Pitching to the New Gatekeepers, Part 1

gateNot that long ago, K.P. Ambroziak wrote a guest post for Indies Unlimited entitled, ‘A New Gatekeeper Rising’. That post triggered an interesting discussion about reviews and gatekeepers, however it was the author’s comments about review numbers that really caught my attention. Apparently, BookBub will not accept books for [paid] promotion unless they have a certain number of reviews – i.e. have a track record of popularity with readers.

As Indies, we all know the importance of getting a goodly number of reviews for our books; nothing looks so unloved, and unread, as a book with only a few reviews, or, -shock horror- no reviews at all. Like it or not, Amazon has conditioned us to see reviews as ad hoc indicators of popularity, and being herd animals, we associate popularity with quality.

Whether popularity really does work that way is a moot question, and not one I’m brave enough to tackle here. Nonetheless, I think we can all accept that, as a marketing strategy, popularity begets sales. After all, Amazon doesn’t publish all those best-seller lists for nothing. Each list is a bright, shiny life-raft for customers drowning in the sheer volume of ‘things’ on offer at Amazon.

For us Indies, getting onto one of those life-rafts is tantamount to being given the keys to marketing heaven.

The question then is, how do we squirm our way out of the sea, and onto a life-raft? Is BookBub right? Are reviews the answer?

According to author Paul Draker, the answer is a qualified ‘yes’. Draker believes Amazon reviewers are the new gatekeepers, but he stipulates that only reviews by the top ranked reviewers will do.

In a post that appeared on J.A. Konrath’s blog in September 20, 2013, Draker goes on to detail ways in which we Indies can increase the ‘discoverability’ of our books by enlisting the help of Amazon’s top reviewers.

Discoverability is a term coined to describe how ‘visible’ your book is to the buying public. As Indies, discoverability on Amazon is all important as being seen is the first step towards making sales. In simple terms, if your book can’t be seen, it can’t sell, end of story.

There is nothing new in the idea of discoverability. It’s been the driving force behind advertising since the year dot. What is new, however, is the process by which books are discovered in the Age of Amazon. These days, word-of-mouth recommendations – via social media – have taken over from paid advertising, and according to Draker, reviewers are an integral part of that process.

But are reviewers, even top ranked ones, really that influential?

In digging for the answer, I discovered that Amazon thinks very highly of its top ranked reviewers. Not only does it give them public badges of honour, it also sends some of them [known as Vine members] freebies to review.

These freebies are important because Amazon’s top reviewers don’t just review books, they review everything from ear-buds to high-end electronics. As such, they can end up with thousands of dollars’ worth of free samples. That is how influential Amazon thinks they are.

Nonetheless, books are not like printers or toothbrushes. You can’t put a book through its paces to see if it will break after two weeks of use. The value of a book, especially a work of fiction, is highly subjective. Will readers really care what a top ranked reviewer thinks about a book?

Stay tuned for the second part of this series in which I’ll share the results of a very interesting study on reviews and reviewers. Until then, apologies for the cliff-hanger.

39 thoughts on “Pitching to the New Gatekeepers, Part 1”

  1. I don’t know what to feel about reviews. As an author I naturally love them, but as a reader- I’m suspect as hell, when I see a book , out 20-30 days and it has as many reviews as days on market. Sometimes, more and all at the upper echelon. I can’t believe its real.
    If the numbers are all that matter in sum ad places, then that’s the key and so be it. People, if that’s what they wish, will just fall in line.

    1. I too think [some] reviews are gamed. Or perhaps there are groups of readers out there who are mobilised to make or break a book. I’ve seen hints, but nothing you could point to as proof. -shrug-

  2. It has been a struggle-the first book has 14 reviews after a year and not sure what one has to do-where to send-whom to beg borrow or cajole.Yes it is something I need to work on-but with trying to support two homefronts there is barely time to write far less read. There was a thread about when do you consider yourself as having arrived as a writer?I now know the answer-when I have the time to do the marketing properly

    1. I can empathize completely, David. But one of the good things about e-publishing is that our books aren’t yanked off the shelf after a few months. That gives us time to slowly build awareness. Well, that’s the theory at any rate. 🙂

  3. I’m on the edge of my seat to see what part 2 says, AC. Until then, I’ll keep my guesses to myself. It isn’t clear whether you’re calling Bookbub, et al the new gatekeepers or (since you have to go through them to get to Bookbub) if you mean Amazon reviewers. I think I could argue either way. 🙂

    1. I know BookBub is supposed to be influential, but no, I’m leaning towards Amazon and its reviewers. Will be interested to hear your comments on Part 2.

  4. Oh, boy! I read the post by K.P. Ambroziak. I didn’t comment on the post. I started to and then I had the thought, let me go see what she submitted to Bookbub. I went over to Amazon and had a look at the author’s titles. The covers on both works were so ebony dark one could not read the titles, muchless author name. The blurbs rambled and did not make sense. One work was 89 pages. Ms Ambroziak delisted the longer work. Her guest post was about being declined. And Why? She was willing to pay for promotion. So–all of the conversation shifted to how difficult to buy promo on Bookbub. Bookbub, like all other sites, free or paid, has criteria that a submission must meet. Attractive, professionally rendered covers, well-written blurbs, length of submission (it seldom accepts novellas, or any book less than 100 pages, except in children’s books). The work submitted did not meet clearly stated criteria before the issue of reviews or lack of them came up. IMO, there isn’t a single site paid or free that would have accepted either of Ms Ambroziak’s work–based solely on covers. One must at the very least, be able to read the title. I did reach out to the girl. She’s young, a student and inexperienced. I put her in touch with two cover artists within her budget. But, hey! If you think Bookbub is tough–try getting a title on Books on the Knob.

    1. I didn’t know about BookBub, or any of the background to that article when it came out, but I was already researching reviewers, so the issue of ‘numbers’ really caught my attention. The idea of a sort of grass-roots gatekeeping system also fascinated me. Hope I can explain the mechanics well enough.

  5. As a reader, I love doing a review for a book I liked and it only has a few reviews. I feel like I’m doing my part to help the author. But, if a book has tons (100+) reviews sometimes I don’t bother, because I feel like he doesn’t need my one puny review. Illogical I know.

    1. I feel much the same, Jill! I stopped reviewing traditionally published novels ages ago. Now I only write about the Indie books that make me go ‘wow’. 🙂

      1. Blessed art thou, AC! And you, Jill James! I’m with Yvonne (though I write sci fi rather than fiction) – we indie authors are ALWAYS in search of reviews! AC, I’ve been informally tracking review sites for some time & have come to the same conclusion as you. I am now chomping on the bit waiting for your second installment!

        1. Apologies for not replying sooner but WordPress has been messing with my comments. Haven’t been able to see them until just now. Welcome to my blog!

  6. Finding Vine reviewers and convincing them to review your books may be the key. Or one of the keys. But I just keep thinking that if there were a no-fail formula for bookselling success, we’d all be rolling in cash. 😉

    Looking forward to part 2, Meeks. 🙂

  7. This is a really interesting subject and I can’t wait to see the final conclusion. Whatever it is, don’t get crushed in the stampede as all of us authors try to do it.
    Hugs

  8. What I would like to know, and maybe you cover it in part two, is how do you find the top ranking reviewers for your book genre? How do you approach them? I have a hard enough time getting people from different groups on facebook to commit to doing a review even if I gift them the book. I tried book bub once and was declined. I think it was a pricing issue because I had a professional cover and book blurb so not sure it was that. I am looking forward to part two! can’t wait~

    1. Actually that topic is covered in Part 3, but IU is kindly posting no. 2 tomorrow and no. 3 the day after, so not long to wait. Unfortunately there was just too much material to cover in one post.

    1. Candy, it isn’t by virtue of being high ranked, it is from those who are members of the Vine program. There is fair amount of overlap between the two, but it is possible to be in one group and not the other.

      1. That’s very true, Al. The rankings themselves stem from reader feedback, but I believe there is more to it than just that. I think you’ll find part 2 quite interesting.

  9. The use of minimum review requirements for listing is just one way these services can “sort” the many applications they get. It screens out a lot of the total crap and cynical “non-books” that would otherwise clog them up, without requiring a huge amount of time and effort on their part.

    1. I sort of agree, Linton. Unfortunately, masses of reviews do not guarantee a good book, or even a well-written one. What they do do is measure popularity, and a site like BookBub has to be popular too.

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