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Monday, May 17, 2010

Kathy Carlton Willis~Are Book Reviews Effective?

Today’s Novel Journey article is by Kathy Carlton Willis, wife to Russ, pastor’s wife to many, author, editor, publicist and a certified CLASSeminars speaker. Kathy Carlton Willis Communications encompasses her many passions. Learn more about how she reflects Christ as she shines the spotlight on others at: or

Are Book Reviews Effective?

Recently an author asked me if I thought book reviews were effective. Some novelists are beginning to think it’s a waste of time to secure reviews for their books.

I know it’s difficult for authors to read some of the less-than-stellar reviews, and so perhaps they are eager to jump on the “book reviews aren’t effective” bandwagon. My advice for anyone being critiqued is taken straight from talk show host Bonnie Hunt, “Don’t let praise go to your head, and don’t allow criticism to affect your heart.”

There are certain ratings-savvy consumers who study what they want to buy next before they buy it. Not just books. Look at how well Consumer’s Digest does. What do the experts say about appliances or home office equipment? And then there are auto magazines that rate various auto models, giving reviews that help potential consumers dream and yes, purchase their next vehicle. These reviews open up conversation among people looking for different features in the product, so they might come to different conclusions based on their perceived “needs” and “wants.” (This is how reviews can go viral!)

Movie viewers read reviews before they decide which tickets to get. And then there are parents who read reviews to help screen books, movies, and video games for their teens and children. Reviews are everywhere. And certain types of consumers are tuned in to these reviewers. I don’t think it’s just authors who read book reviews. Not from the research I’ve seen.

There are those who buy books on a whim—maybe the cover looks neat, or the author is a favorite, or it’s on the sales rack. But others use their book-buying dollars on books others tell them they should buy. Especially if they purchase online such as amazon or other online bookstores, they probably read several reviews before they click “buy.”

Sometimes it’s a 2 out of 5 rating that convinces a consumer to buy a title—because what was a negative to the reviewer is a positive to the reader. This shows that it’s not just the highest reviews that influence purchases.

If you talk to all the major publishers, they are still forking out lots of dollars sending books to various reviewers. Money speaks. If they found this tactic ineffective, they would cut back on this part of their marketing budget. If anything, they are ramping UP their exposure to reviewers. Every publishing house and publicity firm has a widget reviewers can post, saying they review for such-and-such company. It seems they are spreading a bigger net, not a smaller one.

I’m pretty open-minded—I don’t want to spin my wheels doing something that is ineffective. If I found book reviews to be ineffective, we wouldn’t recruit them. But I do think they work. Between regular book reviews and blog tour reviews, we send out approximately 35% of our sample books for reviews. The rest goes to media and niche marketing. I’d say that’s a pretty good indication that we believe they work.

How are Book Reviews and Endorsements Different?

Reviewers do not have to be celebrities to write good reviews. Endorsements, on the other hand, are secured with name-recognized experts and celebrities who have a realm of influence. Endorsements are often used to not only influence consumers, but also media coverage. Reviewers are primarily providing a service to those considering purchasing the book.

Who Writes Reviews?

Book reviewers write reviews. That sounds simple enough. But now with the ease of sending reviews to online bookstores, consumers also write reviews. They enjoy having a voice to recommend or critique a title. So now potential readers have a choice. They can read what the professional reviewers say about the book. Some of these reviewers only write positive reviews (they believe in the mantra, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”). It seems natural that these reviewers feel a loyalty to the one who provides the review copies, so they withhold mentioning any disappointments in the book projects. Even these slanted reviewers won’t write anything that isn’t true; they just abstain from mentioning flaws. Consumers tend to be less savvy at the skill of writing glowing reviews, but they write honest ones. A mixture of both professional reviews and consumer reviews is the best balance for authors.


  1. Great post, Kathy! Thank you for spelling this out so well. A thought-provoking and insightful post, as always.

  2. I really hope I can develop the skill of reviewing..

  3. I'm not a writer, just someone who reads a lot of books, and I appreciated your comments, Kathy.

    Thanks to book websites, I don't purchase a single book without wading through several reviews, both low and high. I pretty much ignore endorsements, because there will never be a negative endorsement on a book's cover.

    Professional reviews are good, but what I pay most attention to is the average reader. First I read the 1- to 2-star reviews, to see why they were displeased. In some cases, it's merely because the publisher charged too much for the e-book version (and I'm an avid e-book reader). Then I check out the 4- and 5-star reviews. In addition to all the technical reasons why a book is good, I just want to know if the reader was entertained.

    Something else I look for is the number of reviews. If there's less than 20, I figure those are mainly family and friends who would naturally rave about the book, justified or not. So yes, book reviews are very important to this reader.

  4. Kathy,

    Great post. I would like to touch upon some key reasons why I think book reviews are extremely important and vital to a book's success (good or bad).

    In today's world of search, the more web pages that talk about your book, the easier it will be to find, therefore it will get found more, which means more possibly buys. I'd rather have a 1% conversion on 1,000,000 readers than 10% on 100 readers.

    Next, for every review your book gets, that validates the book in the mind of the reader. A book with no book reviews seems undiscovered (or unknown) and is a complete gamble. Most people are risk averse and would rather buy something they know isn't going to be good than something that may be good but may be completely terrible.

    Lastly, I think all criticism is good for an author, and that its also just an opinion.

    -Nick Ruffilo


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