The Fifty Review Myth and Why it isn't (And Never Was) True

That number has been tossed around as a golden review count for authors to shoot for, and many authors will go out of their way to buy, beg, borrow, cheat, and steal to get to that number of reviews as if it will guarantee their book to sell. The theory is: if you get this many reviews on Amazon, you are set and your book will sell forever. There's only one problem.

...

It isn't true.

The thing is, reviews do matter to Amazon for determining how their algorithm rates books, and the more recent those reviews are the more they will contribute toward helping your book rank higher. But, there is no golden number that Amazon looks for, or that readers expect in making their determination about what books to buy. 

The part of the process that contributes the most toward helping your book sell is having sales. It might sound counterintuitive (after all, how do you get sales without selling books) but it's really quite simply: the more your book is already selling, the more it will continue to sell, because Amazon's algorithms are designed with one goal in mind: to promote books to readers that they will buy. 

Each time Amazon loads a page on their website, it has an associated algorithmic value, which in turn means it has an associated cost for them to display. Anytime an Amazon page display contributes to a sale, they can associate that with a value. What this means is that if a book is popular and selling well, then their algorithm has an incentive to get that book in front of readers and consumers so that they might purchase it.

What this means is that your best contributing factor toward Amazon selling your book for you is to have a good sell through rate. For every hundred people who see your book, you want for as many as possible to actually buy it. 

If a book has fifty ratings and readers feel like they might enjoy it, that doesn't mean readers will purchase it. Especially not if all of the reviews are low quality and only a few words. This is why it is important to also build reviews organically and find people who genuinely have something to say about your book. 

But, purchasing a book is based on more factors than just reviews. It is also based on each reader's personal preferences, situation at the moment, and many other factors that are not solely review based. 

So, showing such a book to a reader when it doesn't have a good track record of sales has a low incentive for Amazon because it has a high risk. To be perfectly honest, Amazon will recommend a book that is selling well but has a low number of ratings (or low ratings) over a book with a high number of positive ratings simply because the one that is selling well has already proven that it can sell.


Reviews are Important

On the flip side of all of this, having reviews does influence purchasers, so it is worthwhile gathering as many honest reviews as possible. Don't try to just have positive reviews, because that makes readers suspicious. There isn't a single book in the world that is universally beloved, so if your book looks like it might be the first then people will automatically assume something fishy is going on.

The number matters way more than the rating, and books with a 3.7 rating but a lot of selling traction will move way more copies than a 5.0 book that hasn't sold a copy in months.

So, yes, you should work on getting honest reviews, but not at the expense of sales. You need to get your book selling and moving copies, and if people are reading it then the reviews will come in.

The overall net value fluctuates wildly. It used to be that one organic review came per one-hundred copies sold, and now it's closer to one review in two-hundred. Amazon is working on cleaning up their review process and making reviews easier to leave, so that number will continue to change into the future.

Don't worry too much about it. Sell your book, tell people about it, and let the reviews come naturally. Sales are way more important than reviews.

There are numerous ways to generate reviews organically, and as your business grows you can capitalize on your readership to make it even easier in the future.  Even negative reviews can be a benefit because they lend legitimacy to your work. No book in history has been loved by all readers, so a book that only has 5-star reviews will be viewed by readers with skepticism.

Reviews translate into money for you, because Amazon’s algorithms takes review count/quality into effect for determining what books to show to readers. To do this effectively, you need to do a couple of things:

  • First, ask readers - at the end of each of your books to post reviews. Tell them how important reviews are for your success as an author and give them a quick and easy link to write the review. This is called Backmatter, and it is a tool where authors can put a Call to Action for readers. One of the easiest is a simple: "If you liked this book, then please leave feedback for other readers" sort of message along with a link.
    • A note on this: if you use Amazon Associates, DO NOT put your associate link in the book for reviews because it is against their TOC.
    • Instead, put a clean link, or send them to your website or some other online location where they can click back to Amazon to post a review.
  • Second, give copies away - but do it intelligently. ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) and are a staple of the industry. Don’t be afraid to give away dozens or hundreds of books to prospective readers in exchange for reviews.
    • One way to do it: use a paired system like Mailerlite and Instafreebie together to deliver copies and then later remind readers to leave reviews. The two systems paired up can make it easy to give away review copies to prospective readers and then automatically track their participation to leave reviews.
  • Third, sell books - If people aren’t reading your book, then they won’t review it. Amazon automatically sends review emails to readers asking them to leave reviews on products they purchased and books they read, so if people are reading your book then Amazon will help you get those reviews. 
    • Advertise, market, reach out on the internet and ni person, and do everything you can to keep your book flying off the shelves.
  • Fourth, Blogs - Sending your book out to blogs is a great way to generate reviews. There are thousands of them out there, and some have way more traffic than others, but many of those blogs need content.
    • A lot of them do reviews, and many of them have a 'pitch' section where you can offer to send them a copy of your book.
    • Keep in mind with this option, however, that you can pay for a review on a blog, but that same review cannot also be posted on amazon because at that point it is an editorial review. Make sure the blogger knows that, as well.
  • Fifth, Amazon readers - Who better to ask for review than people who read books a lot? If you search amazon, there is a list of top reviewers. On this list, many people include their email addresses and invite authors to contact them to offer their book. However, don't be spammy, and make sure they actually want a copy of your book.
    • Don't just send it. Also, be courteous and make sure they are actually looking for your kind of book, not just books in general.
    • Amazon has a great community of people who take free books in exchange for a review, and you don't want to mess that up.
  • Sixth, Giveaways - You can host giveaways on a lot of different websites where you get your book into the hands of readers who want it, and this can be a great way to get reviews. I've had fairly good luck with this, especially with Goodreads Giveaways.
    • They have resulted in quite a few reviews for my books from readers who truly enjoy my style and genre. Amazon giveaways, on the other hand, don't result in as many reviews because those people just want to win something and usually won't actually bother to read it.
  • Lastly, write more books -This won't necessarily help you get more reviews, but it will help you build your audience and bring new readers in. Try new things, branch out, and just have fun with it.
    • After all, you started writing because you wanted to have fun with it, right? If it isn't fun, why do you do it?

Keep in mind that when you are asking for reviews, a huge part of it comes down to finding readers. You will need to market, promote, and reach out to readers to make this happen, but it will be worth it in the long run. A large part of getting reviews is simply hustling for them, and the quicker you learn this lesson the better off you will be.

Both review systems are owned by Amazon, but they have different methodologies behind how they work. As a result, they can end up being drastically different for novels that are up for sale.

Goodreads is a community of readers who recommend books to one another in a viral system where certain books are able to climb to the top. Amazon, on the other hand, is a storefront that actually recommends the buying and selling of books. They are actively trying to promote books to readers for purchase, not by quality of the books, which means that sometimes they can promote subpar books simply because the author is popular or because it is already selling well.

Goodreads doesn't suffer from this problem. The community is simply interested in talking about books, their virtues and failings, and working together to pair the right book with the right reader.

Amazon has a system in place whereby anyone who wants to rate a product also has to write a review to justify their rating. This, in turn, thins down the number of reviews dramatically and it is not uncommon to see tremendously more ratings on Goodreads than might be found on Amazon. That being said, Goodreads suffers from a completely different problem where a lot of readers don't actually utilize the rating system for ratings. In fact, for many people the rating system is used to denote how far along in a book someone is, or which books they want to read next or down the line, or any other number of things that have nothing to do with rating a book.

On top of that, many people judge a book harsher on Goodreads than on Amazon, or will simply click down a list of books with low ratings because it is easy and very inconsequential. All in all, Amazon's system of restricting people to only rate if they also review thins down on the randomness of the system.

Alternatively, Amazon also suffers from the ongoing plague of issues related to review purchasing and other things, but to think that Goodreads doesn't suffer from this would be wrong. The only difference is that Goodreads doesn't really stop this practice because it isn't selling books, only recommending them, so the stakes aren't as high. In this case, the only difference is that Amazon is actively striving to fix this issue and has made great gains recently.

This one is easy: Amazon reviews are linked up with a sales page and reflect in the Amazon algorithm to recommend your book to new readers. Goodreads has an internal viral networking system where it tries to keep readers on the Goodreads site. The site itself will recommend books for readers, but this isn't directly linked to reviews.

Both sites will earn negative reviews, though as I mentioned above Goodreads typically trends a lot worse than Amazon.com. That being said, Amazon negative reviews are far more detrimental than Goodreads ones, but in both cases there is nothing wrong with having negative reviews. Not everyone will like a book, and something with only positive reviews can actually make people suspicious.

Goodreads is a much better community than Amazon, but all in all the reviews on Amazon are worth more in the long run for an authors career. Goodreads reviews will trickle in overtime, and generally there will be more of them because it is so easy to just click/rate a book, but the extra effort a reader needs to put in on Amazon makes those reviews more meaningful.

Lincoln Cole

Lincoln Cole is a Columbus-based author who enjoys traveling and has visited many different parts of the world, including Australia and Cambodia, but always returns home to his pugamonster and wife. His love for writing was kindled at an early age through the works of Isaac Asimov and Stephen King and he enjoys telling stories to anyone who will listen.

He has won multiple literary awards for his novels. He has also been a bestseller in multiple different categories.