Self-publishing Tips: Should You Worry About Reviews?
Desired and Dreaded Book Reviews
You've just finished your self-published book and it's up on Amazon for sale. That also means it's up for review by both readers who love it (or love the author) and hate it. Y'all ready for that?
Authors, especially new ones, can fret so much about the possibility of getting a bad review that it can paralyze them from even publishing the book in the first place.
Let's get one thing straight: If you put yourself and your work out there—whether it's online or offline—people will judge you and what you do. Not prepared for that? Then find something else to do that will keep you as incognito and invisible as possible.
Writing and self-publishing a book is, by its very nature, a public activity. The etymology of the word publish can be traced back to the Latin publicare which means to "make public" (Online Etymology Dictionary). The cloak of invisibility that many writers desire is an illusion that has been ripped away by the Internet. It all seems so "private" publishing from the comfort of one's home when, in fact, publishing is more public than it's ever been.
With self-publishing being a public activity, you need to be prepared for both desired and dreaded book reviews.
Could Negative Reviews Kill Book Sales?
Short answer? Maybe or maybe not.
Judging from my own experience (and I'm sure you could relate), I'm not reviewing five different books, comparing for price and the one negative review tips me over into non-buy mode. Books ain't toothpaste.
True, a great review might tip an on-the-fence buyer to actually buy a book. However, if you are actively marketing your book or ebook, and actively building your audience, readers may be primed to buy your book and may not even think to look at the reviews. I know I rarely look at the reviews, except for curiosity's sake. Why? Because I tend to read books that were recommended to me by REAL people I know and trust. Luckily, Amazon has the "verified purchase" designation which does give some reviews more credibility.
And let's remember this. Your book is a unique creation. Sure, there may be dozens, if not thousands, of books addressing the same market or topic. But it's what you bring to the market that will encourage them to buy.
Silent and Squeaky Readers
Happy customers can be the quietest customers on the planet when it comes to expressing their good experience with a product, service or vendor. Their expectations were met. They've moved on to the next thing. Even worse is that once they've purchased a book, they are not going to be repeat buyers of that book. Again, a book ain't toothpaste.
But unhappy customers? They're the proverbial squeaky wheel (or reader in this case), all too anxious to express their displeasure with anything relating to a purchase... even if the source of their unhappiness is the most minor or irrelevant of issues.
Unfortunately, as many small business owners can attest, this is a maddening scenario that currently has few viable solutions. Thankfully, on Amazon Kindle books, when the reader is finished, a starred, easy-to-complete review opportunity pops up when the book is finished. Even if they don't write a review, at least the book might easily earn some stars. As well, Amazon does send emails reminding buyers to review their purchases. Sadly, both can be ignored.
Do you fret over your negative book reviews?
The Book Launch Review Bonanza or Bust
Many authors scramble to get their friends to read a book pre-launch in the hopes that as soon as it publishes, their friends will quickly post a (hoped to be positive) review on Amazon. Not a bad strategy and I encourage authors to solicit as many early reviews as they can. But I'd like to offer some experience I've had.
When I've distributed review copies (usually a PDF version watermarked with a notation about being a sample or review copy on every page), it is difficult to get friends to actually post a review. They're busy and that's just one more thing they have on their burgeoning To Do list that won't get done. I am NOT a high priority. Plus, some are s-l-o-w readers. So I have a decision to make: Should I badger them to post a review? Or should I let it go and move on to more friends?
With the low cost of PDF review copies, cost is not a huge factor to soliciting warm and fuzzy reviews from a wider audience. But consider this: How many of those friends could be book buyers? Giving away too many review copies could hurt sales, too, especially in super niche markets where sales volume may be low anyway. And there's always the chance that they'll "share" the review copy with others, further reducing sales opportunities.
Some will take a "giver" stance and say that the more they give away, the more that will come back to them. Okay, I understand that universal principle. But where do you draw the line? Should you draw the line?
What to Do?
- Get as Many Positive, Warm Book Reviews as You Can. Even though it might be difficult, get as many warm, fuzzy book reviews from friends and fans as you can, especially in the pre-launch and early book launch period. But don't stop then! Encourage reviews throughout the book's lifespan.
- Don't Panic over Bad Reviews. Everyone, even the most successful of authors and artists, gets bad reviews from time to time. Again, if you're in a public profession, be prepared for this to happen. It's inevitable.
- Ignore the Trolls. There will always be haters and pontificators, noisy "trolls" who are looking for attention more than anything. Ignore, don't engage.
- Watch for Trends and Valuable Critiques. While it's best to ignore the ignorant trolls, in some less-than-positive reader reviews, you may observe trends and treasures of insight. Use these valuable bits of information when preparing new books, next editions or revising marketing plans.
- Build Your Review-Resistant Fan Base. More than anything, authors need to build a loyal fan base and community eager to read their latest work. This requires consistent branding and engagement with that audience. Don't just build a book, build a fan base!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
How do I review a book containing photos and narrative about each photo?
You have to ask yourself how you feel about the photos and narratives, and make that the basis of your review. That's what an author wants to learn from your review of his or her book.
© 2015 Heidi Thorne