Why Book Reviews on Amazon Matter
Every author knows book reviews posted on retail giant Amazon matter. Amazon owns about 50% of the global book market and a book’s Amazon ranking is a major determiner of its success. The Amazon ranking is based on an A9 algorithm involving various factors including the quality of the cover, relevance of the blurb and the use of keywords. You can read up on Amazon’s A9 algorithm and how it works online.
Number One – Sales matter. The more the book sells, the higher the ranking. No surprise there!
Click throughs from searches to your book’s page also matter.
Editorial reviews are next in line as they are posted in the book’s description, appear high on the page and are a strong endorsement of the value of the book. Editorial reviews are those published by industry reviewers and critics from reputable and relevant publications.
When it comes to regular reviews, there are two kinds – verified purchase reviews and those that are not. Only verified purchase reviews count in the ranking algorithm, and they are weighted so that the most recent reviews matter more. This puts pressure on authors to keep finding fresh reviews for their titles.
Less than ten verified purchase reviews on a single Amazon site and the book may (or may not!) rank poorly.
Under ten reviews, verified purchase or not, is simply not a good look. A minimum of ten Amazon reviews is a requirement on some book promo sites.
All non-verified purchase reviews posted on Amazon count towards social proof. Around 40-60 on one Amazon site (preferably .com) are needed, we are told.
(Why Amazon chooses to compartmentalise reviews is a mystery to me. Amazon .com is blind to reviews on other Amazon sites, and reviews on Amazon UK are not visible to Amazon AU shoppers for the same book! They really couldn’t make things harder.)
When a customer or browser clicks on the Helpful button on any of the reviews on a book page, I understand this also helps to bump the ranking of that book.
Ranking high means greater discoverability. Your book will be much more visible to future browsers. This in turn leads to more sales. Little wonder authors and publishers have seized on every aspect of the Amazon algorithm in order to elevate books above the rest. Seeking reviews has become a major part of this scramble for ascendancy.
Sadly, the situation has become toxic.
The Amazon Book Review Scramble
They say if you want to succeed as an author, write another book. Keep writing and keep publishing. Don’t worry about what has gone before. Forge on and have faith. These maxims are all well and good but if you follow them you may end up with a large number of titles to promote and little energy left to do so, especially when book promotion is reduced to the Amazon review hunt.
In a swamped global marketplace, authors will do all in their power to raise their heads above the crowd. Out of the gamut of possible ways to market your book, the most obvious and expedient of all book promo is seeking reviews on Amazon. This can be done in a variety of ways.
You can kick back and hope that those buying your book on Amazon will leave a review. This is what Amazon want you to do. It is a hit and miss approach that may or may not yield results.
You cannot demand reviews from anyone ever. Amazon bans it and besides, it is unbecoming if not downright rude!
You can submit review requests to book bloggers. There are many thousands of them. The take up rate is generally between 5-10% and there is no guarantee a book blogger will share their review on Amazon. Bloggers generally won’t be posting verified purchase reviews and therefore their reviews will only count as social proof. If you only want 5 star Amazon reviews, move on.
You can pay some book bloggers for reviews and they will generally gush praise in return and post on Amazon. This approach is expensive and Amazon bans it.
You can pay for a book tour operator to line up a bunch of reviews for you, saving you the trouble of finding and emailing many hundreds of book bloggers. Again, said bloggers may choose not to share their review on Amazon and you probably won’t get the glowing 5 star reviews you are looking for. What you will get is a relatively stress free and overall honest and critical appraisal of your book with tons of content to share and re-share forevermore.
You can suggest to all of your family and friends that they buy your book and leave a wonderful 5 star review. If you do this you better hope Amazon does not pick up on the fact that said verified purchases are those made by your family and friends as this is a forbidden practice. Further, each of your family and friends will have to spend a minimum of $50USD on Amazon before they can post a review.
You may find other more surreptitious ways of creating fake reviews but I would not advise it.
In our current age of opinion where every company from a motel to a supermarket is seeking product and service reviews, authors are up against it. Consumers are getting review fatigue. Authors are wearing themselves out. Seeking Amazon reviews at the expense of investing time and energy in the rest of the book marketing industry is buying into corporate dominance. For this reason alone, we need a rethink of attitude.
Why Authors Need to Adopt a Different Attitude
Exclusive focus on Amazon book reviews is toxic. Here are some ways we are damaging ourselves as authors and people.
The Number One destructive consequence of the Amazon review chase is stress. Authors who are under or put themselves under pressure to keep up the chase risk emotional and mental harm. The review chase too easily becomes an obsession. In no time fixation takes hold. We do a daily review count. We hunt out new reviewers. We fret and get frustrated. Our daily mood is determined by whether or not we have received a new Amazon review. None, and we grind our teeth. One star and we are gutted. Five stars and we go wild with joy.
This mindset creates an overly narrow focus. All other tasks are pushed aside. We stop thinking expansively and we stop valuing all other forms of book marketing. We have become diminished. It is no way to live.
Chasing reviews may result in attaching our self worth to the number of reviews we have on Amazon. Too few reviews means our books are no good and therefore, since we wrote them, neither are we. We may question not only the lack of reviews but our own inability to get them.
The converse is also true. Those who are good at soliciting reviews may gain an inflated sense of self worth to the detriment of those around them. Self criticism is an essential aspect of being a writer. We need to criticise our own output. Scores of 5 star reviews may result in self-delusion. We may believe we have penned a high-quality product when it is not necessarily the case.
The ultimate loser in the Amazon review chase is our creativity. All time spent on admin is time not spent writing. Chasing reviews is a time consuming and draining admin task. Stress will place us in a state of mind not conducive to being creative. If we attach too much importance to Amazon reviews, a lack of them means we may lose confidence in our ability to write good works. A demoralised author is not in a good space. An over-inflated author is not in a good space either. Authors need humility and poise to be creative. Dedicating our lives to the Amazon review chase potentially spells death to our creativity.
The Amazon review chase compromises our integrity as authors. We debase ourselves every time we go on the hunt and every time we try to buck the system. By allowing ourselves to become a corrupt part of the Amazon machine, we have sold out to the corporate giant to the detriment of ourselves and the industry as a whole. It is about time authors and publishers took a stand against Amazon and its algorithm. We need psychological distance from a singleminded focus on Amazon reviews. We need to re-evaluate who we are as authors and not allow ourselves to become slaves to a system driven by numbers and rankings. We need to elevate quality over quantity and the issue of Amazon reviews is a good place to start.
Isobel Blackthorn is an author and book reviewer. You can find her books and reviews by clicking around this site.