Part 26: to sell ebooks, you need reviews, which is not as simple as it sounds.
Good reviews are vital for the indie publisher. The consensus is that Amazon shoppers will not buy items, including ebooks, which lack reviews. I know from my own online shopping habits that I’ll seek out items with an aggregate of good reviews (at least 3.5/5, with 4+/5 being better*), and prefer to buy proven quality than take a punt on the unknown.
The problem for indie publishers is that getting these reviews is not easy. It’s a classic chicken/egg. If readers won’t buy without reviews, how can you get reviews without readers?
* Although Jonathan Gunson mentions that 60% of book reviews on Amazon are 5 star, and another 20% are 4 star, anyway. An aside: in About Face, David Hackworth bemoans the inflation of test scores for officers in the US Army, and how a slightly less than perfect score can mean the death of a career. Authors have reported that a single one star review early on has derailed the sales of that book. Food for thought.
Playing the long game
Disclaimer: you may very well ask what I think I’m doing talking about reviews when, at the time of writing, I have a single review on Amazon and two on Goodreads. I’d be inclined to agree with you. Much of what I’m writing is research that I’m only just putting into practice; however, I want to get this series of articles done and dusted so that people who land here can follow the process of ebook creation from start to finish. I’ll update this article as new information comes to light.
One piece of advice I’ve seen again and again is that your visibility on Amazon can only grow with the number of titles you have published. There’s no point pinning all your hopes on a single title – the purpose of being a writer is to write, so don’t become entangled in the dream of making your first book the breakout bestseller espoused in the media again and again.
Build your networks, polish your website and pitch for reviews, but for god’s sake don’t stop writing to do any of these things. Keep submitting to magazines, journals and literary prizes. Keep knocking on the doors of traditional publishers. Play the long game with your writing career.
In this country, you gotta get the reviews first
If you search for advice on gathering reviews (which, granted, is probably why you’re here), you’ll see certain methods have become very popular with authors, and I’m going to order these in how useful I’ve found them, so far.
It’s worth mentioning that, with the obvious value of good reviews to a writer/publisher, people have pulled some real bodgies to collect as many as possible. Amazon realised that its review system was breaking and has gone through a couple of phases of purging reviews sourced from what it sees as those with vested interests in the success of certain books – “authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, family, or third-party merchants selling the product”. More on this later.
Don’t neglect to mention that you like reviews
There is, of course, a thin line between polite requests to contacts and overbearing spam, and it’s up to each of us to decide where that line lies. I really, really dislike bothering people and I’d rather cut off my nose* than feel like I was begging them for their help, but even I realise that most every author needs some skill points allocated to self promotion. (Read what Melissa Leong has to say about self promotion – she’s much better at it than I am.)
In short, it’s okay to mention that you’re after reviews occasionally, and in the right context. I put a note in the back matter of my books, on my website, and occasionally in my site profiles. If a person is receiving a free ‘review’ copy of your book, remember to add the links to your review pages in your email. It’s okay to gently remind them if they seem to have forgotten about your book, as well – just something casual along the lines of, “So, I was just itching to know what you thought of My Book.”
* Hyperbole, and anyway, have you seen the size of the thing? I’d be there all day.
The two big review sites for books, in the English language, at least, are Amazon and Goodreads.
Your Amazon reviewer needs to have an active account through which they have purchased at least one item, though not necessarily your book. If they have received the book as a free review copy, there needs to be some mention made of this in the review, although how explicit this needs to be is up for debate. Reviews can be blocked or pulled for a number of reasons, and it’s worth familiarising yourself with these.
Your Goodreads reviewer needs an active Goodreads account. The bylaws of reviewing are rather less stringent here – your reviews and ratings can come from any source.
Read the fine print
It is very much worth your time to become familiar with Amazon’s review guidelines. For example, reviews which have been sourced for any kind of financial recompense can only be used in the book’s editorial section.
In the second part of this article, I’ll rate various sources of reviews in order of how promising I have found them.
Proceed to Part 27: ‘How to get book reviews, part 2’, or return to the article index.
While I’ve endeavoured to provide you with accurate information, what is considered ‘accurate’ will change over time. If I’m wrong, or you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.