Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Let me ask you a question: why do bad books sell well? Why is it that every now and then a book will be released that everybody agrees is absolutely awful, but it goes on to sell lots of copies?
It’s because everybody’s talking about it.
The sad irony is that sales inevitably lead to more sales. The more a book is read and discussed, the more appealing it becomes to other readers who want to know what the fuss is about.
So how can you drum up this kind of excitement about your own books?
Reader reviews. They don’t just make your book more enticing to potential readers, but they also influence how often your book is shown to readers online.
We’ve talked previously about the importance of powerful endorsements from celebrities – reviews from laymen can be just as effective at getting potential readers to consider your book.
Let’s have a look at some of the important benefits there are to getting customer reviews, and how you can encourage your readers to leave a quick message online after finishing your book.
Search engine support
Because of the sheer volume of information available online, search engines constantly have to choose what to prioritize. When you search for a book on Amazon or on similar online retailers, the website is designed to try and show you the most relevant results. An online search for vegetarian cookbooks can end in disaster if the search engine confuses kidney beans with kidneys.
Search engines have a lot of different ways to decide what’s worth displaying, and one factor that’s of increasing importance is the number of reviews the book has. When a book has a lot of reviews, it shows that the book is of interest to many people, which suggests to the search engine that it might also be relevant to new searches.
The more customer reviews your book has on sites like Amazon, the more likely these sites are to display your book prominently to potential customers. It’s good for the readers because they can find books they enjoy more easily, and it’s great for you because the more visible your book is, the more sales you’ll make.
Social proof is classic psychology – it’s why products that appear to sell a lot, go on to sell even more. The more popular something appears, the more people will want to know why.
Having a lot of online reviews for your book tells potential customers, ‘This is a book that is being read by a lot of people – you ought to try it out too’.
Don’t ask, Don’t get
So we know that reviews are important, but how can you convince your readers to take the time to review you?
Well, the easiest way is to ask.
There are a lot of ways to go about this, and the trick is to make it as simple and easy as possible for your readers. You can post links to review sites on social media and on your website. You can put a request for reviews in your newsletters. You can even ask for reviews in the back of your book, to capitalize on your readers’ enjoyment of the story they’ve just finished!
The major barrier to getting book reviews is the time and effort it takes, but the good news is that your fans are probably already looking for ways to support you and help your books to spread to new readers.
A personal plea, even a direct message or email to your most vocal fans, will make them more eager to take the time out of their day to leave you a favorable review. Your readers will be pleased with an opportunity to help out an author that they enjoy, especially if you let them know how much it means to you personally.
Any review is a good review
Don’t worry too much if not all of your reviews are positive. While quality of reviews is nice, the number of reviews you receive is actually a lot more important than whether or not those reviews are all glowing and complimentary.
What looks more credible to you – a book that has two reviews that are both five stars, or a book that has twenty reviews that average out at 4 stars each?
Books with perfect review scores don’t generally sell as well as products that have a few negative results. This is because people don’t trust perfect reviews to be an accurate reflection of all buyers – no book is universally loved by everyone.
A less than glowing review or two will therefore actually help support the credibility of your positive reviews, as it’ll prove that they weren’t all written by a marketing company (or your mom). For this and many other reasons, you should resist the urge to write multiple glowing reviews for your own book yourself – your book deserves better than that, and it won’t help your sales as much as you might hope.