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How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon


nonsuch
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Theo Rogers, How to get Good Reviews on Amazon

 

For independent publishers or sellers of any kind this book is invaluable.  Rogers goes behind the Amazon reviewing scheme and tells what most reviewers had never known, and many had never even thought about.  He reveals that there is a sub-culture in which top reviewers meet and dictate a policy that aims to provide an efficient reviewing service for the public and, naturally, to promote Amazon sales.

 

Whenever you put a review on Amazon your performance is recorded and monitored.  Since book reviews are the most numerous, and what concerns his audience of readers, Rogers’s emphasis is on book rather than other product reviewing.  He begins by asking the most pertinent question: what motivates readers (or should we say ‘customers’?) to put a review on Amazon?  He gives four possible answers, most important being the desire to inform a potential buyer of the content and quality of the book under consideration.  Secondly, the reviewer may feel impelled to recommend a book that he or she has enjoyed.  Third, the reviewer simply enjoys writing.  Finally, the reviewer is seeking to promote a friend’s book, or even, by stealth, his or her own book.  Actually there’s also another reason – bloody-mindedness: a need to be sarcastic, vindictive, controversial and attention-seeking.

 

As all Amazon reviewers are aware the company employs a ranking system.  A reviewer will be told if he or she is in the top half-million or has now climbed, as I have, to the dizzy height of 25,000.  What the reviewer will not know of course is how this figure is calculated.  I had assumed naively that ranking depended on the number, and just possibly, the quality of the book reviews.  But no, not at all!  (In any case, how could a team of Little Caesars in the control centre possibly evaluate the quality of the barks in the rivers of reviews that daily pour into the unfathomed ocean?)  Obviously number and quality of review must count for something, but there’s also a cunning device of counting the number of favourable and unfavourable reviews.  Something known as ‘negs’ will weigh heavily against a reviewer who frequently offers negative reviews.  Moreover, there is also a calculation of the number of ‘helpful’ comments made by potential customers who peruse the reviews before deciding to make a purchase.  Every ‘helpful’ comment made is a leg-up in the race to the top.  Nothing wrong with any of this of course, but reviewers seeking to climb the ladder towards that Vine Reviewing accolade need to be aware of it.

 

Rogers goes on to recommend other ways of getting serious reviews, ways other than doing a good reviewing job yourself.  This is something I’d never even thought of: namely, having the courage to approach top reviewers yourself.  After all, you’re a legitimate seller in the market-place; it’s no place for the timid and self-effacing.  The chosen reviewer can only (which is not unlikely) ignore your request.  Advice on selecting the best reviewer for your kind of book follows, including how to reach and approach the chosen one.  All very interesting and informative for the indie writer – and seller! 

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What about Writers' Corner?

 

It could go there, yes.  My reservation is that books there are posted by the authors themselves, or people publicising the book on their behalf.  Obviously this is different, being a review of a book by a reader - Writers' Corner isn't really a place where we do reviews, though obviously this is a book aimed at writers.

 

You decide, nonsuch.  Here or Writers' Corner and we'll move it again if the latter.

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An interesting piece, nonsuch.  Not entirely surprising, Amazon are after all trying to shift books.  I knew that the 'helpful' ticks added to one's score, so they must advertise that somewhere, but I hadn't realised that a preponderance of negative reviews counted the other way.

 

When I buy from Amazon I do tend to look at the customer reviews, look at the general distribution and then read a couple of five star reviews and then some one star reviews if there are any.  If a reviewer is a 'Vine' reviewer, this actively puts me off as I feel that they are in it for the freebies and are therefore not independent.  If it's a book with only a few reviews, I will click through to see if the reviewer has reviewed much else and if not, I do tend to suspect that s/he is a family friend...  Generally though, I do appreciate the reviews, although I can appreciate the writer's frustration in the way these things can and are manipulated.

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I am a member of Vine and have a relatively high Amazon ranking. However, the ranking seems to be of no great importance. Sure, you get a pretty badge that declares you to be a Top XX reviewer but this is quite ephemeral – rankings go down as well as up – and is ultimately of no value.

 

I write reviews because I like writing, like sharing my thoughts, and like getting feedback from others. Many of my reviews are positive, but I am not shy of writing critical reviews. They may cost Amazon a sale in the short term but if people end up being steered away from what they won’t like and towards things they will, Amazon will reap the rewards in the longer term. I don’t believe star ratings affect ranking but if they do, so what? I thought the current rules rewarded helpful feedback – specifically the helpful percentage with a premium going to reviews with 100% helpful votes, and recency of reviews/helpful votes.

 

I had heard that the most important factor in being invited to join Vine was to have spent a lot of money with Amazon. You do need to have written a few reviews and got a few helpful votes, but some invitees have very low rankings indeed. The benefits of membership are mixed. You do get access to some books pre-publication but you do have to read them and write a review within a month. There are also lots of really bad books on offer from self publishers and micro presses that will make you lose the will to live. If you like having someone else dictate what you read, and are willing to take the rough with the smooth, then it can be good fun. But they only post books to the UK so I can no longer get the stuff delivered. Vine does also have some non-book stuff but there are only so many electric toothbrushes that a man needs.

 

I think it is a bad idea for writers to get friends and family (or themselves) to post positive reviews of their works as such reviews are easy to spot and can seriously embarrass a writer when they are exposed. By all means ask paying readers to write reviews, but be prepared to get bad ones as well as good ones. And I wouldn’t bother approaching top reviewers directly as it smacks of desperation.

 

Just my thoughts…

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An interesting piece, nonsuch.  Not entirely surprising, Amazon are after all trying to shift books.  I knew that the 'helpful' ticks added to one's score, so they must advertise that somewhere, but I hadn't realised that a preponderance of negative reviews counted the other way.

 

When I buy from Amazon I do tend to look at the customer reviews, look at the general distribution and then read a couple of five star reviews and then some one star reviews if there are any.  If a reviewer is a 'Vine' reviewer, this actively puts me off as I feel that they are in it for the freebies and are therefore not independent.  If it's a book with only a few reviews, I will click through to see if the reviewer has reviewed much else and if not, I do tend to suspect that s/he is a family friend...  Generally though, I do appreciate the reviews, although I can appreciate the writer's frustration in the way these things can and are manipulated.

 

I think the Vine reviewers are basically good readers as well as bookaholics. One Vine Reviewer on an Amazon discussion group has found that one of his negative reviews wiped out five positives, which practice is both mathematical and moral nonsense.

 

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Doesn't help. Some people enjoy writing bad reviews just for the sake of it. On one author's blog I read that he got a very bad Amazon review because Clearspace had sent to the reader a copy that was incorrectly bound - "Why hasn't the author seen that bullshit?"

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On one author's blog I read that he got a very bad Amazon review because Clearspace had sent to the reader a copy that was incorrectly bound - "Why hasn't the author seen that bullshit?"

 

This clearly illustrates that you have to read the reviews, not just look to see whether they are positive or negative. Some of the one star reviews are the funniest because they indicate a consumer who has totally missed the point. I once heard Mark Haddon at the Edbookfest reading out some of his favourite one star reviews for Cutrious Incident.

 

More generally, you have to see whether negative reviews give clear reasons for the rating and then decide whether the problems identified in the review are the kind of problems that would cause you a problem. For example, some customers will give a negative review for a book with expletives, or with an unsympathetic protagonist, or with controversial subject matter. I can ignore those reviews because those are not issues that fuss me. On the other hand, I would take a lot of notice of reviews that say a work is over-long, lacks characterisation, is not credible or is difficult to follow. These are things that matter to me and it is less likely that I would enjoy a book that has these issues.

 

Some positive reviews also set alarm bells ringing - especially when they focus on the writer and not the book.

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The trouble is, though, that Amazon's rating system does not take the reasons into account for why the book got one star. At once it drops down in the rating list, and once its rating has dropped, so do its sales. Some people take that very serious. Last year, German online media discussed an author who had responded rather rudely to a review he considered rude and unjustified, complaining about the economic damage this review was causing to him - the result was a shitstorm of one star ratings by people who had not even read the book, and gone he was. End of career. (Not that it had been too promising in the first place. But the more concerned he was about that review which really was a bit over the top.)

Edited by Romanike
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 I love the one star reviews that say something like "I ordered this item on Monday as a gift for my Mother's birthday on Friday but the postal service left it with a neighbour who went away for the week so I couldn't get hold of it, rant rant!" 

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