Consumer Reviews: The Future of Publishing Rests in Your Hands

**UPDATE** 2/18/11 - Just wanted to mention that this post is being featured on the # publishing Daily Twitter site/feed.  You can find it under the #books section on the bottom righthand side of the site.  I'm a little biased now :0), but they feature some cool stuff going on in the world of publishing.  Polish up those comments folks, the Twitterverse is watching!  Way to go gang!

Good evening, Blog Friends! I see a lot of new faces in the crowd, so I'll say a quick welcome and encourage you to find a comfy chair, pour yourself some tea/wine and settle in for a little chat. This is a long post, but please stay with me as I'll make a valid point. (PROMISE!) Also, be sure to hit me back with your thoughts when we're done. It's your opinion (not my own) that I really want to hear.

Have you ever purchased a product from online retail giant Amazon? Chances are you have, or are at least familiar enough with the site to know how it works. You can purchase anything--from beer bongs to books, they have it all--and it gets shipped directly to your door or mailbox. Naturally, I'm more concerned with the books. (Now if you had asked me 10 years ago, you might have gotten a different answer ... )

Once you've ordered that new set of steak knives, you can clip right over and post a review to give other consumers the scoop on your Turbo Ginsu. (Can you really use it to chop wood? REALLY??)

In moments, thousands of Amazon browsers will see your opinion. Did you love it? Hate it? Perhaps the larger question is will it matter? Does anyone really care if you tried to cut a can in half, but ended up starting a modest kitchen fire instead? Surely no one is going to base their decision to invest in something based upon the thoughts of a complete stranger. You might be surprised ...

Before we get too far into the discussion, I'd like to point out that the importance of a strong reception isn't strictly an anomaly of the electronic age. Authors have known for ages that perhaps the single most powerful publicity tool is good old word of mouth praise.

Be it in living rooms or chat rooms, if folks are talking about your book, it's a good thing.  (Especially if they're talking sweet. ;-)

Granted, consumer reviews have really gained in significance since the dawn of the internet. It has become a global world, where shoppers are no longer limited to the stock on hand at the local Target, but can truly purchase just about anything from anywhere. As our choices have expanded, so has the need for a discerning opinion.

There is a fairly large amount of anecdotal evidence to support the power of receiving positive reviews on shopping sites, particularly in the realm of books. I did a little (highly unscientific) research myself, and discovered the following: The top 5 selling books in the Amazon top 100 averaged 470 reviews and an average review rating of 4.5/5. Similarly, I looked at 4 of the top selling genres (Romance, Literature & Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Teen) and they averaged reviews/ratings (respectively) of 58/4.5, 328/4, 213/4, and 804/4. (NOTE: 2 of the top 5 Sci-Fi/Fantasy are pre-orders, so the numbers were divided by 3 instead of 5.)

What conclusions can we make based upon those numbers? That the most popular books are being reviewed en masse, and the consumer feedback is largely positive. You can chicken/egg this thing to death, but I think it's safe to say that the number and tone of the reviews is having an impact on sales.

Clearly, numerous positive reviews mean more to Joe Starting-Out-Author than Stephen King, Jo Rowling or James Patterson. However, don't believe that it doesn't make a difference to the big dogs as well. Just last year mega-popular author, Michael Lewis felt the sting of bad pub in the form of slamming Amazon reviews. Sadly, it wasn't even the writing that was fueling his detractors, but the fact that his book wasn't made available in eBook form by his publishers. (Something the author had ZERO control over.)

In fact, perhaps the most compelling evidence that your thoughts make a difference is shown in the great (and sometimes bizarre) lengths that people have gone/will go to in an effort to skew consumer feedback. In May of last year, the Cincinnati Beacon ran this story about the efforts to 'pad' book reviews by hired publicists. Then there's this story about an author who noticed she'd been receiving some oddly consistent negative reviews. After some investigation, it appeared that she actually had been the target of a smear campaign instigated by--wait for it--COMPETING PUBLISHERS! (Allegedly...) Oh, and authors aren't immune to the shenanigans. Here's a story of an author's spouse posting dodgy reviews of competitor's books, and another story of an author going all ePostal on someone who posted a bad review of her book.     

This brings me to the point.  (Told you I'd make one ...) 

After reading the unfortunate news that popular bookstore chain Borders is going belly-up, coupled with the soaring popularity of eBooks, I think we as book consumers (and producers) are facing a very real shift in how the business of literature is grown and sustained. Diminishing are the days of publishers and mass distributors ensuring that we take notice of great books and great authors by placing them in front of our noses. The supply is increasing and, with the loss of physical marketing, the ability to stand out (for books) is decreasing.

To a much greater extent, books will flourish from reader support, not marketing dollars. Increasingly, the success of your favorite author is going to ride on YOUR shoulders as a reader and reviewer. You're going to be the store manager and publishing professional who decides which books pop-up first in the store/search engines.

I challenge you, as people who love to read, get in the habit of reviewing every book you enjoy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, SmashWords, etc. Most of the sites will allow you to review even if you purchase elsewhere. If you love an author, share your opinion online (particularly on the sites that allow you to purchase books). It makes a difference now, and it may mean everything tomorrow.



  1. Hey EJ, just wanted to say hi to another member of Group 3 of the Crusade.

    Very thought-provoking post. I think you're right. As people who love books we need to take a stand for the books and authors we love.

    I look forward to getting to know you better.

  2. Great suggestion. I don't know why I didn't think about it. Guess I thought the reviews were written by people who bought the books on the site. Duh.

    [Gads ... another time consuming habit.]

  3. Amazing post. I don't think I even thought about how damaging or helpful a review could be because I myself tend to ignore them. I always tend to want to see for myself as far as books and movies go.

    It makes me slightly sad to see everything being moved to digital(though it's probably for the best), I love sitting in my chair and opening a book. Nothing against the Kindle I think it's a beautiful amazing thing , but holding a book is a joy that is almost magical to me. (Probably my father's fault.)
    Oh the future, you take away my books and you still haven't given me my flying car...curses!

  4. Great post... seriously. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

  5. So we meet again. First as blog buddies, then as crusaders. You just keep popping up everywhere, don't you? :)

  6. Ultimately, worth the looong read. Just kidding! Great point and we should not only do this for established authors, but for up and coming writers as well both on books - and blogs!

  7. Fantabulous post! Thank you for your thoughts and authority.

  8. Yes, you do have a point, and a good one. I do read reviews and have purchased books as a result of reading them. I haven't written one though and now I may consider doing so. It does give the reader a little power, like voting.

  9. This is a great post. It's so important to review the books we read to help support authors. I admit that I look at the reviews, and I'm less likely to buy something that hasn't been reviewed (unless it just came out). Plus, as an author, I must admit I like looking at reviews. I want to know what people think, good or bad, so I can know what I'm doing right or wrong.

  10. I also read reviews, and find them, in varying degrees, helpful, but I have a slightly different approach to writing them. As an author who has been on the receiving end of some pretty negative comments (which I thought were pretty off-base :)) it's very hard for me to write anything but a positive review. I know how hard authors work. I know what it's like to put your work out there and have everyone and their dog judge it. So my (probably not very helpful) policy is that if I like the book and can honestly give it 3 stars or more with a good review, or 4 stars with possible questions, I'll post a review. If I can't say anything nice, I don't review because my opinion is just my opinion - why potentially poison other people's minds about something someone worked very hard on? Like I said, probably not very helpful :)

  11. Just so you know, fellow crusader, you had me at hello. I clicked on your blog and was welcomed by Luke Skywalker. LOVE!

    I have total faith in the tangible book. But I think your advice is awesome. Great post!

  12. Hey, E. J. Dropped in to say hi from our writing group #3.

    Very interesting post. It really makes you think.


  13. Hi, fellow crusader! So true about showing loving support to our authors by posting reviews. Thanks for the heads up. :)

    ♥.•*¨ Elizabeth ¨*•.♥

  14. I've been reviewing most every book I read on Amazon for about 10 years now. Sometimes it helps to think critically and others it's just nice to vent about a crappy book.

  15. Good point, the world of books is certainly changing. I used to read the book section of the Sunday newspapers for ideas on what to buy. Now I find reviews online. And if I love a book (especially if there aren't yet many reviews) I usually post a review on Amazon.

  16. Another Crusader here to say hello!

    Love your profile. Now onto your post. I would go on and on about how I met Mark Hamill and why he signed a tube of Fixodent for me but that's probably too much info. I just love that I have a Mark Hamill story and that you have a picture of him at the top of this post.

    Anyway, the real issue at hand. I think product reviews and book reviews are apples and oranges to some degree (a large degree for me, maybe no one else) because art is subjective and products either work or they don't. This may be why I don't read reviews regarding books but I will read product reviews. Also, no two books are alike so if I use a review it's not really a comparison so I can't just go onto another book that will satisfy the same need. It's all or nothing with books and either it's good or bad but really only because the reader thinks so at the time. I'm prepared to be wrong here. It's just a thought.

  17. @ Patricia: So jealous! What a great story ... I don't think you're wrong at all. It is a completely subjective experience. However, as I've grown less stubborn with my aging and wizening (mostly aging) I've been less quick to disregard popular opinion. If lots of other people are enjoying the book, I'll probably find something to like as well. Not always, but most of the time.

    @GF: Great point about the newspaper having previously been the 'go to' place to get the scoop.

    @ RM: You're 100% correct, and I hadn't even thought of it that way! Think of it as expanding your writing chops! I know that's why many do reviews on their blogs.

  18. @ Allison M: Luke and I go way back ... we used to bullseye Womprats in his T-16 back in Beggars Canyon. ;-) I love tangible books too, but I'm not sure I share your faith. I'll be posting about that in the days to come.

    @ Susanna: Thanks for the lovely comment! I totally agree with you on consumer reviews for books, although the purist won't. If you can't give more than 3 stars, it might be best to leave it alone. Unless you have a reason for your dislike that you feel other buyers should be aware of, such as you felt there was inappropriate message conveyed by the story, you didn't find it suitable for the intended audience, or the product isn't as advertised. If you just don't get the genre, or the writing didn't do it for you, you should probably refrain from slamming it.

    However, I think that doesn't apply on blogs because you're offering a product (you and your opinion as a writer) to your readers. If you're going to call them reviews, they should be unbiased and offer up your complete thoughts (good and bad). Now if you want to call it "Books I love" instead of a review, I think that solves the problem. Lots of people disagree with me on this ...

  19. Wasn't there a song that went like: Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes . . .
    Anyhow, it's the one constant thing. There will always be change.
    (And, I must say, I LOVED the title of your post. Star Wars fan right here.)

  20. Very interesting and insightful post. I love the encouragement for more people to write reviews of the books they love and praise the authors. This is a wonderful idea. Thanks for the post E.J.

  21. Fellow crusader popping in! Love the blog :)

    The Arrival, only .99c on Amazon

  22. It is hard to determine what 5 stars truly means - some major bestsellers were my least favorite books...but I'll try. And I think I'll be shopping through Amazon a lot more soon - the only book store within an hour of my house is a Borders. yikes

  23. Hi! Just thought I'd say hello since I'm a fellow crusader! Nice to meet you! :)


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