by Janis Patterson
Not long ago on one of my writers’ loops there was a discussion on how you couldn’t sell without reviews. Then some of the writers talked about how they only – only! – had six or seven hundred good reviews. Only six or seven hundred reviews? A goodly number of the writers I know would commit murder to have that many reviews, myself included.
It’s impossible to get on one of the best sales sites – such as Bookbub – without a set number of good reviews and those sites drive a lot of sales. Perhaps that is a good idea, as some of the books out there are pure rubbish, but in another way it is unfair to books which are good but have no reviews.
So how does one get reviews? If you want heavyweights, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus do reviews, but they are hard to get even if you’re with a legacy publisher and pretty much impossible if you’re an indie. Not too long ago Kirkus started offering a paid review with a very hefty pricetag and – if I remember correctly - no guarantee of whether it would be bad or good. There’s Netgalley review service, but it’s very expensive. There are those who sell lists of blogger reviewers, but there’s no guarantee that the book you send them will get reviewed at all, or even that the bloggers are still in existence.
There’s another risk in seeking reviewers, too. While there are very many good and honest people who review books – even if not all the books they receive – there is an unpleasant sub-species who get the books for free then either sell them on eBay or post them as free at pirate sites all over the internet, all probably without ever reviewing them.
I ask again – how does one get reviews? There are lots of writers who have tremendous fan followings, fans who wait with anticipation for each new book and who lavish rave reviews on every one. That’s an enviable situation where we would all like to be, but how do you get those legions of fans in the first place? Without reviews your book sinks like a stone to the bottom of the byzantine Amazon algorhythms.
And speaking of Amazon… it would seem logical that the first place a writer should look for reviews is to family, friends, other writers and paid reviewers. Except that Amazon does not like and will pull reviews if they know they are written by family, friends, other writers and paid reviewers. I don’t know how Amazon justifies accepting paid reviews from Kirkus and other top-level sources, but the ways of Amazon have always been strange and inexplicable. Just recently there’s a rumor going around that if you use a certain kind of Amazon link (a ‘super’ link, whatever that is) in your social media publicity, Amazon automatically assumes that whoever buys from that link is a friend of yours and if they do a review, it will be pulled down. I don’t know if it’s true or not, and I really don’t know why Amazon makes it so hard for authors to get and keep reviews. Yes, I know all about the sock puppet meme, and that was inexcusable, but why punish all authors for the arrogant sins of a few? Sometimes it seems that Amazon is dead set against ordinary, non-best-selling writers earning money, but then I’ve always believed that Amazon is not our friend.
So what does that leave? Nothing that’s in the writer’s control. All that can be done is for the writer to ask readers to leave a review. Most writers do in the back of their books. Most readers don’t.
But it would be lovely if they did.
By the way, if you’re in the Bonham, Texas area on this coming Saturday, 6 February, thirteen wonderful romance authors and I will be featured at the Eighth Biennial “Romance in Bonham” panel discussion/reader event. It will be held from 11am to 1 pm at the Bonham Public Library, 305 E. 5th Street. Please come by if you can – it’s free, of course.