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Hunting the rare and elusive review

Why are reviews so important to indie authors, anyway?

Reviews are a fraught subject in the author world. They are like the monster diamond in the original Pink Panther movie—valuable, rare, coveted, hoarded, treasured, mourned. But why? What’s the big deal? Fear not. I’ll tell you exactly what reviews mean to writers, and when I’m done, I’ll shamelessly shake you down for one.

The power of reviews

Reviews are the foundation of book marketing and sales. This is because most indie authors sell the majority of their books online. Even those of us with paperback versions of our books sell far more digital copies than hard copies. I’m talking 80-90% digital. For some authors, it’s 95% digital. The majority of those sales are made to people who purchase books on the basis of reviews.

Think about it. When you shop online, whether you’re looking for a pair of shoes or a vacation home to rent, you check out the reviews before you buy. When an item has hundreds of mostly great reviews, you are much more likely to purchase it than if it has only a handful of mediocre reviews. Reviews, quite simply, have tremendous power over consumers.

Book buyers are no different. Sure, someone may search online for a specific book and buy it regardless of the review situation. Maybe their best friend loved it or they have to read it for a class. But for people who scroll through online bookstores just checking out the goods, they will be swayed by the reviews they see. If they see an ad for a book that has lots of 5-star reviews, they’re much more likely to click on it than an ad for a book with a handful of 3-star reviews. That’s one powerful reason why authors need lots of reviews for their books. We aren’t looking for 100% 5-star reviews, either. We want honest reviews. Not everyone will love our books. It’s helpful for shoppers to see what appealed to people and what didn’t about a book before deciding to buy it. Also, there’s something suspicious about a book that only has gushing reviews. Read on to see why.

Reviews are social proof

Here’s something most people don’t know: in order to buy promotions or advertising for our books, indie authors often must prove that our books have a minimum number of good reviews even to apply. No reviews means no way in the gate. This makes an author’s incentive to find good reviews very high. It also means unscrupulous authors will find ways to get bogus reviews just to say they have them. For this reason, Amazon has cracked down hard on reviews. If Amazon’s sleuths (or algorithms, I’m not sure which) discover authors trading reviews, for example, they have been known to delete the offending reviews and even shut down authors’ accounts.

What is “trading reviews”, you ask? An author reviews another author’s work in exchange for a review on her/his own book. Here’s why trading reviews is a minefield: if someone leaves you a glowing 5-star review and then asks you to review their book, what are you going to do if you don’t like it? You’ll probably feel guilty for not liking it and compelled to give it at least a 4. That’s not an honest review. So while I agree in principle with Amazon’s rule, here’s where it gets tricky: an author reads and reviews a book she/he genuinely likes, and then down the line develops a professional relationship with the other author, exchanging emails and chatting in Facebook groups. That author one day reads and reviews the first author’s book. The electronic breadcrumbs connecting the two individuals trigger an Amazon red flag and suddenly both of their reviews disappear.

Another major red flag for Amazon is when authors give away free copies of books with the explicit request that in return, a review must be posted online. This is against Amazon’s terms and conditions (although it actually was fine with Amazon until October of 2016). The company says as long as the author makes clear that a review is not expected, only encouraged, it’s OK to give away free copies. The situation gets murkier with paid review services. If “fake” or “forced” reviews are traced back to an author who uses one of these services, the offending reviews will all be deleted and the author’s account may be shut down. It would be nice to know exactly which services Amazon believes are fake and and which are real, but Amazon doesn’t share that information with us until the day we feel its wrath. In the meantime, authors trade horror stories in Facebook groups and we try to keep track of which services will lead us down dark paths and which will lead us to glory.

What about real reviews, like Kirkus?

Traditionally published books are full of glowing reviews by trusted names like Kirkus. What most people don’t know is that it costs hundreds of dollars to get one of these reviews. I assumed for most of my life that Kirkus doled out reviews to lucky writers whose books were so brilliant that they somehow made it to the top of the Kirkus slushpile. Silly me. The truth is, these are the original paid reviews. Yet Amazon has no problem with glowing Kirkus accolades on an author’s sales page. So a $500 Kirkus review = legit. But $25 small-potatoes review site = scammy and fake. As with most things Amazon, the mystery is too murky for the likes of me to solve. Which brings me back to point number one: how the heck can I get more reviews?

Shameless begging and groveling sometimes does the trick

And that leads me to you, dear reader. If you read The Girl from Oto or The Promise and haven’t yet left a review online, now’s your chance. I’ll make it easy for you with this handy-dandy guide to leaving online reviews.

Amazon

Leaving a review online is simple. Let’s use—I don’t know, let me pick a book at random—how about The Girl from Oto as our example. Simply click this link to get to the Amazon page for The Girl from OtoOnce there, scroll down to the review section until you see this:

I’m lucky. I have 65 reviews for this book, the vast majority of which are 5-star reviews. But my goal is to get to 100 by the end of 2018, so I’ve got some work to do. Anyway, once you get here, click on “write a customer review.” Now you’ll see this:

Now, click on the star rating of your choice (if you click on the far right star, that’s 5 stars, for example). As soon as you do that, a small box appears below the star rating. Inside the box, it says: “Write your review here.” Jot down a couple of lines about your impressions of the book. As soon as you start writing, another box appears below. This is where you’ll write your headline. When you’re done, click the yellow box below the headline box that reads “SUBMIT.”

Goodreads

We’ll use The Promise as the example here. Because, after all, this is my blog. And secondly, I don’t have any reviews for it yet. So first navigate to the Goodreads page for The Promise

Once you’re on the page, follow these steps:

1. Underneath the book’s cover image, hover over the stars until the desired number of stars is highlighted, then click on them to rate the book.

2. A pop-up menu will appear above the stars. Click on “write a review.”

3. Enter your review on the following page, and click on “Save.”

Please note that you have to be a Goodreads member to write a review.

Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble

All of these sites have easy-to-use ratings systems; either you review the book directly on the sales page for that book, or you are prompted once you finish reading the book to leave a rating/review. Both The Girl from Oto and The Promise are available on all of these sites since I recently went “wide” and took my books out of exclusivity with Amazon. Hopefully the magic review fairy will sprinkle some glitter my way and get me a few reviews sooner than later on these sites. It’s daunting out here in wideland, but I’m determined to make a go of it.

If you do leave a review for me or any other indie author, you’ve made our day, week, month, and maybe even year. Like all indie authors, I am deeply grateful to those who take the time to read my books, and even more grateful to those who take a moment to review them.

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2 Comments

  1. Maria John says:

    Yes! I know how important reviews can be, so I always try to leave a review when I’m finished with a book. I found an article along similar lines detailing an indie author’s need for reviews and since then, I’ve always made sure to leave one 😁
    Great read!

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      Thanks, Maria!

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