The Myth of Reviews and Sales

A lot of people will tell you that book reviews determine whether a book sells or not, that reviews with four or five stars sell books. While reviews help, that’s not what sells a book.

What sells a book is good writing. A storyline that captures their imagination, characters readers care about – heroes they want to root for and villains they understand. (Even the villain wants to be the hero of his own story.)

It’s really that simple.

Reviews can help, star ratings can help, but as you can see from the Bookbub graphic here, plot, price, and quality come before ratings and reviews. More importantly, though, not just any reviews, but honest, organic ones – in other words, not family/friends but from other readers. Readers are more likely to buy because a family or friend recommended it, but not a review from yours. (With thanks to Bookbub, see the link attached to the graphic for more information.)

Word of mouth is the best marketing.

Also, see this –

James Scott Bell knows whereof he speaks.

Reviews and stars help, but nothing beats a well-written book.

Update and addendum – Another voice about reviews from our friends at ALLi

Opinion: Why I Don’t Worry About Amazon Reviews





How and why to use

For those who aren’t familiar with it’s essentially a ‘newspaper’ about whatever you want to share and it’s easy to use. Simply go to the site and sign up. There are two versions – free and paid. (More on that later.)
Give it a title but think long and hard before choosing one. Don’t make the common mistake of naming it ‘YourName, Author‘ or ‘RomanticTitle Series‘, because using your author name is a giveaway for ‘buy my book’ promotion and if you go off that series track you have to remember to go back and rename your  You want to consider it as part of your marketing plan but you don’t want to be obvious about it or no one will read it.
Since I write self-published fantasy, and that’s usually associated with sci-fi, mine references that. And, since no fantasy writer worth their salt shouldn’t also know something about archaeology (to ground their fiction in reality) and people are interested in that science, I reference that, too.
I’m also interested in giving back to other writers and educating them on the common mistakes many writers of fantasy make. Food, for example, was a lot harder to come by, you had to forage for vegetables and fruit, and it took a lot longer to cook. Say you have a character who takes down a bird or a deer. In some fantasy novels, writers roast them on a spit. A bird will take a fair amount of time. A deer is bigger than you think, it takes half a day to roast that way, with frequent turning.  As another example of a common mistake, do you know why ancient peoples used chariots? Because most early horses couldn’t carry a person. Centuries of selective breeding (evolution) created an animal that could. Even so, a horse will take a long period of time, even with its longer legs, to get from point A to point B. More so if hitched to a wagon. And they get tired.
So, back to You can give it certain parameters to search for and feature, but some come with it.

Reality Check for Indie Authors

scribdn all honesty I suspect that Scribd found the path of least resistance in their romance/erotica decision. (Witness the petitions to Jeff Bezos/Amazon asking him to change the review policy.) The truth of the matter is likely to be a more harsh reality – a lot of romance/erotica readers were downloading books, finding them to be dreck and so they didn’t finish them, they just deleted them off their e-readers and went onto the next. Scribd, however, still had to pay the writer for the unread book. So, rather than try to evaluate hundreds of thousands of e-books, they just decided not to carry the vast majority of romance/erotica.

Here is the truth. Amazon/Jeff Bezos owes us nothing. If you want tea and sympathy, go to Smashwords. Mark CoAmazon logoker is a genuinely nice person and will offer you a great deal of encouragement. However, Smashwords also pays quarterly, not monthly, so be prepared to wait for the check. Also post to B&N, Kobo and D2D for the most bang for your post. You’ll make a fraction of what you make with Amazon, but there you go. Understand that Amazon is a business – a business that provides a venue for Indie authors to post their books and – possibly – make money at it. Indie authors are a drop in the vast bucket of products Amazon offers. The vast majority of their profits come from the Big Five publishers and all the other products Amazon offers. Be ungrateful for the opportunity, become enough of a pain in the butt and they’ll drop the program like the annoying hot potato it’s become.

Sadly, a large number of Indie authors came into the game thinking ‘oh, yeah, I can write my novel at long last’, it’s easy and I can make money at it. As many of you have now noticed, the easy bit is harder than most thought. Writing a book isn’t necessarily easy, and writing a good book is even harder still. Even worse, some folks are still looking for the magic wand that will write the book for them. Some also turned to Indie writing because they suspected that the Big Five wouldn’t take them (not to mention the fact that the author gets a pittance of what the publisher gets. We need a Taylor Swift for that.) And that’s before you get to the marketing. Then there’s the cover art, the editing, formatting and deciding where to upload it. Too many are taking shortcuts, unfortunately, skipping over the most important, the most expensive, and the hardest parts of the process – editing and cover art. Just take a look at many of the Indie books being offered. (Especially the erotica since the explosion of 50 Shades.)

Think this is harsh? Take a look at Scribd, a subscription service much like Kindle Unlimited. They’re removing a vast number of romance/erotica novels – even good ones. Why? They say that too many readers are downloading so many books they’re putting them out of business.

Regarding reviews… Remember the comment about Scribd and the crappy books? It might be overly simplistic, but there is some degree of truth there. Most of those awful books didn’t get reviews saying they were awful. They were just deleted. For all we complain about the mean people out there, most people really aren’t and it takes time to write a review. Rather than take the time, they just deleted and moved on. Want to get reviews? Understand that unless you write something people want to write a review about – and even if they do – most won’t. It takes time. Try to write something good enough they’ll want to review.

Want to get your reviews removed or to devalue reviews? Forget to ask those people who received ARCs or free copies to add ‘I received this book in exchange for an honest review’ to their review so Amazon won’t pull it. Participate in easily trackable review exchanges or give positive reviews to books you haven’t purchase or read. That’ll do it.

If you think Indie publishing is hard, try traditional. Write query letters to agents/publishers, gather rejections, hope for the moment they ask for a revise and resubmit, or a request for a partial or a full, get your hopes up, get them squashed when they decide not to take your novel because it’s not a reiteration of King or Roberts or Sparks or James, or whoever is the flavor of the moment. (For perspective, where is the writer of Twilight right now?) Then, TADA, you find a publisher who will take you. HURRAY. And then you discover you’ll still have to do the editing as well as a large part of the marketing, just to be a mid-list writer – unless you’re one of the rare few who make it big. Or you can follow the Hugh Howey model and write a unique novel, self-publish it, and let the publishers find you. (By the way, he can now afford a boat. A biggish boat.)

The best things in life aren’t free – they take work. Do you want reviews for your book? Do the work. Make people want to review it, but also understand they they don’t have to.

Keeping the community honest

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At the Indie Author Community, one of the things we’re very keen to help support is the idea that the community has standards of some description – and that while we don’t suggest internal policing, bringing to light some of the issues indie authors face, because, by knowing about them, we can know what to watch out for, and support those caught in the trap of negative issues (such as carpet bombing) and ostracize those taking part in the ones that dilute the value of the community itself.

What makes me very sad is that most of the time, as one of the people deeply involved in the community, I can see some of the problems that are coming up.  One of them, fake reviews, has been a while in coming, but to start with, and to introduce the site, and the community, I thought I’d talk about a couple of things to do to combat fake reviews (positive and negative) and why authors really need to keep out of the ‘review’ arena, in association with their books.

Asking for reviews

One of the major problems that the Indie Author Group had, right at the beginning, was dealing with requests for reviews, or ‘swap’ reviews.  Especially when it became obvious that many of the writers involved were asking for reviews on books that, were, to be quite honest, not worthy of the stellar reviews that they wanted.  It became apparent, after many complaints and comments and conversations, that ‘swapsie’ reviews were one of the worst things for the community.
Review requests, however, are part of a health exchange in the community – but you’ve got to ask the right people.  So, in the coming weeks, the IAC is going to start gathering the best blogs, reviewers and other places to get your reviews, and talk indie authors through the minefield of getting their fans to provide a review.

And then, NY times reported…

In the New York times recently, it was reported that authors (and others) are paying for positive reviews.  While this doesn’t seem like it could affect indie authors, many of whom don’t have a budget for editors, there’s the wider problem of reviews on the authors that can afford this being skewed, and a deeper, dishonesty behind that.
How can indie authors fight back?  In a word, we can’t.  We shouldn’t retaliate by paying for reviews, and until they fix the system to track fake reviews, it’s difficult to say what any author can do except put out their best work.  Which brings us to the other side of the coin, one which did cause a stir in the community.  But, not for the reasons you might first think.


As reported on June 19th, Smashwords was looking something they called ‘Carpet Bombing’.  It’s other term, in other communities at least, is ‘sandbagging’ – providing intentionally and dishonestly negative feedback to lower the overall rating of the books.  At the time, our community on Facebook (the Indie Author group) and all of it’s satellite groups had about 300 members.  I was in contact with about a further 1500 indie writers in one form or another.  And while this led to some very unpredicted conversations about rejecting one star reviews on books, because they were obviously fake, not one person came forward and said that they’d been affected by carpet bomb/sandbag reviews.  I need to emphasise that last part:
I personally *DO NOT* know someone that was affected by carpet bombing – I do know of a few writers who have errant one star reviews that could be considered as such, but it was never proven (or commented on) after that specific incident.  The author moved on and up.

Keeping the community ‘honest’

Ultimately, there is no one person that can keep the community honest – and – here’s a key takeaway from this – we should primarily be focused on our own writing over the behavior of others, but as a community, we need to be aware, and remain aware of all of the different things that can go wrong, and be aware.  These things aren’t an excuse to accuse an author of cheating (in the case of five star reviews) or ignore your one star reviews, but if you notice a pattern, and you have proof, by all means, report it to the site owners.  In the case of both Amazon and Smashwords, in my experience, they act on fraudulent or questionable material often.  And consider ‘paying it forward’ by writing genuine reviews for writers that deserve it, featuring them on your site, and making sure *your* fans know what you’re reading.  Eventually, there will be methods to ensure that people aren’t cheating, but for now, all it takes is each of us remaining honest and keeping together.

What do you think?

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