If All Your Friends Jumped

Image by: Mhare

Amazon is big. Really big. It’s a Walmart the size of Rhode Island, with a flea market out back the size of Texas. You’re welcome to set up a table at the flea market; Amazon doesn’t mind since it costs them nothing and they get a cut. You place a little stack of books on your table and you wait. Few people wander the flea market. Most readers are inside, browsing the shelves full of Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and George R. R. Martin books in the “proper” store. The ones who see you book will give it a glance – perhaps the title or cover catches their eye – but then move on. Why? Because Amazon hung a sign on the front of your table that says “Be the first to review this book.”

Social Validation

If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?

The odds say you would. As the inimitable web comic XKCD points out, you trust the judgment of your peers. To extend this thinking …

If all your friends were reading this book, would you read it too?

This is the concept of Social Validation. We give credence to information from multiple sources. The more sources, the more believable the information becomes. The is true for book reviews as well. A book with few reviews won’t sway as many people to read it as a book with many reviews.

What do different numbers of reviews mean to readers?

  • 0 reviews – This book is either very new, or no one liked it (some readers may check publication date to see which is more likely). Best case, you’re a guinea pig. Worst case, you’d be buying a dud.
  • 1-10 reviews – Let’s see … Mom, Dad, 2 siblings, spouse, editor, artist, best friend … You can see how having just a few reviews on a book might not be a representative sampling of readers in general. Plus, a lot of self-published books fall into this category.
  • 10-20 reviews – This is about the point that people start taking your book seriously. Everyone will know that it has a small following, but at least there are people out there who have read it and left feedback. This is probably the most sensitive time for a book. A few well-written, glowing reviews can go a long way, and a hatchet job or two can be brutal. The best defense is simply to write books that people enjoy, and get them into the hands of people likely to enjoy them.
  • 20-100 reviews – On a sliding scale, you gain more and more credibility. A 4.2 rating after 80 reviews is better validation than a perfect 5.0 after 9 reviews. Unless your average rating is abysmal, people are going to give your book an honest look, and not brush it aside as “just another self-published book.”
  • 100+ reviews – You’ve got a groundswell. You have enough reviews that people will be curious. They’ll want to give your book a try, just to see what everyone is talking about.
  • 1000+ reviews – Either you’ve got a publishing deal already, or you’ve caught lightning on a bottle. Either way, you don’t need a blog to tell you that you’re in excellent shape.

The Call To Action

There is power in Social Validation. That power is held by the validators. You get to have a hand in shaping the perception of a large group of readers. While more reviews is better for an author, fewer reviews mean more power for the trendsetting reviewer. If you get in on the “ground floor” of a book, your review will be seen by more people, and you’ll be more likely to be the one helping people decide whether the book is for them.

So, if you’ve read a book, especially one by a newer or self-published author, seriously consider leaving a review. You are a part of the social landscape, and your opinion matters, especially to your fellow readers.