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The Power of Peer Recommendations & Reviews

Do book recommendations from peers really make that much difference in our book-buying habits? What about blog or Amazon reviews?

I was recently chatting with my hairstylist about how she decides which books to buy and read. She said she doesn't pay attention to general advertisements about books. Instead she only looks at the reviews of people who've already read the book and bases her decision solely upon what readers are saying.

Her comment got me thinking about the power of reviews. Just this week I was buying swimsuits for my kids through Land's End, and I realized how easily swayed I was by the reviews for or against certain suits. I read them carefully and took them to heart.

Reviews and recommendations are a new powerful marketing tool in the online world. Most of us trust the word of mouth from other ordinary people like us. I recently ran across this statistic: 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations. Only 14% trust advertisements.

We look at the comments of other consumers, and then we make our purchases accordingly. It's true for everything from furniture to TV's, from comforters to curtains. And, yes, it's VERY true for books too.

Over the past months since the release of my book, many readers have contacted me testifying that they bought my book as a result of positive reviews or because of recommendations from friends. In fact recently, I had my first Skype session with a book club, Read 'n Rally (pictured above), as a direct result of peer influence.

Around the release of my debut book, blogger Lynn Simpson, began to see interviews and positive reviews on my book around cyberland. Because of what others were saying, she decided to buy the book when she saw it at a local bookstore in Canada. She said, “I eagerly picked it up. I wasn't disappointed. I was so taken with the book that I recommended my book club, Read 'n Rally, to choose it as our next month’s read.”

Based on Lynn’s recommendation, the group agreed to read The Preacher’s Bride. Thus, every single person in the group purchased a copy and read it.

Lynn contacted me via email to ask if I’d be willing to talk with her group—more specifically if I’d Skype with them. I was honored and thrilled with the request. So we arranged a time and date.

When the night of the interview came, I was nervous. After all, it’s been over three years since I researched The Preacher’s Bride. And it’s been about a year since I last read the book (when I went through my Galleys). I’m currently writing another book set in a completely different time period, so I hoped I would be able to recall everything and keep the facts straight.

Finally, the big moment arrived. We went live. I suddenly found myself facing a conference table of women. And I thought, “Oh wow. This is incredible. I get to meet real readers. I get to see their faces. I get to hear them share their thoughts and feelings about my book. What an awesome opportunity for any author.”

And it was. We spent about 45 minutes chatting. Fortunately, I was able to remember most things (it’s amazing how it all comes back!). They were incredibly kind and gracious. And I couldn’t have asked for a better first Skype. Thank you, ladies! And thank you to everyone who wrote positive reviews about my book that eventually led to the wonderful Skype experience!

3 quick lessons (among many) I learned from the experience:

1. Skype is an excellent tool for interacting with readers. I highly recommend it!

2. Influencers, interviews, and blog & Amazon reviews should play a key part in a writer's marketing strategy. Whenever a friend asks me how they can help promote my book, I always tell them they're welcome to write a blog review or a review for one of the major online bookstores. Those positive reviews can make a huge difference.

3. Because peer reviews have such a strong influence, we need to be wise with what we say. Not only that, but we should be honest. We don't want to mislead others. In fact, when we gush about books that don't deserve gushing, we might even put our own reputation and trustworthiness on the line. My policy is to use extreme tact or to remain silent about books that I can't positively recommend.

So what do you think? Have you ever been swayed into buying a book after reading a blog review or Amazon review? Which influences you more—peer recommendations or advertisements? And why? 

49 comments:

  1. Outside of buying friends' books - I used to base mine on reviews but now I realize how many of them are friends bolstering friends, which is great - as it should be. So now I base it on both the reviews, except I look at the 3 star reviews for the most subjective and then I read the Kindle sample and that is usually the determining factor.

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  2. That's so cool, Jody! I do read reviews but don't usually base my final decision of whether or not to purchase on them.

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  3. I like your last thoughts - about how the reviews we give can actually affect our reputation. If we rave about every book and the books aren't really that good, then the people reading our reviews aren't going to trust us anymore. It's a REALLY fine balance!! Also why signing up to be an influencer can be a scary thing!

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  4. Interesting. In all honesty if I com across a new author who I'm not sur eof but they have a good book review or blurb from an author ini that same genre I'm more than likely to pick it up.

    Saying that, there's been plenty of books that I've picked up without a book blurb or review and the books have been great. I've been happy because I've discovered a new author.

    I think most authors do have to be careful of what they ensorse, though.

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  5. I most often read books as a result of recommendations from others. With Amazon recommendations, I try to weigh them all out...because sometimes I suspect they are "padded" by friends. But if there are enough good reviews for a book on Amazon, I'll bite...which these days, means I head to the library!

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  6. Goodmorning, everyone! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about reviews!

    Liza, I like the word "padded." I'm sure there are plenty of book reviews that get padded falsely, unfortunately. Many online friends and bloggers have left reviews on my book on Amazon. I hope that the reviews were genuine. There are also many reviews on Amazon from people that I don't know too.

    I think one of the keys is that as authors we need to take the pressure off our friends and influencers. We need to make sure they know they don't have to review if they're not comfortable leaving one.

    I personally have the approach that I won't ASK for reviews. If someone comes to me and says they liked my book and asks how they can help support me, I'll let them know they can write a review--but only if they want to.

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  7. Jody, I loved reading your perspective on our Skype meeting! Like Katie, I agree that it is important to be honest, and only post good reviews, when it is good. I've felt guilty about being silent in the past, but you've made it ok!

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  8. I think there's a sliding scale concerning reviews. I think that many see professional reviewers as possibly being biased and that reviews from 'real people' are more honest. But I'd also weigh those reviews differently. If a personal friend recommended something, that would carry much more weight with me than an anonymous five star review. But, that being said, I do look at reviews on Amazon because I want to know what real people thought of something and what their experiences are. You also get a multitude of opinions this way and not just one single review. It's a very useful tool.

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  9. Jody, I'm glad your first visit with a book club was such a positive experience. It was so nice of the Read 'n Rally group to invite you.

    Many of the reviews I've posted have been as an influencer. As such, I've made an agreement with the author that I will only post a positive review. If, for whatever reason, I don't care for the book, I remain silent. In my case, I state this clearly when I offer to serve as an influencer.

    Knowing many authors have a similar policy helps me choose which books to buy. When I see glowing reviews from a large number of published authors for a particular title, I know the book must be good because the authors wouldn't put their reputations on the line if it weren't.

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  10. I am definitely swayed by friends' opinions, and that now includes online buddies.
    Karen

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  11. I can't remember exactly how I came to your blog several months back, but because of reading your blog and what people are saying about "The Preacher's Bride" and one big thing the photos in the side bar...with everyone holding your book - yeah, that made me VERY curious, especially since I'm a visual person.

    So while I was home visitin in Ohio last week, it is one of the books I bought. I've not read it yet - but I'll gladly let you know what I think. I tend to by books, by several things.

    1. Recommendation
    2. I read checked it out at the Library and loved it.
    3. I like the author, once you hooke me - you've pretty much got a reader for life. I'm loyal. :)
    4. The cover - it has to spike my curiousity - like "The Preacher's Bride" Why is she standing with her back to us and slightly looking behind her?
    5. I also read the blurb - it probably rates up there with recommendations. The blurb has what has convinced me or convinced me not to buy a book many times.

    Not only that, the fact that you respond to your readers through your blog and facebook, makes you seem more "real", "down to earth", and "genuine" and I like that. It makes me want to get to know you and the type of stories you write.

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  12. Sounds like a great experience you had! Wonderful!!! :O)

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  13. ~T~, Thank you for sharing how you came upon my book! I seriously find it so fascinating! Will be curious now to hear if it lives up to expectations for you! And I LOVE that the photos in the sidebar helped perk your interest! You're the first person to say that! :-)

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  14. Unfortunately, I'm the gullible type, so advertisements do often sway me. However, I mostly buy a book based off the back cover blurb, the rating, reviews... and of course, I buy it if it's by one of my favorite authors. The cover is also something that can either attract me to the book or turn me away.

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  15. For me, advertisement gets me to look into a book (or anything else for that matter) but it's the customer reviews that sway me toward or away from buying it. I think both are good tools and serve their own purpose but you can't beat good reviews. Sounds like a great experience with the book club! I'm kind of a skype noob but I love the idea of connecting with readers that way!

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  16. I was sold on reading The Preacher's Bride after following your blog for over a year. So becoming enthralled with your storytelling didn't feel foreign. You write so well in all facets.

    I imagine this had to feel as euphoric as standing behind someone in a bookstore buying your book:)

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  17. I usually don't bother reading Amazon reviews unless they're posted by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, or other well-known reviews. Usually I don't go to Amazon until I've investigated the author's website or blog, or after I've read reviews that my friends have posted on their blogs.

    If I see scads of five-star reviews from folks who haven't posted many other reviews on Amazon, I assume they're friends of the author and I'm thus leery of buying the book—especially if the reviews gush lavish praise but don't cite specific examples.

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  18. I don't read Amazon reviews, just the book summary. I HAVE been swayed by blog reviews, however, if it mentions something I object to. Glad you had a great Skype experience and was able to meet your readers! How fun.

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  19. I find reviews very helpful and that's why I got The Preacher's Bride. Of course, I was very excited for you and wanted to show support, but I had heard so many wonderful things about it I couldn't wait to read it.

    What a great idea to Skype with readers! I think you're on to something there. Your posts about connecting with readers has been very helpful.

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  20. I definitely rely more on reader reviews and recommendations from friends than I do on advertising and professional reviews.

    Your Skype interview sounds like so much fun. And such a great idea!

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  21. The flip side to that is sometimes if people know you know the author they don't believe you when you gush about a book. Shame, but can see how it can happen. If I don't like a book I won't review it.

    So cool how that whole writing group bought your book off one recommendation! :)

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  22. How exciting that you Skyped with some of your readers! I'm sure they loved it.

    I always consider what other readers say and am definitely influenced by word-of-mouth. But, often I find I don't agree with other readers, so for me it's a mixed bag. I carefully read the back cover and then the first page. If the first page doesn't hook me, I move on.

    I recently joined a women's book club through my church. All but one of them loved our first selection, while I didn't read past the 2nd chapter...it was THAT bad.

    At any rate, I highly recommended "The Preacher's Bride" to the group and believe it is going to be one of our fall selections. Woot!

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  23. kangaroobee said... "The flip side to that is sometimes if people know you know the author they don't believe you when you gush about a book."

    My response: Catherine, that is SO true! I find myself hesitating with fellow author friends. I know they want to be supportive of fellow authors and influence for them. So, it's hard to know if they're being truly genuine or just "promoting." That's a tough one!

    But I guess I try to buy most author's books that I know anyway, because I WANT to support them. And even if the book isn't particularly my cup of tea, I can usually pass it along to someone else that I know will really enjoy it.

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  24. Julie Gillies said: "I highly recommended "The Preacher's Bride" to the group and believe it is going to be one of our fall selections. Woot!"

    My response: Thank you so much, Julie! If they decide to read it, let me know! I'd be more than happy to Skype with your group! :-)

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  25. As a book blogger, I love this post. So much of what I buy has been recommended to me from other bloggers and I know that (especially) my close family/friends rely on what I say about books since I"m the biggest reader among us. For instance, since YA is what I primarily read I end up giving my dad a lot of YA books to read. He really enjoys them but would never think to pick one up on his own.

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  26. Jordyn, Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate book bloggers so much! So thank you (and other book bloggers!) for sharing your reviews! And I think it's fantastic that you pass along books! That's another truly helpful way to help authors you like!

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  27. Hi, Jody.

    I have to learn Skype after hearing about your experience. How wonderful that you were able to discuss your book with readers face-to-face, so to speak.

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  28. Because reader preferences vary so much, I never choose a book based on reviews on booksellers' sites. The only thing that influences me is the recommendation of personal friends and blogging buddies. And of course I also like to support fellow authors. I don't pay much attention to advertisements or trailers unless they are promoting a new release by an author whose name I recognize. I like first chapters online as they give me a chance to see the author's style of writing.

    It's great to hear about your Skyping experience. I use Skype occasionally, tho' more often use iChat for similar face-to-face conversations with my distant family who also have Macs.

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  29. An advertisement (commercial/trailer/print ad, etc.) might make me interested in a book (or any other product), but I'll often look for reviews of it before I spend my money on it. The other thing that I'll often do when thinking about buying a book is look for an excerpt to read. That's easy if I'm shopping in a bookstore (I can flip through the book a little), but somewhat harder when shopping online because not all books have excerpts available for browsing.

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  30. What fun for you, Jody! Wish I could have been there!!!

    Yes, I've been influenced to buy books or see movies that friends recommended. Mostly I've found thier words helpful; a few times I've been burned. I usually thumb through a book I'm considering to see the style and content, even if 345 people have told me it's great. We all have differing tastes.

    Will you do a Skype Party for my writers group of one? ahahahahahaaahahahhahaa!!!!!!!

    Love you oodles,
    Jen

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  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

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