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: http://kcwcomm.blogspot.com/ or http://www.kathycarltonwillis.com/.
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.