Worshipping the Ever-Elusive Amazon Book Review

five stars - google image

Amazon is in the process of suing 1,114 Fiverr users for offering to write fake product reviews for money. The publishing giant is hot on the scent of authors who used this type of service. That will result in many book reviews being pulled. Amazon is also cracking down heavily on the practice of review swapping amongst authors.

This is a positive happening for readers. I’m not alone in having skimmed through some stellar reviews, bought the book in question, began to read and found myself stunned at the formulaic, predictable writing, or plot holes, or lack of proofreading or all of the above. I definitely wondered who on earth could have penned those five-star reviews.

Cash register - Google image

Paying for reviews is a major no-no for all self-published authors. Put aside the fact that the big publishing houses pay for reviews all the time. For those of us who have chosen self-publishing, no such leeway is allowed. Accept it, live with it.

The idea of swapping reviews is also strongly discouraged. But all reciprocal reviews amongst self-published authors are not necessarily swapped. Part of my motivation in building a social media network is the goal of getting my name out there and encouraging readers to buy and review my books. And while there are countless people active in cyberspace, I tend to attract a number of like-minded people to my networks. Another self-published author likes my Facebook page, follows on Twitter or follows my blog. I reciprocate. I end up purchasing and reading a book written by this social media contact. Let’s not forget that many writers are also voracious readers. I definitely fall into that category. If I enjoyed the book and because I like lending a hand and I have been indoctrinated to the almost sacred belief that Amazon reviews are the be all and end all measure of success, I write a review. This social media contact does the same with my book. We never spoke of swapping reviews. And yet, we now find ourselves in a suspect situation.

Reciprocal reviews sit on my Amazon book pages. I might lose those reviews and reviews I wrote might get pulled. My only fault was connecting on social media and enjoying the work of another self-published author. Doesn’t seem fair, but if this is the price we all pay to eliminate fake reviews, then so be it.

dog-chasing-tail - google image

As I reflect on the broader questions related to reviews, I start to question the way we self-published authors chase after the elusive Amazon book review … hmmm … have we bought into a false indoctrination? I wonder…

I’m happy to share what I’m learning along the way:

  • Say a categorical no to any request to swap books for the purpose of reviews with any other self-published author.
  • If you are a self-published author, post a review to Amazon only if you understand that the author of the book you review will never review one of your books. 
  • Re-educate ourselves to place an equal or higher value on reviews done on blogs and other venues unrelated to Amazon and begin to expand our understanding of the many ways that bring readers to our books.
  • Work at expanding social media networks and contacts beyond other self-published authors.
  • And just a final point on debunking the altar of worship that exists around stacking up the Amazon reviews – we’ve all heard and read about the mysterious marketing boosts that kick in at some magical number. The common wisdom most certainly states that reviews on Amazon matter, a lot. I can’t back that up with my own experience. Before I had self-published, I never read a review on Amazon, though I bought widely from them. I gathered my book buying information from other sources. I also never wrote a review, though I enjoyed and was passionate about many of the books I read.

word of mouth marketing - Google image

I can say from personal experience that word-of-mouth sells books. If you read my book and liked it – tell a friend or family member. Offer to lend them your copy. Purchase one of my books as a gift for someone you think might enjoy it. Tell people where they can get a copy.

Book Club - Port Alice

In closing, I appreciate every single review I’ve received. I took them at face value and learned from all of them. I will be saddened to see any of them pulled by Amazon. I also value all my social media contact with other self-published authors. I’ve learned from each of you and hopefully shared well my own growing expertise. We can continue to support one another through means other than Amazon reviews. Here’s to coming up with ways to do just that.

32 comments on “Worshipping the Ever-Elusive Amazon Book Review

  1. P. C. Zick says:

    Reblogged this on P.C. Zick and commented:
    Very thoughtful post from fellow colleague Francis Guenette. I can’t say it any better, so I’ll let her say it for me.

  2. P. C. Zick says:

    You’ve hit it, Francis. I believe we’ve been brainwashed a bit and some authors go overboard to get reviews. I’ve decided to go a more organic way and let the reviews come in after running promotions with lots of downloads. I, too, hope I don’t lose anymore reviews (only one author’s reviews have come down for me), but I’m hearing from others who are losing reviews. However, some of those authors have paid organizations for reviews and/or participated in vigorous review exchanges. Let’s hope those of us who’ve tried to do it correctly don’t get punished.

    • I like that way of putting it, Pat – a more organic way 🙂 I, too, hope that those of us who played the review game by the rules don’t suffer for those who didn’t. I know the whole review thing is a hot button issue for self-published authors right now – those on all sides of the debate. Many thanks for the reblog. I always appreciate the opportunity to reach out to a larger audience.

  3. Debbie Young says:

    One of the reasons I started my own book blog site is so that I can review what I like, when I like, without having to kowtow to Amazon. Glad to have reviewed your books on there, Francis. Great post.

    • Thanks, Deb and many thanks for your thoughtful reviews. My learning curve has been to get off the worship of Amazon reviews and learn to fully appreciate the power of book review bloggers to reach out to committed readers.

  4. I agree and I have not paid for any reviews, but one glitch I’ve run into is that when I want to advertise my books, most sites want a minimum number of reviews and a minimum average of 4.0. Not having that reduces advertising options.

    • You’ve named a very real challenge here for self-published authors, Darlene. Various advertising sites that set the bar at a number of Amazon reviews before considering a book. I’ve recently read an article about BookBub that names it as the latest gatekeeper. And we all know what gates are used for. BookBub demands a lot of reviews, charges a lot of money and accepts a low percentage of submissions. What does that remind you of? For me it is the worst of the traditional publishers (low acceptance) and the worst of assisted self-publishing groups (high costs). The systems is what the system is. The one thing that encourages me is how fast everything seems to change. Gee – I think I feel another post coming on.

  5. noelleg44 says:

    I’ve been following this scandal,Francis, and I am appalled. I made myself a promise to always buy any book I am reviewing – it makes me feel unconflicted about the review and besides, all us indies need the income!

    • Great point Noella – I, too, always try to purchase any book I think I might review. Through years of being honed as an educational researcher, I learned a valuable lesson – impartiality is a myth. There is a sense of obligation when one has received something free of charge – it may be subtle but I think it’s still there. And so true – we indies can use the income.

  6. Roy McCarthy says:

    Good piece Fran and I totally agree with all your bullet points there. It’s quite sad that the book business has descended into dog-eat-dog where the mediocre can, by nefarious means, prosper ahead of the genuinely good stuff.

  7. jenanita01 says:

    Reviews on blogs…now there’s an idea!

    • Many thanks for the re-blog. Yes, indeed – reviews on blogs – great idea. Nothing novel (excuse the pun 🙂 ) but as I’ve mentioned in a previous comment, definitely something that self-published authors should give more credence to.

  8. lynettedavis says:

    Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

  9. Kelee Morris says:

    Reblogged this on Kelee Morris and commented:
    Wise words and definitely a topic I’ll be blogging about soon.

  10. Reblogged this on Allison Maruska and commented:
    I enjoyed this refreshing perspective on Amazon reviews.

  11. Jo Grafford says:

    Reblogged this on Jo Grafford and commented:
    Amazon vs. Paid Reviews

  12. 2readmom says:

    This was EXACTLY what I needed to hear today. My husband and I self-publish and have been juggling the pros and cons of amazon reviews, and how they truly effect connections and sales. Thank you for your insight.

    • I’m so glad that my post resonated and many thanks for stopping in and being part of the discussion. I love to open up a topic and see what others are experiencing. I have felt exactly like that funny cartoon of the dog chasing after its tail on this issue. Here’s hoping we stay connected in the big old WordPress universe.

  13. […] of Fiverr companies that sold fake reviews. There have been a few blog posts about it, too, like this one by Fran […]

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