Self-publishing: A Guidebook for the Tourist#2: Reviews

“There are a whole lot of people out there in internet-land trying to help you become a self-publishing genius. The vast majority of them have one thing in common. They are trying to make money out of you.”

As I believe I said last time in my rough guide to social media. This time, however, I am going to cover the subject of reviews. Why you need them, how to get them, why you occasionally can’t get them even when a person who has read your book wants to do one for you… And oh yes… Those people out in internet land who will write you a review ‘for a small fee‘, because if there is one thing you can be certain of it is that someone will always be willing to try and make some money out of your dreams of becoming a self-publishing deity…

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Reviews, the How, the Why and the Pitfalls…

Amazon, once just the largest river in the southern American’s, famed for its rainforests, native peoples in Mel Gibson movies, and the occasional piranha. Now the biggest retailer of stuff via the internet in the world. A conglomerate that started out only a few short years ago in a small warehouse selling books to e-mail order, and now sells everything under the sun, is a multi-media empire and the biggest kid on the block in the world of self-publishing. Traditional bookshops have lost the battle aginst the internet and supermarket bookshelves, and the ones who evolved with the technology like ‘Barns and Noble’ are fighting a valiant rearguard action with their own platform ‘Kobo’. Meanwhile, there are Smashwords, iBook, generic E-readers and various platforms for self-publishing. But the king is ‘Kindle’ like it or not. Amazon is the largest, most recognisable and most arguably most important place that the self-publishing author needs to engage with, and don’t they know it…  They hold the keys to the kingdom, if you want to succeed anywhere, then you have to succeed there.

How you succeed there, apart from by selling lots of books, is through reviews. Indeed, what you have with Amazon is something akin to the classic chicken and egg scenario. The easiest way to sell books on Amazon is to have lots of reviews, in order to get lots of reviews on Amazon you have to sell lots of books. And here is why…

If your book has 20-25 reviews on Amazon, then Amazon’s website will start to promote your book in the ‘Also bought by people who bought this book‘ and the ‘You might like this‘ lists you see when someone looks at a book on the site in a similar category. Which gives your book a whole lot more visibility on the site. It’s free advertising, reaching out to your core audience, and doing so in a far more efficient way than all those social media posts I talked about last time. It invites the curious to have a look at your book, and does so at a time when they are seeking to buy a book. Which is a neat trick…

The next mile stone, and the one you really really want to attain is 50-70 reviews because at this point Amazon goes out to bat for you. They will highlight the book for spotlight positions, which means that those emails people occasionally get, (the ones in your spam folder from Amazon), with a bunch of books ‘You might like’, will start to include your book. The ‘Also bought by people who bought this book‘ and the ‘You might like this‘ lists will start to push your book to the front of the lists. In short, Amazon starts doing a lot of the heavy lifting in book promotion terms, again direct to your core audience. The people who will want to read your book, the ones who will hopefully love your book. The ones you want to read it, because ultimately while some of us may claim we don’t really care about how many sales we have so long as people who do read the book enjoy it. What we actually mean is we want as many people as possible to read our work. Most writers do not write because they want to be read, but all writers once they have written, want to be read as much as possible.

The same applies to the likes of ‘Smashwords’, ‘Barns and Noble’ and everyone else. But again Amazon is the king of the market and where you want to be. There are other factors which influence Amazon’s promotion of your work. If you can get a book high in their charts as a best seller then they will do the same thing, but while it’s relatively easy to get a high rating in the ‘free’ charts the paid ones are harder to climb, and reviews influence their decisions as much as previous sales, and when you’re first starting out reviews are easier to get than mass sales. Targeting book releases to get high in the charts, that’s a whole different topic.

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So thats the why, now the hard bit, now the how. The simple answer is, find readers, and then you find reviewers. Oh if only it were that simple…

Your friends will leave reviews if you ask them, probably. Random readers who you manage to find (and to be clear, you have to find them, they are unlikely to just turn up one day because your book is on Amazon) may leave reviews. Most don’t. Which is a position I have a modicum of sympathy for because until I started self-publishing, it would never have occurred to me to leave a review after reading a book.  Occasionally, if I read it on my Kindle, and the review page at the end of the book pops up I might have given a book a few stars and a few words, but more often than not I would put the Kindle down, turn over and go to sleep. Or start reading something else. It wasn’t until I started publishing my own work, and did a little research, that I realised the whole ‘why’ I spoke about earlier and started doing short reviews whenever I finished an indie book, or the book of some unknown author I had stumbled across.

There are other options, book bloggers, reviewers, other writers who read and review stuff for people. You can find them on Goodreads, on Facebook groups, on the internet in general. You may remember me saying last time that ‘Engaging with the community is priceless…‘ and this is one of the many reasons why. It is also, however, one of the pitfalls, and one of the places overrun with those lovely individuals willing to help you out ‘for a small fee‘ remember them? Well, we will get to them in a moment.

Goodreads, to use an example, have hundreds of review groups, these are populated by writers and readers happy to review your work. These are a godsend, often they set up three-way review exchanges, or multiple reviews in a round robin group with other writers, it’s a great way not only to get reviews for your own work, but to discover new writers, often for nothing in book exchanges. If your honest, open and give open, honest reviews on the books you read. Some groups on there are just readers looking for ‘free’ books to read in exchange for honest reviews. There is nothing wrong with that, but I advise caution, as it’s one of the pitfalls.

Occasionally, very occasionally, you will get an arsehole who will take a copy of your book and start giving it away on the internet. Kindle tag books so this can not happen if you send them to someone’s Kindle email address. THIS IS THE ONLY WAY YOU SHOULD EVER GIVE SOMEONE A FREE COPY OF YOU BOOK. If someone offer’s to review your book and doesn’t know there kindle email address tell them to go to Amazon and find it in their account details. If someone is offended that you don’t just trust them, then they will get over it. If they’re really offended, and offensive about it, cut them off. They may be genuine, and just easily offended but better one person hurt than a copy of your hard work on a torrent site. Unlike a print copy that could be lent to someone, then end up in a charity shop a couple of times, a torrent copy of your novel could be on every torrent site in about an hour, and it is effectively in the public domain from then on.

Another pitfall is some writers offering “like for like” reviews, often with the unfortunate words “5star for 5star...” tagged on to it. The former is just someone badly informed, the latter… well let’s just say I would not touch them with a bargepole. If you think I am about to climb on my high horse, your right. Offering to give someone a 5star review before you read a book is just nigh criminal. It is the reason bad indie books, by which I mean really bad indie books, get a bunch of 5star reviews, and readers get turned off by bad indie books and just go back to reading mainstream authors. None of us in the self-publish community want that…

Let me hold my hand up, I have a real problem with “5star for 5star...”, those who try to do that are right up there with the ‘for a small fee‘ brigade… I would sooner have an honest review every time, good or bad, (and they are mostly good). It corrupts the system and is let’s face it corrupt. Fortunately so do Amazon, which is why you should stay clear of “like for like” reviews. If you review a writer’s book, and that writer reviews your book, Amazon’s algorithms will spot the author for author reviews and delete both. They did this not because they don’t like writers reviewing other writers but to block “5star for 5star...” review trading. Unfortunately, this also hits honest “like for like” reviews where both parties have just read and review each other books without any complicit cheating. As so often with Amazon they try to block people cheating the system, and in doing so hurt all the honest people as well. The same applies to the endless attempts to make Kindle Unlimited a fair and uncorrupted system (that’s a subject for another post, however). So, unfortunately, doing “like for like” reviews is no longer a worthwhile exercise.

Yet another pitfall is Facebook, yep old faceache… lots, if not the majority of Amazon users who use Facebook have the accounts linked. Amazon pushes it that way because it wants you to post on facebook when you buy something. It makes sound business sense for them to do this. Unfortunately, another victim of Amazons attempts to clean up the review system is they will if they have access to your Facebook profile, block reviews by anyone who is your friend on Facebook.  (STOP READING NOW AND GO TO AMAZON AND UNLINK YOU ACCOUNT WITH YOUR FACEBOOK) … your back, good, sadly that was pointless because everyone else has their accounts linked and the algorithms work both ways.

Luckily they changed the policy so that if the reader bought on Amazon, or on Kindle, or borrowed from kindle unlimited, it will circumvent the block usually and accept the review. Unfortunately, if you get a couple of dozen print copies from CreateSpace Direct for those members of your friends and family who want signed print copies, as Amazon did not sell them to the reader, the Facebook block on reviews stands… Yes okay, you remember I said in the first post that this was based on experience… I have made mistakes, this was one of them and the reason Passing Place is missing about 20 odd reviews on Amazon…

Then there is yet another pitfall, easily fallen into if you’re less than honest about the subject of reviews, the paid review. And no I have never done this, but there are people on ‘Ffiver’ and Facebook sites and elsewhere who offer to do a paid review, ‘for a small fee‘ and you pay them to buy a copy of your book and then you pay them to do the review. Amazon doesn’t like this, the majority of writers don’t like this. But it’s the real world, and someone will always be out there offering ‘for a small fee‘ services. There are moral reasons not to use them, if you need me to explain them then it would be a waste of my time and yours for me to do so. But if you’re tempted, and your morality is flexible enough due to ‘Just want to get to 25 reviews dammit‘  here is the reason other than personal morality why you shouldn’t. Amazon will take down reviews from any account found to be selling reviews, they do get reported, and Amazon looks for them. (It was part of the reason they started their crusade against ‘fake’ reviews in the first place, and like all crusades, its is driven by zealotry and harms the innocent along the way). So if your suspect morality leads you that way be warned you’re wasting your money.

Like my previous post, the answer to the question of reviews is always engagement with the community and your readers. Ask people nicely for reviews, and keep asking. Find Goodreads groups with reviewers on them, find book bloggers willing to read and review your book, be careful, never pay for a review. And keep engaged, and with luck, and good judgement you hit the review targets on Amazon and your off to the races….

 

Adios for now

Mark..

Self-publishing: A guidebook for the tourist, will be back with another informative and occasionally rant post in the near future, feel free to follow the blog so you don’t miss a post 🙂

The previous post for those who missed it can be found here.

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6 Responses to Self-publishing: A Guidebook for the Tourist#2: Reviews

  1. Pingback: Self-Publishing: A Guidebook for the Tourist#1 | The Passing Place

  2. Nice, well thought-out summary here. I had no idea about the amazon/facebook link. I had two LEGIT reviews taken down because they came from the same IP address (both the husband and wife read my book, purchased it through amazon and shared it with each other.) One even said “verified purchase.” Frustrating for a first time author trying to build up reviews. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • darrack1 says:

      I have had similar things happen to me, it’s something of a nightmare, but you just have to keep plugging away. When a review that’s perfectly valid gets taken down its soul destroying, sadly as far as I know there is no appeal process. If there was it would be backed up to hell I suspect as I hear these stories all the time on the forums. I know they are trying to protect the system, but can’t help feeling they are over zealous with all the wrong people. While those who cheat the system do get caught, I would love to see figures on how many don’t, sadly no such figures exist.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Self-publishing: A Guidebook for the Tourist#3: Unlimited Questions.. | The Passing Place

  4. Pingback: Self-publishing: A Guidebook for the Tourist#4: Covers: a judgement call… | The Passing Place

  5. Pingback: The Rare Unsigned Copy: and other mistakes | The Passing Place

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