When I released my first novella on Amazon back in 2011 I thought the only thing I would need to worry about in terms of success was sales. If I got sales, and people liked it, they would tell their friends, and eventually I would have a snowball effect. Then people started talking about Amazon ranking. The better your ranking, the better your sales—or so went the theory, anyway. This made me push hard for some sales, as ranking was directly associated with sales. But eventually, the sales push plateaued and as fewer people bought my book, my standing in the ranks sunk deeper and deeper into the abyss. But there was something the book was missing that I didn’t pay enough attention to.
As I finished the draft for As the Ash Fell, I started researching the publishing process again. After all, it’s been 4 years since I released Loose Ends, which is not even published anymore. I know Amazon KDP has matured even more since then, not to mention I would be experiencing my first Create Space process, and so I looked at the whole thing as if I had never published a book in my life. The research I’ve done, and the advice I’ve received, all pointed to the significance of your book’s reviews.
Having a general positive rating on your book will encourage people to click on the link when it shows up during their browsing. If you have a 2 or 3 star average, this may not help, but if you are hitting in the 4-5 star range, this will certainly entice people to read your book’s blurb, and either buy, or at least download the sample (at which point its up to your writing to get them to purchase). But more than just having a 4 or 5 star rating, you need to have numerous reviews. If a book has under a dozen reviews, and they are all pretty positive in nature, then there’s a good chance you’re looking at the author’s friends and family. Now this doesn’t mean the book is bad, but it also doesn’t mean the book is good, either. Friends and family are biased, and as such they will give a book a good rating in an effort to help their loved one out. To be honest, this is a double edged sword. On one hand, it’s great for people to rally behind and support their friends and family. On the other hand, it doesn’t really help them improve as an author to get insincere praises. It might taste sweet in the short term, but will become pretty bitter in the long run.
Regardless, most authors will get a surge of this kind of support after a book launch. It’s only natural. The amount of reviews will vary, but I’ll just peg it at around a dozen or so reviews from your supporters to help get things going. This can be great, as not everyone will be quite so cynical with reviews as I am, but you can’t let it stop there and just let nature take its course. Writing a review isn’t hard, it doesn’t have to be some professionally written, spoiler-free overview of the book along with your thoughts. It can just be a couple of sentences describing the experience you had with the book, along with the star rating. Yet, when Amazon sends that email saying “Hey, what’d you think of this book? Leave a review!” most people still ignore it. I’ll admit I am guilty of that, too. And this is why you, as an author, need to be proactive to encourage your readers to leave reviews. Chances are a good deal of your readers (at first) will be folks you interact with on social media (or perhaps friends of friends). So, as you see some sales of your book coming in, make sure you are vocal about reminding people to leave a review, as it will help attract potential readers for your writing.
Good reviews are always nice. If you are getting 4 and 5 stars—especially from people who have no reason to do so except that they liked your book—can be a jolt of energy and excitement. But what about the 3, 2, and dreaded 1 star reviews? Well, keep in mind your book is not going to appeal to everyone. And regardless of why someone bought a book in a genre they don’t normally read (for example), they are still entitled to their views on what they thought of your book. If they are decent about it, and offer true constructive criticism, then take their advice seriously. Consider how you might improve in the areas they mention, but be sure to filter out the comments that are subjective or personal taste. If someone doesn’t like your writing style, that’s just life sometimes. If comments are rude, ugly, and lack the maturity of a 3rd grader, just ignore it. People will hate just for the sake of hating. For all you know it could be a wannabe writer who has never put forth enough of the effort and dedication it takes to finish writing a book of their own—they are just bitter. Don’t let reviews like this get you down. They genuinely do not offer any sort of help, except perhaps comic relief. Another positive about lower rated reviews is having a few on your book isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It tells people that you don’t just pay to have fake reviews posted so that your novel looks more impressive than it is. I have a sneaking suspicion that not only indie authors do this, but larger publishers do, and that is about the lowest thing an author (or publisher) can do. Let your work be reflected in the reviews, good or bad. And if it’s bad, improve on it and do a better job next time.
At the end of the day, if you write a solid book that people enjoy, the reviews will largely be positive. The hard part is getting people to actually review it. So make it known, as best as you can, to your readers the significance of leaving a review (especially if they enjoyed it). Authors understand the importance of reviews, but not all readers may. A reader may like your work and say “I’ll show my appreciation by purchasing future books.” We do appreciate that, but a good review can generate several more sales for the author, which in turn can generate more reviews, and ultimately lead to dedicated readers of your work.
So please, readers (especially readers who are authors, as you know better), leave reviews for the books you read. It helps much more than many of you realize.