Interesting and lively discussion back on Goodreads.com regarding all those wonderful stars trailing the best-selling books.
Neil (of “Shut Up and Read”) started it all in December 2013 when he ranted, “Are all Amazon reviews bogus???…Some reviews are so obviously fake, shills, they must think the readers are stupid. …”
Having read the posts and feeling fairly strongly about it myself given the degree to which I’d worked to get any stars at all, noted that I spot read reviews; usually a couple rated 5, but also rely on the lesser rated for some good insight into the book. I felt that the book descriptions don’t always accurately describe the book and the title can be deceiving.
I appreciate honest and detailed reviews for the manuscripts I’ve published for my grandfather and likewise try to be very honest in my reviews of the books I’ve read–and I’ve read quite few; some good–some not so. In view of the time it takes to write a decent review on the books I thoroughly enjoy, I might rate but will not generally spend the time to review one I didn’t care for. I suspect many do the same, although in reading the reviews left by others, usually find a consensus of the same two or three stars I would give confirming my judgment of the book.
My problem here is that if I don’t leave a review for the book I didn’t care for (and that seems to be the norm), the author is deprived of the problems I perceived. The same applies to the books I’ve published. I didn’t understand the motives behind a two-star rating which left me wondering how to fix a problem I’m unaware exists. Of course it’s hard to actually print those harsh words for someone else knowing the blood, sweat, and tears that comprise a manuscript. As Ken from Goodreads wrote…“I’ll read the bad reviews first and see if they have anything valid to say. You can usually tell if it’s real. Sometimes a bad review will complain about something that I consider an attribute and that’s makes me want to read the book. I don’t really trust 5-star reviews any more.”
Leonie added….“I now don’t want to have all high star reviews, because it makes people suspicious that all my reviewers are friends….“
Alana said…“Probably about 70% or more of what I read is self-published/Indie author at this point.”
Judy noted…“….wary of self-published. Too many aren’t well written or edited. But lately I’ve read such awful stuff that was traditionally published that now I *always* download a sample before parting with any money.”*
*Yes, free samples–such as offered by both Smashwords and Amazon Kindle, as well as most ebook sales outlets.
L.A. posted…“Unlike some reviewers I don’t destroy the book or base my grading system if I find grammatical errors. Everyone has them no matter how many times a book has gone through the editing process.” (Thank you!)
But then is the argument meant for self-published authors or books published through the big box publishing houses? I’m frequently sent offers of books for digital download touting 130 (or more) five-star Amazon reviews. Authors of note pen a short, glowing recommendation, it’s “a #1 New York Times bestseller,” award recipient, and has reports of over 300 five-star Goodreads ratings. But wait–didn’t Amazon buy out Goodreads?! Are all these stars, ratings, and reviews contrived? How do you buy out that many people?
Check the internet today and you are likely to read that a new Author Earnings report suggests “that self-published books now represent 31 percent of ebook sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store”–and self-published writers earn almost 40 percent of the store’s royalties. Further, books by the Big Five publishers account for only 16 percent of the titles on Amazon’s bestseller list. Okay–but that’s not the New York Times bestsellers list. So where do they come from? (Rankings reflect sales reported by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles. The sales venues for print books include independent book retailers; national, regional and local chains; online and multimedia entertainment retailers…. E-book rankings reflect sales from leading online vendors of e-books in a variety of popular e-reader formats. http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/overview.html.) So then my question becomes: How much weight is given, in view of heavy discounts and promos, by *one* (of these) vendors and are they really driving ratings with free offers?
I don’t know–but I do believe that the perceived value of publishers will continue to decline as the percentage of Indie authors increases. The self-publishers are learning to publish like the professionals and are quickly claiming the joys of self-publishing; not the least of which are greatly increased royalty rates. According to what you find on the internet, self-published ebooks will account for 50 percent of ebook sales by 2020.
The question remains–how will all these Indie authors garner stars and don’t you need stars to sell books? Relatives and friends can’t supply all of them. Then I suspect we are back to the question of marketing and promotion! For self-published authors then, it may very well be the question of a really good social media network–and an honest and loyal following. Leave a review. Please. It will make a difference. (Originally published Sept 2014)