Friday, October 5, 2012

ASK PZM: Oct 2012 reviews

My guest , marketing expert Phyllis Zimbler Miller has been answering marketing questions on my blog under the heading ASK PZM (5th day of every month) since January 2010. Thanks, Phyllis! If you have a question you need answered, please submit it before the 30th of each month and I'll make sure she gets it in time. If you'd like to read all Phyllis' Q&A's, type ASK PZM in the search window on the right just below the eBook cover of Dead Witness. 

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Q: Could you discuss the importance of reviews as well as what to do about negative reviews?

Let’s start with the importance of reviews.

Are they important? Heck, yes!

But, as I have discovered 4 ½ years after the publication of my first novel, MRS. LIEUTENANT, all reviews are not created equal.

Today, October 2012, I would recommend that an author selling her books on Amazon (and if you aren’t on Amazon, are you even a serious author?) focus on getting reviews on Amazon for her book.

Why is getting reviews on Amazon so important compared to other review sites?

For the last few months I have been tracking the rankings of my books on Amazon. And while the Amazon search algorithms (complex mathematical formulas) are secret, I can say with confidence that both the number of reviews and the number of purchases of your book affect your book’s ranking on Amazon.

What does this mean in actual terms?

In general, the more good reviews and the more purchases a book has, the better ranking Amazon gives that book. And the better the ranking, the more often Amazon apparently recommends that book to prospective buyers in a specific category.

Now the most reviews does not mean you get the best ranking. The Amazon categories in which your books are placed have a lot to do with the ranking.

Okay, the above explanation may have confused authors, including myself.

Let’s take an example:

The thriller LT. COMMANDER MOLLIE SANDERS that I wrote with my husband is NOT my best reviewed book on Amazon. (MRS. LIEUTENANT has approximately twice as many reviews and a higher average.) But MOLLIE SANDERS sells more ebooks.

I believe this is because MOLLIE SANDERS fits into a much more specific category – sea adventures – than does a “general” novel like MRS. LIEUTENANT. (I talk about Amazon book categories in my ebook TOP TIPS FOR HOW TO MARKET YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON AND FACEBOOK.)

By checking my KDP reports frequently (, I see the correlation between an ebook purchase and the book’s improved ranking. And by checking for new reviews on the ebook’s Amazon sales page, I see the correlation between another review and the book’s improved ranking.

(Improved rankings are temporary. I have noticed that, if a book goes without new purchases, the ranking worsens. Also note that improved rankings are actually smaller numbers – 20,000 is better than 200,000.)

Attached is a screenshot of MOLLIE SANDERS ranking taken at 9:18 a.m. Pacific on October 4th. As this ranking could change in the next moment, it is only here for illustrative purposes. (To find this ranking for your own book, scroll down your book’s Amazon sales page until you get to the bottom of PRODUCT DETAILS.)

Now the goal of a book author is to sell her books, right? Amazon reviews help you sell books in a very specific way, and this is why I am currently focusing on Amazon reviews.

How to get reviews:

First, do NOT pay for reviews. When I started out 4 ½ years ago and knew no one, I admit I paid for a couple of reviews from companies advertising this service.

And 4 ½ years ago that was okay. Now it is NOT okay. Amazon really, really frowns on paid reviews in most cases.

Caution: Although I give people free copies of my books for review purposes, Amazon “rewards” reviews from people who have purchased the book on Amazon. This is the “Amazon Verified Purchase” you see next to some reviews, and I strongly suspect this also figures into the search algorithms.

Second, you can ask for reviews. You can ask via Facebook, Twitter, wherever you have connections online. And please do NOT ask for a five-star review. Ask people to write a review if they like the book.

(Many reviewers who read a book that they do not like do not write a negative review. They write no review – and sometimes contact the author privately with suggestions.)

Asking for reviews includes looking for books on Amazon similar to yours and checking out the people who reviewed these books. Click on the names of the reviewers who interest you. Often their Amazon public profile will include contact information if they are open to reviewing other books. Then you can contact them with a politely worded request to review your book.

What to do if you get a negative review:


That’s right – nothing.

While Amazon allows comments on reviews, you do NOT want to comment on a negative review as you may only be opening a very nasty can of worms.

If there is useful information in the negative review, do keep it in mind. But if it is simply someone being mean, ignore it. Other people reading the review can probably also figure out that the reviewer is just being mean.

Now if the language in the negative review is so offensive that you would be embarrassed for people to read this review, you can report it to Amazon. I did this once for an Amazon U.K. review of MOLLIE SANDERS because the review was so offensive I didn’t want other people to read it and be upset. And, yes, Amazon removed the review, although this outcome is not assured.

Although I strongly encourage you NOT to respond to negative reviews on Amazon, you can respond to positive reviews when appropriate, including people you do not know and whose Amazon username you may not even recognize. (The COMMENT button is located next to each review.) In conclusion, yes, reviews are important, and if you believe in your books, it is worth spending your time to seek out reviewers who post on Amazon.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks. A new nonfiction ebook of hers is TOP TIPS FOR HOW TO MARKET YOUR BOOK ON AMAZON AND FACEBOOK and her newest fiction ebook is the thriller CIA FALL GUY.
Click here to visit her Amazon author page at
She also has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the co-founder of the online marketing company


  1. I've always learned from my reviews and taken that to improve the next book.
    I do know reviews and sales improve ranking, as I've watched both of my books hit the best seller charts. (And from royalty checks, yes, I can see the books were selling then!)

  2. Interesting post. Thank you for sharing these tips.

  3. I've heard reviews help with visibility and ranking at amazon, therefore helping to sell more books but I do worry about the usefulness of reviews with paid reviews becoming so prevalent. I know you mentioned that Amazon and others frown on it, but it is becoming very common. I worry that I can't trust reviews when they are gained thus or when they are traded for by leaving reviews of other peoples books.

    1. Sara, I'm going to leave this question for Phyllis, because frankly I don't have a clue. Phyllis is unable to leave comments on my blog, so she'll email you privately. Thanks, and have a great day.

    2. Thanks, and sorry for going off topic a bit. I completely agree that reviews help sell books but as a reader I don't feel I can always trust them.

  4. This column struck home with me. A novel I co-authored was published this summer on Amazon. We have a lot of reviews and the average is still five-stars. I worry that people will see that and think the reviews were bought and/or were all written by family and friends.

    I asked my family not to review the book--and my hometown made it this year's Community Read. They purchased twelve copies and allowed readers to check them out for only one week at a time for two months prior to my program for the library. MANY of my friends and acquaintances read library copies and don't have Amazon were unable to post a review. Others are older readers who don't put their credit cards online. I understand and respect that.

    However, the military has embraced this novel. High ranking officers and fighter pilots have endorsed it, but so have "Mud Marines," as one reviewer referred to himself, as well as ministers and people who have grief issues. This book has been described as "an instrument of healing."

    All this to say that when I question the number of reviews, I look at the quality and depth of what each reader has written. Are there many, many two or three sentence "reviews" that basically say no more than, "I loved this book. It's a great read. I couldn't put it down." (?) Is the reader obviously involved with the book? Have the characters left footprints on the reader's very DNA?

    In today's crazy publishing world, looking at reviews like that is one of the few things that makes sense.

    Bonnie Bartel Latino
    C0-author with Bob Vale, "Your Gift to Me"

    1. I sympathize with your concerns, Bonnie. Phyllis will email your privately because we've yet to discern why blogger won't let her comment. Suffice to say, while best selling novels have relied on reviews, they also rely on word of mouth. When a reader I know is not savy enough to learn a review on Amazon, I ask them that if they enjoyed my book to please tell a friend. And so on. From the looks of your webpage, I think you're doing a good job of promoting your work. Best of luck to you. And thanks for stopping by.

  5. I only respond to reviews when it is obvious that the reviewer has not read the entire books, but only selected parts of it. This only happens when he/she/it is working for a publication that pays for reviews and very seldom. My concern here is not the review so much as the integrity of the process. I'm a former reviewer myself, including several years for the Los Angeles Daily News. I would have been fired, and rightly so, if I'd ever done that. It's easy to see when the reviewer has short-cutted your book. The details are incomplete, or wrong, or they emphasize the actions of a very minor character. No one review will make or break one of my books and most of my reviews are unpaid for (by me) and five star, so ones that deviate from the norm stand out. They don't hurt me, but do hurt the reviewer and the review process. Amazon reviews can be a short as 20 words, but even that is too much effort for most people.

    1. I have to confess it's easier to write a review for a book I love than one I don't. In fact, I don't write negative reviews. What's wrong, and I've been guilty of it in the pass is to write one when asked, then a paragraph into the story, discover it's not your genre. I have yet to tell the author I hate your genre. Instead I note what worked and keep the review brief.

      You have a valid point, Francis. Maybe Amazon should set some guidelines that all reviews must follow. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. The thing is that nowadays online shopping and marketing is becoming the next big boom and not just for books! I never buy anything without first reading reviews - even a toothbrush!!! Like it or not they are very powerful tools when yu're trying to sell...

    1. I believe it, Pat. I bought a fabric steamer recently and checked the reviews first. I did however end up buying a Conair even though 1/4 of the reviews were negative. As a Canadian, the shipping costs are unbelievable high, so unless one lives close to the border, it's not worth buying online.

  7. Thanks as always, Phyllis and Joylene! I don't know anything about Amazon and how it ranks books, so this was extremely helpful information.

  8. I always prefer constructive criticisms :)

    1. Yes, how else can we learn from them. Hi Lea!

  9. Excellent information, Phyllis... thanks. I hardly ever read a review because most books I acquire are by people I know or authors I already like, and I'm going to read them regardless of what reviewers may think. On the other end of the stick, I don't review books very often either. I know my tastes may not be everyone else's, so I hesitate to tell my blog readers that I recommend something and perhaps influence them into buying it and subsequently be disappointed. If I feature a book that I've read on my blog, I most often just give background info on it rather than actually 'review' it. People will know I've read it and have chosen to feature it, which should tell them something, but I'm leaving them free to make their own evaluation. I may not say a lot about my reaction to a book, but my comments are always honest.

    I don't suppose that benefits the author very much, and if the day comes that I'm published I'm sure that aspect will become much more important to me. I appreciate the information you've provided here.

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Carol. Happy Thanksgiving.

  10. This is excellent info I'm bookmarking for a reread. Thanks so much for all the deets! :)

  11. I love these marketing posts. I always get so much from them. :)

  12. Hi Joylene and Phyllis,
    Once again, a most informative and detailed posting. And when you think about it, paying for a review may well get you inconclusive feedback that might not be as critical as perhaps needed.
    And Joylene, here's wishing you and your loved ones, a peaceful, positive Thanksgiving Day.
    In kindness, Gary

    1. It's so nice of you to stop by, Gary. Hope your weekend is fabulous.

  13. Great info, thanks so much! I especially like the advice about negative reviews. A writer shared once how she came to grips with them, that her work would not be everyone's cup of tea and that was okay. Good advice for pressing ahead.

  14. Wow! Fantastic post. I've learned a lot just now. I'll keep these tips in mind when I get something closer to publication. And thanks for joining my blog. I gave you a Shout-Out today. :)

  15. Fabulous, comprehensive post!! Great tips to remember about reviews (great timing for me too hehehe)

  16. It must be the week to talk about reviews! Thanks for sharing, ladies. :)

  17. Great informative and interesing advice in this post. Thanks for posting. As a reviewer if I don't really like a book I email the author and say so rather than posting a negative review out on the web.

    Loved all the advice,


  18. Wow, Joylene, lots of great tips. I didn't realize a review from someone who purchased the book from Amazon impacted to much, for starters. Thanks for the info. I bookmarked your post.

  19. Hi Joylene and Phyllis - so sensible to keep one's mouth shut (and typing fingers quiet!) ...

    However - Phyllis has a wealth of wisdom .. and I always enjoy her posts ... cheers to you both .. Hilary

  20. I never thought of asking for reviews from an amazon reviewer for a book in my genre. Thanks so much for that idea. I'm going now to purchase your book on amazon and rankings, etc. Joylene and Phyllis, thanks for partnering up to share such useful info.

  21. Thanks everyone for supporting this very important column. Phyllis still can't leave a comment, but if she could it would be thank you all for generous support. Have a great weekend, and we'll see you next month, Nov. 5th.


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