How To Get Amazon Book ReviewsGetting Amazon book reviews is hard work

It’s no secret that the more reviews a book has on Amazon, the more likely it is to sell. While there are countless other marketing tools that can be used when promoting a book, reviews are, and have always been, the most important element in promoting a book. In days past, publishers sent out hundreds of advance copies to beta readers, newspapers, television and radio stations as well as well as well-known authors to gain reviews that very often ended up being quoted on the back of the book when it was finally published.

The same process is being used today, however with the advent of ebooks and Kindle, in particular; these reviews now need to be gathered and published on a book’s page on Amazon and other online retailers as well as book-related websites such as Goodreads. So how do publishers get so many reviews for a new book?

When scanning reviews for books released by the large publishers on the Kindle Store it’s worth noting how many reviews were actually posted by readers who bought the book. Amazon makes this easy by identifying those readers who bought the book by labelling the review with ‘Amazon Verified Purchase’. While I didn’t spend weeks analysing lists of reviews, I did sample about twenty books that were listed in various bestselling genre lists. The one similarity was that on average only a very small proportion of reviews were posted with the ‘Amazon Verified Purchase’ tag. The other similarity was that among the first twenty or so reviews there were next to none of these verified tags.

It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to figure out what’s going on here. These reviews were posted by the publisher. Either by their own staff, their teams of beta readers or by reviewers who are paid to post. Book marketing is the same as any other form of marketing. It’s all about hype and gaining exposure, not about independent and unbiased opinion.

For self-publishing authors, though, the process of gaining reviews for a new book can be a long and arduous process. Relying on paying readers to post reviews can take years to build a decent list. Very few paying readers have the habit of posting reviews, so reviews have to be sought by other means. While social media offers the possibility to gain some reviews, it’s usually friends, relatives and a few online buddies who are the best source. While book bloggers can be useful, I’ve found them to be a bit hit and miss and often too genre specific. There is also the option to pay for reviews. I did a quick search and found the going rate now to be $5 -$10 for this service.

The other practical method, of course, is to exchange reviews with other self-published authors. ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours‘ as the old saying goes. Simply write your own reviews for your own books and post them for each other. Dishonest? Well, perhaps a better label would be hype, marketing, building your brand and competing with what the big publishers are doing.

If you were selling dishwashing detergent instead of a book, how scrupulously honest would you be in your product marketing? Of course, it gives your hands a skin rash.

How To Get Amazon Book Reviews

73 thoughts on “How To Get Amazon Book Reviews

  • 02/07/2012 at 9:59 pm
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    I don’t believe they are paid (or bogus) reviews in many cases. As an Indie publisher, I give away free copies periodically, to strangers, for the express purpose of promoting the work. Some review the books, and show up without the “verified” tag. Others post their reviews on multiple sites, but don’t purchase through Amazon.

    What the verified tag represents is not an “objective” review, but Amazon’s success at marketing itself. It you are going to pay a reviewer, I imagine you’re smart enough to have them purchase the book, and provide a voucher to reimburse them when they do.

    You cannot prevent a lack of ethics. You can, however, convince people that anything without your stamp of approval is bogus. Frankly, the people I solicited to review my work give my books precisely the same average rating as those I’ve never met.

  • 03/07/2012 at 10:45 am
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    Hmm, I’m not sure I’d ever support an indie author who asks others to post their own reviews for them. I review Indie books, and sometimes their authors review my books. That, I believe, is fair.

    But lying to the readers… is something that will backfire in a big, big way one day. The only way to recuperate from such loss of credibility could be to change your name and re-launch yourself.

    I’ve happily received many reviews in two ways:
    – By giving away hundreds of my book copies for free on LibraryThing and asking for reviews in return (those turned out to be the most comprehensive, thoughtful reviews);
    – By running Kindle give-aways on Facebook and GoodReads, as in “post an impartial review by June 30 and win a Kindle” (these ones turned out to be the most shallow reviews I’ve got, but still genuine).

    I’ve also participated in paid sites like BookRooster – I don’t think I got anything from them, but I could be wrong. Maybe their readers have posted something.

    Still looking for the best practices…

  • 03/07/2012 at 5:53 pm
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    Marketing a book is especially tough for indies. There are tons of readers out there who are fed up with the fake reviews on amazon and, unfortunately, they tend to associate the phenomenon with Independents. Large media corporations can be as blatant as they like and get away with it, but if an indie book has a review that seems slightly suspicious…

    I just saw an ad, last night, for the hottest new hit TV series. It debut’s sometime next month. How the (expletive declined) is it already a hit series if it hasn’t been on the air yet? That’s about as blatant as you can get. ‘Nobody has seen this show, but trust us; it’s a big hit!’

    One of my recent titles spent two and a half months on a Sci Fi genre best seller list at Amazon, but I wouldn’t dare say that on the book page. Someone would see that it currently sits at a lower ranking and assume that I’m full of it – unless there was a publisher logo on the cover to lend some ‘credibility’ to my title.

    • 03/07/2012 at 7:18 pm
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      Very true Andrew. It’s ok to be a fake if you’re a major media organisation, but frowned on if you’re an Indie. Your example is probably brought about by the production company being owned by the television network that has already classified the yet to be broadcast program as a hit. But that’s called marketing and not being fake.

      It’s also easy forget that book reviews have traditionally been the province of newspapers over the decades. As most of the major publishers in the world owned both newspaper, magazine and book publishing empires, it doesn’t take much to figure out that it was all cross-promotional for their own marketing ends. News Corp are a prime example of a media empire that owns huge print, publishing, television and cable networks. So when they cross-promote, it’s not fake? No it’s marketing.

      While I really admire the honesty and integrity expressed in the many comments on this post, it really has to be understood what is happening in book marketing and in particular with book reviews.

      Book reviews over the decades have rarely been unbiased and honest. So why should they be any different now?

      For this reason Indies do have to become smarter to compete. Waiting for unbiased and unsolicited reviews from honest readers takes a very long time to accumulate.

      • 03/07/2012 at 10:07 pm
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        True enough. I think the hardest part of getting the unbiased reviews is taking the good with the bad. I’ve had some readers praise my character development while others complain that I waste their time with it. At least the reviews do show that balance. Potential readers tend to be leery of a four month old title with forty reviews (I only have nine). I think the best marketting tool an indie can have is patience. Once you stat down the five dollar review path, your title is permanently tarred.

        I ran across someone on the KDP forums who has a new title with a ton of glowing reviews. The funny thing is, some of them are exactly the same – word for word – with different reviewer names. Others are generic in the extreme. “I really enjoyed this book. It gripped me from the start and I just couldn’t put it down.” It could be about a romance or it could be about a physics text.

        One of the ‘reviewers’ had other reviews that ratcheted my eyebrow up a few notches. One product cleared up the reviewer’s yeast infection while the very next product she reviewed did wonders for her erectile dysfunction. I tell you, that author is a real hit with the hermaphrodites.

        • 03/07/2012 at 11:18 pm
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          Another interesting insight Andrew is to check out the ‘top reviewers’ on Amazon. Some have posted over 20,000 reviews of products. I don’t think anyone posts that many reviews out of the goodness of their heart.

          • 03/07/2012 at 11:56 pm
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            There’s never been an honest review system, aside from word of mouth.

            I shoud amend that a bit…
            Some book bloggers are pretty good. Big Al walks softly but carries one heck of a big stick. I would love to get a review from him, but I hear his next available slot won’t come up until the continents come back together.

            Oh well. Back to good old fashioned patience…

          • 04/07/2012 at 7:47 am
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            Only Harriet Klausner has published more than 20,000 reviews (as far as I know), and she is no longer on the Top 1000 list (last I checked). Amazon basically reworked the entire review ranking system to remove her from #1.

            And, yes, it is one of the big bugbears of Amazon that they don’t remove her reviews (or those from her employer, Midwest Book Review).

  • 04/07/2012 at 8:42 am
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    If there is any doubt about major publishers using fake reviews (um, marketing?), then one book I noticed this morning is a prime example. A book published in 2012 by HarperCollins has 79 reviews. The majority of these reviews contain either the author’s name or the book subject within the first six words. This is called ‘keyword stacking’ in SEO language and in my mind is clear proof of the publisher posting their own reviews.

    Another aspect of the reviews for this book was that ALL of the initial reviews posted through the Amazon Vine Program, the so called ‘Trusted Reviewers’ system on the same day! When I looked at the dates of the first 4 pages of reviews, it was staggering how many were posted in one day. The day of the book’s release!

    Honesty in advertising? No such thing.

    • 04/07/2012 at 9:02 am
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      The first book in my urban fantasy series has 38 reviews. I’d guess about 10 of these are book bloggers I gave an ARC to. All the others are purchases, but it appears only about half of the purchases say “Amazon Verified Purchase” on them.

      And about keyword stacking… well.. a lot of the reviews I’ve gotten on Amazon and other sites have my name, title, or genre in the first few words. I don’t ask people to do that, and I certainly don’t do it myself. I think your “proof” is a bit shaky.

      I’m not saying people don’t sometimes use unethical means to get reviews, but making accusations based on word choice or an OPTIONAL Amazon tag seems a bit harsh.

      • 04/07/2012 at 9:17 am
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        Thanks for your comment India. I don’t think my proof is all that shaky. The first 20 odd reviews for this book were posted in a two week period prior to the book’s release, and the next 20 or so on the very same day, Jan 3, 2012. The day of the book’s release. So that accounts for half of the 79 reviews listed. Clearly this was orchestrated by the publisher. There is just no other explanation. And of course, all of these first 40 or so reviews were very well written and SEO keyword stacked.

        • 04/07/2012 at 10:34 am
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          There is a little thing called beta readers. Publishers use them by the hundreds pre-release.

        • 04/07/2012 at 1:01 pm
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          Another point: on Amazon, most products can’t be reviewed until release date. Advance reviews are probably from Amazon Vine members, i.e. the publisher has paid Amazon to distribute free copies to reviewers. My main problem with Vine is that I’m not eligible, as I don’t live in the US!

    • 04/07/2012 at 12:59 pm
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      But that could be because those of us who blog use the same review on our blog as on Amazon… and we have to blog, in order to get the ARC.

  • 04/07/2012 at 10:48 am
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    One idea that works very well for me is a ‘trick’ I poached from self pub’ing expert David Gaughran.
    In the back matter of my book there’s a simply-worded request for the reader to review – words to the effect of ‘If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon – word of mouth is vital to help authors succeed, and it would mean the world to me! Thanks, Tony.’ Followed by links to the book’s sales page on Amazon UK and US. I get lots of reviews now, far more than before I added this.
    It’s a completely ethical reminder – no sneakiness required!
    Amazon don’t monitor all that closely, until someone points it out – then they’re only too happy to start chopping away at duplicate reviews. Likewise if someone reported scammy reviewing of the paid-for-without-reading-the-book nature – could potentially get a person in trouble, so I steer clear of that. My first few will always be from from friends and via ARCs though – it’s sound practice to have them up before the official launch, as general public are unlikely to buy a book with no reviews at all, even if it is new. Especially if it is new!

  • 04/07/2012 at 11:23 am
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    Thanks for this fascinating post. I always wondered how the big publishers did that. I don’t agree with review swaps but love the previous commenter’s ‘call to action’ idea.

  • 04/07/2012 at 12:25 pm
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    A registry for indie authors to exchange book reviews is not a new idea. It has been done before, several times. People invested a lot of time launching and organising such sites (e.g. the Indie Review Exchange), and they failed.

    The other problem is that this leads to fake reviews. Review swappers expect 5* reviews; many are outraged if you offer an honest opinion on their book. It also obliges you to read books you would not normally enjoy, simply because the other person has read and reviewed yours. In consequence, most participants of such schemes don’t bother to read the books. They simply churn out reviews of the “unputdownable must-read” kind. Is this desirable and ethical? You may think so. I think not.

    Regarding the pay-for-review schemes: Yes, there are people and organisations where you can buy reviews for $5 or 10 (or even in quantity – 100 reviews for $100) but these people don’t read the books. They’re in it for the money and reading a book takes too much time to read. So those are blatant fakes. Usually, they paraphrase the book’s blurb or previous reviews, add some bland phrase (“unputdownable must-read”). The results are often ridiculous. Do you want that for your books? I don’t.

    There are also agencies you can pay to post the reviews you have written yourself. Authors write glowing reviews about the unputdownability of their must-read books, pay a fee, and someone uploads it as an alleged customer review. Ethical? I think not.

    Besides, Amazon is deleting all paid reviews anyway. You can spend hundreds of $$ on getting reviews, bask in their glory for a few days, and find a few days later that they’re gone. A good investment? I think not.

    Let’s keep some sense and ethics.

    Rayne

    • 07/07/2012 at 4:09 pm
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      Another problem is that review exchanges are time-consuming. I simply don’t have enough time to write novels, post in my blog, write articles for assorted websites and keep up with my facebook groups to read books.

  • 04/07/2012 at 1:54 pm
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    I guess I’m sort of a “by the book” gal. I want my reviews to be real. Authentic. From paying customers. I think you’re right when you say that most people who buy books don’t think of writing a review. I’ve had so many people contact me privately to say how much they loved my debut novel BABY GRAND. And I will often ask them if they’d mind writing an Amazon review. Some do. Some don’t.

    But I do have a question. All the customer reviews on my Amazon book page (http://www.amazon.com/Baby-Grand-ebook/dp/B0085YEUJ0/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1339019868&sr=1-1) with the exception of the very first review, which was written by someone who had an ARC (and she clearly states it), have come from paying customers. But not all those reviews have the “Amazon Verified Purchase” notation. I wonder why. Did the customer perhaps not check a box? Just thought maybe you knew. :)

    Thank you for posting such an interesting discussion!

  • 04/07/2012 at 2:10 pm
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    Thank you for joining the discussion Dina. With regard to verified purchases, it is usually automatic if the reader bought the book. However, they do have the option to ‘unclick’ this label. I don’t understand really why anyone would do that, so maybe it’s just a glitch that happens from time to time.

    I agree with you about authentic reviews. I’m not a review chaser at all, which might sound odd considering how I started this discussion. But while most Indies are taking the honest route with their book marketing, they need to understand the underhand tactics that are being used by not only large publishers, but by many self pub pubbed authors as well. It would also be naive to think that Amazon would take any action against aggressive marketing as they benefit the most from successful marketing campaigns.

    • 04/07/2012 at 2:47 pm
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      Thank you for your reply, Derek! This really is a great discussion. I also don’t understand why anyone would “unclick” that label, but that’s the only thing I can think of as to why a portion of my reviews don’t have the “Amazon Verified Purchase.” Oh well. :)

      What’s weird too is that a few weeks ago, the daughter of a high school friend wrote a glowing review of BABY GRAND on Amazon. I was blown away. And totally surprised. A few days later, the review was gone. I managed to contact my friend’s daughter through FB to see if perhaps she removed it, but she hadn’t. Amazon deleted it for some reason. I reached out and contacted Amazon, and, although they were prompt in responding, I still couldn’t figure out what the problem was. After reading your discussion here, I thought maybe my friend’s daughter was flagged in some way? I don’t know. But, gosh, that had been a good one… Oh well. :)

      I guess I knew that all sorts of underhanded tactics were going on, but I’m hoping I can just keep doing what I’m doing and persevere. Maybe some of us good guys won’t have to finish last. :)

      Thanks again, Derek!

      • 04/07/2012 at 3:11 pm
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        You are not the first person to experience the disappearing book review. I’ve heard of this a number of times. And contacting Amazon with a ‘why’ is never answered with a ‘because’. Always a ‘copy and past’ generalised guideline statement.

        I suppose we also tend to forget that Amazon make the rules and can change them at anytime, or interpret them how they wish. And while self publishers have helped Amazon build their Kindle revolution, don’t hold your breath waiting for them to thank us or help us. It may sound cynical, but I really think we are just small content providing pawns in a much bigger game.

      • 07/07/2012 at 4:16 pm
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        Amazon gives vague and evasive answers or lies when questioned about disappearing reviews and they treat Indy writers like crap.

        • 07/07/2012 at 5:20 pm
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          I think it’s easy to forget Rick that Amazon is a business, and a very aggressive one at that. The bottom line is that we as Indies have been given access to something they created and own and need to keep in mind that they make the rules and they can break the rules. In fact there are no rules, as all of Amazon’s guidelines state that they are subject to change at anytime without notice. As for being fair with Indies, we are just very small fry content providers in their business and as Amazon have shown in the past, they will even ditch one of the Big Six publishers if need be in flexing their monopolistic muscle.

          The only way to stay sane when using Amazon is to use what services they allow you to use, but always be prepared for things to change and adapt to those changes as best you can.

          In a more general sense, almost all facilities and networks we use on the Internet are owned by private companies, so we can have our accounts and records changed, altered, wiped, erased, cancelled or suspended at any time. There is no fairness when it comes to a business protecting thier own product.

          • 08/07/2012 at 5:07 am
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            Good reply Derek. There are laws in the US that govern how businesses are allowed to act or treat customers and partners. A few things that come to mind is the RICO Act, Fair Business Practices and interference with business. Just as Amazon is a business so too are we Indy publishers. So when Amazon removes reviews that drive sales, and refuses to give any valid reasons for doing so, they are in fact interfering with our business. By having contradictory policies as far as reviews are concerned could be a violation of the RICO act. That is the primary reason Amazon is so vague and evasive when questioned about reviews. They know if they make a concrete statement they may be in violation the law. Clearly they are violating fair business laws by sanctioning some paid reviews and reviewers and not others. No matter whether Amazon is the Walmart of the internet or not, there are laws that govern what they can and cannot do and as far as I can see Amazon is very close to breaking some of those laws if they haven’t already.

  • 05/07/2012 at 1:08 am
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    Great discussion Derek and I agree with you that reviews are a major book promotion tool. I take away the notion that most people would like to belong to a readers/writers site where reviews are exchanged but only under certain rules, chief among them that there be no requirement to write a “return” review if the book doesn’t appeal (read: if it stinks).

    I can understand that (I feel uncomfortable writing a bad review too) but it sort of shoots down the author review exchange idea, doesn’t it?

    I really don’t know what the solution is. Book blogger reviews don’t seem to stimulate sales either. And paying for reviews is a bad idea – crassly commercial and works only in certain cases, though you could argue that if you give a free copy in exchange for an (eventual) review, you are paying for it.

    So it’s back to hoping for reviews and keeping your fingers crossed hoping that somehow you’ll emerge some day…

    Unless we could create a site where you accumulate points for writing reviews and need a certain number of points before posting your book and seeking a review for it? I’m not quite sure how it would work, but it would give you the advantage of being able to specify the genre you wish to read in, and if you don’t like a book, don’t write a review. Just pick another one to read and review!

    • 05/07/2012 at 6:46 am
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      Thank you for joining the debate Claude. You’re right that most of the available methods for gaining book reviews are problematic. Perhaps this is because in just the short time that self publishing has become popular, authors are trying to emulate a system that was developed by the major publishing houses over decades. Up until recently, book reviews lived in newspaper columns and on the back of books. None of which were written by book buying readers.

      So we are trying to change the behaviour of readers and now asking them to do something that doesn’t come naturally. I know in my case that I’m fortunate to have a few (not too many!) very loyal readers, who buy just about every book I publish. But of these, only one publishes a review occasionally. The others simply send me a message or email saying how much they enjoyed the read. It would be wrong of me to then demand a review from them as well.

      Just maybe we are focusing on a system that can’t work for self publishers and need to find an alternative approach other than copying a review system that is over 100 years old and was designed for the print medium.

      • 05/07/2012 at 2:01 pm
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        Hey, Derek! Just wanted to ask, Why do you think it’s wrong to ask for a review from someone who contacted you and said they loved the book? I think you’re right when you say writing a review doesn’t come naturally, but I think it’s perfectly okay to ask — not demand — that someone who reached out to you write a review. I find that some do, some don’t. And that’s cool. But I think it’s okay to ask. Most readers don’t realize how important those reviews are, especially to new authors.

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