It’s not a secret that authors and publishers rely on places like Kirkus Reviews, the New York Times, and Publisher’s Weekly to say nice things about a book so the publisher can put it on the cover. These official kinds of reviews are understandably important and relevant—publications like the New York Times are trusted, credible sources, and their reviewers are paid, which usually means these reviewers know what they’re talking about.
But increasingly, authors are relying on their average readers to leave reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads. Casual, unpaid reviewers are starting blogs dedicated to their reviews, and users of Goodreads can see messages like “I received an ARC [advanced reader’s copy] from the publisher in exchange for an honest review” in many of the top reviews for the books they’re interested in.
Why do regular people matter so much to an author’s career, enough that publishers are sending us regular readers ARCs?
Well, for starters, Amazon. Many people buy books from Amazon, so leaving a review can boost a book’s ranking and chances of being purchased. Places like BookBub, which are, in the words of Lauren Faulkenberry, “promotional gold mines”, prioritize books with a lot of Amazon reviews.
According to Lauren, indie bookstores are more likely to stock books with lots of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. That makes total sense—it’s more risky for them to stock books they’re not sure anyone will buy. And I’m probably not the only one who picks up books in indie bookstores and immediately checks their Goodreads page.
But do reviewers matter in less easily quantifiable ways? My time in YA communities on social media, especially as a teenager, really made an impression on me—I became aware of the importance of supporting books with diversity, I learned about popular series (up until that point, my experience with popular books was limited to those that are arguably cultural phenomena, like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games), which in turn made me consider why books become popular—and in short, I began to see how readers fit into the industry.
An author’s perspective on reviewers
Authors and publishers can see the importance of social media reviewers. To get a better sense of their awareness, I talked to Amanda Lovelace, a bestselling author of poetry and a longtime, popular social media influencer in the book community. She originally self-published her first poetry collection, the princess saves herself in this one. Publisher Andrews MacMeel picked her up after, due to her social media presence, her book became an Amazon poetry bestseller. Her experience gives her an interesting perspective on the impact of reviewers on commercial book markets.
Q: Do you think the frequent, “casual” reviewers with large followings have a real influence on the perception of books in certain communities?
A: Of course. Goodreads has a handful of extremely popular and highly trusted reviewers, but in recent years, I see most of the influence in the hands of Booktubers. For example, they’ve certainly helped to take the existing diverse book movement and move it toward their large and faithful audiences — people who watch YouTube (a massive social media platform) but don’t necessarily have or even want a Goodreads page, or even a Twitter, where much of the movement previously existed. Because of their influence, a much wider group of people is loudly demanding for more diverse stories, and are certainly being heard by the industry. Over the years, there have been more and more marginalized voices being published and showing up on bestsellers lists—a stark difference from how privileged the lists used to be. And it’s about time.
Q: What effect does your fanbase have on the marketing of your books?
A: My audience has always been part of the marketing of my work, though accidentally. When I first self-published princess, it was really the passion of fellow readers and book bloggers across social media platforms that really put my work out there. Until this day, they continue to help market my books through Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, spreading the word of my releases and the love for my books in general. It’s less of a plan and more something that remains unexpected but extremely precious to me. I don’t think I would be anywhere today without my readership.
Q: Talk about why reviewers matter to you, as an author and/or a reader.
A: I was just talking about this on my Twitter the other day. I appreciate an Amazon review whether it’s good, bad, or so-so. Why? No matter what your stance on my book may be, you’re still helping inquiring readers find and consider my work. Personally, I read a variety of reviews from all spectrums of the star rating system before deciding to buy a book. Patterns of complaints and praises that fall in line with my specific preferences certainly play a key role in whether I one-click or not. Even if a few reviews have the same complaint, it may not necessarily be about something that rubs me the wrong way, and I’ll check it out anyway. In my eyes, negative reviews aren’t always “negative”— they’re decision makers, whatever that means to you!
Amanda makes an excellent point—a causal review isn’t just one number for an author. A few reviews can draw in many readers. I don’t know anyone my age who sits down and reads Kirkus’ reviews. But plenty of readers do take time to read (or at least skim) reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and other platforms before they commit to a book. These unpaid reviewers are making a difference in the industry because regular readers make decisions based on what they write. I actually do the same thing as Amanda; sometimes I read a negative review, and something that bothered the reviewer is something I love in a book. This actually just happened to me with the book Wicked like a Wildfire by Lana Popović. The point here is, reviews of any star-rating are getting people to read the book. And isn’t that the goal of publishing?