If more writers realized that there is a difference between writing a book and selling one, they’d have a far greater appreciation for the book reviewers who actually take the risk of investing the time and energy it takes to sit down and read one’s work, then write a review for it on their websites and social media channels.
Reviewers represent the authorities of your target audience, the threshold guardians granting you passage and announcing your work’s arrival to the world. Without them, a writer who doesn’t first seek the blessing of critics presents their work to the free-market without any social proof—thus making it virtually impossible for them to make sales versus competitors in their respective genres who do.
Readers are Investors
The average reader may not view himself as an investor, but that is exactly what each reader is. Money, time, energy, attention…these are all finite resources that readers invest into your work. When they get a bad return on their investment, they develop a negative opinion of your work; when they get a good or great return on their investment, they develop a positive opinion of your work.
It’s actually rather simple; however, even if they can get a refund for the money they spent buying your book from the bookstore, they will not be able to get a refund on the time and life-force they spent, which is what entitles them to their opinion.
When these opinions are vented, expressed to their peers in person via word-of-mouth, or online in the form of social media status updates, blog posts, and (even more critically) as reviews on your actual sales page, it directly affects the overall conventional opinion of your work, and whether or not a new buyer will make the decision to buy your work.
Book Reviewers Ensure Investors a Good Return
Each person online, even if they don’t consciously realize it, has an audience that they influence—even you. The average person on Facebook has between 200 to 300 friends (Smith, 2014), but even if the audience is only one other person, that’s still someone who imbibes the memetics of their words and is thus somehow moved by what they say or write.
This is what social media is about, and why it’s so powerful.
Book reviewers, in contrast, are the people who take the time to set up a website and cultivate a dedicated audience of sometimes tens of thousands of people. They are under-appreciated by most independent authors, because most writers have no idea how to effectively market their work, and thus fail to see book reviewers as what they are: hubs, trusted by pre-established audiences, that directly influence awareness and conventional opinion of a writer’s work.
Few understand just how important they are for a social media marketing campaign; they’re vital. They can make or break you. One positive review written from a reviewer that supports you can get you thousands of sales from what they post online about you and your work, from their following.
Book Reviewers Lead the Herd Mentality
Lance Roberts of the STA Wealth Management compares the market to a natural phenomenon called “murmuration” that occurs in flocks of starlings.
When threatened by a predator or some kind of environmental disturbance, the movement of one individual starling affects the entire flock in mid air. Thousands of these birds will move in unison to form what appears to be, to the naked eye witnessing them from a distance, a singular formless intelligent organism hovering in the air.
How these birds interact with one another is called “scale-free correlation” and every shift in the murmuration is called a “critical transition” (Smith, 2014).
“The change in the behavioral state of one animal affects and is affected by that of all other animals in the group, no matter how large the group is. Scale-free correlations provide each animal with an effective perception range much larger than the direct inter-individual interaction range, thus enhancing global response to perturbations.” — Giorgio Parisi, a theoretical physicist from the University of Rome.
The market of any industry acts like a murmuration of starlings; when any small group of consumers, or a largely respected market leader (such as a book reviewer), posts an excellent review of your work, the entire flock, or herd, of consumers that are connected to them are directly affected by that opinion.
Readers who are followers of the flock (which is, sadly, the vast majority of consumers who aren’t the risk takers that free-thinking leaders are) want to know that birds of their feather approve of your book before they invest their money and time into reading it. When this approval is given, when the leader of a community takes the risk and returns to their flock to say that your book made for a great return on that investment and that they should buy it, market murmuration occurs and all those who follow that leader are exponentially more likely to follow suit.
Book Reviewers are Threshold Guardians
Drawing a comparison from the genius and agelessly influential work of Joseph Campbell, the writer of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, it is only natural for the journey of a writer’s ascension to prominence to be bathed with a torrent of criticism, testing the writer’s ego.
Threshold guardians test whether or not the hero is worthy to embark upon the path to attain what they desire (Campbell, 1972). For writers, that would mean money, fame, respect, etc. as an author—the benefits of notability to a certain demographic audience. Therein, book reviewers have a duty to protect their flock from harmful trash that will serve their followers no good. Unworthy writers shall get a negative review and thus have their work deflected from the eyes of the consumers who rely on that book reviewer to protect them.
A worthy writer, after being tested and determined as worthy by the guardian, is declared so by having surrendered their ego in their work in order to present the target audience with literature that will truly benefit the readers’ lives in some way.
Many reviewers read and write for free, under the insecure belief that admitting that they’re professional critics detracts from their credibility—but I think this is the wrong mentality. As written: time and energy are resources that reviewers deserve to be paid for, especially if that reviewer is going to be a critical factor in determining whether or not a writer’s work sinks or swims in the market. It is up to the reviewer to make sure that they are simply transparent and have a fair grading system for what they determine to be great work, being able to logically explain why they love a work for what it is, as an informed opinion—one of the five types of criticism.
If they’re able to do that, then there’s no reason why they should feel ashamed to charge a reasonable price for their services, based upon the size of their following and how active that following is; it’s a perfectly respectable profession.
At that point, if a writer has any qualms about paying money for a fair review, then that writer is not looking at their book like a product to be invested in. He/she may already have the wrong mentality and a lack of understanding of how to succeed as an independent author within the free-market.
This does not mean paying for slanted and biased reviews; however, in a world free from the discrimination of traditional publishers, there are bound to be reviewers who are fake, who will say anything (even for a bad book) just to make money. To counter this, writers looking for what will be effective reviews should look for what reviewers should be able to present as the size of their following and their rating system for how they can empirically judge the quality of a writer’s work, with examples explaining why they feel that way.
So, Should You Pay for Reviews?
Book reviewers are the unsung heroes of the industry that directly influence the ebb and flow of the market. They’re vital aspects of any social media marketing plan, and independent authors should heed their importance—for a book reviewer can mean the difference whether or not an independent author’s work becomes a best seller…or if it’s ever even noticed at all.
Just to be clear: It’s not the review, or how many reviews, an author should focus on. It’s the blogger blasting their opinion out to their many followers that raises awareness and shapes the tribe’s conventional opinion of your work. Critics of paid reviews will say that paid reviews aren’t accepted by the industry; therefore, writers would be wasting their money. To them I give this rebuttal:
There’s absolutely nothing wrong or ineffective about a person who has a blog, gets several thousand active followers, and then says: “Hey, if you’d like a review of your work that I can blast to my followers, pay xxx amount of dollars.”
Did the reviewer say anything beyond making a post on their own blog? No? Then they’re honest about what they do.
Did the reviewer promise a certain amount of sales? No? Then, they’re honest about what they do.
It’s virtually the same thing as advertisement, because that’s what professional critics do: provide their opinion that raises awareness. What’s a waste of money about that? It isn’t. It’s no different than paying for PPC or PPM ads on reputable websites. Some websites will scam you; some won’t. Some reviewers will really give an honest opinion; some won’t. The market will decide who deserves to stay and who doesn’t.
Nothing is guaranteed in any industry, especially if writers stop thinking like writers and start thinking like entrepreneurs. If writers view their work as products; they’ll understand there are risks in any entrepreneurial venture.
NOTE: The review itself isn’t what writers should realize they’re paying for; the review being blasted to other people who may be influenced by that opinion is what they’re paying for. If a reviewer owns their own blog, and has their own followers…who’s to stop them?
Understand that as writers we’re in changing times, and there are many old heads who still follow the traditional ways of selling books, too heavily indoctrinated by the prestige effect. They may be highly experienced in the old way, but technology is changing the times, and they have a lot to learn about these changing times.
Some of us are behind the curve…and some aren’t.
Bloggers are virtually micro-celebrities, and using them is virtually no different than a company using a mainstream celebrity to endorse their product.
That is, if the writer is good enough to deserve a good review by an honest reviewer/critic. Some bloggers will just post positive reviews because they’re paid to, sure. But not all will, and they’ll differentiate themselves naturally over time.
As an author, what would you be willing to pay for a book review? What do you think is fair? Please share with your comments below!
- Campbell, J. (1972). The hero with a thousand faces (Second ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
- Roberts, L. (2015, December 15). A Birds-Eye View Of Market “Herd Mentality” Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-12-15/birds-eye-view-market-herd-mentality
- Smith, A. (2014, February 3). 6 new facts about Facebook. Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/6-new-facts-about-facebook/
Mike Norton is the CEO of Tenka International, empowering individuals with the marketing knowledge they need make a realistic attainable living online with their work, because there’s a difference between writing a book and selling one.