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.


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