Poppy is the author of A Bard's Lament and the Black Diamond series. She lives in Enoshima with her husband and young son.
Reviews are a great way to publicly express your satisfaction with a product. Before buying something, it’s easy to check if others were happy with it and check the quality and durability of it before you click the “purchase” button.
However, reviews are not only for items to check if they fit, if they work, or if they last. We can see what people have to say about video games, movies, and even books.
Indie publishing has exploded in the past few years. Due to how easy it is to get online and publish practically anything on CreateSpace or Kindle Direct, we’ve seen hopeful writers from all over the world release their work for everyone and anyone to buy and read.
This is really exciting, but it’s made the market insanely hard to break into. Many indie authors, then, look for reviews. It’s another endeavour that uses the time, resources, and money of writers who just want a shot in the market.
The Importance of Reviews
Many people regard an Amazon review as sacred. No wonder, really—people who are willing to buy, read, and honestly review a book are extremely rare. Often, writers turn to people they know to give them the first couple of reviews, hoping the number of reviews given will spur others to buy.
Netflix and even YouTube (although that was several years ago) used to have a review rating. Did the rating of a certain show or movie influence your decision to watch it or not? Both Netflix and YouTube have since scrapped the five-star rating system, partly because of the problem of trolls (such as people awarding one-star to Amy Schumer’s stand up comedy show a while back).
Only a small percentage of readers review what they’ve read, so writers turn to professional reviewers (who are swamped with requests daily), friends and family members (who are going to give a positive review either way) and review swaps (which have their own problems).
So is the Amazon review system worthless? Should they get rid of it completely? Here are ten reasons why they should.
1. Indie Authors Give Away Free Books for Reviews
In the hopes of adding one more review to their book’s page, indie authors give away free books, including ebooks and even paperbacks. Sometimes they even pay for the printing costs and postage. So they’re losing money for the slim chance that the reader will leave a review.
An indie author has already (hopefully) paid for editing and proofreading and a gorgeous cover. How is it fair that they are still paying even after their book is published? If the Amazon review system was scrapped, authors would no longer feel the need to pay out of their pocket to beg people to read their work.
2. Biased “Review Groups”
You may have seen review groups on Twitter, Facebook, and even Goodreads, offering a system where you have to “give a review to get a review”.
There is a huge amount of problems with groups like this; see the Letterpile article How Toxic Book Review Groups Can Destroy Your Writing Career.
3. The Popular and the Wealthy Get the Most Reviews
If you’re just a normal person who is trying to break into the market, you’re lucky to get a handful of reviews (not the case for everyone, I’m sure) unless you join one of the aforementioned review groups or engage in review swaps (see below).
Wealthy people can pay for reviews (now forbidden by Amazon, but people find ways around it) or people with thousands of friends on social media can exchange favors for reviews. Even in the reviews game, it’s rigged for the rich and popular.
4. Review Swaps Become a Thing
A review swap is another system indie authors turn to. They find another struggling writer, usually online, and they read and review each other’s books. This is probably the worst thing you can do if you’re looking for honest feedback.
5. Writers End Up With a Disproportionate Amount of Fake Reviews
Like it or not, if you ask friends and family, participate in review swaps and engage in review groups, you will end up with fake reviews.
As mentioned, people will be extra nice or give a higher than honest rating in the hopes they’ll get rewarded. I’ve seen many, many indie books online that I thought were mediocre that shined with four and five-star reviews. So if there are hundreds of books out there all with great reviews, how are you going to know which reviews are accurate?
This isn’t really the fault of any individuals, but when everyone tries to play the game, everyone loses.
6. Revenge Reviews
This has been a really big problem lately. People don’t like that one person who will point out issues with their book. Someone may give a two-star review listing the things that were wrong with it. Some people accept it and move on. Others don’t.
It’s not unheard of for someone to hunt down a negative reviewer and get “revenge”. They’ll find the person’s own books and rate them as one-star on Goodreads and Amazon.
I’ve seen men in their sixties doing this.
It’s petty, it’s silly, and it’s utterly pointless. Yet it’s a problem. Remember, writers, if you want to protect your books, NEVER give bad feedback to someone else because they’ll instantly get their friends to rate yours low as revenge! Crazy, right? It all becomes one big mutually biased group of inflated egos.
7. Do a lot of Reviews Increase Sales?
Back when I chased reviews, I managed to collect 23 reviews for one of my short stories. However, now that I’m not marketing it, I’ve had no sales because everyone I know has already read it. The reviews actually didn’t increase the sales, which should surely be the goal of all writers that are giving away books and requesting feedback?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I haven’t seen any correlation in reviews vs sales.
8. People With lots of Reviews Are Still Asking for Reviews
A year or so ago, I had someone approach me on Twitter for a review swap. She had around 40 reviews yet she was still seeking review swaps. When does it end? How many reviews is enough? It seems there’s no “perfect number” for reviews and that indie authors will continue the struggle forever, taking away precious time they could be using for writing or marketing.
9. All This Mess Makes Reviews Untrustworthy
If I see an indie book now with only four and five-star reviews, I’m actually put off. How many of those reviews were from the writer’s friendship circle? How many were paid for? How many were from review groups catering to the writer’s ego?
It’s not that I’m more likely to go for books with negative reviews. I tend to ignore the reviews completely and focus on the description and the cover. This is probably personal preference, but I’d be much more likely to pick up a book with an attractive cover, interesting title, and a blurb that sucks me in.
10. People Care Way Too Much
Reviews are the holy grail for indie writers. The more reviews they have, the happier they are. Reviews are even considered more important than sales.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have 100 sales and no reviews than 100 reviews and no sales.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Amazon is going to get rid of the reviewing system anytime soon. Just remember it’s about the books, not the game.
© 2017 Poppy
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on November 25, 2017:
Hi, Eric. Yeah, you never really know what you’re going to like so we shouldn’t just rely on reviews.
Eric Farmer from Rockford Illinois on November 25, 2017:
An interesting take on reviews. I tend to rely on movie and video game reviews much more than book reviews. I glance at Amazon reviews and other book reviews sometimes though.
The thing is I tend to like "mediocre" books. Or books not rated highly. If I want to read a book I am going to do so no matter what a review says. There have been cases when I loved a book and then afterward checked the reviews on Amazon. I was surprised at some of the bad reviews.
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on November 24, 2017:
Thanks, Flourish. Yes, that is a big problem with reviews. It's good you can get refunds, I should try that as well!
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 24, 2017:
You have provided enlightening information about some of the dark side of reviews—paying for them, swapping reviews and review groups. If I feel tricked by the Amazon reviews and feel terribly disappointed in a book, I return the book and get a refund. It’s worked for me several times.
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on November 24, 2017:
Thank you for commenting. Hopefully they used the editing advice you gave them and didn’t get upset or anything!
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on November 24, 2017:
This was a very interesting article here, Poppy. You've pointed out some interesting details and nailed them in the head. When I reviewed two books for my client this fall for Upwork, I couldn't give those two authors a decent review. One didn't do any editing and had rushed to send it to print (gave him a one star, though he didn't want it, so I gave him an editing advice instead, though he was a beta for another writer, who was better than him but fair.) The other one had genre confusion and a lot of grammar errors. She didn't want a two-star review so I gave her editing advice instead. Well said in this hub.
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on November 23, 2017:
Hi, mactavers! Yes, I think people often rely more on recommendations and advertising than reviews when deciding what book to buy. Thank you for commenting!
mactavers on November 23, 2017:
Thank you for your comments. I have 3 traditional published books and one indie, but my sales usually come from word of mouth or book fairs.