As an author, you’ve probably done it before: release a new book and immediately start asking readers to review it everywhere (but especially on Amazon). Or you start even earlier than that and hope that your ARC readers will take the initiative and post a glowing – hell, it doesn’t even have to be glowing, it just has to exist – review that will entice other readers to consider buying it.
But do Amazon reviews – or GoodReads, or Kobo, or iBooks reviews – actually do what they should and get people to buy? Should you be focusing on getting people to review or are there other ways to get the attention your book needs?
Let’s not take away from the fact that yes, it is pretty sweet if you can get tons of reviews for your book. For one, it looks really good that your book has inspired X number of people to write something about it. (And feels great, too, to read how your book has affected readers, let's not lie!) And if you get 50+ reviews, your book apparently gets more visibility on Amazon’s overcrowded virtual shelves with the also-bought algorithm starting to work more to your advantage - i.e. your book is seen more in the also-bought section on the Amazon pages of books that someone buys along with yours. Sound like great reasons to try to get as many reviews as possible, right?
BUT… here’s the problem:
It looks like Amazon may be phasing out also-boughts in favour of sponsored products – pay-to-play, basically, instead of that organic growth that you get from 50+ reviews. Which is pretty frustrating for authors who have been cultivating those reviews to hit that magic number.
Other retailers (Kobo, etc.) seem to be a bit better about their also-boughts, but the majority of sales are happening on Amazon and that’s where the biggest chunk of the market is. How many sales are you getting on other retailers and is it worth trying to get reviews over there?
The also-bought issue aside, I personally think the power of the Amazon review is dwindling anyway, to be honest. If they go away entirely, there needs to be a way for people to find your book and get on its Amazon page, so how they get there is important.
So how are you going to get them there?
Reviews should still be part of your strategy, especially if you’re early in your career – they give the book legitimacy (like, yes, people read this book and had strong enough feelings about it to go and leave a comment for it) and you get a sense about what readers like and don’t like about your work.
That said, the reason why I don’t think reviews should be the cornerstone of your strategy is that Amazon reviewers (reviewers anywhere) are essentially anonymous – i.e. I don’t know them or what they like. I am much more likely to pick up a book if I see a ton of people on my Twitter feed all raving about it, or if a friend says “here, you need to read this; you’ll love it.” I put more stock in people I know and trust liking a book to determine if I will read it. Virtually all of the books I read are ones that have a ton of buzz in my social media circle or that friends tell me about.
What you want to cultivate is the organic reach for your book.
Reviews come into in helping generate buzz, but more than anything, you want people talking about it and talking it UP all over social media. So you need to start growing your community and readership early to get that buzz going.
Obviously, this isn’t something that happens immediately. (Overnight sensations happen over years.) While reviews are awesome – especially if they’re good ones! Is there anything else better in the world than hearing why someone loved what you wrote? – your focus should be on growing your base, rather than getting reviews.