little generic notices on their Facebook authors’ pages to the effect that reviews help spread the word.
Frankly, I wish professional book reviewers, critics, and bloggers would do better keeping up with small-press books since those are the books that need the exposure. Nobody is really served well when a critic/reviewer posts review number 5,000 for a well-known author’s book. But, for an emerging or small-press author, even a three-star review helps bring a book some much-needed online attention.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,’ “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena,” all of which are available in e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook editions.