Episode 93: Reviews, Stars, & Thumbs Up

On May 2, 2020, Kasie and Rex took on the Amazon reviews debate. Here are the show notes: 

Theme for the day

Reviews, Stars, and Thumbs-Ups 


  • The value of a review
  • The abuse of the review system
  • Stop propping up bad books
person holding white and brown newspaper
Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

I left my first 1 star review this week. I’m not proud. I did it because the book was just ridiculous. Not even sure it was long enough to be considered an entire book. I finished it before Alexa and I went walking in the morning and as I told her how pissed I was about it, she said I owed it to all the other readers out there to leave the honest review.

Let’s break this down:

  • The book was part of a multi-author promotion in which six books went “on sale” on Amazon for free.
  • The author who promoted the set is one to whose list I am subscribed
  • So I like her and her work is pretty good and she earned my email followership
  • This book was terrible.

I know the romance writers frequently promote one another’s work by sending their own list subscribers teasers, pictures, promotions, and other courtesy shout-outs. And I know these promotions are not always good books. But this one was awful.

What made it so awful:

  • Cliched trailer park child abuse beginning
  • Young woman “adopted” by neighborhood boys who have grown up to be rock stars
  • She’s “ill” from the beginning and we’re led to believe she’s never had a sexual encounter with anyone so despite the illness resembling pregnancy, it couldn’t possibly be …
  • Oh, wait, yes it is, it’s a pregnancy. But how?
  • One of the “boys” in the band, of course.
  • Should I stop there? Because it just gets worse.

There is no plot, it’s just the melodrama of being a baby mama, there are groupies (of course) and she gets jealous and he tells her he was using the groupies to make her jealous to see how she really felt about him. What the actual? Yeah, so anyway, I left the bad review. Cuz Come.On.

So this book has 544 reviews, averaging 4 ½ stars, and the review above mine said, “where are all the 5 star reviews coming from?” and that’s what I want to answer today.

The Importance of Amazon Reviews:

  • Amazon is a search engine and one of the criteria it uses to filter items is the reviews.
  • Amazon values volume over quality — the more reviews the better
  • Independent authors/publishers need 35 reviews to remain in “good standing” with Amazon

But you can follow this list of steps and “game” the system, too:

  • Contact “top reviewers” on Amazon and ask them to review your book
  • Include a reminder to leave a review in your book
  • Set up a launch team for your book — they should review it within 24 hours of it going on sale
  • Hire a service to get reviews — like BookRazor — except this service is no longer available because Amazon changed the information it is providing about reviewers

How do the subtle changes Amazon makes impact your book review strategy?

Consider the motivations of each actor in this equation:

  • Amazon – wants to improve search results and push quality products (those more likely to sell) to the top
  • Writer – wants to top the search results in their category and earn buys
  • Reader – wants to find quality books and purchase them, supporting the author and hopefully getting more quality books.

The common denominator is “quality books” so what’s the right mechanism for ensuring quality?

Segment 2

Back in the day, the agent-and-then-the-publisher, the barriers to entry, were the assurance. Someone thought highly enough of the raw material to edit, format, and publish the book. Then they went out and promoted it, sold it! Because the book was a product and the publisher wanted to make money.

Now we have a lot of publishers — called independent “indie” or small press — and many of them do not invest in promoting the book. I know, it’s weird, what company doesn’t invest in marketing its own product?

We also have independently published authors who may not have the funds to promote. Or, even more likely, just don’t know all the ways they can promote the book. These authorpreneurs are perfect victims, I mean customers, for services that will promote the book on your behalf. And even some small press operations pay for these promotions, too. Paid-for services like Kirkus Reviews and Amazon affiliates who generate an audience through subscribers to their site or email list. That audience is valuable to people promoting their product (book) and the review sites / promotion sites sell access to the audience.

Segment 3

Have you paid for one of these services?

I was in two last week:

ManyBooks.net which advertises on Instagram and on video games like Scrabble, had me on for a “spotlight.” It was relatively inexpensive but I haven’t seen any numbers of site visits or click throughs so I don’t know if it was worth the ROI. They did not offer a review of the book. But did give me a dedicated page.

The other was an Amazon affiliate “New in Books” that my publisher paid for. It’s here. Both formats were author interview but they emailed me the questions and I answered, it wasn’t a live interview. Which is fine. Not sure what the clicks were on those either.

Readers, You can’t depend on Amazon Reviews to lead you to a good book:

  • This resource points out that book sellers (publishers) game the system by lining up reviews
  • You can buy “fake” reviews — this resource says one author paid $6,000 for 300 reviews, that’s $20 each
  • Reviewing books used to be a skill, now anyone can do it. And they do.

The reviews aren’t what leads people to buy the book. But they may be what convinces them to. Consider reviews a kind of third-party validation. Sure, your marketing efforts says the book is good, but what about people who’ve actually read it?

Why haven’t I left bad reviews in the past?

Segment 4

What you can do to sell your book that’s not a stack of bullshit reviews (this link):

  • Be creative in your marketing efforts
  • Write a good book
  • Write a book that’s compelling and makes readers want to leave reviews
  • Put time and effort into the book description and the pricing strategy
  • Leave the book off Amazon all together and promote alternative selling platforms

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