Good book sales are driven by reviews.
I won’t preach to the choir about the importance of book reviews at Amazon—you know having lots of them will encourage readers to click that “buy” button. But how do we encourage readers to leave reviews?
With my latest releases, I used NetGalley, Book Review Buzz, Reading Alley, and paid blogger review tours. These are places where authors pay to provide free copies of their books to willing reviewers. I’d hoped that by using these services, I’d save myself from having to pound the virtual pavement to solicit my own reviews, but it turns out there’s no golden ticket. While each of these sites netted some reviews, if I want the total number of them to reach a level that Amazon deems significant, I have more work to do.
Why do readers NOT leave a review?
But before I hit that pavement again, I wanted to learn more about what stops readers from leaving reviews, so I set up a survey at Survey Monkey. The image in this post shows the answers of 101 survey respondents. In this article, I’ll share my analysis of the results along with advice on how to turn this information into useful actions.
The survey question:
Please rank the following by how well they describe your reasons for not leaving a review on Amazon (from “Not even close” to “Yes, that’s exactly why I don’t leave reviews on Amazon).
Conclusions from the Data
I’ve bolded the items that impact a reader’s willingness to leave a review.
- Most readers surveyed feel no qualms about sharing their opinions, though over half of the respondents are at least sometimes at a loss for what to say.
- For the most part, this group is trusting of Amazon and doesn’t worry about what the company will do with their data. Most also know they can leave reviews without having made their purchase through the site; however, some do have trust issues, and a significant minority of respondents noted they weren’t aware that they could leave a review at Amazon without having made the purchase at the site.
- Being too busy and not thinking about leaving a review are both at least somewhat of an issue for about half of respondents.
- The strongest reason for not leaving a review is that the reader didn’t enjoy the book.
So now what do I do with this?
The survey included an “other” option with a text box to include any information not covered by the survey questions. I incorporated what I learned from that feedback in the advice below.
By now I’m sure most of you have learned that authors have to ask for reviews. The data in this survey backs this up, showing that a significant number of readers won’t think of leaving a review on their own. But don’t badger readers. More than one reader noted that they don’t like feeling harassed to leave feedback. In one comment on the survey, a reader mentioned an instance where an author asking for a review had the opposite effect and turned off that reader from leaving one. We need to find balance in how we ask.
Advice #1: Ask nicely
When asking for a review, be mindful that readers aren’t obligated to leave a review and that the reviews are for the benefit of other readers, not for the author. If you ask nicely in an unobtrusive way—in a note at your website, in the back matter of your book, and in your author e-mails—you’ll be less likely to alienate readers.
Advice #2: Make it easy
Also, bear in mind that readers have lives. Leaving a book review is far from their top priority, and some are intimidated by what to say, so authors need to make it easy.
- Provide accessible links to the book at Amazon on your website, on social networks where possible, and in your author e-mails. In e-books, include a link in your front and back matter—I’ve been advised by my typesetter that it’s risky to include a link to an online store because certain reading devices block links to competing sites. Link instead to a page at your website and make sure that page has easy-to-find links to the book at Amazon.
- Let readers know that reviews don’t have to be long. A couple of sentences about what they did or didn’t enjoy is great. Consider providing examples of short but effective reviews.
- Be sure to let readers know that they don’t have to have purchased the book from Amazon to be able to leave a review there. [Note: Amazon is policing reviews more than ever and will delete or deny reviews left by anyone their ’bots think is connected with you personally, so it’s possible some of your readers won’t be able to leave Amazon reviews for your books.]
About That Strongest Reason…
A significant number of readers are hesitant to leave a review for a book they didn’t enjoy. In some ways that seems great—it’s no fun reading a critical review of your book. But that doesn’t mean those reviews don’t have value.
When readers take the time to explain what they personally didn’t like about a book, their review gives information to other readers. That’s the whole purpose of reviews, right? Potential readers will evaluate both the critiques and the praises to decide if the book will be for them. In some cases, what one person doesn’t like could actually draw in another reader.
A few respondents noted that they feel guilty leaving a critical review because they don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings. Another reader said she reserves 5 stars for those few books ranking at the very top of her list, so she’s afraid of insulting an author if she leaves less than 5 stars on a book she enjoyed but doesn’t make her top tier. It seems readers might also need a reminder that reviews aren’t for authors.
Advice #3: Ask for an honest opinion
When asking for reviews, make sure to ask for an honest one. Pose your request as something to help other readers decide if the book is for them rather than something to help you. I also tell readers that a review should express what they did and didn’t like about a book. The more readers hear this from authors, the less guilt they’ll feel for being honest.
There’s another issue that makes some readers hesitant to leave a critical review—author backlash. One survey respondent noted “trollish” behavior from authors in response to any critique in a review. Another experienced an author’s friends bombarding a critical review with retaliatory comments.
Advice #4: And accept it gracefully
The golden rule for authors is: DO NOT RESPOND TO UNFAVORABLE REVIEWS. Period. Author interference makes readers feel like they’re being big-brothered, and thus they become less comfortable sharing their honest opinions.
It’s true that certain readers can sometimes be overly harsh or rude in their critiques, but that’s their prerogative. The publishing biz isn’t for the thin-skinned. Authors need to respect the rights of readers to express themselves however they wish. If we can’t do that, then we shouldn’t ask for reviews.
Advice #5: Write the very very best book you can
Multiple survey respondents noted that they tend to leave reviews only for the books they found to be exceptional.
So write an exceptional book that readers will love so much they go rushing to Amazon to leave a review. Easy peasy, right? I wish. But the more we write, the better we get. And even a small number of reviews gives insight into the readers’ minds so we can see what we need to improve to make the next book exceptional in their eyes.
I wish the survey had revealed some kind of magical answer that would gain us all hundreds of reviews overnight. The non-aggressive advice above is likely to only result in a trickle—but hey, if it’s a steady tickle, those reviews will eventually be overflowing.
WHEN IT HOOKS YOU
Three dates. It was only supposed to be three dates—he was only meant to be a fling. I didn’t want to feel all of this for him. And I certainly hadn’t counted on him keeping such a deal-breaking secret from me.
Till death is too long for Trish Cerise. The twenty-seven year old receptionist is tired of men asking for her forever when she just wants to keep things light and fun. World-traveling businessman Adam Helms steps off the elevator and into her life with his own reasons for keeping relationships at a safe distance. Together, they’re destined for the most glorious short-term romance in history…until they break their own rules and Trish learns something about Adam she wishes she never knew.
I know a future with him is impossible, but how do you break away from such an intense, consuming, heart-crushing love when it hooks you? ~Trish
Buy this book![/box]
Nicki Elson writes spicy fiction with a sweet and dreamy center. She does other stuff, too…like obsess over Survivor and The Bachelor (and she’s not ashamed to admit it).
Writing fiction wasn’t something Nicki set out to do; it just sort of happened when she realized writing reports was by far her favorite part of her investment consulting position. She traded stock allocation and diversification for story arcs and dialogue and now weaves creative writing into her life with her family in the Chicago suburbs.