Last week, I ran across many folks talking about reviews. Some are writing about how to ask for them. A few are delighted or profoundly unhappy about feedback they’ve received. Another posted on Facebook that the best way to thank an author you like is to leave a review.
Now there’s no question that reviews are important and can be helpful. If you aren’t a well-known author, good reviews might help sell your books. Still, I’m not sure that the world completely revolves around what people say about a given title. After all, a review is the opinion of a single reviewer. A bestseller with crappy reviews is still a bestseller.
E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey got plenty of bad reviews on Amazon. In fact, when I checked the book as I was writing this post, the very first review bubble I saw read:
Please don’t waste your time, money and brain reading this book. – Jo G
That one-star review was a definite thumbs-down. Still, the book sold 100 million copies and was made into a major motion picture. It doesn’t matter that the book has received a total of more than 10,000 poor (one- and two-star) reviews or had a somewhat mediocre average rating of 3.5. It sold like crazy. Even now, it has an Amazon Best Sellers rank of #253. That’s not so bad.
By contrast, my favorite vampire book of all time, Suzy McKee Charnas’ Vampire Tapestry only ranks #438,193 with an average rating of 3.9 over 49 reviews. Ann Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is at #15,505 with an average of 4.3 over 914 reviews. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Hôtel Translyvania ranks #146,852 with a 4.0 rating over 61 reviews in the Kindle store, while the paperback edition ranks far behind at #1,034,893.
Now it’s not entirely fair to compare Fifty Shades’ sales numbers with the books I mentioned, mainly because they are titles that were originally released quite some time ago. Vampire Tapestry was first published in 1980, Interview with the Vampire in 1976, and Hôtel Transylvania in 1978. Still, it’s worth noting that the books that have more reviews also have higher sales rankings.
So, based on my little informal survey here, there appears to be some correlation between the number of reviews a book has received and its sales. Clearly, I haven’t done a scientific study, and someone who has the time and inclination to investigate this further might be able to prove me wrong.
Based on this, I’m left with the impression that what matters more than reviews is the marketing of a book. E. L. James got lots of crap reviews, yet her story somehow hit the public consciousness and took off.
Sometimes, it takes a lucky break for something to be noticed. Years ago, I worked for a firm that did custom web programming. The company designed and built a web site for a local music store that wanted to buy people’s used CDs. Until that point, the store had problems getting enough secondhand stock because the demand outstripped the supply. We built the site, the store was happy, and everything went along swimmingly until it was written up in a national magazine.
The next thing we knew, the site was crushed with an overwhelming amount of traffic. It had been designed to handle a handful of sales per day, not the thousands per hour that were suddenly pouring in. The store owner couldn’t believe the number of sellers that were suddenly knocking at his virtual door. Instead of having too few used CDs, he now had too many. He ended up building a second web site to get rid of all the stock that he couldn’t sell in his store.
All it took was one lucky mention in a national magazine. He hit the lottery.
So what does that mean for the rest of us who haven’t hit the publicity lottery? It means, keep trying. Do what you can to make yourself visible online with your web site and social media. Do what you can to get your name out there. If one person likes your book, maybe they’ll share it with others. Don’t give up. Keep writing. Keep trying to generate publicity for yourself.
And, if you read books, leave a review. Here’s another author’s perspective on why book reviews are important.