In a recent post, I made the claim that getting reviews on your book is just as important as getting sales.
So it may surprise some of you that about two weeks before episode 1 of Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer came out, I sent out an email to all of my family members who joined my ARC team and asked them not leave reviews. Have I lost my mind? No, and below I offer three reasons why other indie authors should ask friends and family to NOT leave reviews.
- It’s against Amazon’s Rules
The first and most important reason is that it’s against Amazon’s Guidelines for Customer Reviews. Amazon’s reasoning is that friends and family are biased and incapable of leaving impartial reviews.
Amazon considers any person that is friends with you on Facebook to have a personal relationship with you (a great reason to not give your fans access to your personal Facebook account). If they find what they call a “suspicious review” they will automatically delete it, and they err on the side of caution. If they find A LOT of these types of reviews, they may even freeze your author account as a protection against review milling.
Now, I know what you’re thinking–“I’ve seen TONS of reviews on Amazon that were DEFINITELY left by friends and family of the author, and they didn’t get deleted!” It’s true that Amazon does not always catch them. No one knows a whole lot about how it works, but it seems that the more traffic your book’s listing gets, the more likely it is that Amazon’s bots will discover and delete suspicious reviews. It’s best not to chance it.
- It ruins your credibility with potential readers
There’s nothing that turns off a potential reader more than a book where every review was obviously left by someone who knows the author. The first review left for any item is often the first one potential buyers see—do you really want it to potentially start, “My niece wrote this!!!”
The truth of the matter is, family and friends love us, and in an effort to either support us or spare our feelings, they might sugarcoat, omit criticisms, or even outright lie. These reviews are as glowing as a fluorescent light bulb, and just as artificial.
So what? You might ask, what’s wrong with a few positive reviews to get things off to the right start?
I understand the desire to get as many positive reviews as possible as soon as possible, but readers can spot a review left by someone who knows the author a mile away. They’re like the snifflers of fake reviews (Harry Potter references ftw), and nothing turns them off a book purchase faster.
You can read more about why unanimously positive reviews can hurt your sales in my post, Why Five Star Reviews Hurt Your Book Sales.
- It makes things awkward between you and your loved ones
Let’s be real for a second: a lot of people—maybe even a majority of people—will not like your book. This includes your family. Just because they’re related to you doesn’t mean they’re going to like the type of book you write. It’s not that your book is bad, necessarily, or even that they think it’s bad—it’s just not for them. They may prefer cozy mysteries, and you write gory horror stories. Or maybe they just don’t like overly descriptive prose, or whatever.
And that’s okay.
It doesn’t mean your writing sucks. It means they’re not your target audience. But they certainly don’t want to say this to your face, or in any public forum where you are going to read it, like in, say, a review.
Right now, your family member may be agonizing how to honestly review your book without saying outright that they hated it. On the flip side, they might just tell you how they really feel. Most writers have developed a thick skin to protect them from outside criticism, but nothing penetrates this thick skin like an honest comment from a family member. This often leads to hurt feelings and wrecked confidence. Why not just make it easier and less awkward all around and let them off the hook?
How to broach the subject
You may be wondering how to go about asking your friends and family to not review without ruffling feathers or hurting feelings. Well, it’s easier than you might think. In my email, I started by letting them know about Amazon’s ban on reviews, and the effect it could have on my writing career. I included a link to Amazon’s Review Guidelines. Then, I gently let them know that I don’y expect them all to like my book. I didn’t mention that reviews left by friends and family often turn off readers, but they probably know this without you saying it, especially if they’re readers themselves.
Many of your friends and family will still want to support you, so consider offering them a way to do so. Suggest they add your book to their “currently reading” shelf on Goodreads, or create a special Headtalker or Thunderclap campaign just for them.
If you word your email tactfully, I find it unlikely that anyone could get offended by this, and many might be relieved.
What do you think? Do you ask your family and friends to review your books? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!