Saturday, 12 January 2013

Amazon Reviews, Why?

I want to be as positive as I can about Amazon reviews... but, yes there is a but, I found it very difficult for a variety of reasons. I also do not want this post to sound like sour grapes, because believe me it isn't, it is just an observation and my own personal take on things.
Firstly let me say that if you as an author are going to sell ebooks, then Amazon is the only site to be on. They are by far number one in the marketplace and that is not a dig at all the other ebook selling sites, it is just a simple fact. Monopoly though does have its megalomanic downside. I have featured on other sites with little or no interest compared to Amazon. As the song goes, 'Everyone knows your name'.
There is a lot made of the Amazon review system; it is not rocket science, buy the book, read it and give an honest review from one to five stars, but (yes there it is again) how many people actually do? I am actually talking from experience myself; yes I hold my hands up and hang my head in shame. I have bought several books on Amazon and to date, have only given one review. Now I feel that I am no different to any other book buying customer. I bought it because I fancied it, read it, either liked it or not, but didn't leave a review, that seemed a step too far somehow. So why am I admitting to this? Well just as an example of human nature I suppose. I might be talking complete rubbish, which has been known, so I decided to do a bit of market research; which is always dangerous because you never get what you expect. So I started with my own figures, now I know pretty accurately how many sales I have had on my five books offered on Amazon, all told they run into hundreds. These figures being helped by a KDP two day giveaway; which is another issue entirely as I believe giveaways are neither here nor there. People will collect giveaways on their reading devices and a sharp percentage will never get read, 'it was free so I had it' kind of attitude; however for this exercise let's take that into consideration. My tally of reviews for the UK are an handful to say the least, the US figures are even worse; though I do think that the US market is very difficult to crack, ask Robbie Williams. They don't seem to get it, as an English writer I tend to use a colloquial accent, an informal way of speaking, I also use a local dialect for my characters. This seems to go over the heads of an American audience. I can sense some controversy and a few 'how dare you' letters coming on and I hope it doesn't seem like me making excuses because I am not. Another reason I feel reviews are few and far between, is the way that they are viewed. A lot of people, readers and writers, that I have spoken to view reviews as a family and friends thing. When someone writes a book and features it on Amazon, the first few copies are purchased by our nearest and dearest, nothing wrong with that, we have all done the same to show support and why not, this is therefore demonstrated in the quality of the reviews we receive. We all have 5 stars from mother, father, sister, brother and Grandma and for the people with a large network of friends that figure increases. Now we all know this and so we tend to take more notice of the one and two star reviews and believe them to be the real truth behind the book, another black mark for any would be author. It is just as difficult to separate the real from the family so to speak. Now that brings me on to the most despicable thing about reviews, Sock Puppet reviews!
Which basically are reviews purchased by an author to increase a book's ranking. My take on this is that if a author has to pay to get reviews, then he has no real confidence in his work. Another and even more despicable aspect of this is that some authors have created fake personas and write positive reviews of their own books, while at the same time writing and attacking other writers. This was outed in the press late last year and implicated many high profile writers, published and indie; while not being illegal, the practice can be construed as morally wrong.
This leaves us with a dilemma...as authors we all want reviews, good or bad. I believe the bad help us to see our mistakes and make us better writers in the long run. We advertise our work on social media sites to create a buzz and want the appreciation we feel we deserve. This maybe begs the question do we write for profit or pleasure? Do we write for ourselves or our audience and to what level are we willing sink to achieve our goals?
The importance placed on reviews is unfortunately unavoidable and the process of actually getting someone to write one is the real dilemma. We are never satisfied, we offer the book to someone, persuade them as unknown authors to buy it with their hard earned cash; then we expect them to read it, and to cap it all, we ask them to sign back into Amazon and review it. Haven't we taken up enough of their time? In a recent study it was found that the hardest part of the book selling process was getting reviews, just try to get a professional reviewer to read and review your book. Everyone I know is inundated with a backlog as long as War and Peace.
So what about reciprocal reviews? For example, I will mention and review your book on my blog if you do the same; this is in plain English, I will mention your book on my blog to my followers if you mention mine on your blog to your followers. We are both in the same game, we want sales. Does Tesco go onto Sainsbury's site and do the same thing? No! It's you scratch my back and I will scratch yours; sorry pretty negative there.
So in conclusion, my own feelings are that in the massive scheme of things, the only reviews that count are from professional reviewers, newspapers, magazines, etc. Some you may have to pay for, some may only review complimentary copies of a printed book and not ebooks. You may have to badger them, beg, plead, do a funny dance, but you will get an honest review and that might mean more than Auntie's Amazon review in the end.

15 comments:

  1. Enjoyed your post. I was able to get reviewed by a book reviewer column and got a review by PW Select. I have a few reviews on Amazon ( two on Amazon UK, but it's the library and book club connections I work on. I also support my local indie.

    Now that I've seen your post, I'll check out your thriller. This Yank won't be confused by local dialect. Good for the brain and makes a character come alive.

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    1. Thanks Historywriter for your post. I tried to take the Amazon review from my own perspective. Virtually impossible to tar everyone with the same brush, would be nice to share ideas and see what works for others.
      Tom

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  2. Absolutely honest post.

    Some books I'm familiar with get trolled on Amazon, and I worry for the writers. Amazon has the ridiculous policy of allowing multiple IDs from the same IP address and computer. So I want to praise someone, I can do so ad infinitum, and the same goes for trolling. That needs to stop, and unless it does, Amazon reviews will never be reliable in the least.

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    1. Thanks for your post Damyanti, you are absolutely right in what you have said. We all know its a problem, but Amazon are struggling to find a solution
      Tom

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  3. I agree with your assessment, however there are hundreds of book bloggers who review books as honestly as well. I think that's a resource people often forget to include.

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    1. Hi many thanks for your post, yes I totally agree, I wasn't tarring everyone with the same brush, just a personal perspective.
      Tom

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  4. An important data point is number of reviews. If a book has, say, 3 reviews, it's 99% sure the reviewer has some relationship with the author, maybe hates him ! The more reviews, the more this relationship factor is diluted. Pretty safe bet that most of the 1000+ 50SOG reviews are 'honest", even if the first 20 (arranged by Random House) were not. Have you tried net galley? People you don't know download your book in exchange for a review. Most never post a review, but you will get a steady trickle of honest reviews from a cross-section of readers.

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  5. Hi Tom
    many thanks for your post, I will try net galley, every avenue is valid to some point, The thing about reviews is that we have no control, but if our work is good enough and the best that we can do, then we should have no problems
    Tom

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  6. Some valid points here, Tom. One piece of good news is that Amazon.com and .ca appear to be attempting to rectify the review 'issues' as much as possible. They no longer allow reviews that have been purchased and a short time after a reader makes a book purchase now a follow-up e-mail arrives inviting them to post a review. It seems to me this is encouraging readers who otherwise might not bother to make the effort. All they have to do is click on the link. I have noticed a marked increase since this process commenced. Write on!

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  7. I'm not sure that your post is controversial as it seems pretty reasonable to me. My book on Amazon has amassed only three reviews in eleven months (and I have to own up to one of these having a family connection.) It would be nice to have some more but I'm not really prepared to swap writing time for marketing/promotion time. And as the book is a collection of short stories with a YA slant I'm not sure it would be worth the effort anyway as it doesn't appear to be a popular genre. But still, if anyone out there fancies giving an honest review, then please go ahead. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Was-Ready-Fall-Love-ebook/dp/B007FDPRWQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1331072069&sr=1-1

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  8. Granted that the reader/reviewer sites is in many ways a flawed system, I still think it works for the discerning reader of reviews. I've found that professional reviews can be equally flawed with bias and vituperation depending on the critic's personal outlook. I read all reviews from all types of reviewers with perspective in mind and I look for the signs of agenda in all of them.

    These days I probably review at least half of the books I read (and I read relatively few). I always give what I feel is a fair and honest assessment, primarily to maintain my own credibility, but also to help writers as much as I can. Even for books I did not like, I let that fact be known while putting as much positive spin into the review as I can. The point is that my reviews are honest and I let anyone sending me their book that this will be the case if I review their book.

    I doubt that the majority of people who read the reviews pay much heed to what is said between the lines of a review, but the onus of responsibility rests with the book buyer who is relying on reviews to make a final decision about their purchase. If a book is truly outstanding and the proper marketing and promotion has been done, that book will eventually make it's place where it deserves to be. Even if the book is basically crap, but fun to read, this will still be the case.

    Interesting thoughts in this post. Thanks for presenting them.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  9. I think writers and readers view the amazon review thing differently. As a reader when the 99 cent ebooks came out, I made a couple fantastic purchases based on 5 star reviews. I was thinking, "wow, this is awesome. I'm getting some really great books for 99 cents!" So then probably 3 books into it, I came across a book that had a bunch of 5 star reviews... we're talking double digits. It was HORRIBLE. I've found more enjoyment from reading bathroom graffiti. I don't want to name the book, but it was one of the most poorly written books I've ever read - and long! And I have no idea why I even finished it. Somehow it still averaged to 4.5, but I've learned that if you look at the "curve" of the reviews, if there are two large yellow bars on top and bottom but not much in between, the bad reviews probably have it and the good ones are family and friends. If the curve starts with a large yellow bar on the top and slopes downward exponentially, it's probably a good buy. As a reader, I make purchases based on this observation, and it usually works out. When I do read the reviews first (sometimes I like to go into a book unbiased, so I skip reading the reviews), I sample the bad reviews to see what people are saying, and if I find a bunch who don't like the book and seem to have insightful things to say about it (even if they are negative), those ring true to me. Similarly for the positive reviews. Generally, the slanderers aren't that creative. So as a reader, I feel pretty confident analyzing reviews if they are present, but I do read a lot. Someone who reads a couple books a year may read one terrible 99 center with 5 stars and never do it again.

    Although I have yet to publish a review of any book under Evalynn Rose (but will do so eventually), I frequently review books under my real amazon account. I don't view it as something that gets in the way, but then I am *really* into reading. If I like a book, I feel compelled to talk about it, and so a review is a natural extension of that. So I don't know that you should feel too apologetic for asking for reviews, or reminding your readers to throw one out there. If they are like me, they already have one in mind and maybe forgot to do it. An extra nudge may push them into action.

    Also, I hate to say it but as far as Amazon reviews counting for nothing... if people are making purchases based on those reviews, they count for something. What average fiction reader is reading literary magazines? Not many. But if you're looking for reviews to improve your work then yeah, probably not going to get a whole lot from Amazon. On the flip side to that, if someone likes your book, even if they see flaws in it, they probably aren't going to point those out in an amazon review because they don't want to hurt your sales.

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  10. Great post!! As an American I will admit sometimes the dialogue can go over my head. Lucky for me I have an Australian husband who helps me out. Not to mention I learn loads from him reading his VIZ comics outloud to me. ;) still I enjoy stretching my vocabulary and have been reading British/euro novels since I was a child...

    As for the Amazin reviews, I always take the middle road, the place between the over the top good and bad is where I get my info, but mostly I read the synopsis to decide whether or not the book is for me.

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    1. Hello April
      many thanks for your post, some great points there. I hope I didn't come across as generalising. Honestly I was not. I was just going by my own experience.
      Please keep in touch.
      Tom



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