Reviews and self-publishing
Reviews and self-publishing
I’m scratching my head where to start this and to put my thoughts into cohesive order,
but I’ll give it a try, because it is an important consideration for self-publishers.
I was prompted to write this blog post after seeing many threads started on open writers’ forums, complaining about poor reviews (or lack of) that authors had received on Amazon. I consider such posts responding to reviews as damaging. These posts are searchable on the internet. Any potential reader of your work, if they were to research before buying, could easily find the post and it may turn them off you as an author having a bad attitude. Low star reviews are par for the course, even for traditionally published authors. Readers are not stupid and vindictive reviews will be seen as such.
While I can understand the pain at the author’s ability to write a story being called into question, bad reviews also underlines the importance of garnering reviews across a spectrum of the reader base in your genre to give a fair indication of the quality of the content and reader satisfaction. Getting reviews of any description for self-published books is frustrating, especially when I see posts on forums saying that, on average it takes 1,000 downloads to gain 1 review. If this is the case, then how is a new author to gain those initial reviews? Hopefully, this post will help in answering the question.
But first, what is the history and importance of reviews?
If we look at the history of book publishing, traditional publishers would send out advance review copies of paper books (ARC’s) to newspaper reviewers prior to publication. This would ensure reviews in the column inches of the book section of newspapers and magazines. In effect, they were directly targeting the consumer reader base. In addition to the marketing benefits that the reviews provide, on or around publication, these reviews also provided a badge of honor, with snippets taken expounding the virtues of the book for inclusion on the book cover and other marketing efforts.
There is no doubt in my mind that most thriller readers seeing… “Its breakneck pace leaves you gasping for breath.” Daily mail/ New York Times etc, on a book jacket in a bookstore, gives an indication of what to expect and it can influence the buying considerations of readers.
While this is still the case for traditional publishers, they have now had to face a new market place with the introduction of the internet, via paper book and eBook distributors, mainly Amazon. Many on the self-publishing divide consider that the traditional publishers are struggling to come to terms with marketing eBooks and internet marketing, but they would be wrong.
They understand that from a review POV that the old way, while still relevant, the situation calls for a new method of obtaining reviews. They know that a customer browsing the internet bookstore for eBooks can’t pick up the book and look at the back cover reviews. They know that with the internet, customer reviews are now, or can be an important factor in influencing a customer’s decision to buy. (see my article that includes Amazon visibility and reviews) A book without reviews is a difficult sell. For their new authors. If they did nothing about it and without the command of a bestselling author’s fan base, they would struggle with the rest of us to obtain reviews.
Publishers have embraced the internet in many ways, not least of which, is garnering followers on their websites and social media platforms that in may cases identify genre specific interests. Some have sections on their sites to invite readers to receive ARC’s, and as Beta readers and for review purposes. Some publishers have engaged the services of outside marketing companies that operate through the internet to provide a source of registered reviewers for new releases. These reviewers can be broken down into genre category lists to ensure targeting of the correct type of read and likely response. These are paid services, Some of them by subscription and seemingly not against Amazons rules for reviews as the reviewer is considered impartial and ithey are not paid to review.
In the case of Amazon imprints, they make good use of their own ‘Vine reviewers program’. Basically, Vine reviewers are appointed by invite only. They are people that regularly review products and Amazon consider them to be “impartial!” As a vine reviewer, they receive free products, including books free of charge. These reviewers don’t have to say they received the product as FREE (A requirement of anyone receiving a free ARC eBook). Instead, Amazon note their review with a heading in green, to say that this is a “Vine review.”
At the time that the Vine Review was introduced, a few of their top reviewers refused to participate, when they were asked to review Amazon’s own imprint books. The worth of the Vine Program was there for all to see. When I went to look at a book that their imprint had published, in one month it had received in the region of 25 Vine reviews with nothing less than four stars. When I look at it now it has over 200 reviews at an average of 3 stars, so plenty of 1 stars. Still, job done as it sold in the tens of thousands.
For a more recent example, I had heard some time ago that Harper Collins had tied up with a marketing company/ review provider, called netgally.com. I thought no more about it until I visited the book page of an eBook published by their Authonomy imprint. As a new publication by a new author, I was surprised by the number of high star reviews in a short space of time, not marked as an Amazon Verified purchase “ but with one clearly stating that it was a netgally.com ARC review.
So there we have it; in general, publishers don’t leave it to chance when it comes to reviews. It is not for them to allow the reviews to come from the readership organically, especially during that all-important 30 visibility as a new release on Amazon.
So what are self-publishers to do? The first thing I would say, is to slow down and don’t rush to publish without grasping the importance of reviews and the ways to ethically garner them close to and after the publication date.
Here are some of the traps that self-publishers have been caught out with and which are against Amazons rules. At best Amazon will delete them and at worst they could if they so wish, close your account.
1/ Asking friends and family to post reviews, even if they buy the book. (The names of relatives, together with you say using their computer to access Amazon, will result in their software identifying the reviewers account as connected to the author)
2/ Asking someone who has edited/formatted/ designed their book cover to post a review. ( Amazon consider the contractor to have a financial interest and crediting the contractor in the front matter makes them easy to spot.)
3/ Paying someone on say fiver.com, or anyone directly, to post a review. (Again, financial interest. These are usually discovered by Amazon when the reviewer posts more reviews in a day than they could possibly read)
4/ Using the services of a company who will guarantee say 100 reviews for a fee and they pay their reviewers. (Again, financial reward. Discovery, the same trend as in 3, together with the number of reviews way outside purchases.)
Not in the same league, but when you offer your eBook as a free promotion, many will download out of genre because it is free. While it increases your chances of reviews, you also run the risk of low star reviews from customers reading outside their comfort zone. The same could be said of too low a price, because it becomes less of a considered purchase.
The easy answer is to mimic as near as possible the way in which traditional publishers gain reviews and that is to sign up with such as netgally.com, who allow individual authors to subscribe. However, for many, such services are come at a cost that is outside the budget for a new release.
Finding review sites is difficult, as many can’t guarantee to read your book in time for publication, with most refusing to review self–published books. But they are out there and I would recommend an internet search to discover them.
Maybe offer a competition on your blog site, offering free ARC copies in return for a review. Blog site are valuable to gain followers and to notify them of new releases. They are also a way of getting the message out via your social media followers with a click of the publish buttons at the end of a post.
Those self-published with a body of work, will likely already have contact with readers. They are a valuable source of sending out ARC copies.
Writer site members are not considered friends with a financial interest, so if you have had your book posted on such a site for crit, don’t be shy to ask for reviews from those who have read and enjoyed your work.
Sites such as Goodreads can be a good place to offer free books for review and where they have an ARC section. (Follow the link)
Search out top 1000 reviewers on Amazon and Vine reviewers. Some will provide contact details and the types of books they are interested in reading.
All I can say is not to worry if all your reviews are not 5 star. In fact, if that were the case, it could work against you. Take heart from 50 Shades of Grey that has sold in the millions and yet it has 50 percent one star reviews. The importance is to have a good spread of reviews so that readers can make up their own mind. No reviews at all gives no indication whatsoever of what to expect and could result in a reader moving on. So at least put some effort in to sending out ARC copies.
Just had a thought that self-published ARC’s do have their dangers.
Looking at netgally.com whom HC and the authonomy imprint use, they have a secure platform for access to read ARC’s, probably using DRM (digital rights management)
I guess there is always the risk that someone recieving an ARC could post the file on a pirate site. The only way I could think of a way around it, is that before you create your.mobi, or ePub, using say Caliber, or as a PDF, is that you mark it as an ARC on the copyright page and give a unique number to each one. Also put the unique number at the end of the file, just in case it is spotted on the copyright page and they delete the wording.
The biggest problem with pirate sites/file sharing sites, is that if you sign up as exclusive to KDP and the Amazon bots find it on a pirate site, they can remove your book from Amazon if you don’t manage to get it taken down with a take down notice to the site.
By having a unique number, if it is still there, then you can track it back to where it was sent and email them with a take down notice, so at least you get two chances to have it removed.