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.