In 2013, Naomi will be expanding her advice to offer something extra for readers. As founder of the incredible Sisterhood of the Traveling Books, Naomi is perfectly placed to provide fantastic and savvy tips on Goodreads, ebooks and more. Please let us know what you’d like to see covered in 2013!
This week The Author CEO, Naomi Blackburn, begins a new series on gathering reviews. As part of this, Naomi will look at the various ways of building contacts, developing relationships and avoiding questionable sources.
Naomi is founder of the Goodreads group Sisterhood of the Traveling Books, as well as the Nordic Noir group, dedicated to discussing Scandinavian mysteries. Last year, Goodreads ranked her at #11 on their top reviewer list, in both the U.S. and in the world (based on 2011 rankings). As a reviewer, Naomi is brilliant, insightful, and, as she puts it, “brutally honest.”
Please feel free to leave questions for Naomi, as well as any suggestions you may have for future posts. I hope you enjoy the column!
The Author CEO: When Purchased Reviews Fail to Make the Cut
by Naomi Blackburn
We will be kicking off a series this week focused on reviews. For the next couple of months, we will be looking at the ethics, politics, and acquisition of reviews.
Rachel Thompson is always a wealth of information for me. Sometimes, I must admit, I don’t like the information she forwards my way! As I was spying on her Facebook page the other day, I noticed that she was discussing the ease of obtaining negative Amazon reviews through Fiverr.com, a tactic some unethical people use to undermine the competition. Intrigued, I went looking and I was blown away by what I saw. Because my mind is geared toward upstanding authors, I looked at the positive offerings first. For $5 a reviewer will purchase and review your book. WHAT A BARGAIN?!?! Wait-not so fast!
Ethical questions aside, my business mind immediately focused on the cost factor of these $5 reviews.
1) Five dollars buys you only one positive review! In terms of visibility, one review doesn’t make a dent in the Amazon world of reviews. So, what would make a dent? Is it 100 reviews, which is what many authors tell me it takes to move their books up the Amazon rankings? Purchasing 100 reviews would cost you $500 dollars!
2) How does this compare to seeking out traditional book bloggers to review your book? First, traditional book bloggers don’t charge you to read and review your book. Second, a traditional book blogger has an established audience-i.e., readers of their blog. Third, most book bloggers have developed a system of marketing their blogs to gain greater visibility. That Fiverr review you paid $5 for bought: one positive review ON AMAZON. That’s it: you gain no other visibility.
3) As discussed in the fixed vs. variable costs post, variable costs can kill a book’s budget. This is definitely an unnecessary budget killer. With a little bit of elbow grease you can garner free reviews, and the funds can be dedicated to projects to make your masterpiece even better!
4) Since most Fiverr ‘sellers’ use a pseudonym to complete their transactions, there is no way to identify them and, therefore, no guarantee that the work will get done. I came across a profile that listed a 60% completion rate. So 40% of the purchasers threw their $5 out the window.
5) As traditional book bloggers are often promoting their own work (in addition to the blog), it is beneficial for them to complete their part of the bargain. As I am rapidly finding out, the literary world is a very small world, with some authors demanding that reviewers complete their part of the bargain or be called on the carpet. People who work ‘in the shadows,’ such as the nameless reviewers on Fiverr, can’t be held to those standards; they can simply take the money and run!
6) Traditional book blogger reviews provide deep analysis of the work; many authors use this critique to evaluate their own work and hone their craft. While certainly possible, it’s unlikely that buyers will be fortunate enough to hire a paid reviewer who, like bloggers, writes reviews because he or she loves books and is willing to put the time and effort into crafting a thoughtful analysis.
As I continued to investigate the site, I was appalled. Not only can you buy positive reviews, you can buy negative reviews as well. Since most authors aren’t going to buy negative reviews of their own work, one can only assume that these would be used to trash a competitor’s work. In my humble opinion, it is a very sad person who is so envious that they would purchase negative reviews of a competitor’s works.
The offer I loved the most was from the ‘entrepreneur’ who, for $5, will report abuse on negative reviews from 5 of her sock puppet accounts to get the reviews removed from Amazon. Unfortunately, there were numerous offers similar to this. (By the way, this is the person who had a 60% approval rating because she didn’t deliver!) Once you’ve paid your $5, is there any guarantee that the negative review will be removed? What’s more, how is a negative review by a credible reviewer in any way a form of abuse? Another point to ponder: isn’t an author who uses these tactics to remove a credible negative review abusing the reviewer? How is this behavior any different from a drive-by reviewer leaving a 1-star review? Plus, as I’ve said in the past, a book with all high ratings raises more red flags than one with mixed reviews.
So-does it ever make sense to buy a review? Yes, sometimes it does! We will be discussing that in the next installment of The Author CEO!
About Naomi Blackburn
Naomi Blackburn, owner of The Author CEO, a consultation firm dedicated to helping independent authors navigate the development of strategic business plans and the marketing world, holds an MBA and has worked in the field of business development, sales and consulting for 12 years. A former social worker, she has helped hundreds of clients meet their life goals. An avid reader and top Goodreads reviewer, she comes to the world of books from a reader/reviewer’s perspective. She strives to help authors achieve their goals by teaching them to think of themselves as CEO/entrepreneur of a small business and helping them negotiate the business side of selling books.
Excellent article! I was appalled to learn about Fiverr.com. That is almost unbelievable. It\’s bad enough to purchase $5 positive reviews, but to purchase negative ones:
As to paid reviews, I have to admit, when I published my first book, last April, I purchased a Kirkus Review. I got a good review, but I doubt if it sold a dozen books, so it definitely wasn\’t worth the expense, and I wouldn\’t do it again.
The review process is a terrible mess, and I place a lot of the blame on the retailers. I personally believe that many of the problems associated with reviews could be avoided if the retailers required people to use their real names. Amazon certainly knows who you are, so enforcing it would be easy.
But getting back to the reviews, I agree that bloggers are the key to building a strong base for reviews. Most bloggers provide solid, honest reviews that can be used to help readers decide whether to buy a book or pass on it. And, as you pointed out, a review by a good blogger can also help the author. I have seen many books where review after review points out the mistakes in a book, and I\’m left to wonder why the author doesn\’t take it down and fix the mistakes.
Bloggers are not only trusted by their readers, many of them will post reviews to multiple sites. Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, etc: not to mention their own site, where they have a following of readers interested in discovering new authors. Bloggers have become the number one choice for me when it comes to seeking reviews. I also put a paragraph at the end of my books asking readers to leave an honest review. I think that helps also.
Thanks for another great post, Naomi.
Thanks Jim…I will actually be discussing Kirkus next time, so I will be contacting you for your take, plus others who swear by Kirkus. To boot, what do readers think of these type of reviews. It should be an interesting post.