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How YOU Can Help Writers Find Readers: Some Thoughts on Amazon Reviews

Guest blog by Marcia Calhoun Forecki

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Book lovers have many options for obtaining the objects of their affection. Browsing in a physical store selling new or used books, downloading ebooks or audiobooks, even borrowing from public library depending on the readers need for ownership or to economize. Whichever means of acquisition you prefer, chances are good that your choice is based on reviews.

Recommendations by friends are one form of review, and are often very reliable. Reviews or excerpts of reviews printed on covers of books help a reader make her selection. Such blurbs always rave about the book’s quality and relevance, so we make allowances for hyperbole. Amazon even allows potential readers to take a peek at a section of the book’s content. But, that is after you find the book. All of these reviews can make the decision of whether to buy a book or lunch easier.

The Oscar/Nobel level review is from Amazon; it is just a fact. An author needs Amazon reviews to help market her book and also herself. The higher a book’s star ranking, the more likely a reader of that genre or subject will find her book. How can this be? Look no further than the Amazon search algorithm. When a reader searches for books by genre or subject, the algorithm determines which books the potential buyer sees first. The more reviews, the higher the book’s ranking; therefore, the more likely readers will find your book.  

Authors understand the importance of Amazon reviews. We want good reviews to sell more books and to increase our visibility so we can sell even more books. It seems like a great idea for an author to solicit friends, family members, neighbors to do a quick favor and write a two- or three-sentence review. Writers understand we need a community of creatives to support us and to encourage us each and every time we give up the dream. “I’ll review your book if you review mine,” sounds like the very foundation of a writing community. It would be, were it not for the Amazon algorithm, the curse of many, understood by so few.

In an effort to root out “fake reviews,” Amazon no longer allows individuals who “share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer reviews for that author’s book.” (Amazon Customer Reviews) Here is where the algorithm comes into play Amazon can determine who your close friends are by comparing a reviewer’s contact information with the author’s account information. If you want to tilt at the Amazon windmill and ignore the review policy, Amazon also has an Anti-Manipulation Policy for Customer Reviews.

In summary: It is okay to solicit sales of your books on Amazon, but don’t even think about asking any of your readers to write a review if they are friends, roommates, or family. From whom else would you request reviews?  Strangers?  Where are these strangers who will love my book if they can find it?

Amazon does allow reviews from friends or family IF the reviewer conspicuously discloses how they received the book. Some examples of making the conspicuous disclosure are: “I received an advanced reading copy (ARC) for an objective review.” Or, “I received a copy of this book from [author name here], and I am reviewing it voluntarily.” Or, “I wrote this review based on an ARC sent to me by the publisher.”

            Savvy authors include a review request in their book. Beware how you word your request. Don’t say, “If you loved my book, please leave a review.” Why not? Because your ask does not include people who liked the book, found the book interesting, read all the way to the end, but did not fall in love with it. (Yes, that’s the reason.) Instead say something like, “If you found this book helpful, I would appreciate hearing your opinion. Honest reviews make finding the right book easier for other readers.”

Editorial reviews have always been allowed by Amazon. This is an evaluation of a book written by a profession reviewer (think Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly) or an endorsement (a statement of support by a well-known writer or influencer.)

In 2016, Amazon introduced Vine, a program where you sign up to receive merchandise free or at a reduced price in return for the promise to review it. These “Incentivized reviews” are allowed by members of the Vine program. The review will be labeled “Vine Choice.” Of course, said Vine member has to request the book, after first finding the book. So, we are caught in this circular pattern: to review a book you must find the book, and the best way to find the book is by reading reviews.

See also:

Kindle Direct Publishing information regarding customer reviews.

Teaching Again!

Karen Gettert Shoemaker

Friday, June 3, 2022

 

I have loved getting Larksong up and running. I love the challenges and meeting new people or working with old friends – it’s all good. Well, almost. The truth is there’s not enough time in every day to get everything I want to do done, or even started. And sometimes I miss the things I used to do regularly – no I’m not talking about taking afternoon naps (though I’m not necessarily NOT talking about afternoon naps, either).

No, today’s topic, Class, is teaching. I miss teaching. I miss the kinds of conversations I have with writers when we’re all together studying a story and examining the method to the magic and learning to create it ourselves. I love that stuff!

So, like my mom and dad used to tell me, if you want something done, just do it!

And so, I’m doing it. For the first time in over a year I am back in the classroom this summer! I’ve created a class called “Finding Inspiration: Writing from Art, Song, History and Life” and I’m truly excited about it. It’s a four-week class that runs from 6 to 7:30 pm Mondays, July 11, 18, 25, August 1. The goal is to have it in-house at Larksong. However, we’re mindful of the Covid numbers and concerns so there is an on-line option if you sign up and contact me with a request.

I’m certainly not the only one teaching classes this summer at Larksong. One of our goals is to introduce new teachers and writers to our Nebraska base and our lineup of classes in the next few months do exactly that. Our teachers this session come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, and Vermont. Some names may be familiar to you, and some may be new.

Pam Sourelis, for example, has taught a class with us before. She keeps her classes small, which is great for that one-on-one attention that we all crave, and they pack a punch. As one of her previous students described her experience, “I took Pam’s journal writing workshop and loved, loved, loved it. It is the gift that keeps on giving. I find a useful practice in so many ways with benefits I didn’t even anticipate. Pam is an excellent teacher. She keeps the class on-target and engaging…and inspires you to take what you learn and grow with it. Great stuff!” Her class on Journaling is so grounding, and I know I need that these days. She’s joining us for two Wednesdays, 7-9 pm CDT starting July 13.

Our Visiting Writers Series that we are just getting started has brought two great teachers to us, James Crews and Nancy McCabe. James led us off last week with a hybrid reading – in-house readers and online readers – then followed up with an online workshop. It was so successful we decided to do it again! You can sign up here for his one-day webinar on Friday, July 1st at 11 am CDT.

Nancy McCabe, one of my favorite nonfiction writers, is going to be in the house on June 14th.

First with a writing workshop that you need if you write nonfiction or memoir, or just want to learn some new techniques. Her workshop “Bringing Memoir Alive Using Techniques from Fiction” will meet at Larksong at 1 pm.

 At 6 pm on the same day, Nancy McCabe and Suzanne Ohlmann Are In The House! Technically they will be reading in our new patio space, but it’s all Larksong. Local singer Pam Barger will be joining them and it is going to be great! (BRING YOUR LAWNCHAIRS FOR THAT EVENT!)

In an almost embarrassment of riches, I’m going to be teaching again this fall – in Greece! That one is not a Larksong sponsored event, but it is open to the public and I’d love to see you there! You can read all about it here.

There’s more happening all the time so check in on our website periodically to see what’s new. Have a great summer, y’all! I hope to see you here, there, and anywhere!

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