the challenge of getting honest reviews

I’ve had my first book out since the end of May and the second, Duel at Grimwood Creek, came out last week. Sales have exceeded my expectations. While I certainly can’t retire on them, they’ve been reasonably constant and much more than I had hoped. My problem is reviews. Other authors new to the biz seem to have literally dozens. And some authors seem tagged up their behinds with twice as many people upping their tag count than are putting up five-star reviews. But I only have five reviews, and all of those for the first book. And only one or two people tagged the books. (Tagging is no longer a thing on Amazon. - Lucas)

So where am I going wrong?

Well. Nowhere. There’s some maths out there somewhere which says for every 10,000 downloads of your ebook, you’ll get one honest review. And it won’t be guaranteed a five-star. There’s a movement starting at the moment which is pretty much creeping into Amazon, which is the search for an “honest” review. And those won’t be achieved in a quick space of time. I personally feel if a book has too many five-star reviews in a short period of time, then chances are most of those reviews were sourced. A look at the history of the reviewers also adds to this suspicion. Though, having said that, I know with some of my reviews, people didn’t necessarily review any great number of other books.

Then there’s the flipside of the coin where some people (possibly rival authors), put up one-star reviews out of spite. These, too, are more often than not made with a dummy account which reviews one or two books (usually their own with five-star and yours with one). It’s a trend which is slowly being noticed and given the appropriate snort it deserves. (Both sides of this issue, now referred to as Sock Puppetry, have pushed Amazon into changing many of its policies and there have certainly been many improvements since I wrote this article. - Lucas)

So, what makes an “honest” review? It’s hard to say. Not every review will be valid criticism. A review is, essentially, an opinion and on Amazon it certainly doesn’t have to be constructive. At the end of the day, Amazon is a shop, not a review site. Your book is an item and shoppers are simply expressing their satisfaction or dissatisfaction. And they won’t always be polite about it.

For me, I feel there’s a pressure put on ourselves to be somehow validated by reviews. We feel the hurt of a one-star, and seek to find out why anyone would say such a bad thing about us, but we can easily forget it’s not a personal attack. Indie writers in particular are very sensitive to these reviews. But we shouldn't be because they're just an opinion of your work. And some people don't like it in the same way some people don't like Cubism.

I still think the Amazon system is a great idea. Letting customers offer their opinions is what helps to unearth nuggets of pure gold which exist among the flotsam and jetsam. We might all hope to be that gold, but we can’t all capture the hearts of all our readers. Sometimes we have to admit we’re not mainstream enough to inspire a good number of reviews. And it’s a shame we feel that pressure and look to borderline unethical processes to provide a source of self-validation.

My personal attitude is patience. Wait for a review. Don’t push for it. I’ve had enough people send me notes via Facebook and email even, to know there's rare people out there who like my work. And that should be enough for me. That some people get it is good, right? In a way, I have begun to fear reviews more than want them. I fear the attention of the dreaded one-star army. And I fear the landslide of five-stars, because then I worry people will think I have family and lots of friends writing my reviews.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Which brings me back to the only real method of getting a truly “honest” review.


- published 04/10/2012


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