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  • Writer's pictureGeoff H.

The Review Paradox

Recently a good author friend and I were chatting over pizza and beers. Like my blog posts our conversations tend to meander and head on tangents. We just talk and let the conversation flow. On this occasion our talk turned to book reviews – and our collective lack of them.

First, some background. I have co-written (along with Coy) two novels with two more coming out this year. We have received positive reviews from such illustrious places like Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and notable bloggers. We have received mostly positive reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Our sales have been good. Not great, but not piss poor either, and on sales (especially free promotions) I know that our titles have been downloaded thousands of times. Yet despite all of this we have very few reviews on Amazon. (As of this writing 12 for Unremarkable and 11 for Wrath of the Fury Blade.)

My friend Eric is a lot more prolific than I am. He has the luxury of being able to write full time. He has nine books released with several more coming out this year. One book (the first one in his first duology) has 46 reviews. But book two in that series only has 11 reviews. The books in his next series (a cool sci-fi trilogy) have 19, 5, and 4 reviews respectively for each book in the trilogy. His next series (currently five books with number six coming soon) have 3, 1, 1, and zero reviews (#5 was JUST released).

I have another friend (yes, I do have more than one friend, thank you very much) Zachry, who is also an author. He has two main series of books plus some short stories all available on Amazon. Series one has three books in it, plus three short stories and has 67 reviews for book one, but then the reviews drop off rapidly to 9 and 9 respectively for books 2 and 3, then 4, 4, and 2 reviews for the shorts. His other series (two books currently, book 3 coming out this year) has 42 reviews for book 1 and just 12 for book 2.

Now, I know that both of my friends have spent a lot of time promoting their titles. Eric runs Amazon ads and has his own newsletter and does newsletter builders. Zachry does book sales and combines those with ads and newsletter promotions. So, I know that they both have sold hundreds, if not thousands, of their books. Yet despite really good sales (heck, even great sales in terms of downloads of ebooks) our review numbers seem to be pathetic, anemic even.

Why is that?

How can a title with large sales figures have so few reviews, while another title by other authors (not counting books by “big time” authors published by large publishers – those numbers are skewed) can have hundreds of reviews?

Is it a time issue? Maybe people have bought the book but haven’t read it yet? Their TBR pile is so huge that they’ll be lucky to finish reading it by the time hell freezes over. I know that my own TBR pile is starting to rival Mt. Everest in scale.

Is it a time management issue? Are our lives so busy that we can’t take a couple of minutes to leave a review? I always leave a review for books I do read, but sometimes it can take me a few days to find the time to log onto Goodreads and Amazon to leave a review. (I also post my reviews on Bookbub when I can and on LibraryThing.)

Is there another reason? Do readers not know what they should say? Do they think a review isn’t needed? Do they personally not look at reviews, so they don’t think a review is needed? (And for the record you can keep your review as simple as you want – “I loved/liked it” is acceptable. Reviews are always needed, especially for small/indie/self-pubbed authors. And for the last one…I got nothing there.)

Reviews are very important for an author. Especially for indie, self-published authors and especially on Amazon. Amazon is the 8,000 lb monster gorilla in the publishing world. Reviews on their site go into their black box algorithms that Amazon uses to determine a book’s ranking, where it appears in searches, cross-promotions (if you like this, then try that), the winner of the next Eurovision contest, the presidential election, and whether it will rain on your birthday. (Okay – those last few probably aren’t determined by a book’s ranking on Amazon, but you never know. Heck, I don’t think even their programmers know. “Hey, Alexa! What cryptic algorithms do you use for ranking books by unknown authors?” Well, maybe I don’t want to know the answer to that.)

I don’t have an answer to the Review Paradox. I wish I did – I could write a book and make hundreds. Short of holding a gun to people’s heads there is not a way to force people to leave a review. (NOTE – do not EVER hold a gun to someone’s head. That’s dangerous and just makes you an asshole.) But…if YOU want to help fix the Review Paradox there are some things you can do.

1. If you read a book – leave a review. It’s very easy, takes less than five minutes (depending on your internet connection and how well you remember your passwords) and can be very simple. Here are some examples, so feel free to cut and paste for reviews you leave: “I loved this book!” “Worth reading.” “I couldn’t put it down.” “So good that I am now going to stalk the author until they write another book in this series!”

2. Share your reviews and tell others you reviewed a book. Even if you are not writing the next New York Times book critics review, or a Kirkus masterpiece, sharing your opinion helps spread the word about a book. Plus, guilt can help get others to leave reviews.

3. If you are a reader, you probably know other readers. Encourage them to leave reviews. If peer pressure can get your friends to agree to try that new Greek/Indian/Sushi Fusion restaurant you want to eat at, then it can work on leaving a book review. Besides, you are a cool person, and people like to do things that cool people do, so if you leave a review they’ll want to mimic you and leave reviews too.

4. What are your suggestions. Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

The Review Paradox may never go away. But with some simple steps maybe we can at least all get to double digits for the number of reviews on our titles.

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