Indie Authors and Novel Reviews

I did a search the other day on novel reviews, horror book reviews, mystery book reviews, and others.  It was interesting to see what sites came up, but as I read through some of the sites, I wondered if any of those sites really help either the mainstream published author, or the indie author.  Don’t get me wrong, novel reviews in general help sell books, but do you ever wonder about those reviews?  Who is doing the reviews (hint – did someone actually read the book)?  Do reviews sway a reader (is bad press better than no press)?

The Indie Author and Novel Reviews

The other day Linda Story Runnebaum posted on my Facebook fan page and said she read my horror book Nephilim Genesis of Evil.  Here’s what she said:

Just finished Nephilim! I LOVED it!!!!!!!!!!! It was so good! I’m getting ready to go in and give a review. Thanks Renee! You are an inspiration to an aspiring author. Thanks for the wonderful example of great writing!

Very, very flattering for me indeed – and I am extremely grateful to Linda for saying such kind words.  And she posted a great review on Amazon.

But I’m curious…how much does a review like hers help?  Does it reach readers or sway them into buying the book?  How many novel reviews like this does an indie author (or any author) need for it to make a difference?  Now I will say it again, I am extremely grateful for all the great reviews I get…but what does it mean to a random reader scrolling through Amazon or Barnes & Noble?  I hope it helps, but how many is enough?  And would it help if I had these kind of reviews on sites that focus primarily on horror book reviews?  Or other sites?

Indie Authors and Horror Book Reviews, Mystery Book Reviews, and Others

Should I get on these specialized sites?  Are they better than Amazon?  I don’t know, but let’s face it, Amazon is Goliath.  This is where most of us indie authors are making the bulk of our sales  It’s also where most readers go for novel reviews.  But there are some things that bother me about people’s perceptions of reviews, at least those posted on Amazon.

Let me preface this by saying that many of us, as indie authors and readers of indie authors, have asked the question about gate-keeping – is there some way to keep the crap books from being published?  Go to the Kindle forums and see how many readers rip on indie authors and wish there was a way to identify an indie author, or wish that indie authors would have to identify themselves as indie authors so those readers could avoid those authors.  Yes, I know there are gems out there, and these readers are missing out, but that’s a discussion for another post.

But as an author, I wonder, can there be some gatekeeper system to keep the crap reviewers out of the system? :)  I jest, but it’s important to note that any Joe Blow can submit a novel review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble and many other sites.  I can’t tell you how many authors are burned by readers who have not read the author’s book but post a bad review anyway.  Or they say the book wasn’t what they expected (did they sample the book before buying it) so they trash the book.  Yes, there are great reviewers, and pointing out a book’s poor writing, poor plot and so on are valid and fair, but that’s also a discussion for another post.

Indie Authors and Novel Reviews on Amazon

Back to Amazon.  As an indie author, I love the opportunity that Amazon has given me.  It has opened up new doors for me to get my books in the hands of readers.  But sometimes Amazon has too much power.  Sometimes Amazon needs to pull back some of the control they let readers have (readers are able to report authors for typos and grammar errors, even if the reader is wrong!  But that’s for another post, too).  Sometimes reviewers need to be reviewed, so to speak.

I was burned by a reviewer when Nephilim first came out in 2006.  I had numerous great reviews but someone didn’t believe that a novel could have so many great reviews, and she posted her own review (I use this sarcastically) that accused me, the author, of fabricating Amazon accounts and creating reviews (sock puppet reviews).  She hadn’t even read the book, but somehow felt she should police Amazon reviews and targeted me.  So let me see if I understand this…if readers love my book and I don’t get bad reviews, this must mean some deception is going on?  What am I supposed to do?  Fabricate Amazon accounts and create bad reviews so it doesn’t look like I’m fabricating good reviews?

Indie Authors and Novel Reviews on Amazon Part Two

Another thing that bothers me about Amazon reviews is the term Amazon Verified Purchase.  Why is this important?  It may seem so, but let me give some scenarios where it shouldn’t matter if the book was purchased on Amazon or not.

First, if Amazon is soliciting reviews, and they let anyone post a review, even if the reader hasn’t verified that he/she finished reading the book, or read the book at all, or understands correct grammar and so on.  So why should it matter if the book was purchased through Amazon?

Second, what about someone who read the book at a library?  Their input should be valuable, even if they didn’t purchase the book.  This reader shouldn’t be relegated only to sites for other library patrons.

Third, what about the person who borrowed a book from a friend?  Again, is this reader’s input not valuable for other readers and potential buyers?  It should be.

Fourth, what if the author (me, for instance) bought paperback books at wholesale and sold them to my family and friends?  If they put a review on Amazon, does this somehow devalue the review?  It shouldn’t.

Authors, whether they be indie authors or mainstream published authors, do in fact need novel reviews.  Reviews do help sales (even bad reviews).  So let readers post them and who cares if the book was purchased at the site where the review is posted.

Indie Authors and Novel Reviews on Amazon Part Three

I’m on a roll :).  Here’s another thing about those Amazon reviews.  Did you know that reviews for mainstream published authors are frequently paid for, and the reviewers don’t even read the books?  I suspected it, but this was confirmed the other day on a Facebook page that I belong to.  A former editor from one of the big publishing firms acknowledged this.  Sure, some of you may not believe me, but ask this – how is it that the second a mainstream published book hits the market, it’s got great reviews from readers (I’m not talking about editorial reviews where someone got an ARC)?  Seems fishy to me…

Indie Authors and Bad Novel Reviews

I’ve said this before.  If you receive a bad review, and you really know (deep down) that the reviewer is wrong, let it go.  Whatever you do, don’t engage a reviewer.  There are too many times where this turns against you, the author.  And remember, bad reviews do help sales because people are still curious (why does this author have a bunch of great reviews but a few bad ones – what am I missing?).


I think I sound a bit snarky in this post.  I certainly don’t want to offend anyone, readers or authors.  Here’s where I come down on the whole issue of novel reviews.  Most reviewers are just being honest and I appreciate that.  I want as many reviews as I can get, good, bad, or indifferent.  I love and support book reviewers and book bloggers – they provide an invaluable service to the writing community, especially those that will take chances on indie authors.  All I can do is commit to writing the best books I possibly can, and I hope anyone who reviews my books will give me the most honest reviews possible.

Whew!  I’m finished.  What are your thoughts?

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About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
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12 Responses to Indie Authors and Novel Reviews

  1. Susan A. says:

    As an Amazon reviewer, I have seen a lot of what you are saying. There are books I pick up and for the life of me can’t figure out why anyone liked them, but having said that, there are books I loved that someone else said they didn’t understand how anyone liked them. So we all have our own taste. I do questions some of the reviews done by big publishers. In one case there were major issues in the book where a number of five star reviews didn’t mention it (the book had over 100 4 and 5 star reviews when I found it). I won’t name the specific book, but it included blood drinking immortals that loved organic food and were environmentally friendly. Now, I like organic food and try to help save the environment in small ways, but under no circumstances do I want healthy living preached to me in a paranormal book. So how did all these reviewers fail to mention this fact. I mean it went so far as to preach how cell phones give you brain tumors. Did these people even read this book? It wasn’t like one small part, these problems were sprinkled throughout the whole thing! That makes me wonder how credible the reviews were. I’ve learned to point out things in books that may be major factors for others to consider even if they didn’t bother me. That is the mark of a good review and I’ve been thankful for others who did the same.

    Anyway, I try to be as honest as possible in my reviews. You can find them anywhere from one star to five on my reviewing account. I do make a point of most of them having the Amazon Verified Purchase badge, but only because I do review both Indie and mainstream and don’t want anyone questioning whether I bought the book or not. It’s sad that it happens, but I take reviewing seriously and do not like to be accused of lying. I read every book I review, often take notes while I’m doing it and spend anywhere from one to two hours writing a thorough summary of my thoughts. Many people have complimented me on how detailed they are. There is no chance that someone could say I didn’t read the novel.

    On the bad side, because of my honesty, I have been attacked by authors occasionally for saying anything critical about their work. The funny thing is that in one case it was a four star review and I had only two small things I thought were wrong and they weren’t awful, but things I thought needed to be mentioned. In another case, I was attacked on my blog recently for giving three stars because I thought the main character’s personality was way too snarky and sarcastic. Now, if anyone knew the books I’ve read and how many of them had snarky leads (which I loved), it is saying something if I think a novel went over the top. I like snark, but not outright bragging on every line. So the author and her friends went and down-voted my review on Amazon. They couldn’t handle the slightest bit of criticism. I guess they wanted me to lie and tell them how great the book is, but that isn’t me.

    So I just wrote a much longer comment than I intended, but reviewing is a big deal to me and I take it seriously. You are absolutely right that there are bogus reviews out there and they bring down the credibility of the rest of us who really do try to do our best in our recommendations. The only thing that keeps me going is all the nice comments I’ve received for my critiques and the serious authors that have asked me for reviews knowing I’ll be honest. It isn’t surprising that many readers won’t write them, though, as the backlash can be heavy if you upset anyone with your opinions. I receive no compensation for what I do and refuse to even take free books in exchange for reviews. So it is all on my time and money, which is limited, just to help both authors get the word out on their work and for readers to pick the right books for them.

    Good blog post! It covered a lot of the concerns out there today on this subject and I appreciated that.

    • ReneePawlish says:

      Goodness, that is the most thorough comment to date (it could be a post of it’s own :)) – thank you! Very insightful and much appreciated. I am sorry that some authors can’t take the critique and have lashed back at you because that’s not professional and not fair to you. It’s unfortunate but any author, mainstream or indie, needs to understand that a fair critique is part of the process and can be a great learning experience.

  2. As always, Renee, you have written another informative and thought provoking post. I recommend The Kindle Book Review. It only post books that have 20 reviews or more with 4 stars or greater. NO stars, no post. Of course ALL literature is subjective, therefore the variety in reviews. I take reviews with a grain of salt. It seems there’s inevitably a 2 or 3 star review after a dozen 5 star reviews. Backlash? Maybe. Probably. Probably not. This is too subjective to know for sure. Take care. #amreading #Nephilim

    • ReneePawlish says:

      Thanks Jeff for your comments, as always. And folks, do check out The Kindle Book Review – it’s a great site! Reviewing is subjective and it’s a difficult maze for authors to go through. Happy Holidays and thanks for the Nephilim plug :)

  3. Mary says:

    Reviews do help. People have varying tastes. There’ll be no pleasing everybody ever.

  4. Renee,

    I can’t agree more with your post. Before starting to write I used to go to the bookstore, browse through books and buy what I liked. Not from Amazon, and certainly not the e-format. I still don’t own an electronic reading device ;)
    The cover and the blurb are essential to me. Then I browse the book and read paragraphs here and there. If that catches me, the book is in my bag.
    I stay away from reviews only because what some adore, others can’t stand and unless I read that book, I can’t form an opinion.
    On the other hand, as an author I’m grateful people take the time to leave comments when reading my books. I about died of happiness when I received my first review on Amazon. Amazingly there are more on GoodReads than anywhere else, no idea why.
    Bottom line is that each one of us is different. I am a true believer that for as long as books will be written there will always be exceptional ones and terrible ones. Reviews or not we should keep reading.
    Happy Holidays!

    • ReneePawlish says:

      Thanks for your comment and input. That’s an argument that the bookstore’s not dead yet lol. And a point about jacket blurbs. Good luck to you with your writing and Happy Holidays to you too!

  5. As someone who has just published her first novel “Searching for My Wand” I find this fascinating. I’m hoping to get more reviews and hope it will make a difference.

  6. Marie Harbon says:

    I think the odd 2 or 3 star review gives a book some credibility because it looks like it’s being read by a range of people and not just the author’s fans. It seems natural that not everyone likes a book, although it’s worrying that someone can state your book has grammatical or formatting problems, even if it has none at all.

    As a consumer, I tend to ignore most of the 5 star reviews and read the 4 or 3 star ones, as they tend to be much more informative, in respect of the plot, characters, writing style etc whereas many rave reviews just say things like ‘** is an amazing author’. This tells a potential reader nothing and certainly doesn’t persuade me to buy a book at all.

    I think the 3 and 4 star reviews can give the author some constructive feedback too. As writers, we are in a competitive profession and feedback can help us improve and develop our expertise. In that respect, 5 star reviews tell us little about how we can move forward.

    Lastly, as a consumer, I find that sooo many indie books are 5 star. Are they really all that outstanding? I think it makes it harder to differentiate them from each other, that’s the feeling I get when browsing. In some ways, it could do more harm in the long run as if mediocre or badly written books receive 5 stars regardless of real talent, it could turn indie publishing into a joke where no one will ever take it seriously again.

    What do you think?

    • ReneePawlish says:

      It’s a tough issue. It’s unfortunate for me, but in some ways I’m wishing for some negative reviews because of what you point out – isn’t that a sad state in the writing world? If someone’s work is good and people are enjoying it, why should it be expected that there should be some bad reviews? As for constructive feedback, I agree with you, but frankly, I think too many indie authors don’t know or want the constructive criticism. They’re too green to understand that maybe their writing needs a little (or a lot) of work. With indie books getting so many 5 star reviews, I like to see a bunch (15-20 or more), then I can believe that it’s not just the family and friends of the author. I solicited a lot of book reviewers just so that I wouldn’t be accused of my great reviews only being family and friends. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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