The games people play now, every night and every day now,
never meaning what they say now, never saying what they mean.
I’ve always disliked the whole “pick a number from 0–10” to tell me how you’re feeling or what you think. Ridiculous. What 8 means to you may be different from what 8 means to me. Assuming our words are more closely aligned, let’s use them instead and try to communicate clearly. With a number-rating review on Amazon or Goodreads, we can do both.
But … what does a 5-star review really mean?
If I give a book written by my friend or a first-time author a 5, what should I give the book written by the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature? Or, the lifetime-career author’s twentieth novel?
Sure, I’d like hundreds of 5-star reviews so I can boost my ego and sell more books—who wouldn’t? But, reviews are not supposed to be for the benefit of the author; author feedback should’ve happened via beta readers and editors prior to publishing. Reviews are supposed to be for the benefit of other potential readers: Readers telling readers which books to read.
I know my book is nowhere near the quality of a seasoned and celebrated author. It seems to me, in all honesty, even a pretty good author’s first attempt is probably average. An “average” rating would be one in the middle—a 3—right? Here’s “The Truth” on that by Brenna Clarke Gray.
But … we’re not dealing with “The Truth” here … we’re dealing with a marketing strategy.
So, how do I get a 5-star review … or any review for that matter? I’ve learned that only a very small percentage of readers will post a review. First I have to get those readers. But I can’t seem to get a lot of readers without other readers letting them know that my book is worth reading. It’s a vicious cycle. I asked my beta readers, I asked my friends, I asked potential buyers when I posted purchase links. And I asked again. Even some friends who said they were going to post a review … didn’t. I’m grateful to those who made the effort. Even one 5-star review will show up under the image of your book. It helps.
I’ve repeatedly seen authors on social media and freelancer sites trolling for reviewers—free copy for review, small payment for review, or refund of purchase for review. There are websites happy to provide reviews for a fee. Can you make that back in profit?
Manufacturers/suppliers of products for sale on Amazon may provide free products, rebates, refunds to customers who will post 5-star reviews for them. The customer then gets the added bonus of being able to sell an unused project on eBay or give them away for gifts or keep them. They may write a review without even opening the box. Manufacturers use the same incentive to get reviewers to post 1-star reviews about their competition’s products. Yup … that’s really happening. Sometimes they get caught and kicked off the site.
Books aren’t in direct competition with each other but we’re all still fighting for buyers’ dollars. Amazon won’t let you post a book review if you’re not a current customer. Goodreads and Chapters/Indigo will. There may be other sites that will also accept reviews without purchase … but we all know which reviews really matter …
On one hand, readers may give stellar reviews for books that don’t deserve them. On the other, readers sometimes give bad reviews for things that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing—like bad service from the supplier or delivery service and/or mistakes in compiling a POD book. Books that are reasonably well-written but the formatting was a huge mess or there was obviously no proofreading done may get bad reviews—and, hopefully, the writer will learn from that and get help, then republish. Books that make little sense and don’t sufficiently address the topic should have gone to an editor and/or beta readers before being published; even if the writing is good overall, they should get a bad review. Readers who read outside their favourite genre may give a bad review. You never know what might set someone off.
Although Amazon sometimes makes no sense as to the way they weigh some reviews over others, they have been known to remove reviews that are totally out of line—if you can back up your complaint. There are other ways to bury those lousy reviews. You can read what Stephanie did here.
Authors who pump out books on a regular basis and have a large supportive readership manage to get their quota of reviews. They got the ball rolling. But, it’s a struggle for new authors learning the ropes. Be patient, be persistent. It might take a while to get some momentum going, and maybe you want to pay for a few reviews to prime the pump.
I’m sure we’re not going to get real “honest” about this marketing strategy any time soon. We may just need to get better at playing the game. But let’s remember to put our best work forward—and be proud of that—market the hell out of your book hoping to get readers, and that those readers will have the courtesy to write an honest (5-star!) review.