An excellent question came in via comment, and with the magic of the internet, I will replicate it for you below. Bibbidi bobbidi Boo!:
ProdigalWife Apr 22, 2012 02:38 PM
I've been following your journey with interest, and I had a question. I know you say early reviews don't help you move forward in the competition (which I think makes sense) but I wonder if you think having reviews would have helped in the final phase? I ask because you say you and one of the other finalists had basically no reviews but I looked up the winning entry and she had 16 reviews--14 dated before finalists would have been announced. It made me wonder if people coming in at the voting phase might have been influenced by the reviews. Or do you think it's mostly author friends voting so it doesn't matter because people know in advance who they want to vote for?
Here is my honest answer to the question of whether or not reviews help you in the actual voting phase: Maybe. I can’t say for sure.
Reviews do influence readers, and if there are many good reviews (ie. not of the generic friends-and-family plan variety), it may possibly garner a finalist a few more votes. But that would really be from random voters/readers with no interest in the contest or any of the parties… and those voters I think are few and far between.
I predicted it on the day the finalists were announced and I’ve said many times since that Spookygirl won in YA because it deserved to. That’s really what it boils down to. It was a polished, tight story that appealed to readers. Many of Jill’s early reviews came from fellow contestants; her excerpt was frequently mentioned and recommended during discussions, and for good reason. It was an excellent excerpt, with a great peek at Violet’s character, world, oddities, and humor. It was far, far superior to mine. Rich’s was too. (As I’ve also said many times, I think he may be the best writer of any of us.) However, his story from last year, and this showed in the excerpt, was high concept and not obviously YA. So, based on excerpts especially, as well as the guest judge reviews, I thought the eventual winner was pretty clear, and it proved.
Let’s just acknowledge that most votes come from the authors’ personal networks or people with outside interest in the contest. There aren’t a lot of random Amazon customers just stumbling upon the contest during the brief window of opportunity to vote. IMO, those are the only ones on whom customer reviews may have an influence. So could it get you a few more votes? Yeah, maybe. Could it be the difference between winning or not? Maybe too. You’ll never know how close or far you were.
I hadn't exactly planned this entry, but I'm callin' it Golden Ticket 4.5.