A little about me:
I’ve been writing for about 18 years. In that time, I’ve self-published 13 novels and 5 short stories / novellas. My stories range in genre and include literary apocalyptic, time travel dystopian, epic space adventures, and most recently, psychological suspense / time travel. On multiple occasions, I’ve had “Best seller” status in a variety of Amazon’s genre lists.
A little about reviews
Indie authors are desperate for reviews. It’s our lifeline in having any chance of being successful. Unfortunately, Amazon does a variety of things to prevent good reviews from being seen and to make book ratings seem worse than they actually are. So please, if you read an indie author’s book and enjoy it, (please, please) leave a review letting everyone know how much you liked it. Tell your friends about it. Post the reviews to social media. That’s the only way authors like me have a chance of being successful against a stacked deck.
A little about Amazon’s ratings:
While every indie author knows reviews on Amazon are critical for their book’s success, they also know that trying to make sense of how Amazon operates is impossible and often negatively impacts authors’ books, as it did mine.
After the first couple weeks of my latest book’s publication, ten reviews showed up (I have many more, but that comes later). Of those reviews, my book had:
- Five 5* ratings
- Two 4* ratings
- One 3* ratings
- One 2* ratings
- One 1* ratings
The reality versus what Amazon shows (Way #1 in which Amazon negatively manipulates book ratings)
But wait, not all reviews are created equally. Amazon weighs verified reviews (reviews by people who actually bought the product directly from Amazon) above unverified reviews. This makes perfect sense. Three of the five 5* ratings are verified purchases while the lone 2* rating is not a verified purchase (the lone 1* rating might not be verified either but I’m not sure).
It would also make sense to prioritize ratings that are accompanied by a review that lets potential readers make more informed purchases. All five 5* ratings are accompanied by reviews. One of the 4* ratings is accompanied by a review. None of the 1-3* ratings has a review.
For some unknown reason, Amazon prioritizes unverified ratings with no reviews above verified purchases with reviews, which not only goes against what they say about how their ratings are assessed, it’s also the first way Amazon manipulates ratings to hurt authors.
Weights impact averages (Way #2 in which Amazon negatively manipulates book ratings)
Amazon uses those weighted scores to determine the book’s overall product rating.
So, because Amazon prioritizes unverified ratings without reviews over verified purchases with reviews, potential readers will think the average reader score is 3.7 when it’s actually 3.9. And if Amazon actually prioritized verified purchases the way they claim to do, the average score would be 4.1. That’s the second way Amazon manipulates ratings to hurt authors.
Where’s the review? (Way #3 in which Amazon negatively manipulates book ratings)
I have a number of advanced readers who provide honest reviews in exchange for an advanced copy of my book. This is something all publishers do, from the largest traditional publishing houses to new indie authors. The advantage of using advanced readers is that when a book is published, it immediately has a large number of ratings and reviews so customers know what to expect. I’ve never had an issue with advanced readers being able to leave reviews on Amazon in the past, but for this book I had about 15 people say they tried to leave reviews but Amazon never processed them. Some tried multiple times to no avail.
So while Amazon will allow an unverified rating of 2* (and possibly the 1*) with no review, they will not allow an assortment of 4* and 5* ratings that do have honest reviews. There is no explanation for this and no way to resolve the situation. My book should actually have 25 ratings at this point. And with all of the missing reviews being 4* and 5*, the average book rating would be around a 4.5 or 4.6.
That arbitrary system is the third way Amazon manipulates ratings to hurt authors.
But seriously, where’s the review? (Way #4 in which Amazon negatively manipulates book ratings)
Amazon not only displays reviews from U.S. readers, it’s also supposed to show international reviews.
All of my books get a good number of international reviews. The problem is that for this book I have a variety of international Amazon reviews that are not being added to the main site. For example:
They show one review from the UK but none of the others. I’ve contacted Amazon support four times about this issue. I made it clear in my email that I was not asking for any reviews to be removed and that I instead wanted the international reviews to be added. Two times, I got no response at all. The other two times, they provided a standard response that showed they didn’t actually read my email or else they had no interest in trying to resolve my issue:
Amazon’s inconsistency with adding international reviews that would help my book’s rating (and their inability to respond with an intelligible response to any of my four requests) is the fourth way they manipulate ratings to hurt authors.
As a result, it appears as if my book has far fewer ratings than the reality. The overall book rating also appears to be far lower than it actually should be. Both of these issues make my book less appealing to potential readers, which obviously impacts sales.
Why does Amazon do this?
Amazon has no reason to try and intentionally hurt my book’s sales. Quite the opposite—the more sales I make as an author, the more money Amazon also makes. So I don’t think the items I’ve noted above are intentional on their part. I think it’s much more likely that Amazon has just grown so large that its algorithms and policies no longer function as originally intended. They also don’t provide active, human support that allows for this to be remedied. Without logical ways to accurately rate products and without a way to have an actual living, breathing Amazon representative address these issues when they arise, there will be no way for indie authors such as myself to have the ratings and reviews we’ve worked so hard to earn.