Do You Really Need Book Reviews?

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Why Book Reviews Matter

Your book is published. Now what?

After marketing, you wait for the reviews.

Don’t think that the reviews don’t matter because they do. Unless you already have fans banging down your door for your next book release, odds are you need some social proof that your book is not only worth reading but worth putting down a few bucks. The more reviews you have, the more likely a stranger is going to give you, an author they know little about, a shot.

Think about it. Given the choice between two books in the same genre with similar styles of writing, each with a snazzy book cover and a matching price tag, one with 100 reviews, one with 10 reviews, which would you buy?

Keep in mind that book reviews are more than a popularity contest. More reviews mean more people clicked through to your book page. More click-throughs mean more sales. While Amazon is not exactly transparent about its ranking algorithm, this much we know for sure — those conversion rates, i.e. clicks-throughs to sales, make a difference.

Fake Book Reviews

The trick is in getting those reviews, and Amazon, for one, does not make it easy. The company is cracking down on people who have abused the system, as well they should.

In the cross-hairs are those who buy fake reviews to jumpstart their sales rank. Some authors have been brazen enough to use pseudonym accounts to market and cross-promote their books across social media. They hop onto different forums and have discussions with THEMSELVES to generate buzz for their books.

After all, who could write a more glowing review of your own book than yourself?

In 2012, self-publishing “phenom” John Locke was caught red-handed. The author of How I Sold One Million e-Books failed to tell everyone he got there by cheating. To promote his book, he not only bought 300 Amazon reviews from the now defunct, he also paid the reviewers to download his $0.99 ebooks so that the reviews showed up on Amazon as “verified purchases.” He duped the system, and his book sales skyrocketed as a result.

As proof for just how shady was back in the day, founder Todd Jason Rutherford is quoted as saying, Potential reviewers were told that if they felt they could not give a book a five-star review, they should say so and would still be paid half their fee…As you might guess, this hardly ever happened.”

Since 2017, Amazon has sued more than 1,000 sellers for buying or using fake reviews.

Book Reviews That Count

Not only will Amazon reject reviews by family members or close friends (sorry, Mom!), they won’t accept book reviews from anyone who has not spent at least $50 by credit card with the company. This latter rule is an attempt to prevent reviews from being placed by fake Amazon accounts and spambots.

Obviously, buying reviews is a no-no, but what constitutes buying a review is not always so clear. Take gift cards. If you have ever given the reviewer a gift card, all reviews from that person, past or present, will be considered paid for and deleted by Amazon. If you give the reviewer a copy of your book after the review is posted, then that too is considered payment.

Trickier yet is Amazon’s latest coup to turn away reviews for free ebooks, what they see as a quid pro quo of sorts, i.e., a free book for a review even if that review is not in your favor. It used to be the case that Amazon allowed sellers to offer free or discounted books to customers in exchange for an “honest” review. As long as this affiliation was disclosed within the review itself, all was well. At least that was the case until 2016.

Now Amazon only allows approved Amazon Vine reviewers to write reviews for free ebooks. Reviewers need to be invited to join the Vine program and that only happens after a number of their reviews have been voted as “helpful” by other customers. Don’t waste your time trying to find out who these reviewers are because you are not allowed to solicit them.

So much for building an audience and boosting book reviews with giveaways!

Building Your Book Review Count

As you can see, getting organic book reviews when you are starting out is not easy, at least not on Amazon. Unfortunately, as the biggest retailer of ebooks, that is where you have the most impact. All the cheaters and manipulators have mucked it up for the rest of us.

What makes things especially hard is that most people don’t bother to write book reviews at all, even when they love a book. The sad stats suggest that you will only average 1 review for every 150 books sold. To get more reviews, you need more sales, but to get more sales, you need more reviews.

What can you do?

The most important thing is to put out good work. Let your writing speak for itself and once the right set of eyes read it, fingers crossed, word will spread. Don’t forget you can still encourage people to write book reviews on other sites. Consider GoodReads and LibraryThing. Include testimonials on your author site as a marketing tool too.

It takes time to build up social proof, to show that you are an author worth reading, but you got this! Keep at it and be patient, patient, patient.

Good things come to those who wait and to those who keep working.