By Amy Collins
Unless you’ve been living in the back of a cave for the last few months, you know that there has been a lot of changes to how Amazon handles their customer reviews. At the same time, getting reviews onto Amazon and into the GoodReads system is more important than ever.
What do authors do now that it is harder than ever to encourage your readers and genre fans to write reviews? There is now an enormous chasm between an author’s needs for reviews and a reader’s comfort level with writing reviews…
I have interviewed Sandra Beckwith about her experiences, guidance, and help with getting reader reviews posted and accepted. This month, DO THIS NOT THAT is all about READER REVIEWS.
What we did
We depended upon friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fans to write reviews for us. In many cases, we even went so far as to buy copies for them so that they could get “verified reviews.”
And then times changed and this stopped working. Amazon was blocking reviews because they violated their policies and there was mass confusion. Huge changes were brewing, and we did not know why reviews were being blocked or taken down.
A number of things… To start with, a huge majority of those who we THOUGHT had written reviews for our books never got around to it.
In addition, a number of the folks who DID write reviews got the reviews rejected or removed after a few days.
Finally, in frustration, we turned to each other and said why is this so hard? Why can’t we get the people we know who love our books to write reviews? And why can’t we get those reviews to stick?
What has changed
Amazon has taken extremely aggressive steps to minimize the manipulation of reviews on their site.
What they want is for reviews to happen organically. However, Amazon grudgingly accepts that soliciting book reviews from reviewers is a time-honored and long-cherished tradition in our industry.
Where they draw the line is soliciting reviews from:
- anyone who we are connected with
This is a new development over the last several months. It used to be that we could request or solicit reviews from our fans and readers. But that is now no longer allowed.
What should we do instead?
Do not despair! There’s still tons we can do. If your fans decide to buy your book and write a review, Amazon is still fine with that.
Yes, a small percentage of those reviews are unfairly taken down… But the vast majority of them still go through. So keep encouraging your readers to write reviews online. But do not ever suggest that someone “write a review on Amazon.”
From now on, as you are posting online or sending out newsletters, just occasionally mention that writing a review would be a huge help to you. By suggesting that reviews would be helpful, you are not violating Amazons standards of soliciting Amazon reviews. You are simply suggesting that writing a review would be helpful. I have been trying this over the last few months and getting a lot more successes than we were experiencing before.
But what about people who don’t write reviews?
Sandra Beckwith was getting a ton of calls and emails from authors wondering why their friends, fans, and readers were not writing reviews. They shared with Sandra some of the same frustrations that we have all experienced. Our readers say that they will write a review, but then they don’t. Why?
According to Sandra’s research, one of the biggest obstacles to writing reviews is the perception that writing reviews takes too much time and effort.
“In my own experience, even though I am a writer, when I sit down to write a review, I don’t just whip it off. Words matter and have power. I put time into writing reviews. Because this takes me time and effort, sometimes even I can postpone writing them.” said Beckwith.
In addition, she also discovered that many people thought they did not know how to write a review. This lack of confidence is not unreasonable when you realize how many reviews get taken down due to violating Amazon’s ever-changing guidelines!
So, if even an experienced writer and journalist like Sandra postpones writing reviews because of the time it will take, and if Amazon is narrowing their parameters for what makes an “acceptable” review, what is the answer for the rest of us?
And that got Sandra thinking. She asked herself “How can I fix this? What can I do to help people write more reviews?” And she came up with The READER BOOK REVIEW FORM.
May I suggest that you take a look at these fill-in-the-blank forms? These are a series of questions designed to help readers focus on what will help other readers the most.
The point of a review is to help others make a decision on whether or not to buy a book. These forms do just that and guide the reader to writing a review that will not stress them out. This is a questionnaire, basically, that breaks down into two different tracks. One for fiction, one for non-fiction.
Just asking someone to write a review is not enough. Most readers are not writers. They need help and they need to be walked through the process. These forms can be used quickly and easily to allow people to copy and paste their own answers into a review form in the online format of their choice.
Too many people think of book reviews as a book report. Beckwith cautions against this. She wants to remind people that we don’t want to write a book report, we don’t want to write a summary…
What we want to know is what did the reader think of the book. And these questionnaires (both fiction and nonfiction) have actual review samples that encourage this type of review. They also offer advice on how to share reviews on social media and how to use reviews as your tools and encourage people to write reviews and to get the reviews into the hands of readers where they can be the most help. But they do not violate any of Amazon’s new rules.
What I love about these forms is that they don’t tell people what to say, and they don’t encourage any particular type of review. They simply ask a number of questions that gets people thinking and allows them to formulate a review step-by-step.
Beckwith goes on to say “I created these simply to help readers get reviews.”
That is why this DTNT is focused solely on reader reviews this month… The more readers who share their opinion with other readers, the better off we will all be.
So in that spirit, keep suggesting that your fans and your readers share their opinion of your books online. Please encourage your fans and readers to write reviews and to send emails into their local libraries and bookstores. But if you find that they’re having trouble formulating the words are getting started? Perhaps a questionnaire like this will help.