How [not] to get Amazon reviews

I recently attended the 2017 Pennwriter’s conference in Pittsburgh.  Had a lovely time.  During a session on how to best use an online presence to get sales, several of the audience members had a basic question:  “How do you get Amazon reviews?”  The instructor had a similarly basic answer:  “Ask friends and family.”

Starting with friends and family makes sense.  They are the most accessible group of people who have read your book.  But there are philosophical and practical reasons why, sooner or later, you must seek out strangers to review your work.

  1. Eventually you will run out of friends and family.  I don’t care how popular you are or how big your family is, the day will come.
  2. Some people feel weird about “bugging” friends and family members for reviews.
  3. There is the concern that your friends and family will feel compelled to give you glowing reviews which will leave you with a 5.0 average rating.

This third point is the most important con to drinking heavily from the friends and family trough.  Nothing looks phonier than an author who has 50 reviews with a 5.0 average Amazon rating.

The following are the last 5 Pulitzer Prize-winners in Fiction along with their average Amazon ratings in parentheses:

(4.1) The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
(4.2) The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
(4.6) All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
(3.8) The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
(4.2) The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson
(3.6) A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

None of these books have a 5.0 average rating, and all have one or more 1.0 ratings.

How to get Amazon reviews…sort of

Now that you’re convinced you need people who don’t know you to review your book, how to you find them?  I had been using the promotional site Buck Books to do my $0.99 Kindle promotions when they published an article on this very topic.  They recommended finding 100 Amazon reviewers who have reviewed books similar to mine and then sending them each an email asking if they’d mind reviewing and advance copy.  They recommended several online tools that would facilitate this task.  I picked a company called BookRazor who, for $9, would mine the Amazon review data.  Seemed like money well spent.  All I had to do was give them names of books that were similar to mine.

BookRazor sent me back a list of the names and email addresses of 100 Amazon reviewers who ranged in rank from #48,000,000 to #4.  I emailed each one and asked if they would review my collection of short stories.

Of the 100 reviewers I contacted, 17 wrote back and said that they would review my book.  Of these, 4 have posted a review so far, and it’s been two months since I sent them the advance copies.

Mange your expectations

I wrote this post because I think what I’ve described is a good example of how important  it is to manage your expectations  in the book publishing world.  All of the parties in this story, I believe, acted in good faith.  Buck Book had a reasonable plan for getting Amazon reviews.  BookRazor saved me tons of time by finding the reviewers for me, and did it for  $9.  The reality is, if you contact 100 people to review your book, you can expect a 4% hit rate.  That’s not very good, but those four reviews I did get were  quality ones from people who had never read my writing before.  Maybe if you try this method you’ll do better than 4% (I was expecting a 20% hit rate).  The important thing is to manage your expectations appropriately and not get discouraged.

 

“Lures,” IndieReader Review

LURES, subtitled CAREFUL WHAT YOU FISH FOR, is aptly named. Each of the nine stories in John DiFelice’s well-crafted collection features characters who are dissatisfied with their lives and take the risk of trying for something more. Sometimes the trying pays off. Sometimes it ends in greater disappointment, even tragedy. What unites the stories is DiFelice’s great empathy for his characters—men and women, urban and rural, DiFelice understands that we are all united by our desires for what we may never have.

There is a sense of deep melancholy pervading LURES. Many of his striving characters are deeply lonely. They fail to make connections with the people they should be closest to or fail to find anyone to be close to at all. This might make LURES sound like a downer, but it isn’t. The characters’ loneliness is so relatable that it paradoxically makes the reader feel less alone. And there are moments of surprising connection that shine out like a sunbeam after a rainstorm.

Not only that, LURES can be very funny. One story in particular, “Stan Slade and the Case of the Killer Meme,” is at once a hilarious send-up of noir tropes and an endearing love-letter to the city of Philadelphia. But even stories tackling more serious themes, such as “Ich Grolle Nicht,” about a couple struggling to conceive, are told with a humorous voice.  The husband, visiting a fertility doctor for the first time, observes that “Upon his walls hang citations and framed magazine covers that praise his brilliance at joining seed to egg in such a way that it very often results in the birth of a human baby.  No alien DNA here, that would be cheating.”

Only once did this tonal mix feel off to me. In the first story, “Does the World Make Sense?” a jealous wife’s warning to her husband that he “better not come home with another woman” on him comes disturbingly true when a woman blows herself up next to him on a train. I thought the pun was a bit too much for such a scenario, but the mix of humor and pathos in the following stories was more delicately balanced.

In between the stories, DiFelice has written short poems that tease out the themes of his collection. The poems absolutely add to the heartfelt tone of the book, threading it into a unified reading experience and not just a grouping of separate narratives. Definitely pick up LURES this summer and examine what you might be secretly longing for.

~Olivia Rosane for IndieReader

Review on IndieReader site

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July, everyone.  There’s no better way to celebrate the birth of our nation that to light some M-80s and read American Zeroes in the emergency room.

This excerpt describes the confrontation between the main character, Jeremiah Stumpf, and his roommate and intellectual mentor, Justin.  Jeremiah, who believes in democracy, realizes that  Justin doesn’t believe in it at all and has been using Jeremiah for his own  ends.

AZ FrontCover“Here’s what I want you to do,” he [Justin] says.  “I want you to conduct a little experiment so you can see something for yourself for a change.  Go outside tomorrow with a clipboard and a piece of paper and a pen, and ask random people you see which is more important to them, the three branches of the United States government, or God.  I guarantee that most will say God, and what is God?  Is he a president?  Is he an elected member of a heavenly congress?  Is he a judge who shares power equally with eight other judges?  No.  He is a king.  He is the absolute ruler of Heaven and earth, and he doesn’t share his toys with the other kids.  He doesn’t seek out a vote of his angelic host before he acts, and we’ve all heard what happened to the group of angels who tried to make Heaven a little more democratic.  Heaven is not a democracy, yet Heaven is where everyone wants to go when they die.  Everyone wants to go to Heaven and live forever in an absolute monarchy under the watchful eye of an all-powerful king.”

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