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Amazon Reviews--The Good, Bad and Ugly.

Posted by [email protected] on November 9, 2016 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

So, you've spent a year writing your novel, and finally it's online. It's hard enough getting people to buy the book, but getting them to review is the pits, isn't it? Most authors receive only a single review for every 100 sales (or more). In my case, I'm happy if my novel gets one review every 500 sales.

My novel has sixty-two Amazon reviews--split between .co.uk and .com, with the exact same number on each site, which is spooky--and I have sold more than 40,000 books. Bizarre. The book was launched in February 2016, in case you're wondering. I did not tell anyone about the book--friends who somehow found out were asked not to review--and I sent out no free copies to reviewers or bloggers. I was interested to allow reviews to grow organically.


With review statistics as poor as they are, we all feel upset and hurt if a review stinks when it finally comes!

Well, I'm here to reassure authors that this is not only normal and expected, but also that the occasional stinky review can assist credibility and sales. That's hard to swallow, I know, but the reality is that buyers would rather see a book with some negative reviews than one with all positives.


It's natural that when we see a row of positive reviews, our initial thought is scepticism. Many buyers assume the author was getting their buddies to sit drafting reviews, and sadly that's often the case.


Negative reviews can often be taken with 'a pinch of salt' and I admit I no longer read my own!

If you're over-sensitive, you'll need to grow a thick skin because every book receives negative--and sometimes downright nasty--reviews. If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen or stop reading reviews and crack on with writing your next book. I don't have a thick skin, so stopped reading.

That's not to say we shouldn't take seriously negative reviews making honest points about improving the book's content, presentation, spelling or grammar; in the first months post-publishing, you should read all reviews in case there's something you need to take notice of. Negative reviews making critical points should be considered, and in some cases we can revisit and amend the script.

I used negative feedback to rewrite my novel's ending! 
I did it overnight and surreptitiously--and it then went into the top 100 Paid! Thanks, readers. They'd said the ending left them wondering. Well--yes, it did, and that was my aim, but as a new writer, I didn't understand that if a novel wasn't in a series, readers preferred a strong, definite ending, no loose ends, no what-ifs.

I don't know I'd ever recommend rewriting major parts of a book--apart from enhancing your Look Inside, because that is your seller!--but it worked. I think that's because I did it as soon as I saw negative comments. If I'd responded to the reviewers or 'pulled' the sale of the book while making changes, it would only have highlighted the problem, so I redrafted the ending in the small hours. Within twenty-four hours of the negative comments, the new ending was up and there have been no adverse comments since...well, not about the ending! : ) 

So, yes, some negative reviews will help, as long as--by and large--your book is attracting a preponderance of positives.


The credibility of your reviewers is more important than the number of reviews; you don't want too many positive reviews (well, ideally none) from friends and family, and the more Verified Purchases you have, the better. 

While it's irritating some marketing sites require X number of great reviews before they'll consider giving your book a push, that shouldn't tempt you to take short-cuts to increase review numbers. If you do, you might get the marketing push you wanted but readers will see through any questionable reviews.

I often see authors saying 'how can I get people to review' or 'where can I find reviewers for my Amazon book', and the answer is, twisting people's arms doesn't bring quality reviews and they are embarrassingly discernible from organic ones.

I cringed when my friend wrote a glowing review on my first book, as not only did I not tell anyone I'd written one, but also, I didn't want reviews from people who knew me. I was fortunate it didn't do any damage and Amazon let it stand, but 'friends and family' reviews are to be avoided. They stand out a mile to seasoned readers.

If you did not know this already, Amazon can black-mark your account if you attract more than a couple of friends and family reviews. And yes, they know; they have sneaky software to search for evident links, such as Facebook and social media or IP address connections. 

If you have a friend who sometimes uses their iPad at your house, for goodness' sake don't let them write a book review for you because it may look as if you're drafting your own review when their iPad becomes identified as having a connection to your home IP address. It really can be this tricky. Amazon removes reviews written by people it suspects are connected to you and will drop them a line explaining why, i.e. that they've been found out. If someone keeps telling you they wrote a review but it never shows up, that's why.

It's true, too, that Amazon's over-zealous black-marking of connections results in legitimate reviews being removed. Let's say you have fans emailing you from your email list, and Amazon links their email address to yours, or one of these fans is on your Facebook author page. That's legit, but if a 'bot' picks up the connection, off comes the corresponding review. 

It isn't worth sweating over. The quality reviews will come, and those that remain will look all the stronger for a bit of occasional weeding. It's like a garden; the odd weed will grow, and when the gardener comes he might erroneously chop off the head of a tulip, but the end result is a nice neat-looking garden.

Nobody will miss that solitary bloom, and nobody will think you're lazy because the odd weed made it into the flower bed. So don't worry about reviews; spend your time in productivity, not in simmering resentment as you bash out yet more messages to Amazon's Customer Service.


Editorial reviews are not treated the same by Amazon as reader reviews.

Firstly, they aren't presented as reader reviews as editorial reviews--like those e-Scribes offers--are not posted to your Amazon account by the provider, so don't affect your ranking on Amazon, apart from hopefully encouraging more sales if you publish an extract of a review on your product page.

Editorial reviews are good for showing that your book has caught the eye of credible publishers, editors, bloggers, etc, and that it's held in high esteem in critical circles.

If your book attracts many editorial reviews, I'd advise against making a long list of excerpts on your book's marketing page. While buyers like to see a new book has received some acclaim, it's tedious to have to scroll down a long list of review extracts that 'big the author up' before they can see what the book's about! Pick your favourite five, pull a one-liner from each and have done with it.


Avoid giving away too many advance review copies free of charge (ARCS) in exchange for a review, because readers are beginning to dislike these reviews too, even when you've received them from strangers.

One of the reasons is the growing number of smaller publishers whose authors write glowing reviews for each other's books! I could point you to one really bad example--I just know that whenever a certain publishing house launches a new book, it will reach the launch date with at least a dozen five-star reviews already in place--plus editorial reviews from the same people, all written up large and bold--from all the other authors on its author list, making me want to cry boo, fraud!

Plus, it gives me the feeling I don't want to accept a deal with that publisher (they have offered one) even if all their books stay in the top 100 for a very long time. I find it slimy practice and readers are wise to this now. If I were you, I'd let the reviews grow organically and concentrate on honest sales.


Organically-accruing reviews that polarise--with many five-star, more than a few one- or two-star--are not a bad thing. Don't let the baddies get to you.


Well, because it is a sign your book evokes a love it or hate it response. Some of the best-selling books of all time did exactly the same. I always was of the view that I'd be happier to see polarisation of reviews and opinions than a flatline response. All good, or all bad, is boring. It means people just don't disagree enough, so they also don't feel it. If you want to see polarising reviews that propelled a book's sales, check out A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, as one example.

Polarising reviews are excellent for generating buzz and sales. Human beings are emotion-led; it's a great achievement to have written a book evoking a strong response in both directions, and one-star reviews within a polarity scenario does not indicate you wrote a flop.

Polarity means you got readers thinking and feeling. If someone is sad, angry, uplifted or unsure, these are all emotional responses. You made them feel. Many readers buy on the strength of polarity, or feel so intrigued by the content of negative reviews, they just have to see for themselves.


Remember what I said about avoiding reviews from friends and family?

Well, even worse is the risk of attracting reviews from colleagues or lovers, ha. I made the mistake of giving a hard copy of each of my books to a would-be date. The problem was, I decided he wasn't for me. Yep, you guessed it; he went online and trashed my books. It was clearly him, because these reviews made some critical errors that showed he had not read them but had penned a knee-jerk (or just jerk!) response!

The timing of the reviews was such that they appeared--lo and behold!--within a day of me saying no thanks to another date. Oh and, they were the only books not showing as Verified Purchases.

I seethed for a day then thought--oh well!

So be warned, keep your books under wraps. Of course, if you're married or in a long-term, committed relationship and it will cause a rift to withhold your author name, that's different, but if this is some casual acquaintance then in my view, they can ask all they like and I still won't be telling. I go by a whole bunch of names when I go on dates, ha. 

It's sadly often the same when we mention our books or author names on an author forum.

Many's the time I have seen an author mention a link to their books, only to see a pile of dodgy reviews appear against the author's books overnight. It's sad this is the way some people behave; the book-buying public is diverse and numerous enough for us all to sell on our own merits and we should help each other.