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Asking For Amazon Reviews: How Far is Too Far?

At the release of a book, every author secretly (or maybe not so secretly!) hopes they’ll get 5 star reviews on Amazon (and other online bookstores)—especially for those first few reviews that will show up on the screen every time a reader visits the book’s page.

But how far should authors go in soliciting reviews for their books? In fact, should authors solicit reviews at all? When authors go out of their way to ask friends and family for reviews does that constitute stacking the deck? After all, friends and family are only going to say nice things about our books. They want to help our books sell well.

When we work at piling up 5-Star reviews, are we really giving readers an honest picture of our books?

The issue of asking for reviews is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially since my second book The Doctor’s Lady just released and I’ve been checking out the reviews starting to roll in. As I've watch what other authors are doing, I've been mulling over how proactive I need to be with soliciting reviews. I couldn't help wondering if I needed to do more (because, quite honestly, I haven't been proactive in asking for online reviews).

And then a couple weeks ago I came across an article in The New York Times about the growing problem of fake reviews online: In a Race to Out-Rave, 5-Star Web Reviews Go for $5.

The article said, “As online retailers increasingly depend on reviews as a sales tool, an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance . . . The boundless demand for positive reviews has made the review system an arms race of sorts. As more five-star reviews are handed out, even more five-star reviews are needed. Few want to risk being left behind.”

The article goes on to say that because of this increasing trend toward solicited reviews there is a bias toward positive reviews on everything, that now everyone is above average.

Of course most authors aren’t paying people to post 5-Star reviews (the same way some of the resorts, hotels, etc., are dishing out cash). But I have seen authors request, plead, and offer various kinds of incentives/rewards to people who post complimentary reviews.

Should authors take such an active role in soliciting reviews or should they allow reviews to roll in more naturally?

Yes, we all know how difficult it is to make our books stand out in today’s saturated market. But just how far are we willing to go to push our books into the spotlight?

As I wrestled through how I want to handle reviews, here’s what I’ve decided:

• I never have and never will directly ask anyone to post a review of my book on any of the online bookstores. I want the reviews to be freely given by readers who truly enjoyed and appreciated my books.

• If someone reads my book, likes it, and then specifically asks me how they can help promote it, I will let them know they’re welcome to write a review—but only if they’re comfortable doing so.

• I will continue to gently educate readers about the value of the reviews and how much they mean to writers. But I want them to know reviews are just one of many ways they can support authors they love.

For me, the bottom line is this: when people browse through my books on the shelves of online bookstores, I want to be known as a trustworthy author. I don’t want to deceive readers in any way by making myself or my books look better than they really are.

After all, if I deceive them, they’ll find out eventually when they read the book and it doesn’t live up to all of those positive reviews. Then I’ll have lost a reader (or many readers) and diminished my integrity and reputation.

So, what about you? How do you feel about authors soliciting reviews for their books with online bookstores? In your opinion, how far is too far? 
 
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Wednesday 9/7: I'm baring it all on Katie Ganshert's blog in a guest post: "How a Perfectionist Learned to Bare Her Warts." (Also pick up Contest Puzzle Piece #3 there!)

Wednesday 9/7: I'm sharing more about the inspiration behind The Doctor's Lady on Marcia Richard's blog.

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41 comments:

  1. It's stories like the one you mentioned, as well as other things, that means I'm afraid I don't take any notice of Amazon reviews whatsoever. I read reviews of bloggers I follow, and look at recommendations by them. Each author has to do what they feel works for them, but they need to think long and hard about who is writing the review and where it is posted.

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  2. I would hope Jody that all folks reviewing would be giving their honest feeling about the book they read, I believe that an avid reader would do just that. I know that I try to be honest in my reviews and not reveal too much to give away the story for a reader. You are a wonderful author and I feel you will always have good reviews.

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  3. Honestly, a lot of 5 star reviews I think hurt an author - unless the book really is that good and there's 100 of them. I tend not to buy the book if that's all there is b/c I don't trust anyone. I can tell they're friends helping out. What helps is a mix of honest reviews of people being honest. I can see the faults or what people didn't like and base my decision on truth. I've bought many books based on 3 star reviews.

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  4. i do post all my reviews on amazon...but it's my choice. i really don't like it when authors have contests for readers to post on amazon for 4-5 reviews. there's a certain author that has HUGE contest prizes for winners to post on amazon, and therefore her books have over 600-900 5 stars reviews. i don't trust a single one of those reviews. why would anyone NOT give a 5 star review if they are entering the contest? i think authors should let the readers choose whether or not 1) they want to post it on amazon at all and 2) what ranking the reader deems it deserves.

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  5. That's crazy! I can't believe people are paying for good reviews.

    Like you, I want to be honest. I love the way you've handled your marketing. In fact, I think it's been genius. Never once have I felt awkward or put on the spot by you or pressured to do something. Just goes to show that your books do the talking. :)

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  6. I like to only pay credence to reviews with a bit of substance. 5* reviews with one line texts such as "this is the best book that I've read in this genre. Loved it and you will love it to" have no impact on me. I want to hear real opinions. Filter the reviews in this way and it's much easier to get a clearer picture.

    But yes... way too many people are soliciting too much and not allowing an objective review procedure to take place. This can only have a cheapening effect on the whole.

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  7. Good morning, everyone! I'm enjoying hearing your perspectives this morning!

    And wow, Deborah! A contest for posting 4-5 star reviews? I hadn't heard of that. But yeah, I'd have to say that is definitely stacking the deck! I really do think readers need the freedom to post whatever star rating they feel most comfortable with.

    Laura, I agree, it's always nice to see some "lower" reviews in there too. Just shows no one is perfect and that no author will always appeal to everyone!

    Thanks for chiming in today everyone!

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  8. Paying for reviews? Not to sound all judgy or anything, but that's absolutely the most dishonest thing I've ever heard. I feel so manipulated to know that's going on.

    Jody, girl, you're earning your 5-star reviews!! You produce a wonderfully written and inspiring novel.

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  9. oh wait, that was clarify that i meant to say to say 4 to 5 star reviews, not 4 5-star reviews.

    but anyways it also sucks when i post a review early, like when a book comes out. my review is genuine and legit no matter what the rating. but then it gets lost in the shuffle because the author feels that they need more reviews so they do the contest and then all these "reviews" pop up. I don't know if it's bc I read more Christian fiction than general market fiction as a whole, but I've seen so many Christian fiction authors beg for Amazon reviews with giveaways that it's not funny.

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  10. I don't pay much attention to Amazon reviews, unless they're from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc. When I see a bunch of glowing reviews (some from folks who don't even use their real names), I assume they're friends of the author.

    Too many generic rave reviews—Great book! Best I've ever read!—really arouse my suspicions.

    I do like to read reviews on blogs though, especially if the blogger usually posts about things other than books.

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  11. I refuse to publicly say anything negative about a book. I know authors work hard to write them, and that not everybody will love the same books.

    However, just because I don't say anything negative doesn't mean I'm false. I like Jody's idea about not asking for reviews. However, I feel like if somebody receives a free copy of a book for promotion purposes, an author isn't out of line to expect reviews. Publishers can't just give books away without receiving any promotion in return. That's unfair to both the publisher and the author.

    I post reviews to help authors, and every review I post has at least four stars. I don't think that's dishonest or stacking the deck. It's just a genuine way of helping people. If a book is terrible, well, I normally don't read enough of it to even post a review. :-)

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  12. Yet another reason why I keep coming back here, why I keep uplifting you publicly, and why I TRUST you.

    You are doing this with so much class!
    ~ Wendy

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  13. I've only been asked once, and it was done in a professional way. I had won a book from an author, and so she sent it to me with a card saying that she hoped I enjoyed it, and to feel free to post an honest review online if I was so inclined. To me, there was nothing wrong with this. But there is a fine line on asking, for sure.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  14. If only there was a way to ask people to write reviews that are honest, and let them understand that it's OKAY for them to be honest! Reviews are a tricky thing for me as a reader, because they're always so glowing, I'm suspicious. I've been asked to do reviews and I feel obligated to be positive, even if I was lukewarm about the book. Not good. Ideally I'd like to ask people to review and be totally honest, and have them believe that I'd never hold it against them. (Fat chance, right?)

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  15. Great blog, Jodi.I am almost to the point of asking Amazon to get rid of the reviews all together. I think that is unrealistic since you can pay them for a review. I ask those that contact me and say how much they like my work to leave a review. I also have found that there are those that solicit one star and two star reviews for authors they don't like. It's a real problem in both regards. This journey is diffuclt enough isn't it? If you get to many good reviews now people think you are buying them or insinuate that you are. But believe the bad ones? I think readers are smart enough to judge for themselves, but many never leave reviews even when they like your work. Sometimes we just have to ask.

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  16. I think that's an awesome, integrity-filled approach, and I wouldn't have expected any less! :) I've grappled with this question too. While reviews seem important, I think there are many more people that read a book because of word-of-mouth than because of reviews, which lessens the "urgency" in my mind of wanting them.

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  17. I do sometimes look at reviews on Amazon when buying books, although I would never buy one based on what someone had put on that site alone. On the flip side of the coin, I wouldn't take too much notice of the negative reviews either. Sometimes, I think people can be overly critical, or have an axe to grind with a particular author or their writing style.

    I can't help but wonder what some writers get from asking people for 5 star reviews anyway. Sure, a long list of fantastic reviews may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside for a short while, but if they're not worth the paper they're written on, what's the point? Genuine readers will work out what's good and what's not anyway. Personally, while nice comments from my friends and family about my work might be all very nice, a 100% honest and glowing review from someone I've never met, or asked to comment, would mean a hundred times more.

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  18. I feel the same way as you. I won't ever ask for a review, though if people ask I'll let them know they can leave one. Also, for five stars I always do wonder if the reviewers know the author personally.

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  19. I think for me personally, if someone tells me how much they love my book, I wouldn't mind asking, "Would you mind posting one or two lines on Amazon?"

    I had an author give out free copies of her e-book at a conference workshop. She said, "If you like it and find it useful, please leave a review on Amazon. I'll be eternally grateful."

    The ebook was fantastic, so I left a review. And she sent me a personal thank you for it.

    (The book was No Rules, Just Write! by CJ Lyons. She's an amazing writer and marketer.)

    I think the key is to be personal and only ask for a review if they love it.

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  20. Great post today, Jody. I totally agree with your policy. I never ask people to post reviews. The closest I come is when someone volunteers to be on my influencer list and asks how they can influence. I mention online reviews as one of several options.

    Some of my best-written reviews have been attached to 4 stars. In fact I had a great review that was only 3 stars. To me, as an author AND a reading consumer, it is more the content of the review than the number of stars that makes the difference.

    I try to follow the same policy when I influence for others as well. Honesty, first and foremost. However, like Naomi said, if I'm influencing, I want to help the author, so if I mention something I thought could have been improved, it is always couched as a matter of personal preference.

    Can't wait to get my copy of The Doctor's Lady!

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  21. "...now everyone is above average." Well, haven't we all wanted to live in Lake Wobegon?

    Seriously, thanks for bringing up the "cooked" review issue, Jody.

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  22. I post honest reviews on my blog. I'll never trash a book publically. Authors work too hard. Increasingly, I've had publicists and authors request an Amazon or other online bookstore review. I don't do these as a rule. I think that should be my choice, since I've already committed blog space. Because I know how thos reviews are manipulated, I prefer not to do them.

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  23. This seems to permeate our entire society now. Kids not doing well in school? Let's dumb it down. Wearing a size 8 or above? Let's resize the charts so that an 8 is a 0 - lol! Uh, need an advanced degree to stand out? Let's dumb that down, too. Now we can all have a Master's or a PhD. Need reviews? Everybody says you do. Well, let's stack the decks. Wanna win a publishing contest? Have all of your friends vote for you... not that I'm entirely innocent (especially these days when it's so hard to get any reviews), but you make a good point and it's getting rather silly. All of these things we do to "stand out" and then nobody stands out. I like your idea of just letting it be...

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  24. It's hard to tell what's real anymore, and like you, I definitely want to be honest. I think that's another way we can honor the Lord through what we are doing, and His blessings will be returned in that. I think you are doing things just right, Jody, and giving the rest of us a lesson in how to do it, too. :)

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  25. I was asked to give a review once, and it felt odd. The next time I was asked, I declined. I can sort of tell when reviews feel solicited, and I prefer the 'real' ones.

    Have a great week, Jody.

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  26. Interesting blog post and interesting news article as well--I followed your link.

    I just finished reading Jennifer Egan's novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. The satirical last chapter explores this very idea of paid ravers. The narrator calls them parrots, or for the truly sophisticated who wish to avoid backlash, blind parrots. I thought the concept was over the top in the way of good satire, but now it seems too real...

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  27. I admire your integrity, Jody. It's refreshing and makes me even more sure I'll love your books when I finally find time to read them.

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  28. OK, feeling totally naive here! I had no idea this was going on...I hate to think that some of the reviews I read are bought and paid for. It underscores the importance of social media and networking for me. If someone in my network says it rocks, 9 times out of 10...it does. :-)

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  29. You very well might be the only fiction writer I know who hasn't asked for reviews on Amazon.

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  30. I've seen serial bestselling novelists (won't name names, but I'm talking guys who are getting movie deals) ask their twitter followers to make sure and give them 5-stars on Amazon. When you're already a bestseller, you shouldn't have to ask your fans. Really, what happened to writing a book of such great quality that readers simply gave it 5-stars because it was 5-stars of awesome.

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  31. I don't see anything wrong with asking for an honest review on Amazon in exchange for a copy of the book. I would ask that if I sent a copy they would be so kind to leave an honest review. And I truly expect it to be honest because that's the only way I can hone my craft and make the next book better. There are books by authors I admire and I have given them a 1 star review before even though I've given their other books 5 stars or perhaps 4. I think if it's honest and not obligatory, then it's fine.

    Love your blog. I'm a new follower.

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  32. I like your policy. I think your honesty will serve you well.

    I was asked to review a book once, which I didn't mind the request since it was one I wanted to read anyway. I was a bit surprised that the author requested that I only post an Amazon review if I thought it was a 4 or 5 star, otherwise, pass on reviewing it.

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  33. I agree with not soliciting. People should want to read your book, but not based off of a bunch of fake reviews. Like everything nowadays, if there's a quick buck to be made, it will be made. Good for you for not stepping into all of that!

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  34. Thanks for swinging by, everyone, and adding to the discussion, I've appreciated getting to hear some of the varying perspectives. I think ultimately each of us will need to do what is comfortable for us! But at the same time try to maintain a level of integrity.

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  35. I'm adding my voice to those who don't trust Amazon reviews. I will add a product review (if prompted by an email from Amazon) but don't generally post book reviews on there. I put my reviews on Goodreads and LibraryThing, but even there I feel that there's a chance of stacking by the author's friends.

    There are 381 books on my TBR list right now (I KNOW) and they are all from recommendations from Goodreads friends I trust, or from trusted newsletter/review sources. I buy on Amazon but never on the strength of their reviews.

    Your policy is correct. Authors who solicit reviews just annoy me.

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  36. I actually do read the reviews on Amazon but not just the good ones - I also read the 1- and 2-star reviews. If I find people consistently saying the same negative things about a book or product, then I will take their reviews into consideration before purchasing the iten.

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  37. Hi Jody,

    You've certainly given me something to think about. I'm about to launch my first ebook, and have always intended to ask for 10 volunteers who'd like a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review... or not. Of the copies I give away, I assume some will write reviews and some won't, and that's fine. I would never dream of asking for a 5 star review, I only want an honest one. To me this is simply book promotion. It's about word of mouth, and people not coming to an amazon page empty of reviews. Ideally, I would like a few there when the book launches, or shortly thereafter. After that, they can dribble in as they will. Personally, I like reading Amazon reviews, mostly because they give me a better idea of the book’s content, especially if I’m on the fence about buying a book. The number of stars a review has means less to me than what the review says.

    Asking for bloggers to review the book actually seems more mercenary to me (and yet it seems to be considered quite acceptable), because you want their reviews to drive traffic to a book’s sales page, whereas asking someone who already wants to read the book for a review if they like it, so that people who come to my book’s sales page (however they got there) can have a little more information to help them make a decision to buy or not, seems different to me. I do agree, however, that buying reviews or having a contest with a 5 star review as your entry is way over the top. Whatever people’s opinions are about this, thank you for starting such an interesting and important discussion.

    Julie Isaac
    http://blog.writingspirit.com

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  38. Hi Julie!

    Thanks for your input! It sounds like you have a good system figured out! I wish you all the best with your book's release!

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  39. Hi Jody, I was really glad to discover your blog, and this article just now. I plan to publish my first book in October, and have been trying to learn the best ways of marketing the book. I've read about authors asking for Amazon reviews…..it's been suggested as a good strategy by many.

    So far, I've asked three people I know online, but I haven't felt comfortable about it. When I've asked for a review, I've only had in mind an honest review. I certainly haven't asked for a five-star review, or offered to pay. Honesty is important to me, but I see that I'm also naive. There's a lot of information out there about how to market a book, but there's a lot of hype. It's often a fight for money.

    I want my book to sell, but in a good way, which is why I was really glad to discover your article. I've decided to not follow other people so much, but to market my book in my own way…..to let the reviews come on their own, to let the book sell itself.

    Thank you Jody!

    All the best with your books!

    Warm wishes,
    Gabrielle

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    Replies
    1. Hi Gabrielle,

      I think that we can suggest that people leave reviews if they're comfortable doing so. Often I don't think the average reader realizes the importance of reviews to authors. So you could generally say something like, "If you have the inclination, please feel free to leave a review. But also there's no obligation." Or something like that. I usually point people to some of my blog posts that suggest ways readers can help their favorite authors. And writing reviews is just one way among many. And then I feel it's my responsibility to make sure my readers know how much I appreciate their work in helping promote me!

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  40. Hi Jody, yes, reviews are very important to authors.

    Thanks for your suggestions:)

    Best wishes to you,
    Gabrielle

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