Monday, April 1, 2013

The Phenomenon of Bad Reviews and Being Number One

And first, let me just say, this is NOT an April Fool's joke.

Last week, I mentioned in my post on Responding to a Negative Review about this crazy phenomenon that is happening. Because of my bad review, I decided to check out other books in my genre and price range. And what I found is mind blowing. (And this is only on Amazon.)

Now, I have a couple of novellas that are priced at 99 cents. I also have one at $1.29, and one at $1.49. I like to stagger them this way because, well, I do. Stores use this tactic all the time. They lure you in with the cheap, then offer you another item at a slightly higher price. Then they give you the big gun at the even higher price. I call this Good, Better, Best.

Anyway, because of my bad review, I went searching to see if this reviewer had left other reviews on other books. (And no, my reviewer was not listed among any of these bad reviews.) However, in the midst of my searching I nearly had a heart attack. Because what I found time after time was that the books with the most bad reviews were ranking in the top 10. Which means they had more sales.

WTF? No seriously. W.T.F.?

Nearly every single book in the top 20 of my genre (Regency romance) in the short story category were these books with sometimes 10 or 12 bad reviews. And they were selling a lot. (You can tell how they're selling by the rank in which they hold, right under the product description.)

#607, #1,235, #58, #362. In order to have numbers like that, you have to at least, AT LEAST sell around 40-50 copies per day.

My rankings are no where near that. I hover generally, between the 25,000 - 70,000 mark. Which is good. On really good days, I get back into the teens. And I can honestly say, I don't usually go over the 100K threshold. So I'm lucky.

But after reading all this, and all the reviews, I couldn't help wonder what it was that made these books sell. ALL of the reviews, ALL OF THE REVIEWS, on ALL of the books I looked at (25 at least)  were written by different people, but they all said the same thing -- bad editing, typos, crazy plot, bad characters, no research -- so my question was, why did they bother to read them? (And those that had a single five star, you know were written by the author's mother or BFF.)

I'm likening this phenomenon to a bad car crash. You know, you're cruising down the highway at 70mph and then BLAM, cops everywhere, you have to slow down, and as you drive by the wreck, you can't help but look.

So all these readers decided they HAD to read the book to see if it really was as bad as the first reviewer said it was? And this in turn prompted them to write a bad review? And so on and so forth.

There is this little thing on every book called "Look Inside". It gives you a preview of what the first few pages look like. Allows you to make an informed decision on whether or not you'll like it and then buy it. So these people just didn't do that? Or they did and bought the book anyway?

What is up with that? Do these people have money to burn? Or are they trolls? (You know those parasitic reviewers who are actually authors out to trash other authors in their genre.)

However, even still, it doesn't account for the ranking. Obviously, someone, actually a LOT of someones are buying those books and reading them. And the more people who buy them, cause that author to move up in rank, and the higher in rank you are, the more exposure you get. The more exposure you get, the more money you make.

I don't get it. I really don't. I bust my ass (as you saw last week) to put out a quality product to entice readers to read my stuff. I price my books accordingly. I think I'm fair. I have a Good, Better, Best attitude. I strive to make my books the best that they can be. So why am I not in the top 20? Hell, why am I not even in the top 100?

And you know, I won't even get into the discussion on the covers of these books either. They were all "hand-made" and some were just plain awful. What is up with THAT? I'm no cover expert, but I designed my covers with a particular idea in mind. I don't do my own, I have an awesome designer, but I have done covers for other people, and I know how to do lay-out and composition. And the stuff I do produce isn't "professional" (there's a subtle art to design) but the covers I do make don't look "home-made". Let's call them "semi" professional. (If I had the right program I could make them even better.) But that's neither here nor there.

The only way I think I can wrap my head around all this is that, when you're on a book page, there is the scroll of "People Who Bought This, Also Bought..." with page after page of other books. Amazon makes it easy to click and buy, so perhaps these other people were duped into buying. I don't know.

So, in summing this all up, what I've found (in my genre anyway) is that it doesn't really matter what you write. Someone, somewhere is going to buy your book. Even if it's bad. Even if the cover is lousy. Even if all your reviews are 1 star. And you will become the next #1 bestseller.

Makes me wonder if I made a mistake taking the time to rewrite my novellas. Makes me really think of chucking every thing I know about writing out the window, and writing a bad book. Just to see what happens. A kind of social experiment maybe. Who knows, maybe I'll make it to #1. (Wouldn't that be really something?)

So how about you? Do you bother to read a book with more than 2 bad reviews? Or are you in the rubbernecking category? Do you "Look Inside" before you buy?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013


Stacy McKitrick said...

Unless I know the author (either personally or through their past books), I don't usually buy a book unless I can SEE the first few pages. Mostly, I want to know if I'm dealing with a first person story or not (I tend to shy away from them, especially if I'm wavering).

I don't read the reviews (too many include spoilers or are just downright strange). So it's possible these people bought those books based on a great blurb (all the more reason to have one, huh?). Who knows?

Yvonne Osborne said...

Poorly written books sell all the time. Look at the Shades of Gray stuff. And all the knock-offs riding the coattails,shades of this and shades of that. I never buy a book based on a review. I go by word-of-mouth or my own gut instinct, the description and the "look inside". You can't make yourself write a bad book, Anne, but do you want me to write you a bad review?:)

Bish Denham said...

I don't buy books based on reviews either simply because I know each person has his/her own tastes and opinions. I do look at the first few pages offered and I do look for authors I know.

Maria Zannini said...

I 'look inside' first, then read the reviews. If I don't see anything that would be a deal-breaker, I'll buy. A few bad reviews don't bother me because I know not every book will please every reader.

Linda G. said...

You got me, Anne. Heck if I can figure out the way anything works in publishing. I might glance at reviews before I buy a book, but mostly I go on the description. A peek inside will often decide me if I'm wavering, so that feature on a book-selling web site is a good one.

Laurel Garver said...

The rankings are something of a mystery to me, also. Though a writer friend of mine also said that if you don't have any bad reviews, it's a sign not many people have read your book yet. By that she means every book will NOT appeal to someone, and they will say so. Every award winning best seller has some haters. So embrace the bad reviews. It's a sign you've reached past your inner circle to the wild, wide world of the reading public.

Elaine Smith said...

The rating system does seem to be a mystery.
As you asked:
I always look inside and read before I buy.
On the subject of reviews,I never read them because I always presume the person who wrote them is somehow involved in the selling process.
For hotels and holidays etc I look at review sites because cockroaches are not subjective. ;)

Linda Cassidy Lewis said...

"Makes me really think of chucking every thing I know about writing out the window, and writing a bad book. Just to see what happens."

I've thought the same thing, Anne, only I'd do it under a pseudonym.

I always read the Look Inside. With my limited time and even more limited funds, I don't want to waste either. I don't even download a free book unless the description leads me to be fairly sure I'll like it.

As for reviews, I look at the rating average before I buy, but don't read the reviews because I don't want to risk a spoiler or being influenced in any way. But I often go back to read the reviews after I finish the book.

VR Barkowski said...

Amazon book reviews suck. They aren't worth the cyber real estate they occupy. The fact they have so much influence makes me want to scream. A few months ago, I deleted 16 years of my own Amazon reviews because of rampant fraud and Amazon's unwillingness to fix a corrupt system. Up until recently, giving books away was a popular way to make your book visible. Didn't matter whether the reviews were good or bad if you got enough folks to download. Visibility is what counts on Amazon, just as with the brick and mortar stores.

I always "look inside" books before buying. Moreover, the only reviews I do pay attention to are the bad ones. Is the review literate? Is it specific about what the reviewer likes and doesn't like? We don't all like the same things, after all. Has the reviewer reviewed other books? Does s/he hate everything? *Is it an Amazon verified purchase?* Is the reviewer a writer and the bad review sour grapes? Was the one gushing review written by the author's best friend, another writer?

Yep, you got me going. :)

~VR Barkowski

Anne Gallagher said...

Stacy -- I don't know why this phenomenon is happening. Perhaps it's another way Amazon has decided to play their game.

Yvonne -- lol. I hadn't really thought of Shades of Everything. And no thank you. I do not need another bad review.

Bish -- So interesting you say that. I don't think I've bought a book in the last year that hasn't been written by someone I know.

Maria -- Honestly, I don't think I've ever "looked inside". Like I just said, I think I've only gotten books from authors I know, so I already know what I'm getting.

Linda -- I remember standing in bookstores and reading the back cover copy and deciding. I might have flipped to the first page. E-reading is still a whole other jungle.

Laurel -- "Embrace the bad reviews". I never quite looked at it this way, so thanks. I guess I have gone beyond my inner circle.

Elaine -- lolololol Cockroaches are not subjective! Too funny.

Linda -- I do read the reviews, but usually chuck the top and the bottom and stick to the 3 star. That's usually the best bet for a good honest review.

Viva -- Wow, 16 years! How did you do that? Yeah, Amazon is just getting unruly these days. I'm in the process of diversifying right now.

Shelley Sly said...

How interesting. I do subscribe to the idea that a truly good book must have good and bad reviews; otherwise, it's not reaching a wide enough audience of varied tastes.

Before I purchase a book, I look inside (if I have that option online) and I always read reviews. However, as others mentioned, I don't necessarily let negative reviews turn me away from a book, because it's just others' opinions.

D.G. Hudson said...

The number of good or bad reviews wouldn't deter me. Sometimes it's a preference call.

All book reviewers aren't created equal, either. In a public forum, you get a mix of qualifications.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I don't typically read reviews. Or if i do, it's not until after I've read the book. BUT! I also don't use the "look inside" feature. I don't do a lot of browsing online. When i go to amazon or B&N to buy a book, it's for a specific book i know i want

Laura Pauling said...

The more a book is read the more likely it will to stack up low star reviews. That's usually a sign that you've made it. Sometimes I've read those reviews after I've read the book and they make absolutely no sense, as if the person had an agenda. That's why I purchase books with 1/2 stars. I read the 3 star reviews. :) That's where the truth is at.

Nicki Elson said...

That's crazy. But yeah, the masses enjoy reading crap. Maybe it makes them feel smarter to read something so poorly written by someone else?

I think it would drive you insane to have garbage out there with your name on it (even a pen name). Don't do it.

Oh but on how bad reviews affect my desire to read - it depends what it says. Sometimes its just personal opinion or sometimes the book is intriguing enough to me that I'll take my chances. Consistent comments on poor editing & writing though generally do turn me off.