A Funny Thing Happened On My Way to an Amazon Review...

...that I want to talk about here because it may prove helpful.

I sent book review queries to some of Amazon's top reviewers earlier this week, because I read somewhere that reviews from Top Reviewers are weighted more heavily in Amazon's product ranking algorithms than reviews from Normal Folks.

[Upon reflection I begin to suspect that this ranking weight thing is an urban legend. Amazon determines its top reviewers based mostly on the number of upvotes that their reviews receive, but people upvote reviews for lots of reasons - like when the review was funny. Review trolling by 4chan and others - Three Wolf Moon t-shirt and 5-lb bag of sugar-free gummy bears are hilarious well-known examples - would totally break the ranking system. But I digress.]

Anyway. One fellow wrote me back to say my book wasn't for him, and he was too busy with other projects anyway.

Well and good! We all suffer from busyness, we all have TBR lists longer than the tax code, and we all have our own projects that we need to prioritize. That's just reality, and any review requester who's been doing this for any length of time at all has learned (we hope!) to accept rejections gracefully and move on.

This guy didn't stop with a simple "Thanks, I'm busy," however. He dismissed my writing ability out of hand - writing he hadn't read - by stating that it surely wouldn't measure up to that of a handful of other authors (whom he claimed are friends of his, and might be for all I know!) and so he wouldn't be interested.

He also mentioned a few of the other projects he was busy with. They sounded pretty interesting, I must say!

He then sent me a follow-up email a few minutes later to express his concern that my book, based on the description I'd sent him, sounded like I was imitating a couple of other books, which he named.

Now, whenever a reviewer actually contacts me to say they won't be reading my book, I always write them back to thank them for saying so. I know many reviewers are far too over-submitted to even respond to review requests for books they're not interested in or able to review, so I make sure to show some appreciation for those who take a few moments to actually email me a rejection. When you're wading through hundreds of emails a week, those quick responses add up!

So I sent him a thank-you, and also made some small talk about the projects he'd mentioned. I looked up the authors he'd name-dropped, and suggested I might need to re-write my blurb to differentiate it a bit more from those other books (they didn't actually appear to be much like mine at all).

A brief email exchange ensued. It rapidly became clear that while I thought we were having a conversation about books, the development of our favorite genre, derivations, writing, and reviewing, he viewed the email as another venue for delivering his opinion and was not at all interested in mine. In fact he wanted to deliver the final word on the topic - whatever the topic was - and for me to read it and go away. What started chatty ended up pretty unpleasant.

So why am I telling you all this?

Because the relationship between book bloggers and DSP authors, generally speaking, is a little strained. Writers need reviews. Reviewers already have too much to read, and more is coming in all the time. Unprofessionalism, unfortunately, abounds - whether it be in the quality of the product, the manner of an author's review request or response, or apparently, at times, in the discourtesy of a reviewer's email.

And our best learning opportunities come from negative experiences.

When things go smoothly, for all we know, we've done everything right. It might not be true, but we can't say one way or another. But when things go sour, we can figure out where to improve.

Here's what I learned from this week's rocky exchange. One: I'm going to take a hard look at my blurb and try re-writing it so other potential reviewers don't get the wrong ideas about my books. Two: I suppose I'll have to be more careful about striking up conversations. It's always nice to make new acquaintances, but I'd rather be just another polite, faceless indie author than an annoyance.

What about you? Any tips or suggestions for me, or for other authors/reviewers in general?

Better yet, share your stories of outrageous authors and reticent reviewers! Surely we've all had interactions that we can glean important lessons from. (But please leave names out and keep identifying details vague! We don't want make trouble.)

The world of indie books belongs to us. Sure, there are a few companies running the distribution mechanisms, but the actual culture of it, the connections between writers and bloggers and readers and everything that makes indie publishing successful, is ours. We create it through our interactions.

If we don't work on making it a good place to do what we love, who will?

(Oh, by the way! I'm on twitter now - @mr_wootton. I follow back =)

Tags: amazon, etiquette, interaction, manners, professionalism, protocol, reviewer, self-publish, top

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Replies to This Discussion

You have some very good points. The key is to always be professional. If 'you' (general you) aren't, not only do you dismiss yourself as a respectable author, but if you are an Indie author, you bring shame on the rest of us.

Why is it so hard to get reviews? It seems that if people really like the book or really hate it, they will post a review. I find the 'hateful' reviews amusing. Sometimes they whine about the cost. Didn't they look at that before they purchased the book? Or the page number? What that has to do with the quality of the book, I will never understand. (Especially since books like 50 shades is expensive and from about half of the reviews I've seen, poorly written.) I haven't read it myself, so I won't author bash. Yet no one complains about the cost of that book. They really do focus on the content.

I decided that I would review books to help out other Indie authors. I usually review books out of my genre so that no one can say I gave author X a good review so they would return the favor. And if I review a book for a fellow Indie author, I don't ask for them to reciprocate for that very same reason. I also don't post a review if it's less than 3. I think its interesting when reviewers leave a negative review and they imply they could do a better job writing. If so, then by all means, try it! It's a LOT harder than it looks. Some people just don't understand a book and therefore think it deserves a poor rating. Personally, if the cover grabs my attention and the summary looks interesting, I read the book. I don't bother reading the negative reviews because some people really are clueless!

Indie authors more of a struggle than traditionally published authors: we have to find proofreaders, editors, beta readers and cover art without spending a fortune. I think we need to help each other as much as we can, offering to proofread or edit whenever possible. If we work together, we can help each other succeed.

I think we all have the same concerns, to get our books out there, give them away if necessary, but get reviewed. I can't understand the reluctance the average reader has to reviewing something he got free. I gave away a lot of books when I tapped the wrong button on Amazon's promotions, but then after thinking about it, I let it stay that way, imagining I would get some reviews from them. Now, three weeks later, guess what, no reviews.

   I am a fast reader, so I expect others to speed through my book and run to the site to review it. Ingenue Indie that I am, I was a silly willy (my grandkid's name for anyone who expects people to respond with some gratitude) and I felt really badly. You have made me understand that the no-review ingratitude is affecting all the people of the world. I don't feel better because of it, but I don't feel alone any more.  thanks

Just a few things to keep in mind.  Most blog reviewers are volunteers.  This is not their job. The few paid reviewers at prestigious publications are overbooked and usually don't read anything indie published or from a small press.  My solution.  Write the best possible book and promote it on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Manic Readers.  Join all these platforms well before you publish a book, so you can small talk with people, share and like and learn to be a good Twitter or Facebook neighbor. Run a contest for a free book or books on Goodreads. Read what the reviewers at Manic Readers like and choose only the reviewers that read your  category of book and send them free ebooks, Then forget about reviewers. Do some promoting each week but mostly write the next book.  

This past summer one of my books was on the Top 100 Best-Selling Books in Vampire Romance on Amazon Kindle for 3 months.  It was all because of the reviews it got from readers on Amazon.  I did not get a single review outside of Amazon Kindle.  That book was published with a small publisher but I am responsible for my own promoting, which is common with the small publishers.

A friend was highly successful with running a contest on Goodreads and getting reviews. She gave away 3 free books.  The competition for them was fierce and she got a lot of reviews.  

Hope this helps.

Susan 

Susan Hanniford Crowley

Thank you, Susan!  I'd never heard of Manic Readers before.  I'll try them out.

Julie Romero

I hadn't either! Great tip, thanks.

Hmm, a very interesting post.

I had to click this based on the title of your post- Great title.  How interesting that you thought you were chatting only to discover you were being talked down too- wow! In the end I guess the good that came out of it was that you learned something about your blurb.

Good job in your promoting though- I never would have thought of that!

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