A couple of weeks ago, I got into an interesting conversation with some of my RWA chapter-mates. I had asked for ideas on how to get more reviews for my books. Not an unusual question and one that was designed to start a discussion. And a discussion was exactly what I got! Quite an interesting one. It involved everything from the advice to have friends and family write reviews for me, the suggestion to ask outright for reviews on social media platforms, and one person wondering why I would want reviews at all since only the first five really mattered.
My personal opinions on all those pieces of advice aside, one thing did pop out at me about reviews in general. As one person mentioned, everyone is asked to write reviews about EVERYTHING these days—books, restaurants, the service received at stores, phone apps, everything. That got me to thinking….
How important are reviews, really?
I’ll answer that right off by saying that I still believe they are incredibly important for a writer. No two ways about it, with all of the books available these days and all of the authors clamoring for attention, the only way to make sense of it is through reviews. Some people say they don’t really pay much attention to the content of the reviews (instead they judge a book by its cover and its blurb). The thing is, sites like Amazon and B&N have these things called algorithms that determine a book’s digital placement. And I, for one, actually do read at least a handful of reviews to determine if I want to spend money on a book.
So reviews are a good thing, right? Yep. They sure are. And I am a firm believer in the fact that they are harder to come by these days than they ever have been. I’ve noticed the same thing for books released recently for big name authors. It seems to take longer for a book to get a large number of reviews that it used to.
Yes, it all comes back to the fact that we are asked to review everything these days. Several different reporting outlets continue to say that word-of-mouth recommendations are still the number one way that people choose the books they want to read. In the era of digital community, reviews seem to be morphing into a companion or even replacement for that word of mouth.
When I read a review, in essence I am getting a word-of-mouth recommendation from someone who I’ve never met. I think that’s what retailers are going for when they incessantly press people for reviews. Anyone with a product to sell wants to give an impression that Joe next door liked their product so you will too. I don’t know much about big Madison Avenue advertising, but it’s enough to make me wonder if small recommendations are the new big.
It’s not just books either. Take, for example, the car I bought this summer. I bought the car in July. The dealership continued to call me twice a week at first to make sure I had filled out about three different online surveys. The calls died down to once a week after a while, then once a month. Then I had my car serviced (regularly scheduled maintenance), and voila! They were calling me and emailing me all the time again. And yes, I just got a letter in the mail last week telling me that I have now had my car for six months and do I know anyone else who is interested in buying a car who I could refer to them?
Honestly, it makes me never want to buy a car from a dealership again. It was one transaction. It was good for me, it was good for you, but it doesn’t mean we’re in a relationship!
There is a lesson to be learned here for writers. Yes, we thrive on reviews. We need them for so many reasons. But the public is so inundated with requests to review and retweet and repost and react that I think we’re all getting burnt out on it. It’s too much of a good thing.
The sad part is, I still want and need reviews. I’m not sure if there’s an answer to the noise that the world has thrown at it. All you can do is ask for reviews, but know that everyone is asking for reviews and for some people that message is annoying. What’s a poor writer to do? I guess all we can do is be sensitive and stay on the lookout for a more effective way to generate the public feedback we need.