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It’s a frustrating Catch-22 for authors – most readers rely heavily on reviews when deciding whether or not to buy a book, but most readers don’t leave reviews. Posting a review on Amazon can literally take less than a minute, and will have a profound effect on an author and her career.
Why Reviews Matter
Reviews have a powerful effect on the Amazon algorithm, meaning the more positive reviews a book gets, the more visible the book can become in Amazon’s ranking. Some have speculated that the magic number is 50 reviews for a book to get a boost in visibility on the Amazon website.
Many advertising opportunities are only available for books that have a minimum number of reviews. A book with insufficient reviews can and will be rejected, therefore robbing the author of a chance to get the book in front of more readers…and to try to get more reviews.
Most consumers wouldn’t buy any product online without first reading the reviews first. If a book has only a few reviews or perhaps none at all, most readers will pass on the book. It could be a terrific story, but it will get lost in the shuffle if no one has reviewed it.
What You May Not Know
Most authors obsessively check their reviews on Amazon, and it can be pretty demoralizing when none appear for days or weeks at a time.
Writer’s social media groups and message boards are flooded with hand-wringing discussions about what to do to get more reviews. Book reviews can be an afterthought for readers, but authors often feel that they live and die by them.
Amazon cracks down hard on reviews from people the author knows personally. That means, for the most part, the author’s friends and family members cannot help him by posting a review of his book. Amazon has ways of knowing who is connected with an author on social networks, and will pull reviews from someone who appears be personally connected. This is especially frustrating because this includes other authors and business contacts who the author frequently does not know personally.
There are a number of paid services that authors use to try to get honest reviews. These services frequently involve a fair amount of money and a great deal of time on the author’s part. The author gets a list of potential reviewers, and then has to email these people directly offering them a free of the book in exchange for an honest review on Amazon. The majority of these emails go unanswered and, worse, it’s not uncommon for the author to send the book for free, only to never hear from the “reviewer” again.
Reviews on Goodreads are nice, but are nowhere near as crucial as reviews on the “buying” page of Amazon. It can be nice, yet maddening, to get a five-star review on Goodreads but not on Amazon where it is desperately needed.
Post an Honest Review, but Remember that There is a Real Person Behind the Book
Never forget that the author is a real human being with feelings. She most likely spent months or even years writing this book. She probably poured a lot of herself into the story and the characters, and had high hopes that the book would do well. It was brave of her to put her book out there into the world, where she knew it might get rejected. By giving a book a one-star review, you may feel you are getting “revenge” on the writer for wasting your time if you didn’t like the book. The author did not write the book to make you mad. She hoped you would like it. She may even have given you the book for free, as many authors do in an effort to get more reviews.
Not all authors read their reviews, but I would wager that most do. If you gave a book a one-star review, the author probably saw it. And it hurt. It hurt a lot. It also tanked his overall rating, even if all of the other reviews were positive. Maybe the author was able to brush it off, or maybe he spent the rest of the day second-guessing himself and his talent as a writer. Negative reviews go with the territory of being a writer, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t devastating.
In my personal opinion, a book is not one-star worthy simply because I didn’t like it. A one-star book is one that is poorly written and riddled with lazy, grammatical errors. Or perhaps it’s a book that bills itself as a clean romance, but in fact contains explicit sex. Both of these examples constitute a betrayal of reader expectations as far as I’m concerned (I still wouldn’t give a one-star review to anyone ever. I just can’t do that to somebody. In those cases I simply will not leave a review at all). Any author who has ever done a free promotion of her books can tell you that’s where the majority of low ratings came from. For some odd reason, readers tend to feel more entitled when they get something for free.
Frankly, giving an author one star for a book you got for free is like having someone give you a free piece of candy, and then you spit it back in their face because you didn’t like it.
It’s fine to tell the truth in a review if you didn’t like the book, but there’s no reason to be cruel. Be honest, but be constructive. “This book was stupid” is not helpful. Saying something like “I didn’t like this book because I felt the plot really lagged in the middle. The story just didn’t hold my interest.” is still going to hurt the author, but it can help her at the same time.
As a reader, you may by unaware of the tremendous power you wield. Even an honest, three-star review with constructive criticism can be helpful. Best of all, you can really help an author – and the reading community at large – by leaving a positive review for a book that you genuinely enjoyed.
The writer life can be a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, sometimes all in the same day, and there’s just no feeling in the world like checking your Amazon page and finding a review from a reader who really liked your book. You don’t have to write a lengthy review. All you have to do is post a rating of 1 to 5 stars, and write one or two sentences about how you felt about the book.
Write a review today – and be a book lover’s hero!
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