Reviews... far more controversial than they should be.

First of all, my lawyers (all of mine are four-legged) said I need to enter a disclaimer about reviews. The views of this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the website owner. 

Ok, that is not entirely accurate because I own the website. But what I mean to say is… these are my opinions. I could be wrong, or I could be right. Most likely, both.

Lastly, when I say “reviews”, I am referring to a review and/or rating on Amazon and Goodreads. I think reviews in blogs or on Youtube channels are in a different category. 

How important are reviews?

It really depends on who you ask. I’d love to hear YOUR opinion. Please comment below! 

Some people think most reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are fake. I think that is complete BS. Now, I agree that there are trolls and fake reviewers on both sites. I think this is more common on Goodreads, as it does not have a hurdle to clear when posting a review. At least on Amazon, you have to spend $50 over a certain period to place a review. And they give more weight to people who purchased the product. But I can’t imagine more than 5%, maybe 10%. Certainly not a majority. I regularly look at who reviews my book. Almost all of them have posted 100, 200, or more reviews. They seem legitimate and honest. 

In my opinion, the people that think most reviews are fake don’t have a lot of reviews. And, usually, those people probably don’t think reviews are important. 

I, on the other hand, do think they are important. My reasoning:

  • Limited name recognition. You can have a great cover and a better back cover blurb, but often potential readers need a bit more coaxing to make a purchase. Having reviews (the more the better) can provide that extra push. 
  • First impressions. When a book pops up on Amazon,  you see a cover, the title, and the number of reviews (along with the rating). So, you have three variables to make a first impression. Why not maximize all three? 
  • Bookbub. This is probably the single most important reason to build reviews. More reviews increase your chances of being accepted for a featured deal. That featured deal is big. Like, really big. It is the most effective marketing tool available to indie authors. More on that in the marketing blog coming up. 
  • Side note: I do NOT believe there is a magic number on Amazon that gets your book recognized by algorithms (50 is always the number mentioned). For one, that is so arbitrary. And it does not take into account momentum. If a book that has been out for 10 years hits 50 reviews, why would Amazon suddenly care and start pushing it? I think, more likely, there are certain numbers that readers see and recognize (maybe subconsciously) that the reviews are more than family and friends. I think 100 is that number. It might be 50. It will differ by potential customer. 

How many reviews should a book get?

Surveys have shown that ~85% of people rarely or never leave reviews on books. Less than 10% say they usually do. I think the percentage depends on the book, the genre, and how engaged the author is. With that in mind, 8-10 reviews per 100 sales would be doing well. In reality, most authors report 1-2 reviews per 100 sales. If you comment, please include how often you leave reviews or ratings! Or, if an author, how many reviews do you get per 100 sales? 

As for my data. Here is the table I shared last week, updated to include reviews per 100 sales in the last two columns. 

A few points.

  • I converted page reads into book equivalents for this exercise.
  • And while I had over 20,000 free downloads for book one, you don’t see that reflected in the number of reviews for book one. If I add that to the data, the reviews for 100 sales/downloads will go to 4.5 for Amazon and 3.0 for Goodreads (way out of line with data for books two and three). That reinforces anecdotal evidence that people who read free books are less likely to leave reviews.
  • Lastly, I was a bit surprised to see that book three has more reviews than book two (per 100 sales). But in retrospect, that makes sense. Since the entire trilogy is available, I think some readers wait until they finish to leave a review, and that review is more reflective of the series than the actual book. 
  • Shameless self-promotion.  You can see book one reviews here.

So, how do you get reviews?

If you decide reviews are helpful, here is what I did to boost my reviews.

  • In your book. In your backmatter, ask for a review. Don’t beg. Or maybe do beg. Just beg nicely. 
  • Newsletters: For the first year, I included a reminder in every newsletter to leave reviews.
  • In-person sales. I also include a pitch about leaving reviews with every sale I make. I reinforce that you can leave a review on Amazon, even if you purchased it elsewhere. And that reviews are the lifeblood of an independent author. 
  • Social media posts. Talk about reviews. Share positive reviews. Share negative reviews. Share milestones. Make funny memes about reviews. 
  • Instagram. I reached out to dozens of bookstagramers and offered my book to them for review. I focused on those that had 1K-5K followers. If you go after influencers with 100K followers, they probably want money or will ignore you. Note, I was not after the review on IG, I wanted to the review on Amazon or Goodreads, which most will leave. I probably picked up 5-8 reviews this way. 
  • Fellow Authors. Great source. And I don’t mean, “if you give me a 5-star rating, I will give you a 5-star review”. Genuine engagement with fellow authors. I probably picked up 5+ reviews this way. 
  • Legitimate pay sites. Kirkus, Writers Digest, and plenty of others. Endless debate on whether they are worth it. I used Lone Star Literature Life. They were reasonable, local to Texas and had some marketing packages that I liked. There are some private ones out there as well. Email me if you want to learn more about who I used. I garnered 3-4 reviews here (Lone Star Lit did NOT place a review on Amazon, but I used them in review section). 
  • Genre-specific clubs. I approached The Historical Novel Society and they agreed to review book one. Worth a shot. 
  • Netgalley: I found this very helpful. Some do not. And for 100% transparency, the Netgalley crowd is the most brutally honest group I have encountered, which is excellent. I think my average was less than 4 stars. You do get the emails of those that downloaded your book. I followed up with each one personally, even after they left a review on Netgalley to ask them to leave one on Amazon or GR. I picked up 10+ reviews in this way. 
  • Note on Netgalley: It can be expensive. Here are two options to save a little money. The first is a package through Booksgosocial. For the lowest package, you can get a month of Netgalley and other promotional items. Another option is Netgalley Co-ops like this. You can rent a monthly slot for $50.

What not to do for reviews...

  • Do not participate in a pay-for-review site. They are always working to circumvent Amazon’s rules. They violate the spirit, if not the letter of the rules. I do not think they are worth taking the chance. 
  • Goodreads giveaways. This may be controversial. I have done two giveaways, one paperback, and one ebook. I included a note with all 10 books I sent out thanking them for entering the giveaway and asking them to leave a review. I could never tie a review to any winner. To be honest, I feel like GR giveaways are the least effective marketing tool available to an author. I doubt I will ever do one again. 
  • Paid Instagram scams. If a potential reviewer approaches you, it is probably a scam. I received dozens of requests to review my book for $5-$10. I could not ignore/block fast enough. 
  • Self-review. Some authors leave reviews of their books when they add them to Goodreads. It can be a funny way to talk to potential readers, but I’m not too fond of it. 

In closing...

I think reviews are critical, so I focused on them.  You may not want to be as passionate as I was, but I think you can take some of these tips and add them to your repertoire. 

If you are a reader, please take 30 seconds to leave a review. It will make an author’s day. It will literally give them a small burst of dopamine. Most importantly,  it validates the endless hours they spent pouring over their manuscript… the sleepless nights where they tossed and turned, trying to find that perfect ending to a chapter or novel… the angst they suffered when they pressed that “publish” button on Amazon.

And you can do all of that for free. What a great deal! 

Until next time. 

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3 Comments on “To review or not review, that is the question…

  1. I did a Goodreads kindle giveaway with each book release, following Alessandra Torre’s instructions. I got about one review per giveaway that I thought I could attribute to the Goodreads deal. Not great.

    I also think the value of doing a Goodreads deal on a sequel if you don’t have an existing following from the first book is poor.

  2. Love is in the air with book writing and seeing the potential of it all. Life is complex, and those who win have a unique standpoint or persistence. I believe in the law of attraction. However, all the statistical value is relevant. You get a very small percentage of people who leave reviews, but the many books that make clout – move on to movie status in some cases. It’s not a tough business, look at the glass half full; it’s a challenging and opportunist option to live life with, “I don’t care, I am going to write it anyway!” Good stuff. Thanks B.K!

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