Lately I’ve seen several Facebook posts by designers and small publishers concerned about reviews. “Should I worry about a bad review? Should I pay one of those professional reviewers? Should I send out review copies, hoping for a favorable review?”
What I’m about to say is from the perspective of someone who has been reviewed many times, written reviews professionally (for Dragon Magazine, and once for Space Gamer), won an Origins Award and shared in three, been on panels about this topic with other award-winning designers, and observed the subject during decades in the larger publishing world.
Awards mean next to nothing and reviews mean even less.
The best that either can do is catch a customer’s eye for a split second, in which your product must sell itself. A well-known reviewer like Dice Tower or Wil Wheaton may stretch that split second, but nobody rushes out to buy based solely on their recommendation. Even those reviewers just get people to look.
We’ve entered the age of customer reviews, and that’s awesome. Well-written 5-star reviews sell; poorly written 1-star reviews also sell (because we all know that writer is no judge of quality). Poorly written 5-star reviews hurt (because they seem bought); well-written 1-star reviews hurt.
If you’re a designer or publisher, ask your fans to write honest reviews of your previous products, then invite them to look at and comment on your works in progress. Your fans are family. They’re part of your inner circle. Family loves to help. And their insightful comments are more precious than gold.
Don’t believe me? That’s cool. Read Amanda Palmer and Seth Godin. Then ask yourself when’s the last time you bought even your favorite author sight unseen. I bet you checked the customer reviews. :-)