11 April 2013

The Immortal Online Book Review

Sometimes they make you feel like a genius, and sometimes they make you consider giving up your writing career and finding a secluded tribal village where you can hide. If you've ever cursed at a book reviewer through your computer monitor, I have some bad news for you. They may piss you off, but online book reviews aren't going anywhere.

Before TV, before radio, before every modern advertising medium, there was only one way to know what goods and services were best.

What's that guy saying about me?
Word-of-mouth. The great-great-great-grandfather of the Amazon Customer Review.

People asked friends, family, neighbors, and marauders from nearby villages for advice when making purchases and that was how marketing happened until modern media made it easier for merchants to spread their messages.

So here we are in good old 2013 in an overwhelming ocean of media. Even a Hoosier yokel like me can consume an obnoxious amount of marketing messages without ever talking to another person. There's no need for me to seek out another opinion when I can learn everything I need to know about a product from the comfort of my couch.

But I do it. Most of us do it. I'd even bet you've done it.

Anyone who's made a purchase on Amazon has likely ventured into the murky waters of the Customer Reviews section just for a little backup before clicking Add To Cart. It's a behavior that has been ingrained in our hunting and gathering habits for millenia. Our prehistoric ancestors conserved their time and energy by asking for advice on the best places to hunt or find the best vegetation, and now we're trying to conserve time and money by eavesdropping on the opinions of others before buying stuff. And that stuff includes books.

Most books cost money. Reading costs time. To expect someone to commit to investing in your book without doing at least a little research is a bit unrealistic. Readers will ask around, learning if anyone they know has read your stuff. If they get no response, the next logical step is TO THE INTERWEBS! A simple search of your name and "author" or "books" will bring back any website, blog or other internet destination where people are talking about you. Hopefully the chatter is generally positive, which will at least help the buyer like you, and that's a step in the right direction. The real moneymaker comes with a multitude of positive reviews of your writing. When a consumer sees that a sufficient number of other like-minded human beings approve of your work, they're suddenly much more likely to plunk their money down for your life's work.

Prove it, you say? Okay, here are the numbers:
  • 52% of consumers surveyed in the 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey said positive online reviews make them more likely to patronize a local business
  • 72% of consumers said they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (and books are ALWAYS being reviewed online)
  • According to recent Weber Shandwick study, shoppers put more value on consumer reviews over expert reviews by a 3 to 1 margin!
Consumers are talking to each other, and they're also listening to each other much more than you may think. Each online book review becomes part of the collective conversation that is creating your image for potential readers. Sure, there are bound to be some rough reviews at times, but it's just part of the marketing machine that's been around since the first Neanderthal panned a cave painting for not showing enough creative thought. 

At least we, as modern writers, are lucky enough to watch those conversations happen in real-time. It gives us the chance to evaluate the opinions and make adjustments where necessary. It also gives us those special moments to revel in our awesomeness when reviewers actually have something nice to say.

You know, like when a blog reader leaves positive comments below an article (cough, cough).

Let's welcome the online book review as a necessary and even (gasp!) helpful part of our growth as writers. We can appreciate the lumps we take as opportunities for evolution, and our reward for this acceptance will be the increasing amount of electronic adulation that is sure to follow.

To our future reviewers, I simply say: take your shots. We welcome them with pride and simply ask that you're just as passionate when we write something you like.


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