The Unbearable Pressure of Reviews

An author acquaintance of mine vented a little on Facebook this week regarding reader reviews, and why it is that so many people read her books without ever leaving a review… or even so much as a star rating on Amazon and other platforms. This post was then rebutted by whom I’m assuming was one of her readers.

To summarize the rebuttal: we authors should stop treating reviews as an expectation, something of a command performance leveled upon our readers. Readers owe us nothing. To continually badger readers for reviews only hurts our image and generates an air of entitlement among ebook authors…particularly those with small or indie presses, or self-pubbed.

Well, now…let’s unpack this a touch. There’s some value to both sentiments here. Whereas one may be reluctant to put off readers by annoying them, there is another side to this. A side the average ebook reader may not understand.

And that’s the tremendous pressure indie authors face when it comes to reviews.

By and large…this isn’t the reader’s problem. But if you are a fan of an indie author, and you’re wondering why we solicit your reviews so often, you may want to hear about it.

First, indie authors have to be creative with our marketing. We don’t have access to the same marketing machine that the top sellers among the Big 5 enjoy. We rely on the force of the street team, the motivated fan base that spreads the gospel of our latest release. Building up a fan base is a slow, painful effort…one which requires a delicate balancing act between being a “real person” online, versus creating a personal “brand”. As most indie authors are, by virtue of our professional demographics, introverted…this can be murder. Building a fan base is all about exposure.


Are reviews really the life blood for indie authors?

Discoverability, is the word bandied about. It’s a hellish word. A nightmare for most. It’s the holy grail, the philosopher’s stone, the lightning in the bottle that we all need in order to make a living at this craft.

Since we’re unable to negotiate fronting with Barnes & Noble or Waterstones, will not command great audiences at major conventions, and can’t afford major print ads or airport shelf space…indie authors must vie for the new generation of marketing efforts in order to get our titles in front of new eyes. Usually this means we have to play Amazon’s algorithm game. It also means we have to court the major online discovery sites such as BookBub.

In order for Amazon to pop our covers up on Kindles or search pages, we have to satisfy Besos’s eldritch geometry. The High Holy Algorithm, guarded with the kind of secrecy that makes the Bilderberg Meetings such a splash, requires that several parameters are met. One of these parameters, it is postulated, is review counts. Get X number reviews, your title pops up on X number pageviews. None of this is confirmable, but the anecdotal evidence is routinely paraded around the Internet. Hence, the need pressure for reviews.

Then there are BookBub’s requirements for acceptance. They’re not quantified, but they are *ahem* heavily recommended, per this snapshot from BoobBub’s insights page:


Reviews matter to the gatekeepers.

So, you can see how not just the quality but the sheer quantity of reviews appears to be a vital metric toward discoverability. And the onus is entirely upon the author to somehow generate these reviews. Small presses may have marketing departments that do their best to put their authors in touch with sites like BookBub…but the truth of the matter is that they can’t “create” reviews out of thin air. They, and we as authors, are at the mercy of the reader.

That said, authors absolutely should not consider reviews to be “owed them.” The contract between author and reader is insubstantial. The most we can expect a reader to do is to not steal our books. Outside of that…if a reader buys your book, they may read it. They may not. They may finish it, they may not. They may like it, they may hate it. They may even choose to leave a review.

They may not.

It is out of our hands…and the sentiment behind the original poster’s rebuttal was that authors who promulgate the notion that readers owe us reviews are damaging the overall relationship between authors and the reading public.

That may be the case…but it doesn’t change the fact that at this point in publishing history, in the current Amazon-dominated biosphere of indie books… we need those reviews. The best we can do is to gently make our case, and remind ourselves that the readers are in the driver’s seat. Always have been…always will be.


2 responses to “The Unbearable Pressure of Reviews

  1. I have a hard time writing reviews which is why I so rarely do it. I prefer to let the author know what I think of their books via email.

    Part of the problem is that when I first finish a book my immediate reaction may change over time as I think about it some more. Most of the time, by the time I think about it some more I’ve read another couple+ books and some of my thoughts have dulled or been overwritten in my brain.

    I suppose what I should do (hadn’t thought about it until now) would be to write a review for myself, then wait awhile, go back to it and polish it up and then put it on Amazon and/or CQ or whatever indie publisher the author is using.

    • I’m not a huge fan of writing reviews as an author. Mainly because our primary focus is to find the readership…not each other. It hearkens back to the notion of indie publishing turning into a giant Dentists Convention with a hundred dentists wandering around a ballroom offering to do each others’ fillings.

      Really, though…I suppose my greatest concern is that indie publishers are put into a position of relying too heavily on reviews, which can be fickle at best and dangerously misappropriated at worst. Alas…it’s a fundamental problem with the term “independent.” We rely on what we can do for ourselves (or small presses by and by), and that means no heavy marketing pressure from a corporation.

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