Reviews Do Not Make a Bestseller

I had a conversation with a writer who was mystified that her book was not selling despite good reader reviews. I agreed that it was frustrating, but reviews do not automatically equate to sales.

“That doesn’t make sense,” she said. “If people like the book, that should mean they’re buying it.”

No, reviews — at least, on sites like Amazon — mean they already bought the book. Reviews, while nice to have, are not marketing. They’re not even word of mouth. They may help someone make a decision to buy the book, but they are not what draws readers to the book. Unless they’re already on the page, they will probably never see the review.

Take some of the reviews for the The Pack: Winter Kill trade paperback for example. This makes for a good blurb:

Mike Oliveri’s THE PACK: WINTER KILL hits the ground running and doesn’t let up. There’s enough tough guy attitude and swagger in these to satisfy even the most hard boiled of thriller readers, and horror readers looking for something new will be well pleased, too. And don’t let any preconceived notions of what a werewolf story might be derail you, Oliveri has upped the ante and this is a whole new game. WINTER KILL keeps you on your toes and turning pages, and that’s a hell of a good thing.

If you’ll allow me to brag a bit, that’s pretty damn cool, and it’s one of 17 five-star reviews. Does it mean I should be selling the hell out of my book? Not necessarily. If I didn’t just post it here, most of you would never have seen it. Even if we grabbed some of it for advertising copy, you’d only see a sentence or two, and even then might only pay attention if it had a recognizable writer’s name or publication attached to it.

It’s more of the same for the Kindle edition:

THE PACK: WINTER KILL grabbed me from the beginning and I literally could not put this one down. Oliveri’s writing is tight and fast-paced, hurling the reader along to the climatic ending. He masterfully blends crime and suspense with the supernatural. This is the first book in an on-going series, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next one.

One of four five-star reviews, yet we’re not burning up the Kindle bestseller list. Why? Because people aren’t looking for reviews, they’re looking for books and then maybe reading the reviews. It would be nice to get Publishers Weekly to review the book, but even then only a small percentage of all the readers out there are even going to read that.

Don’t get me wrong, reviews are wonderful and flattering and cool. I appreciate every single one of them.

But reviews do not make a bestseller. Think of how many people crap on Twilight, and then think about how many zeroes are on the checks Stephenie Meyer cashes.

Writers and publishers need to to build buzz first, get readers to the page. That’s where reviews take over.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.


  1. Neal Hock says:

    Interesting point, Mike. I agree that reviews don’t make a bestseller, but they do have their place. I know for me, I sometimes do take reviews into consideration before I buy a book. If a book has no reviews, I’m hesitant to purchase it unless I know about the author.

    However, you hit the nail on the head when you said buzz is the key. You have to get prospective readers to your book’s page first before they can buy it. And figuring out ways to do that can be challenging.

    I’m fascinated by this current era, especially since I bought a Kindle a couple of months ago. I’ve been observing different authors and their approach to selling their books. The only thing that is clear is that there is not some magical formula that works every time. There seems to be a number of factors that affect sales, including: generating pre-release buzz, early readers/reviewers, web presence (especially via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), sustaining on-going buzz, and sometimes just plain old luck.

    Readers are a fickle group, and this period seems to highlight this point. How to attract new readers is, and will be, a huge challenge.

    • Mike says:

      Yep. There’s a big difference between marketing/reviews and actual, processed sales. A publisher taking a book and saying “We’re going to make this a bestseller by throwing loads of cash at marketing it” is probably more realistic, if a bit cynical, but that’s a topic for another post.

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