I have treated my book as a traditionally published book. This means that I act like a professional. Unfortunately, this is not true for a lot of the rest of the self-published community. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear, “I got a negative review. Quick! Run vote it down.” and then the next thing I see is, “I reported it to Amazon as bad and wrote a 5 star one myself.” This appalls me, and I hope you as well.

I joined a review group where we get together and agree to review each others’ works. I agreed to review a book about …let’s say a cat…that sounded adorable. It was not. Every sentence in dialogue had an exclamation point! And on top of that were a lot of sentences that ran on and on without any commas while the author told us about everything the cat did that day which actually turned out to be nothing more than meet another animal! And then we learned the animal’s name! And then…

In other words, there was no plot at all. Furthermore, 3 chapters were about Christmas itself, and at least two others were getting ready for it or recovering from it, or talking about it in general. This would have been fine if the book were called Christmas adventures with Tom the Cat, but it wasn’t. On top of that, the chapters were out of order; it’s made to look as though it were several stories in one book, but it is not; and many words were used many times together many times in a row. I wanted to shoot myself. It was a horrible experience.

But here’s what gets me. It had 5 – 5 star reviews. WHAT!?

Here’s what I found out.

Indie authors get together and agree to give each other reviews. It is considered common courtesy to tell the author you didn’t like the book before posting a bad review. In other words, if they don’t like the review, it doesn’t get posted. Now, there are authors out there that go to Fiverr and pay for 5 star reviews. And there are many that don’t have a problem with this. But even the ones that have a conscience don’t seem to have a problem with the above. I was told that if I posted my negative review, that it might have consequences. Interesting. Let me get this straight. If I’m honest, I’ll be shunned by the indie community. Well, quite frankly, if I’m being shunned by a bunch of people that want to lie to their buying public, then that’s fine by me.

But wait.

That’s not all.

These authors actually use the review system as a way to get their work critiqued! What? Yes. If you have a bad review you are expected to tell the author so they can change their work and make it better. OK, that’s fine and all I guess. But they don’t remove the old book and release a new one. They simply change the old one. No. It doesn’t work that way. Or at least it shouldn’t.

But I can trust the reviews by a “verified purchased” person, right?

Wrong.

One of the requirements for submitting these reviews is to purchase the books and then write a review, that way it says, “verified purchase” under the review. So no, you can’t trust those reviews either.

So how do I know if the book’s any good or not.

  1. Read “notes from the author”- When the author writes about themselves, you can tell a great deal by their bio and summary. This one book I did, for example, screamed volumes about how horrible the book was going to be. I foolishly accepted the task anyway.
  2. Being a beginning indie author, I hate to say it, but- Wait for more books. As more books come out, their fan base will grow, and more honest reviews will spring forth on their own.
  3. Read a sample. It takes a week from the actual release date (not the pre-order availability) for Amazon to put that sample up. The sample is the first 10%. Anya goes all the way to the beginning of ch3. If you don’t like what you’re reading by that point, don’t get the book. It’s that simple. (unless it’s mine, cause it’s awesome 😉 )
  4. Is the book offered for free? It has been my experience that only indie authors offer their book for free, and a great deal of the really good ones don’t. They usually wait until they have several books out, offer the first book (or the best book) for free, and then hope. I have seen people in ecstatics because a bunch of people (think 10,000) downloaded their book for free, placing them at the #1 free book list. Big whoop. What did you expect? It was free?
  5. But doesn’t it mean that if it was in the top free it was good? No, These authors pay people to advertise, often spending hundreds of dollars (see BookBub’s pricing list) to get their listing in the right eyes. Now, no names mentioned, but it is very rare to see anyone come back and say that over 10% of what was freely given was purchased. In other words, out of 20,000 free downloads, less than 2000 actually bought one of their books. And more often than not, it’s much less.

So what you’re saying is…

Reviews of an indie book are only useful to the author, not the purchaser, unless there’s a BUNCH of them. “Around 20-25 reviews, Amazon starts including the book in “also bought” and “you might like” lists. Around 50-70 reviews, Amazon looks at your book for spotlight positions and the newsletter.” Please see this post for more information on book reviews and how their numbers effect book listings. In other words, an author would have to shell out some pretty good dough to get 50-70 bogus 5 star reviews. Has it happened? I have no doubt. Is it common? I very much doubt it.

It is not my intention to make readers leery of indie authors and make indie authors lose readers and therefore their livelihood. It is my goal to make the indie publishing game less of a game and more of an honest industry where readers can tell the difference between good and bad eggs. With the bad eggs gone, the good eggs can shine. Readers will become more trusting of indie books in general and buy more, making it, once more, a plausible business. I hope I have done just that.

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