Amazon Reviews – Who Are They Really For?

Anyone who has read my blog recently, or who has followed my social media accounts is readily aware that earlier this month I published my first novel. While I've had a few sales, the real excitement has been how well it's been received on the Kindle Unlimited (KU) platform. I'm getting the equivalent of one to two full-volume reads every day, which has been quite exciting. Who knows if it will last, but for today, at least, I'm feeling good about the book's initial reception. I also have one review – and it's a 5-star review, too! Pretty cool!

Getting that review got me to thinking about reviews in general, and how important they are to authors and the sales of our books. Even so, reviews are not really for authors, are they? Are they not, in fact, "customer" reviews? Written by customers, with the purpose of providing insight into a product (in this case, a book), to other prospective customers before those customers decide to lay down their hard-earned money for the product. And yet, we as authors beg our readers to leave a review (preferably a positive one), primarily because it has become such an important tool in the marketing of our books. We have not made it this way (at least, I don't think we have), but it is this way nonetheless. I'm not saying it's good or bad, but simply the way it is.

The review system had become so critical to a book's success, Amazon has had to take steps to guard against those who would "game" the system in order to make their book more favorable. Sadly, I doubt this has done much to alleviate the problem, but has only served to hurt authors who are actually trying to play by the rules, mainly because the rules themselves seem to be in a constant state of flux.

I do think, when one reviews a book, the process should start, not at the book's conclusion, but rather at the time of purchase, as that experience is often crucial to the reader's mindset as they approach the book, before they ever read a word. For instance, if I pay $14.99 for the latest James Patterson e-book, my expectations are likely to be a lot higher than if I spend $2.99 on an unknown indie writer publishing their first novel. By that same token, if I purchase a book outright, whether it's for $2.99 or $14.99, my expectations will be different than if I stumble across a book as part of a subscription package like KU. I would compare it to a movie rental – I'm going to be more critical of a movie I pay to rent than I am of a movie I happen to catch as part of my Netflix subscription, but probably wouldn't have watched otherwise. The phrase "Hey, that was pretty good, I wouldn't have gone to see it in the theater, but it wasn't bad." comes to mind. In this sense, how one obtains a book will likely influence how it is reviewed, and should, at least in my opinion. This doesn't excuse the author from offering their best work possible, it only frames the work in the correct "you get what you pay for – hopefully much more" context.

As I've thought more about reviews and their real purpose, I've come to the conclusion that either they will come or the won't. (Although, accepting this conclusion is not easy as I continue to see more "reads" of my book via KU, without any additional reviews – I am human, after all!) In addition, when the reviews do come, they will either be positive, or they won't. Like many things in life, reviews of my book are beyond my ability to control or influence, and I shouldn't be attempting to do so, even if I could.

So, while a specific review, or the significant lack of reviews may concern my work, and may indeed have an influence over the commercial success or failure of my book, the review is not ultimately about me, or my wants and needs. I've already fulfilled those by completing and publishing the book. What happens next is not up to me. My efforts are better spent getting started on the next book, but that's a blog for another time.