Would you guess the most bittersweet word that causes a storm in every indie author’s heart? Do you know what holds the power to make shivers run down an indie author’s spine? What can bring on heat and cold in quick succession and trigger controversial emotions from sticky dread to the purest exhilaration?
If you are an indie author, you have already guessed what it is.
Reviews are the Holy Grail of the independent publishing world, and the quest to obtain them is as relentless, fierce, and sometimes desperate as the search for the sacred bowl.
It is believed that positive reviews bring book sales, and, of course, there is truth in that. But another huge issue about customer reviews is that it is one of the components of the formulas almighty Amazon algorithms use to give your books a chance to become more visible to readers.
If a book has a certain number of reviews – people say that the magic number is fifty – Amazon algorithm will notice it among thousands (or would it be fairer to say, millions) of other books and give it a generous nudge in terms of marketing and promotion. It will put the lucky winner in “recommended for you” emails and show the book “you might also like” lines of covers running below the title an unsuspected customer has shown interest in.
It is difficult to overestimate the meaning of such promotion provided directly by the giant itself. As I told you, dear Diary, in my post about five things that newly-minted indie authors can get shocked about, Amazon is a bottomless pit a book gets sucked into the moment it is uploaded into the system. Like a space probe launched to space with high expectations but no hope for its return with results and data anytime soon, indie authors release their books into the universe. It is a galaxy, where myriads of stars – big celestial bodies – disappear among the multitude of similar objects.
Reviews are both an accelerator and a magic power. They let you cross the space of the internet bookstore shelves at the speed of light and get to the planet “Book Sales and Visibility” not posthumously but when you are still able to enjoy your author’s success.
And now imagine, you are getting closer to your cherished goal – fifty reviews! The journey is exhausting. Your engine huffs and puffs. It even stops periodically, and the number beside yellow stars remains unchanged for weeks and months. You add fuel to the tank, you change the fuel type, try new routes and meet fellow space-travellers who cruise the same galaxy with a similar degree of success and knowledge. You agree to share your resources with those who promise to help you get to your desired destination. Some of them turn out to be pirates who take your money and disappear, leaving you with the same number beside those yellow stars. But from time to time, something works, and your enthusiasm returns, allowing you to proceed with your hopes renewed. You think that you see the light of the brightest star – the one with a glowing “50” on it – and then… one day, you wake up and see that instead of getting nearer you got further from your goal.
Yes, Amazon also deletes reviews, and not only adds them.
Only indie authors can understand how utterly devastating it feels.
You feel crushed, defeated, humiliated, and the first thought is to get yourself to the escape pod.
Well, at least, that’s how I felt when it happened to me for the first time. A review for my book disappeared, and I was dumbfounded. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do. Amazon warns its users in their Agreement that they reserve the right to do all kinds of things without warning or explanation, so I didn’t believe that contacting them would solve the issue. But after a few more reviews and ratings disappeared and another author told me that after they wrote to Amazon, the deleted review reappeared, I sent an email to their customer service detailing the problem. I didn’t receive any answer.
That was when the support of fellow space-travellers – other indie authors from the Writing Community on Twitter – proved to be really invaluable. I didn’t feel completely discouraged mostly because, by the time my first review disappeared, I’d already read about it happening to other writers. I also read inspiring stories about Amazon deleting unfair and unjustified 1-star reviews.
So, dear Diary, I’m going to sit back in my pilot seat and continue my journey. I don’t know when I reach the “50 reviews” planet and if arriving there will make Amazon algorithms feel sudden passion for my books. I’ll quote Rygel from “Farscape” now and no, I’m not ashamed to do so: “Defying all logic, Crichton may actually figure out how to get us away from the Peacekeepers forever.”
Since this indie author’s journey feels completely unreal, almost like John Crichton and his team of aliens galloping through the galaxies, I can believe the unbelievable – that someday I will figure out how algorithms work – right?
I promise to keep you updated.
UPDATE April 25: On the next day after I published this post I woke up to find that one more review disappeared from Amazon UK. I must admit, it felt rather creepy…