Word of Mouth Sells Books

This inspiring book was written by Anna McDermott, Gretchen Wiegand and Mark Graham Communications.

Ask most readers what made them decide to read a particular book, and the answers will vary wildly. But one theme is recurrent: “It was recommended to me.”

Why? Because humans are tribal by nature. We gravitate toward choices that others in our tribe endorse. How many times have you looked on Yelp to decide whether to order takeout from a restaurant you don’t know? How often do you ask friends or family to recommend their favorite cleaners, doctors, hairstylists, or other professional we trust with our appearance, our health, our homes – indeed, with all aspects of our lives?

Most book lovers’ tribes include other readers they know personally. However, many also turn to the book tribe known as “reader reviewers” – most commonly, on Goodreads and Amazon.

If you use these sites, you’ve likely seen such reviews. Amazon only allows readers to rate a book (between 1 and 5 stars, with 1 the lowest and 5 the highest) if they also write a review. Goodreads permits readers to rate books only, with a review optional.

Analyzing book ratings and reviews, you’ll notice that some books boast thousands, while others display only a handful. Due to our tribalism, we readers are much more likely to pick up a book with a large number of reviews (positive, of course) than a small number.

So how do authors increase their number of reviews? Here are some suggestions:

  • Build a “Street Team.” Your street team includes your A-list readers – the friends, family members, and associates who will definitely read your book. As you prepare to launch a book into the world, build a list of such supporters (and their emails). When the book is available, ask them to pick up a copy (or provide it to them for free) and, after they’ve read it, to review it online. It’s important to note that Amazon sometimes deletes reviews if they suspect the reviewer and author have a personal connection. Still, it never hurts to try.
  • Mention Reviews on Your Website and Social Media. You might quote a fantastic review, then explain how reviews help spread the word about books. Often, seeing a positive review prompts readers to post one of their own.
  • Keep Your Request Simple. Make sure readers know reviews don’t need to be long. Several lines about why they liked the book and what stood out for them are perfect.
  • Provide Links. Make it easy on your reviewers by providing direct links to your book on Amazon and Goodreads. The easier reviewing is, the more likely people are to do it.

One final word about reviews: as an author, you’ll save your sanity if you don’t read your book’s bad reviews. (Most books have them.) Granted, sometimes such reviews contain useful information – but they can be soul-crushing for authors, especially early in their careers. You might ask a friend to read them for you and let you know if there’s anything of value in them. Additionally, never reply to a review. Trying to defend your book to a reviewer who didn’t like it is a game no author can win.

When it comes to reviews, focus on quantity, quality, and keeping things positive. Your book is in the world for a reason. Your job is to make sure its tribe can find it!