This week The Author CEO Naomi Blackburn talks about the importance of vetting your reviewers. The reviewing world is full of selfless, boundlessly helpful readers and bloggers – but unfortunately there are also a few unscrupulous individuals whose reviews won’t necessarily help you or your readers.

Naomi is founder of the Goodreads group Sisterhood of the Traveling Books, as well as the Nordic Noir group, dedicated to discussing Scandinavian mysteries. This year, Goodreads ranked her at # 11 on their top reviewer list, in both the U.S. and in the world (2011 rankings). As a reviewer, Naomi is brilliant, insightful, and, as she puts it, “brutally honest.”

Please feel free to leave questions for Naomi, as well as any suggestions you may have for future posts. I hope you enjoy the column!


The Author CEO: Vet Your Reviewers

by Naomi Blackburn

Naomi Blackburn

Last week, while posting new reviews and following up on a few I’d previously placed on Amazon, I noticed that three authors I’d worked with had received reviews from a disreputable Amazon reviewer. Colleagues have criticized this reviewer for posting an absurdly high number of reviews, giving inflated ratings, and writing reviews that seem to have been lifted directly from book jackets. All three authors had received 5-star reviews (as do nearly all the books this reviewer rates); the ‘reviews’ consisted of multiple-paragraph synopses, with little space devoted to the reviewer’s own feelings about the book.

Unfortunately, it is not only the disrespected reviewer who’s been slammed by fellow reviewers: the authors-and their books-have also been targeted. Authors who reach out to a particular reviewer, knowing ahead of time that the review will be positive, cheat the system. Based on this assumption, books reviewed by the reviewer in question have also been targeted for critique-with reviewers, in some cases, going so far as to recommend boycotting the book as well as other books by that author.

Here is a sampling of responses to those questionable 5-star reviews (identifying details removed):

‘I love Author B’s books and would buy this one regardless of the reviews. If I was unfamiliar with this author, however, I would disregard Reviewer A’s review and wait for one from someone who had actually read the book and used phrases such as ‘I liked…’, ‘I did not like…’, ‘This book made me feel…’ (you get the picture).’

‘Somebody, anybody, if you read this book please write a real review for it!
Thanks. Sounds like it might be a good one but this review (the only one so far) doesn’t help.’

It is never a good thing when comments focus on a review rather than on your book! When this happens, your book becomes irrelevant-before it has even had the opportunity to take off.

Before submitting your book for review, it is imperative to look at the reputation of the reviewer.

VettingThe review process is very important to sales and should not be taken lightly. A review by someone who is not respected in the market can hurt your book instead of helping. Established authors can survive this, but for newbie or less established authors, this can be a kiss of death or, at minimum, a wound.

In previous posts, I have discussed how to find reviewers and linked to resources from Christine Nolfi for developing a data base, but that is only the first step. It is imperative to vet your reviewers, as well.

So, how do you vet a reviewer?

1)      Identify where they review. Do they have a book blog? Or do they review only on a vendor site, such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble?

2)      Look at their reviews, particularly on vendor sites. How are they received? Is the reviewer and/or his or her reviews respected or attacked by fellow reviewers?

3)      Do their reviews give concrete reasons for why they liked or disliked the book? Or are the reviews just expanded jacket information with little attention to their impressions of the book?

4)      Do all or a majority of books they review receive 4 or 5 stars? How many reviews has the reviewer done? Do they limit reviewing opportunities to only books of interest to them? If so, they might have only 4 or 5 star reviews, but they only review books that are of interest to that potential reviewer. This is normally pretty evident in assessing their reviewing history. On a final note, remember: 1, 2, and 3 stars are fine, as long as the reviews are written in a constructive manner.

5)      Ask fellow authors what their experience has been in working with reviewers. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. This is yet another reason not to ‘burn bridges’ with fellow authors!

6)      Ask the opinion of established book bloggers you have worked with. Most book bloggers talk to one another. Believe it or not, like authors, we have a good idea of the reputation of certain book reviewers, as we talk about it too!

It might take extra time to vet reviewers, but it will save you a serious headache. And think of the money you’ll save by not sending ARCs to reviewers whose review might cost you instead of benefitting you!

How do you vet reviewers? 


About Naomi Blackburn

Naomi Blackburn

Naomi Blackburn, owner of The Author CEO, a consultation firm dedicated to helping independent authors navigate the development of strategic business plans and the marketing world, holds an MBA and has worked in the field of business development, sales and consulting for 12 years. A former social worker, she has helped hundreds of clients meet their life goals. An avid reader and top Goodreads reviewer, she comes to the world of books from a reader/reviewer’s perspective. She strives to help authors achieve their goals by teaching them to think of themselves as CEO/entrepreneur of a small business and helping them negotiate the business side of selling books.

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