(A disclaimer: For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to focus mainly on Amazon, because they’re the biggest game in town, and indie authors. If you neither have an Amazon account nor are an indie author, you might want to stop reading now, because this is probably just going to bore you. Also, like book reviews, the opinions expressed in this post are highly subjective. I’ve drawn on limited experience and a small number of sources, and in some places I’ve even made shit up. Hey. I’m a fiction writer. It’s what I do.)
Amazon reviews. Most authors have a love/hate relationship with them. Some claim loftily to never read or pay attention to reviews of their own books (except when said review is glowing, in which case suddenly the whole world needs to know about it). Some authors will share every Amazon review on Facebook, punching the air when it’s good and wailing and lamenting when it’s bad. Sometimes they’ll even try to recruit other authors to argue with the reviewer, report the review as unfair or even go further in bullying the reviewer in various ways and on various forums (just so you know, fellow authors, I consider this to be extremely bad form, and will not participate if invited. I probably won’t buy your book as a result, either).
Indie authors are particularly prone to obsessing over reviews, and I totally get it; if you’re traditionally published, then at least you have the opinion of your publisher that you’ve written a good book, who ought to know, ‘cos it’s their job to choose good books. When all you have to go on is your own gut instinct, your beta readers (IF you have some, and IF they’re any good) and the opinions of your friends and family (not to be trusted!) that hitting that ‘publish’ button is a good idea, then feedback from reviewers becomes your main measurement of quality. Problem is, reviews are notoriously subjective, so unless they’re all telling you the same thing, (“USE SPELLCHECK, GODDAMIT!!!”), they can be contradictory and even counter-productive. And if you don’t have the hide of a rhino, they can hurt. A lot.
Most readers, when you ask them, will profess that they don’t even look at the reviews when deciding whether or not to buy a book, and those that do look at them will tell you, somewhat perversely, that if the book is independently published and it doesn’t have any negative reviews, then they won’t buy it, because ‘obviously’ the reviews must be less than honest (the inference being that ‘obviously’, if it’s independently published, it can’t possibly be that good, which makes me wonder why these readers are even looking at indie books at all).
You might be wondering by now why, if reviews are useless at best and painful at worst, why bother trying to get reviews on Amazon at all?
It’s all about playing the stats game with Amazon. It’s succinctly outlined under Reason Number 2 in this post from Gwen Perkins.
I’ve shared it before and I’ll share it again, but if you can’t be bothered clicking through to read the post, I’ll summarise: more reviews equals higher likelihood that Amazon will help you to market your book. “More” in this case equals “over 20”.
Not all indie authors even want to play the Amazon stats game. Joann H. Buchanan, author of “I Am Wolf: (The Children of Nox)” wrote a brief, eloquent post in a Facebook group on why we should “Screw the reviews and the numbers” (I hope to persuade her to guest blog here on the subject). Normally I am the first to remind, if not others, than at least myself, of the real reason why we do this writing thing, and it’s not so we can win the stats game (I’m not sure it’s even possible to win it, for starters). But for those of us who want to use a variety of tools in an overall marketing strategy to promote our works, Amazon plays a huge part in that strategy.
So that is the “why” of it. In my next post, I’ll talk about the “how”.