Worshipping the Ever-Elusive Amazon Book Review

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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.

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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.

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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.

Assisted Self-Publishing or Not–Final Thoughts

Gallery - Phoenix - Bruce Witzel photo

At the risk of being boring …. ah, well, I’ll take the chance. I’d like to share a couple of final thoughts on the whole re-release process for Disappearing in Plain Sight.

Reviews from the previous edition ….

I am pleased to report that all the wonderful four and five star reviews Disappearing in Plain Sight has received over the last two years have tagged along to the new edition and this has happened on all Amazon sites. The trick is to keep the exact title and author. As well, one must make no significant changes to the body of the work. I had worried that adding Crater Lake Series – Book One to the title might equal change but it didn’t. I was able to change publication date, ISBN and the publisher and still keep my precious reviews.

Like most things – the process was less painful than I anticipated ….

  • The assisted self-publisher threw up no roadblocks when it came to letting me go.
  • Preparing the final Word document/manuscript of Disappearing in Plain Sight for my e-formatter amounted to more than a few hours of work but I have some experience with what is required after having gone twice through the drill.
  • Obtaining an ISBN in Canada is easy and free.
  • When one has properly formatted mobi and ePub files, a cover than meets specifications and all other relevant information (ISBN, publisher name, book blurb, categories, tags, price) – putting the book up for sale on most sites is very quick.

Advantages of re-gaining control of the first book in the Crater Lake Series … Huge!

  • I was able to make it clear that Disappearing in Plain Sight is the first book of a series.
  • I included a sneak-peak preview of Chapter One of The Light Never Lies at the end of the e-book to push sales further down the line of the series.
  • I can now track sales hourly (if I was so crazy as to try!) on all books rather than having to wait a month after any sale to see how Disappearing in Plain Sight was doing.
  • I can set the price and I can change it if I so desire.
  • When the Crater Lake Series is complete, I will have the option to release all the books as a boxed set. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without control of the first book in the series.
  • My royalty is fifty cents more per e-book sale. That is significant on a product that sells for $3.99.

Work left to do ….

I am currently formatting for the softcover edition through CreateSpace. This is a time consuming task and I take it a bit at a time. We must redesign the cover to include the Huckleberry Haven Publishing logo and to indicate the book is part of the Crater Lake Series. I’m awaiting final approval to be entered into Smashwords Premium Catalogue which will mean the new edition of Disappearing in Plain Sight will be available for Nook readers and through the iTunes Store. A similar process is ongoing for entry into the Kobo Store. I’m slowly but surely rooting out non-working links to the old distribution channels on all social media sites and replacing them with the new links.

Final Word ….

Take the plunge. If you went the assisted self-publisher route and now feel the need to regain control – go for it. Hopefully, you’ll feel as I do at the end of the process – glad. And if you’re wavering about going it on your own or using an assisted self-publisher, I say take the leap over the cliff on your own. That way you won’t have to back track later.

Yosemite - Bruce Witzel photo