An author recent asked me if Amazon book reviews were really that important—wasn’t it word of mouth that sold books?
The answer is that book reviews are important for customers, book sellers, and libraries. On book marketing sites, like Amazon, book reviews feed into algorithms and they, along with sales numbers, are responsible for the book’s ranking on the site. They are also a form of digital "word of mouth" and can influence the customer’s purchase decision. But Amazon reviews are not the only review game in town and different types of reviews impact different types of purchasers.
There are four main types of review:
Customer reviews: These are peer-to-peer reviews on the book sale sites and Goodreads. These result in the book’s overall star ranking on the site and tend to be written by fans of the author or the genre.
Book blogger reviews: These are written on specific book review sites and may bring new books to the attention of their readers. Book bloggers tend to be genre-specific (sci-fi/fantasy, children’s, thriller, etc.) and their readers are naturally people who enjoy those genres.
Trade reviews: These are reviews in the major trade publications. Four such publications dominate what the book trade sees and shape what readers want. They are: Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist. In Canada, Quill & Quire is an influential trade publication as well. There is an excellent article below in the references explaining the impact these four publications have on the success of any book.
Traditional media reviews: This category includes newspapers and magazines. Traditional publishers tend to get these column inches for their authors. However, the individual author can certainly get coverage by pitching a newsworthy story or securing an interview.
Each type of review has different sales impacts, lead times, reviewer requirements and submission guidelines, so each will be covered separately in future blog posts.
PRO TIP: For traditionally published authors, when you are negotiating your contract, ensure a provision has been made for you to purchase up to several hundred copies at cost to send out to potential reviewers.
A publisher will usually send out review copies to select bloggers and media outlets, but for greater reach, an author should approach their own lists of potential reviewers (local newspapers, niche bloggers, etc.). Indie authors need to budget for sending out dozens of promotional books as well. While many reviewers will review from digital advance reader copies, there are still many who prefer good old-fashioned print.
If you have specific questions/concerns about book reviews, please leave them in in the comments below or contact me.
4 Important Book Publications You May Not Have Heard Of: This detailed article spells out the influence these four publications have on the book trade.
The Book Blogger’s Influence on the Book World: An excellent, in depth article on the topic.
Do Book Blog Reviews Have Real Influence: One book blogger’s experience with a far-reaching book review.
How do Amazon.com Reviews Really Work?: This is one blogger’s attempt to unravel the mystery that is the Amazon ranking system.