The results of the book reviews survey are in! I created the survey due to the lack of book reviews many author struggle with. I tried to get to the bottom of this issue and find the answer to why it is so hard to get organic book reviews.
Mind you, this is not some insignificant problem, for it can have far reaching consequences, such as authors having to pay for review services while already short on funds, being exposed to trolling that can all but destroys their book's chances, poor sales, writers giving up on publishing their work due to such issues etc.
The most disturbing part of all this is that the situation just keeps getting worse. I, for instance, have been self-publishing for two years now. Two years ago, it was relatively easy to get reviews for a book without having to pay for any services. My second book that sold less than 300 copies and is now out of print, for example, received 14 organic reviews on Amazon without much effort.
A year later, I published another two books in the same series. The sales numbers were much higher - over 650 copies of the first and close to 600 copies of the second book were sold or given away for free. Yet these books have barely received 9 organic reviews in over six months. Compare that to the 14 resulting from the 300 copies just a year before!
This year, that is two years since I published my first book, things took another turn for the worse. I launched the next book in the series and although it's selling better and faster than any before, it was all but impossible to get any organic reviews on Amazon! Over 500 copies have been sold in a matter of weeks yet no reviews were coming in.
This is a big deal, for even though it's normal that the book doesn't have any reviews while still a new release, it's not normal that there are zero reviews even after it's been published for weeks let alone months! This has a negative impact on the sales and creates a false impression that nobody is interested in it. But this same book became the most requested book in its category on NetGallery so the interest was clearly there!
I was flabbergasted by all this and at that point decided to create a survey in hope of getting some answers.
The book review survey
Recruitment: my newsletter and paid Facebook promotion targeted at book lovers
The survey was created in Google Documents and consisted of a few simple questions that included open-ended answer option. The participants were thus able to post individual responses in addition to selecting the provided multiple-choice options. Let's take a look at the responses to the questions.
Do you ever leave book reviews?
Over 85% of the readers never, rarely, or only sometimes leave book reviews, with over 65% opting for 'never' or 'rarely.' A vast majority of the participants thus don't leave reviews, which is consistent with my personal experience. The question is why?
One of the respondents gave their answer to this in the response - Amazon won't let them publish and they are not sure why. It could be the new Amazon's policy that only allows those who have spent over $50 in the last year on the platform to post reviews. In the following questions, several other respondents also reported having issues with Amazon. This, however, was not the main problem.
A vast majority of readers don't post book reviews.
If you answered with 'No' or 'Rarely,' please explain why?
It seems that most of the readers either don't post reviews or do it only rarely simply because they don't know what to say in a review - close to 70% of respondents chose this option. One third of the respondents said that they don't have the time for writing reviews. As for the individual responses, several readers stated that they are afraid of "sounding dumb" or fear how their reviews would be judged by others.
It seems that the readers aren't aware that they don't have to write an essay about the book - a short statement and rating is enough. On Goodreads, readers can even post their ratings without writing a single word (which, on the other hand, can be a problem since it also makes trolling and review bombing easier).
A majority of the readers don't know what to say in a review
If you answered with 'Rarely' or 'Sometimes,' when do you leave a review?
Among the readers who rarely or sometimes leave reviews, almost 80% stated that they do so when the book is exceptionally good. About 50% also do it if they know and want to support the author, and 40% post a review if the book is really bad.
So in order to get the reviews from these readers, your book would have to be either outstanding (for better or worse) or they would have to know you and wanted to show support for your writing. Other than that, your only hope are those few (13%) who have an increasingly rare habit of regularly leaving book reviews.
Almost 80% of the readers only leave reviews when the book is exceptional
Would you leave a review more often if you knew how hard it is for authors to get reviews and how big of an impact that has on their survival?
I included this question since I wanted to educate the readers on how big of a problem the lack of book reviews is for authors. I also wanted to see whether the readers care enough to change their reviewing habits.
The good news and a glimmer of hope for writers is that over 80% of the readers would be willing to post their reviews more often to help authors. Only about 10% of the respondents don't care that much.
Over 80% of the readers would leave reviews more often to help authors
How about helping other readers find good books?
While the readers are highly motivated to post their reviews more often to help authors, they are far less inclined to do so to help other readers find good books. Less than 65% would do so, while over 20% don't care than much.
Less than 65% of the readers would post a review to help other readers
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
At the end of the survey, I gave the readers a chance to post any additional insights they might have. 22 of the participants responded and several of them complained about the issues with Amazon.
It seems that various issues with Amazon contribute to the problem
Only 13% of the readers habitually leave book reviews, while the rest never do so or only if the book is either exceptional or they want to show support for the author. Since the majority of responses came from the Facebook ad and not my followers, these results confirmed by suspicion that I'm not the only one dealing with this problem.
It's incredibly hard to get organic reviews form the real readers - by that I mean those who are sincerely interested and care enough to actually buy our books. Not receiving feedback and support from these readers then forces writers into using various book review services, which is costly and risky.
To begin with, most writers already publish on a budget and adding to this any additional costs represents a burden that can be too much for many to carry. While there are free services as an alternative, these are even riskier than the paid ones and can literally destroy a book if not the writer's career.
Dubious characters (e.g. pirates, plagiarists, trolls, and freeloaders) pollute these services and can inflict serious damage. Many if not most of the readers on these platforms don't even bother to leave reviews, they just use a review service to get books for free.
What's worse, it's increasingly common for the trolls who pose as "reviewers" to trash and destroy the ratings of the books they get for free. In the worst cases, they will gang up and execute an online lynch of a book and its author, which is what happened to me after I stood up against one such troll on Goodreads and warned other author about Booksprout where this person operates.
But I'm just one of many who have been hit and had their ratings and reputation damaged by such attacks. What hurts the most is that these are not even the real readers of our books. These are not the people who'd ever care to buy our books and took the time to read them!
Getting a review from a real reader is nowadays, as clear from the results of this survey, close to impossible. How many writers can be expected to write nothing but exceptional books? If the readers only rate what they deem exceptional, this leaves almost all books without reviews and thus forces the authors into using services where they are at high risk for abuse.
And it's not like writing books is a lucrative business - at least it is not for most writers and the situation just keeps getting worse. The last thing writers need in this already bad situation is making it even worse by leaving us vulnerable to trolling and malicious book rating tanking!
What to do?
The good news is that the readers are willing to help and would leave more reviews if they were aware of how bad the situation is and how hard this is for writers. We need to spread the word and let our readers know how badly we need their help and support.
We are asking for nothing more than honest reviews by the real readers of our books instead of trolls. These reviews don't have to be long or complicated - they can consist of just one simple sentence and the rating. That alone can make the world of difference. So share these results, let the readers know how much of a difference their reviews make.
If you are going to use book review service, be extra careful. There are only two I can recommend - NetGalley and BookSirens.
NetGallery is one of the most renown book review services. It's used by traditional publishers, the standards are high (make sure you book meets them), and it's expensive, but there is a cheaper way of getting your book on the platform. While listing a book on NetGallery costs from $450 to $849, you can also list your book for a fraction of the price if you use BooksGoSocial.
I was able to negotiate additional 40% discount for my readers and followers, so click the link to BooksGoSocial/NetGallery offer and use the coupon code netgalleymk at the checkout. This will get you the listing on NetGallery for less than $50.