Even a Bad Review for Your Book Will Make People Want to Read it!

Cartoonists like to debate
Cartoonists like to debate (Photo credit: aaipodpics) and so do writers!
That book reviews boost sales is conventional wisdom. Authors are always on the look out for reviews and when bad ones roll in they are (often) desperate.

Should you worry over a bad review? Will it hurt your sales and kill your baby, I mean your book? Authors have seen a drop in sales as a result of it.

Or so they claim.

Amazon's director of author and publisher relations, Jon Fine begged to disagree at the recent Digital Book World conference on Book Discoverability and Marketing, held in New York. He started out by listing many interesting things about the buzz that makes your books sell, spelling out for his audience of hundreds of book marketers the top three ways they could make sure to get the most out of Amazon:
(1) availability of the book: a quality e-book including in print,
(2) metadata: meaning everything that helps sell your book online, including a catchy cover and relevant keywords/tags,
(3) improved author pages: including video links etc and giving support to authors, sharing sales data with them so that they can make informed marketing decisions.

Then he said something that was truly arresting: a greater volume of reader reviews is more valuable, he told the audience than a small number of reviews with more stars.“On our site, the more people are talking about your book the better,” said Fine. “Even a bad review will make people want to read your book.”

Say that again?

Bad reviews will sell my book?

Okay, I'm going to try a little experiment here. I recently got 3 reviews for my A HOOK IN THE SKY (they're on Readers Favorite, not up yet on the Amazon site - it takes a little time to upload...). Just giving you the evaluation paragraph (for info about the book, go to the page tab under the blog title). Tell me which you like best and makes you want to look at the book (I'm not saying buy it, more modestly: just take a look):

5* review: ..."Hook in the Sky" is a deeply thoughtful story of one man's life and how he comes to peace with his mission in life. Main character Robert is a longtime humanitarian worker and a gifted artist, but he and his art work never quite fit in with the designs of those around him, his wife Kay, longtime friend Natasha and her daughter Nour. All the characters in "Hook in the Sky" are well-created, the dialogue between and among characters is authentic, and the plot line flows believably to the end...

4* review: ...Robert is a very complex person, not entirely sympathetic but always well intentioned and generous, but this is a novel of prickly, difficult characters. They are convincingly portrayed and their interactions are inevitable given the personalities at play. There is an interesting, somewhat quirky plot, centred on art and the novel provides some interesting discussion of genres of art. It’s unpredictable which adds extra interest to this well written and entertaining book. It is set in France, New York and Italy and the settings are atmospheric and beautifully created. 

2* review: ...Although the book has fascinating details about the art world, museums and relationships, I found this a challenging read. I found Robert self-absorbed, self-indulgent and devoid of engaging personality. All his new pursuits become baggage he would rather do without and yet he continues to follow his wants – never quite finding the utopia of his dreams. The characters become very real through the story as Claude describes each one meticulously and you sense you really know them. I personally found the read almost depressing as I waited for Robert to find the happiness he longs for...

The 2*star reviewer quite clearly is exasperated by Robert, at the end she even adds a note directly to me, saying. "Your attention to detail is worth much merit, however I found the Robert character very self-centred and selfish - I became more and more angry with him as I read. He had so much and yet 'missed it' with his ego-centred thinking."

I thought that was amazing: this person got so upset by my protagonist that she gave my book a low 2*! Personally, I take it as a compliment: I had made Robert so real for her that she couldn't bear him. But would such a rating (and criticism) make you want to buy the book or reject it?
Tell me if I shot myself in the foot by sharing this information...I'd love to have your opinion in the comments below but I'm providing a poll to make it easy for you to answer:

Which Review Made You Want to Read the Book?
pollcode.com free polls 

Enhanced by Zemanta


I'm responding here to a comment made by Jack Durish under the poll (for some reason my reply doesn't get published due to an "internal server error"...) So here goes:

Thanks Jack for your comment. I'm surprised though that the 2 star review is getting more traction than the 5 star review! Goes to show that authors shouldn't worry too much about bad reviews...
Laura Zera said…
Your post mirrors my feelings. I am grateful that I have eight 5-star reviews for Tro-tros and Potholes, but actually wish that someone would give it something below that as to me, as a reader, I would be suspicious!
Laura, congrats for all the good reviews! But there is nonetheless a benefit in getting lower-than-5-star reviews and I guess reactions to this post begin to show it! I wish more people would vote the poll, it would give us stronger grounds to argue that bad reviews are not necessarily bad news or damaging to sales...But so far, in spite of the few votes, it is a fact that no one has agreed that the 5 star review was convincing (it received 0 votes!) whereas the 2 star review got 2 votes. Too little you say to prove anything, that's true, but it's a beginning...
Emma Calin said…
All in all I have about 60 reviews on Amazon. Some are astonishing. One reader gave me a one star because she felt the heroine should have made a different career choice at the end of the book. Another reviewer proclaimed that the book was pure filth and sex. A recent three star explained that one of the characters had annoyed her because he did not do what she felt was right and that he made poor life decisions. Let's hope she stays away from Shakespeare. However, bless them all. Any review shows interest in the book and that affects the Amazon rating. I think you are quite right Claude in saying that the "poor" reviews are more interesting and just as likely to sell the books. I need reviewers who are prepared to warn readers that there is pure titillation and appalling hot sex in each disgusting chapter from beginning to end.
LOL, Emma, your book is not appalling hot sex nor disgusting and I found it a very enjoyable read, well done! So glad you have so many reviews, congrats!
Lada said…
Hi Claude, Lada Ray here. We just met on GR.:)

A very interesting article and food for thought. I do agree emphatically that the more reviews the better!
As to the negative reviews: I've seen at least 2-3 thriller authors (whom I know from social media) whose sales didn't seem to be effected by lots of 1*-2* reviews. Their books are rated at 3.5* altogether, yet sales are good with rankings around 2-3K on Kindle.
As for me, so far I found the opposite true. In addition to a number of 5*, I got a couple of 3* and 2* reviews over the summer after a free promo. Just like in your example, while some readers adored my Accidental Spy Series (Stepford USA and Gold Train) and its protagonist, Jade Snow, others seemed to take an issue with her choices (how dare she hooks up with a Russian in Gold Train - that's just not done!). Plus, the same issue of sex, as one of your readers mentioned. Two sex scenes in the entire book - that's just appalling! It seems Gold Train was read only by nuns, who apparently target free promos on Kindle. LOL
To make the long story short, I found my sales drop precipitously after that.
I don't want to start drawing conclusions at this point yet. Still, perhaps it's not about reviews at all, but about what the Kindle readers want to read at any given moment. BTW, I've also seen a book in the thriller category sell VERY well without a single review.

At this point, it seems to me I haven't found my reader yet. Perhaps it's the issue of tags and categorization, or maybe it's something else altogether. Also, it appears to me that Kindle readers want to read simple books that can be easily fit into one narrow genre. Of course, life cannot be fit into one narrow genre, and I simply can't write like that. As someone else pointed out, hopefully these readers will never attempt to read Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky. Example: the author of a short horror book called "Creepy" was recently bragging that he gets 3-4k downloads and borrows a month; another horror book won the 2012 Best Book of the Year award by The Kindle Book Review! I have nothing against horror, or any other genre, however, to me this is an illustration of the kind of reads the Kindle reader is looking for! Kinda sad.

Me - I keep writing and will soon release my new metaphysical YA fantasy/thriller The Earth Shifter. What next? Time will tell.

At this time, I am diversifying my books away from Amazon, to other booksellers. I'll let you know how my new strategy works.


Thank you Lada for a very thoughtful, interesting comment. I hadn't realized that some people manage to sell their books even without any review! You're right, it seems to suggest a particular pattern among Kindle readers...Do they really focus only on a few easy-to-read genres? Things like horror stories (definitely something I neither read nor write). If that is the case, then you're wise to move on to other platforms. Maybe also try printed books!

Bottom line, it's word of mouth that seems to make the difference. Several bloggers have recently blogged about the magic of reader buzz. Sounds a little like magic to me! In any case, not very different from the way books were promoted in the pre-Internet days. And if that's the case, then there's only one way left: go down the road of traditional publishing and forget being an indie. What a pity! It was nice to be an independant author...But maybe not very wise!