Frequently when I see/read an article/post/rant which is in any way about indie/self publishing, one of the off-handed remarks that seems inevitably tossed into the mix is something about how since “everyone has twenty or thirty friends they can get to give them 5-star reviews”, consumer-based ratings can’t be trusted. A book’s Amazon rating, to their mind, is meaningless. (Many such people also add that traditionally-published authors get “a slew of 1-star reviews having nothing to do with content, but merely in response to the cost of their eBooks” (presuming, of course, that somehow all traditionally-published eBooks are priced too high). This anecdotal evidence is just more proof to them that no Amazon/consumer rating can be trusted.)
I just want to say that, at least for me, this isn’t true. I wish my books had “twenty or thirty” reviews – regardless of whether they were “all 5-stars”! My most-rated book, on Goodreads, has 26 ratings (only 10 with reviews, some of those only 2-3 sentences), only 4 of those from friends/family (3 if you don’t count my own rating!). On Amazon, none of my books has more than 4 reviews, total! Most of my titles have zero reviews on Amazon. (Over on Amazon, Cheating, Death (which had 26 ratings on Goodreads) has only 3 reviews – one of them from my wife, posted in response to the 1-star, 1-sentence “review” that was the only thing there at first.) I have no idea how to get people to post book reviews, let alone friends and family – I can barely get my friends to read my books. To the point where, by now, it’s a running joke among half a dozen of them that none of them have read, or expect to ever read, any of my books.
The reviews my books have, by and large, are hard-won. Thousands of people read and/or listen to each book (sometimes tens of thousands), but most never even go so far as to give a star-rating, let alone a text review. Of those who pay for my books (which is a small percentage of my total readership), an even smaller percentage ever post a review. I don’t know who these flippant bloggers/journalists/ranters are, or who their friends are, or where they get their ideas, but they don’t have the whole picture. Some of us, the authors who are actually introverts, don’t have armies of friends – at all. Certainly not armies of friends we can mobilize to SPAM 5-star reviews across the internet, every time we put out a new book. Some of us write books that aren’t easy to summarize, whose emotional experience is not simple to express, and whose reviews/ratings represent the thoughts of the best of our readers, rather than the result of a popularity contest.
Incidentally, I get more “fan mail” (between emails, text messages, and phone calls) than reviews. Hands down, no question, simply more. Easily double or triple the number of ratings I get (across all sites put together) per book. Readers are more likely to look up my home phone number and call me than they are to take 60 seconds and put a star rating on the book they loved enough to call me about. (Even when I ask them to do so on the call, and they say they will.)
Alternatively, it’s possible that the reason I haven’t been able to marshall an army of friends to review my books is that they’re all terrible books. In that case, my friends might feel it wouldn’t be appropriate to write a “bad” review of my book, since we’re friends, so they feel better not writing anything at all. I mean, it’s a possibility. It seems contradicted by the semi-regular fan mail (and calls), but … it’s a possibility.