Ten Ubiquitous Tips for Getting Book Reviews, and How Reviews Impact Authors

book reviewsI recently got a book review that I didn’t care for. It was a five-star review, but one of the comments was, in my opinion, way off the mark. Which got me thinking…

  • Why would the reviewer give the book five stars if it was lacking in some way?
  • Why are there not better criteria for reviews?
  • We need reviews as a mark of credibility, but how credible are the reviewers?

I’m not going to say which book of mine I mean or who reviewed it or what comment I didn’t like. I’m bringing all this up because I think we need to have a frank discussion about reviews. I knew I was taking that particular comment personally, so I decided to look at reviews of books I had no stake in. I looked at reviews of bestsellers. You know, books by household names that have hundreds of reviews.

It was eye-opening. I don’t feel so bad anymore. Or I feel bad on behalf of those authors. It’s kind of a fifty-fifty mix.

People Are All Over The Board

I didn’t just look at the number of stars, I actually read the comments. Two reviews right next to each other would completely contradict each other.

  • Reader 1 said the book was cliché but well edited.
  • Reader 2 said the storyline was fresh but had typos throughout.

Three reviews would have similar comments, but each would rank the novel differently.

  • Reader 3 said the book was a fun and fast read—four stars.
  • Reader 4 said the pacing was good and the content was easy to follow—three stars.
  • Reader 5 said the novel kept his or her interest and he or she finished the book quickly—two stars.

Aren’t these basically the same thing? There’s no consistency.

My favorite reviews (and please note my sarcastic tone here) are these:

  • “I hated it.” Particularly when they give two or three stars instead of one.
  • “I don’t usually read science fiction, but I tried this novel. I didn’t like it.” Of course he or she didn’t like it. That reader doesn’t like science fiction!

Shouldn’t there be some oversight on these? How are they fair or helpful assessments of the work?

Compounding the Problem

The good folks at Amazon, bless their hearts, have decided to exert some control on reviews and reviewers.

They don’t allow authors to pay for reviews. I can understand that. The wealthy could circumvent their algorithms that way and rise to the top of the charts. But what about authors who don’t have any public exposure yet? Shouldn’t they be allowed to pay a service to distribute their books in exchange for an honest review? The waters get murky here. Those services exist, and the reviewers are supposed to say, “I received a free ARC in exchange for my honest review.” But some of them don’t say that. Why, you ask? Because Amazon sometimes removes those reviews. And readers hate taking the time to read and review something only to have their assessment removed, so they leave that statement off. Problem is, they didn’t buy the book, so they aren’t verified purchasers. Amazon takes note of those, and “seemingly” on a whim deletes some of them.

Per Amazon’s customer help page:

When we find unusually high numbers of reviews for a product posted in a short period of time, we may restrict the number of non-Amazon Verified Purchase reviews on that product.

Well, I guess that’s one way the non-verified purchase reviews get bumped. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen reviews get bumped that weren’t because of high traffic days, though.

Another way Amazon interferes is by deleting reviews from people they think know each other. That means not only family and friends, but also author reviews of other authors. Because they’re either friends trading reviews or they’re competitors trying to hurt each other. I guess Amazon never considered that writers are voracious readers. It’s pretty likely that we’ll read a book once in a while, and because we know how important reviews are, we will review what we’ve read. Doesn’t matter to them, though. If they think you know the writer or are competing with the writer, they’ll pull your review.

Per Amazon’s customer help page:

We take the integrity of the Community very seriously. Any attempt to manipulate Community content or features, including by contributing false, misleading, or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited.

In other words, don’t game the system. As for whether authors and reviewers are manipulating things? Well, I’ll leave that to you, and them, to decide.

It seems like Amazon is always coming down on the side of caution, right? That’s fair, always taking a hard angle one hundred percent of the time.

Wrong. That’s not what happens. Here’s where the whole thing breaks down.

A long time ago, I swear it said reviews are supposed to be at least twenty words. I can’t find where it says that now. I suppose I could be wrong. (Old age and memory issues, I guess.) It’s possible a review could be one word. “Great.” Or “Awful.” Or somewhere in between. But is that really a review? I’ve seen plenty of reviews that simply say, “I hated it.” How is that helpful? If a customer can’t learn anything useful from a review, it should be pulled. That person is far more likely to be trying to hurt an author than the reviewer from the example above.

If a book is listed in the “mystery” genre, and a reviewer bashes it by saying, “I hate mysteries, and I didn’t like this one, either,” then Amazon should pull it. The author is getting a bad review from a negatively-biased source.

Per Amazon’s customer help page:

The Community is intended to provide helpful, relevant content to customers. Content you submit should be relevant and based on your own honest opinions and experience.

So, yeah. There’s that. I’m not sure how relevant or helpful some of these reviews are, but Amazon didn’t ask my opinion. I guess technically they’re taking those biased opinions, instead, though.

If Amazon wants to monitor reviews, then they should be just as concerned about treating the author fairly as they are about treating the reviewer fairly.

So what’s a writer to do?

You probably think this rant (and I do apologize for the negative tone so far) is just sour grapes from an author who has few reviews, has had many reviews removed, has had reviews she’s written denied, and who has recently received a review she didn’t like. I’m honest enough to admit that might be part of it. But a small part.

You see, the problem doesn’t just impact me. It impacts all writers.

Sure, we can click on the “yes, this is helpful” or “no, this isn’t helpful” buttons all day to try to move good reviews higher and bad reviews lower. We can petition Amazon to remove damaging reviews (good luck with that). We can beg family, friends, and neighbors to read and review our work and hope Amazon doesn’t think they know us.

But all of that work is basically like adding a single blank page to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I have that book. It’s massive. Trust me, no one would notice.

It’s doubtful anyone will notice the two reviews you manage to get from blatant begging, either.

My best advice is to keep following the best practices you find all over the web. As promised, here are ten ubiquitous tips for getting exposure for your book.

  1. Build your email list.
  2. Start a street team.
  3. Offer free books.
  4. Request reviews.
  5. Put an author note in the back of the book to your readers.
  6. Maintain fresh content on your website and your social media platforms.
  7. Try a book tour.
  8. Run targeted ads.
  9. Trade guest posts with like-minded authors.
  10. Give more than you take.

With a good product and a lot of hard work, the reviews will come. Or so they tell me.

There’s no fix—simple or otherwise—for the review process. Everyone has a different scale and a different opinion. For authors with hundreds or thousands of reviews, the average probably indicates the quality of the book. But for those writers just starting out, the average of five reviews may not be as balanced.

My recommendation? Keep your chin high and your skin thick. And most importantly, keep on writing your next novel.

 

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36 Comments Add yours

  1. This an excellent consideration of the various factors affecting reviews and how we might feel about them. You made one statement about a kind of review Amazon should remove, which made me wonder how their humanless algorithms would identify such content. I suspect it wouldn’t, or would make a lot of mistakes. I’ve long predicted Amazon and its ilk would move toward asking specific questions rather than open-ended reviews. Does it do XYZ? Did it contain a lot of Do Re Mi? Now I’m starting to see it. I think this takes some flexibility from the reviewers, but helps avoid comments that are meaningless or motivated by intentions other than providing useful information for potential buyers. Thanks for a thoughtful piece, Traci. I’m now a subscriber, a follower, a fan, and a cheerleader!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      I’m the first to admit that algorithms aren’t my strong suit, so I have no idea how that would work. It’s more a wishful-thinking kind of thing for me, I guess. But Amazon has implemented questions that you must answer before you write your review (well, you have to answer one question, the rest are optional). That’s probably a step in the right direction.

      Thanks, Stephen!

      Like

  2. Sara Gethin says:

    ‘Give more than you take’ is a brilliant piece of advice. Fab article, Staci!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      Thanks, Sara. 🙂

      Like

  3. Well done, Staci. I have just about decided to let the whole review thing fall where it may. I was very pleased that Amazon assigned the previous 60 reviews on My GRL to the new addition. I guess I’m a mind to forgive them for future sins. Your post was right on target though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      The day I posted my Story Empire review post, Amazon deleted some of the reviews my books had. I’m sure it was coincidence, but it felt like retribution. (I don’t have enough reviews to have them randomly remove some!) I’m glad your 60 reviews transferred over, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That sucks….oops hope Amazon is not looking.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Staci Troilo says:

        Don’t fret. I think it’s just me they’re currently after. 🙂

        Like

  4. karenringalls says:

    Reviews are hard to come by and I am also not always clear why the reviewer states one thing, and yet gives 5 stars. For me I do not have to like the book because it might not be a genre I enjoy. However, if I finish the book, there is a good and plausible plot, and well edited, I will give it 5 stars even if I did not care for the book. That is my criteria. If it is poorly edited and a weak plot I will not give 4-5 stars even if I liked the book and saw its potential.
    I will reblog this well done article on http://www.kareningalls.blogspot.com.
    Thanks, Staci.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      Reviews are hard to come by. And just yesterday, Amazon removed three of them from one of my books. It’s frustrating.

      I appreciate the criteria you use when writing a review. That’s the way they should be done—on the merits and quality rather than a reader’s whims.

      Thank you for the comment and the reblog.

      Like

  5. Irene Aprile says:

    I don’t have anything published yet but I’m already fighting with reviews of the novels I translate. For instance, one of those books received a one star review based on the fact translation was bad, but from the review title it was clear it referred to another novel by the same author translated by someone else. There was no way to convince Amazon to move that review to the right page.
    I often read bad reviews and wonder how the readers are qualified for expressing certain judgments. Everyone is entitled to his opinion and I think bad written/edited/formatted books deserves their share of bad reviews so that the rating is fair for other customers, but more organic criteria would be a good thing.
    A series of pointed questions maybe… They would provide a scheme and at the same time prove the reviewer actually read the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      In addition to being an author, I’m also an editor. And I agree with you; it’s hurtful when a book you worked on as a consultant is reviewed harshly, particularly when the comments are blatantly false. I like your idea of passing a “test” before you can write a review, though. If the book wasn’t read, that should weed people out. Thanks for commenting, Irene. And I’m sorry about the project you worked on.

      Like

  6. bloggeray says:

    This was wonderful, Staci. The objections you have raised go on to show how hard it is for new and relatively unknown writers to get reviewed, let alone have balanced views in those reviews. Thank you for the wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      I’m glad you found this post helpful. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on MJ And Jenn's Place and commented:
    Preach it sister…oh, and now you can’t even put you got a free copy for an honest review… new TOC change. Just sayin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      Thanks for sharing this. And their terms of service are always changing. It’s a headache even trying to keep up with it all.

      Like

  8. Great post! Amazon reviews have been the bane of my writing existence for a while now, and it’s nice to hear that they pester other people too. I think your ten tip is the best one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      Oh, Amanda… they are the bane of my existence, too, and have been since day one. You aren’t alone.

      And I agree; giving more than we take is the most important of the tips. Maybe I should have made that the first one.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post, sad but truer facts that affect all authors. I have tried to post several reviews but have been denied. This is upsetting for many reasons but these two stand out: one, authors rely on reviews to help with sales, and two, I took the time to read and write a review.

    Something needs to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      Thank you, Michele. It is frustrating, and it does need to change. Too bad I don’t see that happening.

      Like

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  10. tpolen says:

    Excellent post, Staci, with so many good points. It seems like there’s no rhyme or reason with Amazon sometimes – you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best – and keep encouraging readers to leave reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      Thank you, Teri. Like I said, I’d prefer not to be so negative, but I think we authors need to be aware of the “rules” Amazon operates with. I don’t have any solutions, but at least we can go into it with our eyes wide open. And like you said, with fingers crossed.

      Like

  11. Mae Clair says:

    Ugh! Reviews. The bane, but also the backbone, of an author’s existence.

    You wrote an exceptional post with many points that reiterate my own thoughts. I think Amazon just keeps getting in deeper and deeper water by trying to police reviews. I recently purchased a novel at my local BAM bookstore and reviewed it on Amazon. It wasn’t a verified purchase, but they allowed it to go through. I pick up a fair amount of books locally, and still review them on Amazon because I know how important those reviews are.

    By the same token, if someone has an ARC copy of my novel, or purchased a paperback directly from me, I want those reviews to count as well. I’ve been pretty fortunate in that I’ve only had one review pulled so far. I have no idea why or which it was, just that my numbers dropped. So sad that it’s come to this.

    And biggest gripe of all–writers are readers. We should be able to review each other’s works without fear of having a review pulled!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Staci Troilo says:

      This isn’t the type of post I usually write on my site. I was going to save it for Story Empire, but I thought it might be too negative for that site.

      You’re right; it is sad that it’s come to this. But what can we do, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mae Clair says:

        Actually, as I was reading it, I thought it would probably kick up a lot of good discussion on SE. Maybe you might want to revamp slightly and still use it there. I think it would have lots of authors chatting and weighing in.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Staci Troilo says:

        Something to consider, I suppose. I feel like I said what I needed to say, but maybe I can do a little more with it.

        Like

  12. Thanks, Staci. Good tips and a good post.

    Liked by 1 person

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