The Great Amazon Review Chase

Amazon reviews

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.

Stress

Stress

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.

Self esteem

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.

Creativity

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.

Integrity

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.

Should authors Americanize their fiction?

I am a British-Australian author with nine novels under my belt to date. All of my fiction has been set in either the Canary Islands, Britain, Australia, or with multiple settings around the world, save for one book: Twerk.

Twerk

Twerk is set in a Las Vegas strip club. The characters are American. Therefore, it stands to reason that the writing should also be American, or should it? Having just been criticised by two book reviewers for using the words ‘fortnight’ and ‘car park’ instead of ‘two weeks’ and ‘parking lot’ respectively, my own perspective on how far authors should go in changing their language to satisfy readers from one particular country is shifting.

In my defence (or is it defense), I did my best to compose Twerk using American English. I switched to the American English dictionary in my Word doc. I paid close attention to the language. Most of my oversights were picked up by my publisher and corrected. For example, car ‘boot’ became ‘trunk’. Except for these two glaring examples of ‘fortnight’ and ‘car park’. Two tiny slips in an otherwise Americanized (or Americanised) novel, standing out all the more because no other slips have been found, and they have stuck fast in the minds of reviewers enough for them to make an issue of it.

I am very grateful to both reviewers for their lovely reviews, for taking the trouble to read my book, and to read it thoroughly enough to notice these words. I am not criticising these reviewers. I am not hurt or upset by what they have said. I am using their remarks to raise an issue and I am endeavouring to do so in a respectful manner.

What interests me is that this has never been an issue for me in the past. I know that my Australian vocabulary creeps into my novels set elsewhere and I have to do my best to weed it out. And vice versa, my British vocabulary creeps into my Australian writing. But British and Australian readers and reviewers have never once made an issue of this or even remarked on it. Readers seem prepared to let it go. The general attitude seems to be more accommodating and forgiving. No one has ever said I absolutely have to write in English English if I am to set a novel in England, or Scottish English in Scotland. With so many regional dialects as well – how far do we take this!

Why are Americans (from the United States) touchy about their language? How far should non-USA authors go to accommodate the assumption that all fiction set in the USA must use American (US) English and never once use a word from another English-speaking country for fear of being dragged over the coals? (an expression that may or may not be understood by those born and bred in the USA and means speaking to someone severely about something foolish or wrong that they have done)

I have not studied American English at school. Is there such a course? What about Australian English? You could fill a term’s worth of curriculum studying that. What about the various forms of English around the world, in Africa, in India and so on? What, too, of authors who set their books in countries where English is not spoken at all?

What do I, as a British-Australian writer, do from now on? I raise the matter here because Twerk is a novel containing about 85,000 words which altogether comprise a story with characters, a plot and themes. Should Twerk be viewed as a lesser book in the USA because it contains the word ‘fortnight’? By the same token, should all novels written in American English and set in other countries be viewed as lesser works for using the word ‘parking lot’ instead of ‘car park’?

You can find the Twerk reviews in question on Amazon by clicking this link

The Legacy of Old Gran Parks’ Book Tour wrap up

First, I would like to thank Faye Rogers for her efforts in organising this book tour and all those book bloggers who read my book and wrote some fabulous reviews. The tour has had its highs and lows. Here are my reflections:

When a new book comes out, it is the job of authors and publishers to go on the hunt for reviews. The more the better and the one place we want them all to end up is on Amazon, because Amazon counts reviews and based on the number (not the quality) it will activate its own internal promotion of your book. We need 20-25, or better still 50, to be taken seriously. Less than 10 looks sad. To make matters even harder, Amazon splits the reviews up, so a review posted on the UK site or the AU site does not appear on the US site. Dedicated book reviewers will take the trouble to post on all three Amazon sites, cos that’s what it takes these days, and every book blogger worth their salt knows this.

In the past, when I’ve had a new book coming out, I have written hundreds of individual emails to book bloggers soliciting reviews. I’ve trawled the internet on the hunt for reviewers, joined Facebook groups and kept my eye on Twitter. It’s exhausting and the average take up rate is about 5-10%. On the blogging side, book bloggers are swamped, the good ones especially.

To take the pressure off authors and publicists, some bloggers have set themselves up as book tour organisers and for a fee they will organise a tour. When I started to investigate these service providers I was hesitant, but I began to see it as the only way forward. I would still solicit reviews, but at least some of the strain would be off my shoulders.

I had no idea what to expect when I hired a book tour organiser to set up a 14-stop review-only tour. I wasn’t prepared for the disappointment. Despite the organiser’s best efforts, out of 14 bloggers, 2 chose to post an extract and 4 chose to do nothing at all. That has left me with 8 reviews and out of that 8, only 6 have so far shared their review on one of the Amazon sites.

However, all is not bad news. Those reviewers who did read my book wrote honest reviews and there are many delightful comments peppered throughout their paragraphs. I’m grateful to each and every one of these bloggers, and to the tour organiser, who cannot be held responsible for the actions of those book bloggers who agreed to be part of the tour and then failed to follow through. Here are some of the highlights:

“This was my first time visiting the mind of Isobel Blackthorn, and it certainly wasn’t boring! The dark humour, gritty scenes and unusual characters all combine to make an entertaining read….Like the recently successful Jane Harper (author of The Dry and Force of Nature), Blackthorn knows how to convey the sinister nature of the Australian setting, making blistering heat tangible, the seaside seem lethal, and the all-encompassing forests claustrophobic….Overall, this is a darkly humorous tale expressed through brilliant prose and intriguing characters!”

Get Litty – https://www.getlitty.co.uk/single-post/2018/04/18/BLOG-TOUR-The-Legacy-of-Old-Gran-Perks

“This is the first book I have read from Isobel Blackthorn and it won’t be my last. It is such a well written book that I was gripped from the first few pages.The strapline of the book is ‘A Dark Comedy to Tickle Your Spine…’ and it lives up to your expectation.”

Helen Loves – http://helenloves.co.uk/blog-tour-review-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“The Legacy of Old Gran Parks has a wonderfully dark, nasty feel to it…The legacy of Gran Parks is a legacy of fighting back against abuse, and taking responsibility for dealing out your own style of justice.”

Liam of Book-worm-hole – http://book-worm-hole.blogspot.com.au/2018/04/review-legacy-of-old-gran-parks.html

“The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is a very unique, very fascinating but ultimately savage and dark read that I very much enjoyed. If you are a fan of Tarantino movies, you are more than likely going to enjoy this book which starts out a little bit eerie and odd and then turns violent and dark. It was a book unlike any I have read before but I actually really loved it.”

Faye of Big Little Books – http://www.bigbooklittlebook.com/2018/04/legacy-old-gran-parks/

“showed me an insiders view of rural Australia which I easily pictured even though I’ve never been.”

Parchment and Quill – https://parchmentandquillchronicle.wordpress.com/2018/04/12/blog-tour-book-review-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“The Legacy of Old Gran parks—is one of the rarest piece of story I ever read. It was unique and got an eerie exotic feel. A truly remarkable, and an unforgettable piece. Highly recommended to everyone.”

Bibliophile Angel – https://bibliophileangelblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/blog-tour-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“I really enjoyed the writing and plot ”

Read Between the Scenes – http://www.readbetweenthescenes.com/2018/04/blog-tour-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by.html

“a marvellous read and I’d recommend it to anyone who asks.”

Infinite Pages – https://infinitepagesbookreviews.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-blog-tour/

If you want to review any of my books, I will give you a free electronic copy.