Thursday, September 19, 2013

Playing the Review Game


Reviews. Ten people can read the same book and you can have 10 different opinions. (This happens all the time at my book club.) Writers obsess about the 'bad' ones, and rejoice in the good ones. Is it worth caring? To a degree, yes. Why?

Reviews—whether positive or not-so-great—get your book noticed. Amazon's algorithms start picking up books that have around 40 reviews (and here, it's simply quantity, not quality). Other promotional opportunities are open only to books that have a minimum number of 4 or 5 star reviews. That number is often 20 or more. It becomes a Catch 22. You can't get promoted to garner the reviews until you have the reviews. So, how do you get them?

In my indie books, I include a short paragraph after "the end" telling readers that if they enjoyed the book, a short review would be appreciated. Does it work? Maybe. It's impossible to know whether people would have left a review anyway, or if that request gave the nudge they needed to take the time to post something. I also know authors who will give away a second book if the reader writes a review of the first. There's also NetGalley, where people can choose books to review. But to get a book listed there requires a substantial monetary investment from the author or publisher.

I discovered a site called Story Cartel that claimed to be a way to encourage readers to leave reviews. There's no up front money, but their enticement to readers is, in exchange for a free download of the book, they get entered into a drawing for one of 3 $10 Amazon gift certificates, so there is an investment on the part of the author.

I decided to give this a shot to see whether I could get some more reviews for books that weren't doing so well on the "number of reviews" front. You provide the files to the company, so again, there's no outlay of money.

The first book had 50 downloads. Not bad. How many reviews? According to the company, there were 2, although they only report those who actually enter the contest, and I think I found 4 I could attribute to that site. Not a particularly good return on investment, but I believe in second chances, so I uploaded another book and tried a little more promotion. This one did much better, but again, the percentage of people who actually post a review is fairly low. In fact, the site recently updated its information to authors, indicating that the reviews tend to run at under 10% of the downloads.

It's kind of a "you can give a person a book, but you can't require they review it," situation, and as with everywhere else, there are a lot of people who see the word "free" and that's all they care about.

There is one aspect of this site that bothers me. On the author information page, they tell authors that they will receive email addresses from everyone who downloads the book. For me, increasing my newsletter mailing list was as much, if not more, of a perk than reviews. However—and this is where I disagree with them—they provide this information to people downloading books only if they dig through the privacy notice, and even then, it's not clear that authors can use the emails for mailing lists. I suggested—more than once—that they put this up front on the download page to let everyone know that their email address becomes fair game for newsletters.

One author colleague came up with what I consider an excellent workaround. She sent a special newsletter to everyone who'd downloaded her book, welcoming them and telling them why they had received the newsletter—and, of course, giving them the obligatory opportunity to opt out.

What's your take on reviews? Do you leave them for books you've read? Better yet—will you start doing it more often after reading this post? If you'd like a shot at one of my books, Finding Sarah is on sale for 99 cents at Amazon and Barnes & Noble through Sept. 15th.  Honest reviews welcome!

*Note: I'm at the Bouchercon conference, with very limited access to the Internet, so I might be slow responding to comments. Please don't let that stop you.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

19 comments :

  1. Thanks for this info. Very useful detail about Amazon. I was also wondering about Story Cartel.

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    1. Glad I provided something worthwhile. I'm not 100% sure (not even 50% sure) about the number for Amazon, but reviews definitely make a difference

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  2. Hi Terry. I just wanted to let you know that I have downloaded both of your books and I do intend to leave a review, once I get the chance to read them! I have a review blog for debut authors that eats up a lot of my time and I am also working on my own debut novel. I love to download books, and sometimes I wish I didn't like it quite so much! :) I will leave a review when I am finished though, I promise. I review every book I read. Sorry it's taking me so long! Best of luck with both books, they look great! I can't wait to get to them!

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    1. Rebecca, thanks -- and I hope you enjoy the books.

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  3. Getting reviews and developing relationships with readers without annoying them is the one area I think writers would love some help with. There are some fledgling sites trying to make things easier but nothing really solid yet. If someone could come up with a way to do this that works for both sides I think it would be an instant hit. Here's hoping.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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    1. Thanks -- and of course, nothing is easy, because everyone has his/her own idea of what's right, and what works for one person might tick off another. Anyone have a crystal ball?

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  4. I'm bad about reviews. I tend to only post reviews on books that blew my socks off. Even then, I sometimes put it off and forget. Most people get that "review your purchase" email from Amazon and delete it. There is no incentive for people to review products which is why most of the reviews posted on Amazon for things other than books are either paid for (the 5-stars) or people that know them they've begged or bribed. People have no problem trashing a product they hated. Anger motivates them. What we need to figure out is how to motivate the people who love our work to review it. And if someone comes up with that tactic, I want to learn about it! I've tried asking nicely, bribing (free books), and threatening to disinherit. :)
    None have worked. I've read Amazon is also removing reviews from authors. Crazy, as authors usually read a ton of books. Authors would have to create a second account on Amazon to review and that is too much work. Goodreads has its own share of problems. You could possibly hold a contest and say the first ten people that reviewed your book (3 to 5 stars) would get a prize - something truly attractive. Then run the contest four times and get your numbers up to 40.

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    1. But Amazon would probably say that's paying for a review and violates their TOS. I have trouble leaving reviews as an author -- not because Amazon might delete them (they haven't yet), but because everyone's opinion differs, and I hate opening a can of worms if people might carry over their own opinions (if they disagree with mine) to my own books.

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  5. I'm bad about reviews. I tend to only post reviews on books that blew my socks off. Even then, I sometimes put it off and forget. Most people get that "review your purchase" email from Amazon and delete it. There is no incentive for people to review products which is why most of the reviews posted on Amazon for things other than books are either paid for (the 5-stars) or people that know them they've begged or bribed. People have no problem trashing a product they hated. Anger motivates them. What we need to figure out is how to motivate the people who love our work to review it. And if someone comes up with that tactic, I want to learn about it! I've tried asking nicely, bribing (free books), and threatening to disinherit. :)
    None have worked. I've read Amazon is also removing reviews from authors. Crazy, as authors usually read a ton of books. Authors would have to create a second account on Amazon to review and that is too much work. Goodreads has its own share of problems. You could possibly hold a contest and say the first ten people that reviewed your book (3 to 5 stars) would get a prize - something truly attractive. Then run the contest four times and get your numbers up to 40.

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  6. Anger and spite drive people to write bad reviews. Some people hire reviewers to review their books (money incentive). The question is how to get people to review your book out of love or at least like. If you come up with that magic wand, please share! I suppose you could hold a contest and the first ten people to review your book on Amazon or Goodreads could receive a "prize" of some sort. Then you could repeat the contest. But what kind of bling would inspire readers to take the time without breaking your bank account?

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  7. I find that my dual roles as a developmental editor and author cause conflict along the lines of reviews. Because my reputation hinges on the critical success of my authors' work, my policy is to not review or blurb books I've edited (even though almost everyone asks me to).

    Fellow authors ask me to review, but I'm not sure I'd be doing some of them a favor. Try as I might, I can't seem to drop my critical standards just to promote a friend. Because of the author conflict Diana mentioned on Amazon, the only reviews I've done so far are unsolicited ones of books I've truly loved, on Goodreads.

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  8. Susan Mallery has Review Crews and if you Google that, you'll get some information about how she does it. I actually signed up but haven't heard anything back. Basically, you get a free hardcover edition in exchange for the review. If you don't do a review, you're dropped from the review team which I think is limited to 100 to begin with. Whether this would work for anyone but a NY Times bestselling author, I have no clue.But in theory, a pre-vetted and special club lends a certain exclusivity to the deal while giving the author a good bit of oversight.

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    1. I guess they weren't really pre-vetted, just a drawing from thousands of entries, but the author did interact with the lucky winners. Smart Bitches Trashy Books has a blog post and interview about it.

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  9. Thanks for this Terry. By pure coincidence, I'd scheduled a post on my own blog about reviews! Yours is a more practical post than mine, which deals with how a writer might react to reviews. If you're interested, it's athttp://stuartaken.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/reviewing-reviewers.html#.Ujsc82TXhsQ

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Stuart. Amazing how much synchronicity there is in cyberspace sometimes.

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  10. As a person who almost never writes a review, I sat up and took notice when I read this. When I read a book in the future, I will write a few comments at the very least. Bookwriting is hard work -- the author deserves some feedback.

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  11. Linda -- thanks! I'm out of town and of course don't have much Internet time, much less access to all the resources I've bookmarked on my PC, but somewhere, on someone's blog, is a great article on what a "good" review should cover. It's NOT a book report. You don't have to retell the story (and probably shouldn't), but a few points about what made you like or dislike the book will help others decide if the book is for them.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this information. I read a lot of books but am guilty of not leaving many reviews. Writing them hits all my insecurity buttons. I've been trying to work on that issue by attempting to write more of them. I appreciate learning about what makes a review good, too.

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    1. Thanks, Karen. When I get home, I'll try to find that 'review isn't a book report' blog post and share it.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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