Oh My, Stars?

Amazon recently culled thousands of reviews from its book pages because of fears that the reviewers knew the author or somehow had “financial interest in the product.”  It’s been well documented how Amazon book reviews can be bought to increase the number of your book’s reviews. But now they say they’re pulling them because of who you know. If you can’t buy your way to the top or cajole your friends to offer a pithy paragraph towards your books then what can you do?

Timothy Ferriss received reviews of his new book “The 4-Hour Chef” by admonishing his legion of facebook and twitter followers to post reviews and he practiced the time tested method of giving out hundreds of review copies to fans. This is great for Ferriss who has the name recognition and the followers to get lots of reviews posted onto Amazon by the publication date. For the lesser known author or someone just trying to get their ebooks noticed often it’s their friends and families that are providing the reviews which are now no longer allowed to post. Which is fine, if all you can muster is your mother’s review then your marketing or social media skills might need some attention.

Suspicious online reviews are endemic. It’s the nature of the beast when the glut of self-published books making their way to the conveyer belt of Amazon has to make their mark. The only way you get noticed is by getting noticed.  Solicited reviews shouldn’t be alarming.  I’m not surprised that authors getting reviews on Amazon might know the person, I almost expect it. Which is why I look for book recommendations through established sites like Shelf Awareness, The Millions or the Times Book Review. For discoverability of new and emerging authors I look towards local booksellers and librarians (not necessarily librarians who write 28,366 reviews posted on Amazon.) And this is where authors can make their mark without the taint of bought bias.

Local booksellers are great for champion emerging writers and giving legs to unknown books. This was the path of Garth Stein’s wonderful book The Art of Racing in the Rain. Booksellers loved it and recommended it to everyone and it caught on to become a perennial favorite. This passionate hand-selling establishes a strong trust between stores and customers.  But as Amazon erodes the foundations of local bookstores libraries have to take over the reader’s advisory harness. There are several good library readers’ blogs out there such as Shelf Talk by Seattle Public Library and Multnomah County Library’s An Embarrassment of Riches blog. The art of talking about books to patrons and customers is what will bring attention to titles. More so than a full sheet of stars on Amazon and authors would do well to make connections with their local library to promote and push their books. This means of course that authors would do well by making sure their titles are available to libraries to promote.

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