Book Reviews, Business, Marketing, Writing Business

Manipulating Amazon’s Algorithms to Boost Book Sales?

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Last weekend, I was introduced to a new service called Author Trade which claims it can boost your book sales.  Now, I’m no rookie, I know  how hard it is to sell a book.  I know there’s no hocus pocus or pixie dust that can magically make your book sell.  I’ve read all the blogs, books and even attended webinars only to be disappointed.

But I can’t resist a publishing hack, so I clicked on the ad and was taken to a site where I saw the slogan, “Bringing Authors Together with Other Authors!” spelled out in bold letters.  Already, I didn’t like the sound of this.

How it all Works

Author Trade is a collective of authors buying and reviewing each others books to drive up their Amazon rankings.  Yes, they buy each other’s books!  The concept being, when anyone buys your book on Amazon, it immediately goes up the sales ranking giving it higher visibility.  Books with good sales are put on Amazon lists such as; Hot New Releases, Movers & Shakers, Top Rated and Most Wished For, just to name a few.  The idea being, more visibility, equals more sales.  In essence, this service can and will work but there’s more to the story…

As I investigated, I learned that in order to qualify for this service, your book must be priced at $0.99.  But that’s not all, there’s also a monthly $9.99 fee, after a free trial.  After you pay, you’ll be matched with authors in a similar niche but there’s no guarantee that anyone will purchase or review your book.

It Only Gets Worse

If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll see they’re an Amazon Affliate, which has some authors believing that Amazon is somehow involved.  Just check out this thread on Absolute Write.  However the reality is, anyone with a website can open an affiliate account on Amazon.

Checking out the pages of the website, I saw testimonials from authors with no apparent last names.  Either these people don’t exist, or they’re too embarrassed to be associated with the company.  The first of many red flags.

As if that weren’t bad enough, here’s a direct quote from the site: AuthorTrade.com’s involvement is completely unknown to the public. Only you, your publisher (if you have one), and the author you’re trading with will know the secret to your marketing genius.

Hear that?  You’re not desperate, you’re a marketing genius!

Unlearned Lessons

Trying to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm isn’t anything new, in 2009, an author claimed he bought his way up the Amazon bestseller list by purchasing his book once a day.  He also rated and reviewed his own book as well.  Shockingly enough, he wrote a book about the whole experience, which was quickly removed by Amazon after the story got a little media attention.  He was also penalized by Amazon and all his fake reviews were eventually deleted.

Author Trade seems to be taking a page out this guy’s book.  Manipulating a website’s algorithm whether it be Amazon, Google or B&N has serious consequences, just read their TOS and Community Guidelines.

Why You Shouldn’t do it: An Opinion

Needless to say, if Amazon finds out what you’re up to, your book can and will be pulled from their site and you can even find yourself banned.  They don’t want blind quid pro quo on their site.  Many authors are already finding their book reviews on Amazon being deleted with little or no warning whatsoever.

There is a reason why Author Trade promises secrecy, because once readers find out there was a circle of authors buying and reviewing each other’s book, there will be a backlash.  Remember when John Locke wrote a how to book on self-publishing?  It was touted by many as the Bible of indie-publishing.  However, when it was discovered he was paying for reviews, several authors demanded their money back.  What he did was small potatoes compared to what Author Trade is doing.

Going Over to the Dark Side?

In several of my marketing groups, I’ve noticed the gradual acceptance of paid reviews and even paying for fake social media fans.  In fact, just several days ago, an indie author recommended a reviewer on Fiverr who promised to leave reviews wherever you needed them.  That wasn’t surprising, what I found shocking were the dozens of people thanking her and promising to check it out.

Number one, this is wrong and illegal!  If you pay for a review, you and the reviewer MUST give a disclaimer.  Why?  Because in the U.S. there’s a law about transparency.  However with AT, there are no disclaimers here, because technically, the reviewer purchased the book seeking a return on the favor.  Since no cash was exchanged, there’s no need for the disclaimer.  It’s a loophole that customers of Author Trade use to their advantage.

Secondly, what will happen when you stop using this program?  I’m gonna guess that your book falls right back down the rankings.  So what’s the point?  I don’t see this method being any better than the KDP Select program.  Sure it’ll get you visibility but then what?

Look, I know the Dark Side has cookies and all, but remember in the end, they always lose!

I’ve said enough, now it’s your turn, have you ever been tempted to do something questionable in order to get ahead in publishing?  Better yet, do you know of someone who has?  Dish in the comments section.

 

Update: Author Trade is now defunct but there are other people offering these types of services so I’ll leave this post up for future authors.

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Book Reviews, Marketing

What to Expect From a Paid Review

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I’ve been fascinated with this subject, and even wrote a little about it but I’ve never met an author who paid for a book review.  Well, not one that would actually admit to it!  So I went to the internet to find out what you really get when you pay a reviewer.  Investigating the most legitimate (popular) paid services Publisher’s Weekly Select and Kirkus, I tried to find out the truth.

What surprised me about this investigation was the belief that some authors had about paid reviewers.  Some believed that these reviewers were somehow more “qualified” to judge their work.  But nowhere have I seen any resumes or qualifications listed on the reviewers.  In fact, most of these reviewers are forced, by the company, to remain anonymous.  So honestly, you have no idea who’s reviewing your book.

Another shocking belief:  all publishing companies pay for reviews.  Honestly, that’s unknown, though it’s been alleged for years.  The rumor being that big media outlets like the New York Times won’t review books by publishing companies that haven’t purchased advertising.  By the way, it’s very expensive to advertise in NYT just check out their ad rates in PDF here.

Kirkus Confessions

It was the confession of a Kirkus reviewer who talked about how difficult it was to fulfill his assignments which got me thinking.  If they’re having issues with meeting assignments/quotas how on earth are these books getting reviewed?

According to a few dissatisfied authors, they’re not!  One author I found in a chat room, claimed that Kirkus simply skimmed her submission and gave an incorrect review of her book.  In her complaint, the author alleges that the reviewer didn’t get the arc of the story right and didn’t seem to even know what the book was about.  That’s bad, considering they charge around $425 to review a book, not to skim one.

Publisher’s Weekly (Select)

It gets no better with Publisher’s Weekly Select program.  Again, a few authors discussed the merits or lack thereof on the Kindle Boards.  Some cited that the reviews are necessary if you want your books in libraries and book stores.  The logic being since Kirkus and PW are marketed to book stores, libraries and the publishing industry, your book will get in front of the eyeballs of the right people.  However I don’t agree, you need an ISBN as well as expanded distribution through places like Amazon, Ingram, or Baker and Taylor not reviews from PW or Kirkus.  Oh yeah, and let’s not forget, you need big sales numbers!

As I read on, things got worse, one person claiming to be an agent said, that several of his clients paid for reviews only to have them put in a newsletter squished between 50 other reviews.  Another author said it was a waste of money and that their book was never reviewed.  While another person alleged that PW only chooses poorly edited books to slam.

The Inherent Problem

The problem with the review business is there’s no real way to manage it.  How would a supervisor or managing editor know for certain a job is being done unless they read every book themselves to make sure details are not skipped or forgotten.

Another problem is lack of understanding, how can someone review book on World War 2 when they don’t have a firm grasp on that time period?  And how can a suburban middle-aged soccer mom review a book about a YA urban romance?  See how this is all subjective?  Indie authors are paying real money for an opinion that may or may not be relevant, let alone, intelligent.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that it’s considered unethical to pay anyone for a review.

This is the Part Where I Tell You How Get Free Book Reviews

There are sites that indie authors can submit their books for free, or only for the cost of shipping, to get an honest review.   Hopefully, you’ve built a network on social media of fellow authors who review books in your genre.  You can even solicit reviews on your blog or newsletter remember last week?

Library Thing “Member Giveaways”: http://www.librarything.com/er/giveaway/list

Libboo: https://www.libboo.com/

BookSneeze: http://www.booksneeze.com/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show_tag/reviews

World Lit Cafe: http://www.worldliterarycafe.com/forum/167

A Twitter List I Put Together of 75 Reviewers:   https://twitter.com/WritingPants/reviewers-on-twitter/members

Articles That You Need to Check Out:

How to Get Reviews via The Creative Penn

The Top 25 Reviewers on Goodreads via Forbes

How to Find Readers on Facebook via Yours Truly!

If you know of more reviewers list them in the comments section.