Demystifying Amazon Reviews

It’s a Sunday afternoon. You’re supposed to be revising the last draft of your book, but procrastination has reared its ugly head. You decide that it’s really important that you vacuum your entire home right this minute. You pull out the vacuum, plug it in, flip the switch … and nothing happens. After a few minutes of troubleshooting, you make peace with the fact that your appliance has gone to Vacuum Cleaner Heaven. You open your laptop to research which vacuum you should buy next. How do you choose?

Chances are, you read a combination of professional editorial reviews—published by magazines and websites that test appliances—and customer reviews, which give you a glimpse into other buyers’ experiences. Readers do the same thing when shopping for a new book. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s easy to read the opinions of hundreds of people before you ever click a Buy button or head to the store. Thus, one of the most powerful tools for engaging readers’ attention and encouraging book sales is book reviews.

What many authors don’t realize is that there are two distinct kinds of reviews: editorial reviews and customer reviews. And while neither type of review immediately translates into bestselling sales, both can serve as a powerful motivation for potential readers, through the use of a star-rating system or the praise itself. After all, whether you’re shopping for a vacuum cleaner or a psychological thriller, when you see a list of 4- and 5-star ratings and dozens of people offering superlative comments, you feel much more confident about taking a chance on this new thing.

Because Amazon has long been considered the biggest bookstore on the planet, we’ll focus on using reviews on their site in this article.

Editorial Reviews: What Are They and Where Can I Use Them?

Editorial reviews are an excellent marketing tool because the brand names attached to these reviews carry weight with readers. While it’s encouraging to see that John Smith and Jane Doe thought a psychological thriller was heart-stopping, praise from discerning outlets like the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, or our own Kirkus Reviews signals to readers that this thriller is so good, it’s worthy of media coverage. Newspapers, trade and consumer magazines, respected book blogs, literary journals—all these can be valuable sources of reviews. It does take careful planning on an author’s part or the part of their publisher to submit a book for these types of reviews, though, so check out our more in-depth guide, “Do These 3 Things before Submitting Your Book for Review.”

Independent authors face serious challenges when trying to get their book professionally reviewed; first and foremost, an indie book is in competition with the legion of books released by the Big Five and other established traditional publishing houses. Rather than take their changes in the slush pile, many authors opt to pay for an editorial review through a service such as Kirkus Indie, which can then be used for marketing and publicity, including on a book’s Amazon Product Detail page.

On a book's Detail page, editorial reviews typically appear just below the first section labeled "Sponsored products related to this item" and just above the box containing the publication product details (like the page count, release date, and ISBN). Editorial reviews are completely separate from customer reviews. For detailed information about how to add editorial reviews to your Product Detail Page on Amazon, refer to this helpful page on Author Central. And for more on the other ways in which you can use positive editorial reviews, check out our article “The Art of the Blurb.”

Customer Reviews: Why They’re Particularly Important on Amazon and How to Get Them

Not only do reader reviews increase the reputation of your writing and serve as a beacon to readers, a consistent stream of fresh reviews can also potentially increase your rankings on Amazon, ensuring that browsing customers are more likely to see your book.

Amazon’s algorithm is essentially designed to take into account the number of downloads compared to the number of reviews on the book’s page. More reviews mean more people will see your book … and then theoretically buy and review your book in turn. In short, momentum is your friend. And in order to really make Amazon’s algorithm work for you, you need to make your book appear as though it’s gaining traction.

Site visibility isn’t the only benefit to having good reader reviews. For one, it gives authors some unbiased insight about their book, their writing, and even their marketing efforts (such as the cover and the descriptive copy). An unsatisfied reader can easily identify major plot holes, sloppy writing habits, or structural issues. Granted, this isn’t always the feedback authors like to hear, but it can serve to make your writing better.

The nice thing about readers is that they universally love books. And they like to talk about books almost as much as they love to read them. Many readers also understand that reviews help their beloved authors and other readers, so you already have a pretty receptive audience. What it comes down to is getting them to read—and review—your book. So how do you do that?

1. Send out advance reader copies (ARCs).

Usually in PDF or MOBI format, ARCs are a great way to reach out to readers before your book is released. Just remember that these reviewers usually must state that the book was free in the review.

2. Create a book launch team.

Some authors have found success creating a book launch team. Whether they're connected to you through your current mailing list or they're social media followers, these are readers who review your book shortly after the book page is made live. (These teams cannot be paid.)

3. Create and maintain relationships with your readers.

Through Twitter, Facebook, Wattpad, or any other social platform, finding your “people” and creating relationships with them is by far your best means of garnering reader reviews. Creating your readership involves hard work, emotional investment, and time. Once you have your community, don’t be afraid to ask them for reviews.

4. Send potential readers to Amazon to buy your book, so they become “verified” purchasers.

“Verified Purchase” tags are given to those customer reviews that Amazon can link to an actual sale on the site. Your best means of generating this type of review is by directly asking people to buy your book and review it, using your social media, advertising campaigns, and even your book description or author bio in the book itself. Essentially, whenever you talk about your book online, include a link to its Amazon Product Detail page.

5. Try enlisting a review service.

“You aren’t purchasing reviews via these services,” writes Nicholas Serik in Mini Guide: How to Get Legitimate Amazon Reviews for Your Books. “Instead, these sites play matchmaker between authors and prospective reviewers—matching your book with interested, unbiased reviewers who request a review copy of your title based on its cover, blurb, and genre. These reviewers are not compensated, beyond the free copy of the book. If a site claims to compensate reviewers—either via monetary payment, contest entries, or other incentives—run the other way immediately.”

6. Follow the Amazon Community guidelines for reviews.

Amazon offers reviewer guidelines to ensure that authors and readers aren’t doing anything unethical to earn their reviews. There are a number of restrictions on things like incentives, discounts, nepotism, trashing other writers, review swaps, and even more recently, purchase requirements.

It's never a good idea to try to "game the system" at Amazon—it can have disastrous consequences for your books and your author brand—and many authors assert that all the fretting about the Amazon algorithm is useless anyway. At the end of the day, leveraging the power of reviews isn't about tricking some computer program and potential readers into making your book look like a bestseller—it's about helping interested readers find your work and growing your audience. If you keep your focus on that, you can't go wrong.

 

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